10 pound-stretching reasons to visit Greece
Greece is back, and not just because Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie holidayed there this summer!
After visitor numbers to Greece plummeted during its well-publicised economic troubles, bookings are on the rise. It should be no surprise - Greece is one of the best options in Europe for a great value holiday right now. Our Greek expert Jennifer Barclay tells us why...
1. Greek ‘champagne’
Retsina might not be everyone’s cup of tea when they first try it, but for true Grecophiles that stubby yellow bottle, well chilled, is the true taste of Greek summer. At 11% it’s a light wine anyway, but take a tip from the locals and top up your glass with soda to make it even more quaffable.
Price: less than 2 euros a bottle from the supermarket
2. Meal deal
Slices of juicy meat from the hot spit, fresh salad, chips and tzatziki, all wrapped up in warm bread – what could be better than the humble Greek gyros pita? One’s a light bite, two’s a meal. The veggie alternative is cheese pie or spinach pie from the bakery, sprinkled with sesame seeds and hot from the oven. Enough said!
Price: any 2 for under a fiver
3. Dance ’til dawn
Plenty of music bars in Greece are free to get in; just buy a drink and you can dance ’til you drop as they often don’t close until well into the early hours. Most get going around midnight. The dance bar in Mikro Horio in Tilos, an abandoned village in the hills, has a dancefloor under the stars (and sometimes for the stars – Jennifer Aniston was spotted last year, though she probably didn’t take the free shuttle bus). Fancy something more traditional? Find a local festival and indulge your inner Zorba.
Price: 5 euros for a drink
4. Snorkel to de-stress
While away the hours watching your own private marine extravaganza: there’s nothing quite as absorbing as mooching around looking for the most colourful fish and starfish in a little cove with plenty of rocks and crystal-clear water, and if you’ve picked somewhere off the beaten track you’ll often have your own private beach to boot. It’s a great way to work up an appetite for dinner. Or for a free natural spa treatment, try Therma just outside Kos town, where hot spring water bubbles up through the rocks into the sea.
Price: a couple of euros for the bus fare
5. Greek salad
A friend of mine jokes that if the Greek government charged royalties on all the Greek salads around the world, they’d write off their debt overnight. But there’s nothing like the real thing: juicy, tasty tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, onion and peppers, creamy feta, a slosh of olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs – the best lunch in the world. Even Jamie couldn’t do simpler than that.
Price: 4.50 euros
6. Know where to go
In summer, avoid the trendy bits of touristy islands (clue: anywhere that’s had a Hollywood film made of it, or that features on a poster). Greece has hundreds of islands and mainland regions to choose from, all of them different. So to make the money stretch, why not get away from the obvious choices like Mykonos and Santorini, and head where the prices are more down to earth? It might mean an extra ferry ride but you’ll have a more authentic Greek experience; life slows down the further away you get from the airport.
7. Rooms with a view
Unless you’re looking for sophistication, then a double room for 30 euros a night with a view of sea or mountains is easy to find (a bit more in the height of summer, less if you’re staying for a week). You’ll often have a balcony and cooking facilities – including a fridge to chill that Greek champagne. Or travel back to the hippie days and find a free-camping beach like Eristos on Tilos, where families and couples set up home for a month in the summer with the best view in the world – sparkling blue sea by day, and glittering stars and moonlight by night.
8. Know how to get there
Try to find a local website and compare ferry prices, as a fast catamaran or excursion boat may cost double the price of the slower big ferry service. On the bigger ferries you can get in the holiday spirit by finding a spot on the deck to soak up some sun, play backgammon, and enjoy those magnificent vistas of deep blue that Greece is famous for. Unless you need a taxi from the airport, take the bus for a couple of euros – or if you’re a group, see if a taxi will negotiate on the price (for example, Rhodes airport to downtown hotel is just 22 euros).
9. Get ruined
Blow your mind in Athens by taking in some of the most impressive and good value museums in the world (the Acropolis, Archaeological and Cycladic Art museums just for starters). All across Greece, ancient treasures from many centuries BC lurk in museums that might be old but certainly aren’t boring. Go one better and simply wander around ancient ruins for free. Why not, when the goats do? You can find old temples and castles all over the lesser-known areas where, without the crowds, you can wander alone and imagine how things once were – and you get a free workout if you hike there under your own steam.
Price: in Athens, 12 euros gets you into the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Temple of Zeus, Roman Agora, Keramikos, Hadrian’s Library and Theatre of Dionysus
10. Leave the shops behind
There’s plenty of that for the rest of the year back home; when in Greece, try having a cool drink with your feet in the sand instead, and listen to the cicadas.
Jennifer Barclay lives on the Greek island of Tilos and writes the blog An Octopus in my Ouzo. Her book Falling in Honey: Life and Love on a Greek Island will be published in spring 2013.