The following overview is actually a combination of two separate video chats that I conducted to highlight one of my very favorite places on this earth – actually two of my very favorite places on this earth – Greece and Cyprus.
One of those chats was with Maria Athanasopoulou, founder of Respond OnDemand and Chrissa Krassa, founder of Top Tourism – whom I met through the World Food Travel Organization. This one touches on the more classical, traditional, historical and cultural side of Greece as well as Cyprus. The other was with my colleague Mina Agnos, Founder and President of Travelive which touches more on the modern – or as I like to say the more Instagramable - side of Greece.
This really is more of a high-level introduction to Greece as we cover a number of different islands - but certainly not all of the islands or we'd be here for hours! Think of it as all of the pieces I tend to see people looking for when they're considering Greece as their next destination to explore.
Here I have taken both conversations and pulled out the most pertinent information and categorized it - so that you can get the best possible overview of both sides of this magnificent slice of heaven on earth. And so, to Greece – and Cyprus – we go!
Why Greece? For the history, for the culture, for the classical side, for the spiritual side, for the wellness, for the gastronomy, for the beaches, for the beautiful views. There are just so many different ways to experience this amazing destination! Plus, Greece has such an amazing way of living that we all want to emanate, as it is great for the mind, body, spirit and soul.
When Should I Visit? Greece is a 365-day destination which means you can visit Greece year-round. They are most famous for their islands which are mostly seasonal but there are other things throughout the year that you can experience - including skiing. It truly is a destination that you can visit any time of the year.
How Do I Get There? Typically, a Greek adventure will start by flying into the Athens airport which is about a nine-hour flight from the east coast. I have done it from New York - and Delta as well as some other airlines - offer direct flights. As always, I do recommend premium economy seats at the very lowest because on a longer flight such as this you are going to want that extra space. And if you can splurge then by all means go for that business class seat so that you can lay down!
I Hear There Are New Travel Trends. Mina advised that since the pandemic came along, they have seen a shift - which she feels is most likely happening across the board. The trend is towards ways of travel that are more sustainable, safer and offer the opportunity to social distance. And she assures us that Greece has put a lot of protocols in place around the country to ensure all of this. People are not only focusing on different off the radar islands but also alternate, more private ways to travel. For instance, private yacht charters are super popular for those looking to see the islands without being on a cruise ship with thousands of other travelers. People are also booking private transfers - so instead of traveling via commercial flights and ferries that are scheduled - Mina said they're seeing more along the lines of the private helicopters, private speedboats and private transfers to get people to and from destinations so that they're not having to take the scheduled transportation.
As for accommodations they are also seeing more private villa stays as well as staycation's where people work from home in villas or all-suite hotels. And finally, there is a shift to more authentic experiences – such as private cooking classes. And really all of this is a great way to travel with your crew or your bubble – so that you are all together - but separate from the masses.
And there’s definitely been a shift in terms of how much traffic there is as they don't have the same crowds that they did – for instance cruises have not returned - and it makes these destinations available to be experienced in ways which they have not been able to in decades. So, it’s a huge opportunity for people who really want to come in and see Greece and get more of that authentic feel and miss some of the over tourism that we've seen in the past few years.
OK – Tell Me All About The Destinations I Should Try To Include In My Itinerary!
Cyclades: The Cyclades – located southeast of the mainland in the Aegean Sea - are no doubt the most popular of the island groups with Mykonos and Santorini the top of the requests that Mina sees coming from the US. Mina also explained that they find no matter where people want to go in Greece when they hear from them Santorini is always on that list. In addition, there are a lot of repeat travelers now coming back to Greece. It used to be that it was just a once in a lifetime trip to Athens, Mykonos or Santorini but that's not the case anymore and its really great to see there's so much interest in coming back and experiencing a lot of these other less popular spots around the country.
Athens: The capital and largest city of Greece - it was once a powerful civilization and empire that was at the heart of ancient Greece.
Thessaloniki: Also Known as Salonika it is a port city on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea.
Dodecanese Island Chain: This is a group of over 150 Greek islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean - off the coast of Turkey that belong to the wider Southern Sporades island group.
Crete: Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica.
Chalkidiki: A wide peninsula in Northern Greece, it features great beaches and is part of the Region of Central Macedonia.
Chios Island: This is the fifth largest of the Greek islands and is situated in the northern Aegean Sea.
Ionian Islands: This island group can be found on the west side of Greece between the Greek mainland and Italy. Due to their location they're not easily connected with some of the Cyclades destinations, so you don't necessarily want to do something with Mykonos and Santorini and then go to the Ionian Islands - because you're going to have to connect in Athens and you’ll spend a lot of time traveling. That being said they are definitely gaining popularity with Americans and is a wonderful place to sail. It tends to be very flat but it's very lush and you have a lot of greenery making it a stunning landscape. With so many of the Greek islands being very dry here you have the green mixed in with the blues so it's something for Greeks that’s quite different. As for accommodations you've got everything from the very simple to the very high end here. Porto Zante Villas and Spa is an ideal place if you are looking for something very upscale and want your own villa with your own pool AND your own private piece of the beach. It’s somewhere you can go and have that exclusive experience with your family.
Epirus: A historical region in southeastern Europe, now shared between Greece and Albania and laying between the Pindus Mountains and the Ionian Sea.
Peloponnese: Peloponnese is Maria’s homeland, so naturally she was quite excited to speak about it. It is a peninsula located in southern Greece. And per Mani Peloponnese truly has everything - you've got the history, the culture and wellness galore. There are just many different villages and ways to experience around here but you'll also have that that ancient Greece feeling making it a totally enriching and experiences. So, you have all of the different variations of ancient Greek culture of in one spot plus you're really close to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Ancient Olympia’s not far away and ancient Mycenae is usually visited on the way plus you're in the area of Sparta so there's so many things that you can do.
Saronic Islands: The Saronic Islands aren’t far from Athens making them ideal day trips. They're quite easy to connect to thanks to the ferries - with it being about 30 minutes to an hour to get to Aegina and an hour and a half to Hydra. Then you have Spetses that is very close by as well. In reality these are ideal for those with less time who want something that's a little bit different. They are not as well-known but they're very accessible from Athens making it easy to visit either as day trips or as shorter stays for weekends or even island hopping via boat. I love to do island hopping and something for you guys to consider is to charter your own yacht. And I know that sounds really expensive, but it can actually be worked in within your budget thanks to our travel financial planning. Think about it – just you and your travel companions and a crew to yourselves - not a whole cruise full of people. Mina also mentioned chartering a catamaran as another, cost effective option as well.
Life As A Living Classroom Must Be Amazing Here! Greece is a living classroom and for those of you who are doing home schooling this is a great trip to take the kids on. Athens is written all over our textbooks - everything in Greece and civilization as we know it - and a lot of things that we do today are based off things that born in Greece. So why not take your kids and immerse them in all of this because it’s guaranteed the essays that they write will be with them forever. There is no better way to learn than by firsthand experience. You will be giving your kids something that will differentiate them for the rest of their life. In Greece you will really be able to make a lot of those lessons come alive and it's wonderful to see it happen to your children!
Tell Me About That Greek Gastronomy. You guys know that I always add that cultural immersion through gastronomy element to your trip. I honestly believe that breaking bread with someone, sharing a meal or learning how to cook with somebody that's local is the best way to be in touch and find your way in their culture. One thing I love about Greece is the fact that there are no GMO's in their food. And what a difference that makes! It is so fresh and so much better than the food that we get here in the states and the flavors are amazing – not to mention natural and authentic. Pretty much nothing that you're going to find anywhere else in the world - it's mouthwatering. And it consists of everything from their world-famous feta cheese - to a lot of products from ancient years including their unique bread, honey, olive oil and seafood – and boy do they know how to cook seafood!
The Island of Cyprus
Cyprus is one of my most favorite countries that I had the marvelous opportunity to explore just a few years ago. And to tell you the honest truth when I was there, I felt like I belonged there and that someday I am going to live there – I just don’t know it yet! Maria said that Greeks think the same about Cyprus as they do Greece – as they share the same language, the same history and the same religion - so for Greeks they are one nation - and every time she is in Cyprus, she feels like she is home.
Lefkosia (Nicosia City)
With its distinction as the only divided capital in the world, Lefkosia and the surrounding area combines the heartbeat of the islands commercial and business center with an interesting past. It also has rural areas where escape is possible in beautiful green environments.
The capital itself is steeped in history and culture with a charming old city surrounded by massive Venetian walls and the island's largest concentration of museums, art galleries and religious and historical monuments that all tell stories of the island through the ages.
I loved Paphos! For me was an area where I felt like the world was at a standstill. I was able to enjoy some beach time and to enjoy really great food - it was super relaxing. Comprised of both old and new towns, rural villages and picturesque resorts - the region is home to some of the most stunning areas of natural beauty on the island as well as many archaeological sites that are historically invaluable, with the neighborhood of Katos Paphos declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lemesos is the Greek word for beautiful city and here you will find the legends of kings and kingdoms and the origins of the island’s wine making industry characterize the region. Known as the Region of Wine, celebrations and ancient realms, Lemesos is comprised of its main city - which sits between two important archaeological sites - the ancient city-kingdom of Amathus to the east and the ancient city-kingdom of Kourion to the west - along with rural areas and charming mountainous villages, where old traditions and crafts are still practiced. I was here as well and it was absolutely awesome. I remember going into the different villages with our guide and we were wine tasting and doing the olive oil tasting and it was just amazing. We even saw some areas that that were still being excavated.
Another beautiful region – this one is mountainous. With pine-scented air that feels more invigorating the higher you climb, the Troodos mountain range is the island’s green heart, that is immersed in endless forests, valleys and orchards. Comprised of many different, traditional villages, every twist and turn of the mountain roads leads to something different. The chain of winemaking communities has practiced their art for centuries, while others are famous for their intricate handmade folk-art - from lace and silverwork to pottery and basket weaving. There are agricultural villages known for their different fruits and waterfalls and springs that offer a cooling drink to both humans and wildlife.
Sparkling, crystal waters and powdery, golden sands are one of the defining features of this region as well as scenic landscapes featuring quaint windmills and its mineral-rich earth growing some of the island’s tastiest, fresh produce. Comprised of the main holiday resorts of Agia Napa and Paralimni-Protaras, the once-tiny villages have seen their popularity and boundaries expand into bustling resorts that continue to attract visitors in droves.
When I was in Cyprus this was pretty much my home base. It is an ancient district where east meets west and hundreds of years of contrasting civilizations, architecture and culture have left their mark on an authentic and diverse region. Both Christianity and Islam have important religious sites in Larnaka. Popular sights are the Medieval Castle, the palm tree-lined promenade of Finikoudes, and Larnaka Salt Lake, which fills with vibrant pink flamingos during the winter months.
Beaches in Cyprus: There are many more than just the two we talked about below – but we wanted to include an overview of some of the more popular ones.
Located 30km west of Lemesos - Pissouri Bay is the tourist resort of the village of Pissouri. The coast has seen its popularity soar thanks to its stunning, natural beauty and the resort facilities now found in the area. The beach has fine, golden sands, multicolored small pebbles, and its clean waters are relatively calm.
The beach of Vathia Gonia is a beautiful coastal stretch that is located east of the more crowded Nissi Bay. As a sandy beach with a natural rocky bay, it is covered in fine, golden sands and its crystal-clear water is relatively calm as there is a complete lack of headwinds at the beach. This is the birthplace of Aphrodite which is called Petra tou Romiou - translated to “a Greek stone.” Aphrodite’s mythical birthplace is an interesting geological formation of huge rocks along one of the most beautiful coastlines on the island, located on the southwest coast of Paphos. According to the legend, the Ancient Greek Goddess of Love and Beauty - Aphrodite - was born of the sea foam here. Legend tells that she rose from the waves and was escorted on a shell to this particular beach.
And How Is the Gastronomy in Cyprus? The ritual of sharing good, fresh local cuisine is an important part of the island’s culture and is intrinsically linked with every social event, from family gatherings and special occasions to religious festivals with each being marked with its own distinct delicacies and recipes. From hearty meat dishes and specialty cheeses to unique desserts of carob and grape, the Cypriot cuisine is an exotic blend of Greek and Middle Eastern cultures, sprinkled with remnants of ancient civilizations. And it is no secret that the Mediterranean diet is considered to be of the healthiest, thanks an abundance of heart-healthy olive oil, lean meat, local herbs and freshly grown fruits and vegetables. Add to this the favorable climate that gives the produce its intense flavor - and a celebration around every corner - you will find a big gastronomic adventure awaits on this tiny island! And as per Maria don’t forget to get some Halloumi while you are there – it is a famous Cyprian white cheese that you don’t want to miss!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Greece and Cyprus.
For the CDC’s most up to date information on COVID-19 in Greece click here and in Cyprus click here. And for the most up to date entry requirements Greece click here and in Cyprus click here.
Oh gosh – there you have it - Greece and Cyprus – literally in a nutshell! There is so much more we can talk about but since time is limited, I think this give you a darn good idea what they are all about! Now, let’s get you to this amazing destination to experience it firsthand!
For more details on things to see and do in Greece and Cyprus, where to stay, it’s price points and more - contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!
During the shutdown of Covid19, Loulu Lima began interviewing many tourism boards, destination management companies and suppliers whom BHGH works with in the curation of your itineraries.
Here you will find the videos as well as written summary of each. Summaries are transcribed by Carole A. Peck.
Video post production managed by MotionDash.Media
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