Greece Vacation Ideas
Flying the flag for millennia (Photo: The proud flag of Greece image by Mangojuicy from Fotolia.com )
Greece is known as the cradle of Western civilization. Its ancient city states-including Athens, Sparta, Ithaca and Mycenae-were the birthplaces of literature, drama, philosophy, politics and the Olympic games. Democracy was born during the golden age of Athens' supremacy in the 5th century BC, and it's comprised of the Greek words for people (demos) and rule (kratos). Greece has the tenth longest coastline in the world, and it has over 1, 500 islands.
Greece is situated on the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, and it's bounded by the Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean seas. The capital, Athens, is close to one of the world's most famous ports, Piraeus; most Greek vacations begin and end in Athens. The Parthenon, the superb temple to the city's patron goddess, tops the ancient ruins of the Akropolis, which stand out above the haze of the city.
The peninsula known as the Peloponnese became, strictly speaking, an island after the sheer Corinth Canal was dug in 1893 to shorten shipping routes. Visit Kalamata for its eponymous and superbly succulent olives and the incredibly romantic port town of Nafplion, Greece's first modern capital. Journey to the southern tip to visit the medieval fortress town of Monemvasia.
Santorini, one of of the Cycladic Islands in the Southern Aegean, is about an eight-hour ferry ride from Piraeus, but watching the sun set over its volcanic cliffs makes the trip splendidly worthwhile. Alternatively, party hard on Mykonos, lend a hand in the protection of sea turtles on Zakynthos or follow Gerald Durrell's animal adventures on Corfu.
Greece is home to 17 UNESCO world heritage sites, the Akropolis in Athens and the so-called navel of the world in Delphi, where Apollo's famous oracle was consulted by Alexander the Great. Olympia, in the Peloponnese, was home to the ancient Olympic games, and Epidaurus hosts the masterpiece sanctuary of Asklepios and a vast theatre.
Many travelers hike the stupendous Samarian Gorge on Crete, and others mountain bike the forested slopes of Thasos. For more water-based adventure, fabulous caves on Corfu have long attracted scuba divers, and underwater archaeological sites have recently opened up for recreational divers. Also, Mount Parnassos has some great ski slopes.
Greek dining is a long, casual and many plated affair. Share dishes of tzatziki, taramosalata and dolmades with sauteed octopus, moussaka, and souvlaki. Wash it all down with glasses of retsina, then spend the evening watching the world go by with some ouzo.
Greece has 16 international airports, but many of them are not destinations for scheduled flights. The national carrier, Olympic, flies direct from the east coast of the United States. Renting a car is the best way to explore the mountains, valleys, villages and coasts of the mainland. For island hopping, the ferry timetables are tricky, but the journey is wonderfully romantic. However, off-season ferries are few and far between. Luckily, the popular islands now boast airports.