Greece > Is for great family holidays January 13, 2007Posted by grhomeboy in Greece, Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Islands Ionian, Greece Mainland.
Hunt a minotaur, hire a kayak or just go paddling: it’s Greece for families.
Greece’s affable, easy-going ways have long made it a favourite with families. You can take children almost anywhere, and the sandy beaches and shallow seas are perfect for tots. Children thrive on the old taverna stand-bys of makaronia, bifteki, watermelon and ice cream. And even the remotest islands have a music bar to keep your teenager bopping happily under the stars.
Greece is hot in the summer, so make like the locals: take long siestas, then stay up late, letting the kids play in the cool of the night while you linger in a taverna. Don’t be offended if the Greeks pretend to spit when patting your darling on the head, though; they know the gods are jealous and are trying to ward off evil.
Although prices are not as low as they once were, you can still bag a good-value holiday. Greek camp sites will rent you four sleeping bags and a tent, and sleeping outdoors on summer nights is so lovely that some families wouldn’t holiday any other way.
Resort coast > Despite what you’ll read in certain papers, Greek seaside resorts are not full of twenty-something northern Europeans behaving badly. Most, in fact, are genteel, and a good bet for families, there is always plenty to do, including sports watery and otherwise. Hire a car, and you’ll also find some very rewarding “days out”.
Crete, with its stunning scenery, its Minoan palaces, Byzantine churches and Venetian castles, is packed with potential outings. At Elounda Gulf Villas, overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mirabello, your family can combine the independence of a self-catering villa with the facilities and restaurants offered by one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Each villa comes with its own pool, spa bath and maid service. Check out A&K Chapters for Greece (www.villa-rentals.com) for more. Fly to Heraklion, an hour’s drive away.
Thanks to Captain Corelli, Cephalonia has now achieved resort status. Besides stretching out on its pretty beaches, you can drive up Mount Enos and look for wild horses, explore superb caves, and visit what might be the Mycenaean tomb of Odysseus. The Porto Skala Hotel, 3km from Skala (210 6128517) is an especially child-friendly place, just a few steps from a pebble beach, with a paddling pool, a playground and baby-sitting. Get there on a direct charter flight.
While nearby Mykonos and Paros attract the glitterati, Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, is ideal for families. It has a stunning sugar-cube town that reminds kids of a big maze, terrific country walks, and ancient monuments to explore. Near sandy Agios Georgios beach is the Naxos Beach Hotel (22850 22928, www.naxosbeach.com), with a pool and a great sports club. A studio for four in mid-July B&B, and comes with a town tour, free bicycles, and an hour’s windsurfing tuition. Alternatively, Maragas Camping on Agia Anna beach (22850 24552, www.maragascamping.gr) rents four-man tents and sleeping bags (children under 6 are free; 6-12s half-price), and also studio flats for four. From Piraeus, Blue Star ferries sail to Naxos in five hours.
Many Brits first came across Corfu through the writings of the Durrells, and now your own family can stay in the convivial White House at Kalami, where Lawrence Durrell penned Prospero’s Cell in 1939. Kalami is on the lovely northeast coast, and the owner also runs a taverna downstairs and hires out boats for exploring the coast. Check the price with CV Travel (www.cvtravel.net) including flights.
On the Apollo Coast, south of Athens, you can combine the sights of classical Greece with the lazy delights of the seaside. Club Med makes it easy for families at Athenia Village (www.clubmed.co.uk), a hotel and bungalow complex offering a pool, tennis, windsurfing, kayaking, in-line skating and more. Club Med offers excursions to Athens, the Saronic islands and elsewhere.
Messenia, part of the Peloponnese, is silvery with olive groves and lined with beaches, and ancient Messeni, Sparta, Mystras and the Mani are all within day-trip range. Sunrise Village, at Chrani, just southwest of Kalamata, has interconnecting bungalow rooms, a kids’ club (ages 3-11), a diving school and more. Check with Sunvil (www.sunvil.co.uk) including flights; with discounts for two small children in cots.
Remote coast > For families, remote is a relative term. You’re probably not looking for the full Robinson Crusoe, miles from the nearest ice cream and disposable nappy. But if you want to give the kids a bit of genuine Greece along with the sea and sand, it’s not hard to find. And even if they can’t live without their PlayStation at home, dreamy days by the beach, hunting for shells and watching fishermen mend their nets may well convert them into confirmed philhellenes by the time you leave.
The Dodecanese is the archipelago of fleshpots such as Kos and Rhodes, but also harbours some treats. The best is Kalymnos, a friendly island of dramatic fjords and crags that attract daredevil rock climbers. Its west coast is well endowed with beaches, and Myrties, quieter than the main resort Masouri, has safe sands and gorgeous sunset views over the islet of Telendos, just opposite. With Fransway (www.fransway.co.uk), four can stay in a family room at Phenis Hotel, right on the beach. Someday soon, Kalymnos’s airport may finally open, until then, catch a UK charter to Kos; then take a taxi to Mastihari, which has ferries (45 minutes) to Kalymnos daily.
Rugged green Alonnisos is queen of its own little bevy of islands, and the best base for exploring Greece’s National Marine Park, home of the rare monk seal. The Milia Bay (21089 50794, www.milia-bay.gr) is great for families, and has a pool, a telescope and lovely views. The beach is 400 metres away and perfect for snorkelling, while nearby Steni Vala has an activity centre (ages 8 and above) offering climbing, Zodiac trips, trekking and sea kayaking. To get to Alonnisos, take a charter to Skiathos or Volos. From Skiathos, Hellas Flying Dolphins crosses in 80 minutes.
Ithaca, the fabled home of Odysseus, is calmer still. Stay at the idyllic Levendis Estate (6944 169770, www.levendisestate.com), created by a Greek family as their own dream holiday destination. It’s an organic farm set in terraced olive groves and gardens, and can accommodate 20 guests in several cottages. Childcare is available, as are motorboats, scuba and sailing lessons, and aromatherapy massage by the pool. Kitchens come stocked with fresh produce from the garden, and there’s a fine restaurant. A week for four, includes transfers from Cephalonia airport to Ithaca and a hire car, cheaper if your children are under 6 or share a cot in your room. Catch a charter to Cephalonia.
Lemnos, in the north Aegean, is an unusual island: low and hilly instead of mountainous, with big beaches and some of the oldest inhabited sites in Greece. It also has flamingos and a mini “Sahara desert”. There is something for all ages at Mark Warner’s (www.markwarner.co.uk) village-style beach resort at Platy. The children’s facilities run the gamut from baby clubs to teenage clubs (reserve when you book), and there are sailing, windsurfing and tennis lessons for teens. Four sharing a family room, includes all meals, flights and transfers, and a free windsurfing lesson.
Syros is a calm, classy Cycladic island, with a stunning neoclassical “capital” piled on two hills. Frequent buses link the village to the beach at Galissas, sheltered, sandy and perfect for small children. Olympic Holidays (www.olympicholidays.com) has a week for four at the self-catering Galissas Studios, including flights and transfers. It’s a short walk from the village, and has a pool.
Cage’s Cephalonia >The actor Nicolas Cage filmed Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in Cephalonia: “I fell in love with the Greeks, who were full of life and love and very generous to us. You can’t help but feel their zest for life stems from their surroundings. I was busy learning the dialect, how to march and how to play the mandolin. But after filming, I’d look out over mountains and sea, and marvel at the place.”
Manos (www.manos.co.uk) offers holidays with free child places: for example, a trip to relaxing Paralia Astrous, in the eastern Peloponnese, with its long, shelving beach and friendly village. Mycenae, ancient Tirynth, birthplace of Heracles, and the beautiful city of Nafplion are all short day trips away. Manos’s Irini Filoxenia self-catering apartments are set in a peaceful garden, a short walk from the beach and town; with flights into Kalamata.
Countryside > Few children want a holiday without sea, but if there’s a pool on hand, you can just about get away with it. For at least part of your trip, then, why not head for the interior? Greece is the second most mountainous country in Europe and, in summer, the cool fresh air, the array of mountain sports and the chance to glimpse rural life are a big draw for holidaying Greek families. Fancy joining them?
Eastern Crete’s Lasithi mountains make a lovely backdrop for the Avdou Villas, a comfortable complex with a pool, set on an organic farm (22810 300540, www.avdou.com). Nearby activities include horse-riding, mountain-biking, Cretan cookery courses, paragliding lessons and golf at the new Crete Golf Club. A day out? Choose between the Aqua Splash water park, the ruins at Knossos and Heraklion’s superb archeology museum, even children find its unique Minoan treasures fascinating.
Foreigners are just beginning to discover the beauty of Evrytania, the “Switzerland of Greece”. It makes a great base for back-to-nature holidays, and the Trekking Hellas programme at Karpenisi, the region’s main resort, embraces kayaking, rafting and mountain-biking. Meteora, Lake Plastiras and ancient Thermon are all potential day trips. Stay at the swish Montana Club (22370 80400, www.montana.gr), with its picturesque views, indoor and outdoor heated pools, hot tub and playground; Fly into Athens, hire a car and you can be there in four hours.
The delightful rambling estate of Candili is in northern Evia. It has been in the Noel-Baker family since 1832, and now offers accommodation in two buildings with a shared pool. The estate sleeps a total of 30 and can be hired for seminars, family reunions and the like, except in August, when it opens up to individual families. You can be as lazy as you like, or sign up for a bit of “soft adventure”, Land Rover safaris, walks, picnics and boat trips to Skopelos. Check for rates at Candili with Filoxenia (www.filoxenia.co.uk)
Many kids have a great affinity for the Greek myths and will be fascinated to tramp around the places where they were forged. Families with children aged 5 and up can explore the best of ancient Greece on a group tour with the Adventure Company (www.adventurecompany.co.uk), whose nine-day Legends of Greece itinerary takes in Athens, Mycenae, Olympia, the Mani and other points in the Peloponnese.
Activities > Greece’s history and economy are closely bound to the sea, and its warm transparent waters are the obvious starting point for any family seeking sport and adventure. But there are plenty of other options, too.
Paros, island of the golden beaches, is also the watersports capital of the Cyclades. Here, Octopus Sea Trips (69327 57123, www.octopuseatrips.com) offers family adventures in marine biology and archeology, with sea and rock-pool excursions, children’s scuba and snorkelling, a marine touch-tank and more. Stay at the Golden Beach Hotel at Chryssi Akti. You can get there from Piraeus in four hours with Blue Star Ferries.
Based in Piraeus, DR Yachting (210 9850168, www.disabledsailingholidays.com) provides holidays for the disabled and visually impaired, and also has a specially designed yacht suitable for families with small children, or single parents. The boat sleeps eight (or 10 including two tots), check rates for a week’s bareboat sailing around the Saronic Gulf (plus extra cost per day if you need a skipper).
Olympos Trek (69325 45001, www.olympostrek.gr) is an activity-holiday specialist in eastern Thessaly, where Mount Olympus tumbles into the sea. Check rates for a week of canyoning, canoeing, rafting, climbing and orienteering, with B&B accommodation by the beach at Stomio. Fly to Athens and catch the train to Larisa on the Thessaloniki line; you’ll be collected at the station.
Just because you have tots doesn’t mean you have to sit on a beach. In the beautiful Pindos mountains, Walks Worldwide (www.walksworldwide.com) offers walking tours for families with children of any age, if the littlest ones are too heavy to carry on certain stretches, you can have them driven on ahead with your baggage.
If your offspring are old enough to lug some of their own gear, island-hopping on the ferries can be fun, especially when your transfers and accommodation have been sorted in advance. Greek Sun Holidays (www.greeksun.co.uk) offers two weeks buzzing around the Cyclades, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Syros and Tinos, though they will tailor to suit. All accommodation, flights and ferries are included.
For messing about in boats, the Ionian Sea is hard to beat. Sunsail (www.sunsail.com) has several watersporty family resorts, such as Club Vounaki, a 10-minute walk from Paleros, on the mainland. It has three pools and all the latest gear, and is ideally located for exploring the Ionian islands by day yacht.
Can’t resist Halki > Until a few years ago, I’d never been to this Greek island. Then I went on a painting holiday in Halki, and immediately became a total convert. Halki is in the Dodecanese; it’s fairly small and quiet, with a tiny village port on a horseshoe bay and a few interesting churches and castles. I’ve now been back several times, and consider it my island. Each time I go, I find it more enchanting.