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.
- Classical: Just a short ferry ride from Athens and you’re in Mykonos – a famous Greek island that Maria and Chrissa suggest visiting at the end of September as opposed to when most people go which in the heart of the summer – July or August (which also happens to be when all of the big parties happen on the island). This way, she explained, most of the crowds are gone and it is much easier to be a tourist. Mykonos is known for its great beaches and great restaurants as well as for being a gay friendly destination – although nowadays many families and singles also flock there. Fun Fact: Its nickname is the Island of Winds because it is very windy almost all year round.
- Modern: When we talked with Mina it was during the cruise ship hiatus due to the pandemic and she noted that due to the absence of the cruise ships there are a lot less people on the island now, but you still have that vibrant night life. And yes, Mykonos is certainly known for the party that it is, and the beach clubs are open. She feels however that this limited capacity will probably continue well into 2021 – but it’s still definitely a happening place with people still flocking there, the yachts still docking and that amazing jet set vibe it’s famous for still there – it’s just with fewer people and less traffic.
- Modern: I was in Santorini and I loved it – it’s very romantic with beautiful views and fabulous wines but – it’s really not a beach destination which is what I wanted to point out here. Many people don’t realize the Mediterranean is rocky – plus Santorini is also a volcanic island so while you do have beaches it’s the black and the red sand which is typically not something that you’re expecting when you’re thinking of Greek island beaches. Plus – Santorini presents you with an opportunity to ride a donkey. And when you are in Santorini you don’t want to miss the Santorini caldera which is a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses. The sunset there is worth every penny you spent to visit Greece and it’s definitely a bucket list item.
- Modern: When I have clients looking for those untouched beaches, I mention Milos as it is great choice for pristine beaches and per Mina it’s amazing for sailing as well. Also, something to be aware of is that a lot of different points on the islands are not accessible by land, so you will definitely want to have at least a day where you either charter a private boat or do a small group catamaran cruise. This way you can really get around and see some of these places that are untouched with unique landscapes thanks to the fact that it is another volcanic island. Mina noted that Milos was starting to gain more momentum last year as one of the more off the radar islands and it continues to do so. It is certainly a place where it’s quite untouched as it doesn’t have a developed tourism industry where you’re going to have those big chain hotels. Everything is boutique and just really catering to those people who are coming to experience the island.
- Modern: Then you have Naxos which is the largest island in the Cyclades. As a result, you have a lot of people who live and work there all year so it’s not as transient as places like Mykonos, Santorini and Paros. Due to that fact, it is a place that still maintains a really rich local culture so it’s a great place for cooking classes, for exploring and seeing how people live. One of the great things about Naxos is that because of its size it has enough agriculture production so they don’t need to import a lot – as everything can be accessed on the island. So, expect lots of wonderful cheeses, fruits and vegetables.
- Classical: Maria and Chrissa adore this island and feel it is one of the most beautiful islands in Greece –and have been there many times. It is filled with beautiful beaches excellent local gastronomy and very friendly locals. Paros historically was known for its fine white marble which gave rise to the term Parion to describe marble or china of similar quality. Today you can find abandoned marble quarries and mines on the island, but Paros is primarily known as a popular tourist spot.
- Modern: We talked about places where you can stay for a number of months and this is really an ideal island for that. It was just named the top island by several magazines and it’s a great place because it’s very central in the Cyclades meaning you can easily do day trips to a lot of different islands. You have a lot of infrastructure here and there’s everything that you need to live plus it has great accommodations for extended stay in terms of either hotels or villas. It’s a self-sufficient island and Mina advised that if you want to take cooking lessons this is the place to do it in a private home!
Athens: The capital and largest city of Greece – it was once a powerful civilization and empire that was at the heart of ancient Greece.
- Classical: Home to the famous citadel – The Acropolis as well as the history and the culture of Greece itself – it is all gathered here. The word acropolis is from the Greek words akron which means highest point and polis which means city – and so named because it is indeed the highest spot in the city. Maria proudly gushed that every time she goes to Athens, she visits The Acropolis – it is that special and very respected. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and is perhaps what most people think of first when they think of Greece as it is an extremely popular tourist attraction. It houses the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance -with the most famous being the Parthenon.
- Modern: You definitely want to stay downtown and enjoy the old-world tourist sites but then you need to take about a 30- or 40-minute ride and enjoy other parts of Athens like the Athenian Riviera. As per Mina the Athenian Riviera is a part of Greece – particularly a part of Athens – that a lot of people are not really familiar with especially coming from the US. Athens really has been kind of a dropping off point where you might stay a day or two see The Acropolis and leave. However, tourism is picking up there now and they are seeing a certain type of a clientele which hadn’t necessarily known that the Athenian Riviera was an area that existed. So now so there’s certainly been a lot more interest in spending time there and as a result they are seeing are longer stays now when it comes to being in Athens.
Thessaloniki: Also Known as Salonika it is a port city on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea.
- Classical: This is the beautiful co–capital city of Greece – and the capital of the original Macedonia – which is known for the White Tower of the Thessaloniki. The White Tower is both a monument and museum that is located on the waterfront of the city. The present tower replaced an old 12th century Byzantine fortification that the Ottoman Empire constructed to fortify the city’s harbor sometime after Thessaloniki was overtaken in 1430. The tower became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule. After Greece gained control of the city in 1912 the tower was remodeled and its exterior whitewashed and adopted as the symbol of the city. And you guys I have to say that what I really love about this part of Greece – and pretty much all of Greece – is this is true living history. The Ottoman Empire is something that we learn about in school and here it is – waiting for us to take it all in and live it – in person. And we can’t forget to add that it is also a city with great food and a unique gastronomical identity and what Maria considers to be the most delicious food in all Greece. And this beautiful city is located on the Aegean Sea so it’s a city that you can walk by the sea in and is a favorite spot of hers as well. She added that Greeks love the sea and they love to walk by the sea and she thinks that within the next few years Thessaloniki will be one of the main destinations for people from abroad because it is a multicultural city with many things for visitors to explore.
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.
- Kalymnos Island
- Classical: This heaven on earth is known worldwide as a destination for people who love rock climbing and is located between the islands of Kos and Leros. It is also known as the “Sponge-divers’ Island” in addition to being popular for rock climbing. It features more than 3000 climbing routes set in the limestone rock of the island and the climate allows climbing all year round. Maria made the observation that a lot of people think Greece is only sea and sun, but it’s got so much more, and Kalymnos is an example of this.
- Modern: There are a lot of medieval treasures in Greece for such a small country but that’s because there’s so many influences from different places through history. The Sporades Islands are located on the bottom of Greece near Turkey. and the most famous of the islands is Rhodes. Rhodes is also the largest of the Dodecanese islands. As for that medieval culture – you have a medieval village in Rhodes which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a great place to combine with Turkey so we can have you do some parts of Greece – for instance start in Athens work your way into Rhodes and then into Turkey into Istanbul – the old Constantinople.
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.
- Classical: This popular destination for people from the US – it is an extremely popular holiday destination – is a big hit with Maria and Chrissa as well and they think it just may have the best gastronomy in Greece and every time they visit, they tend to eat a lot and really enjoy the food – and the wine. And let me tell you – I was in Crete and it was beautiful and I was never hungry! Its four biggest cities are Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos, Chania and Rethymno and some of the spots that you don’t miss when you visit a Crete are the archaeological sites of the Minoan civilization, the Venetian old city and port of Chania, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, the gorge of Samaria, and the gorgeous Palm Beach of Vai – which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe. And let’s not forget Knossos which is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site in Crete. Per Maria, Knossos was the heart of mainland civilization and a very famous ancient Greek civilization. If you want to know its entire story – its entire history – it’s not enough only to go to Knossos – you must also visit the archaeological museum that is one of the largest archaeological museums in the world. By combining the area of Knossos and the museum and you will have a complete picture of Minoan civilization. As she so poetically put – Knossos is not just a monument – it is a whole era – it’s our story – you feel that you go back in time when you are there. And once again may I point out here that we’re really living history and one of the things I focus on with you guys all the time in terms of writing your itineraries is making sure that you have these things included because it’s not just the textbook anymore – you can stand in it – and take it all in. That being said – the ladies insist it is a minimum of 15 days to see all that Crete has to offer – yes, a minimum.
- Modern: So, one of the things I absolutely must point out – again – is that when guys plan to go to Crete – don’t plan on just two or three days. You need to plan enough days so that you have enough time to eat your way through it because the amount of food that you’re going to find here is amazing. And the best part is that everything is farm to table or sea to table fresh. Crete is a whole flavor in itself. And Mina agrees. She noted that since it is the largest island in Greece it’s a huge destination in itself so it’s not uncommon – or not a bad idea – to spend an extended amount of time there. You can do ten days on the island and easily eat your way through, see the wineries and a host of the many other things that you can do on Crete. It’s one of the islands where you truly have everything – besides the food and the wine you’ve got hiking, biking – lots of different trails – you’ve got the channel to port and there’s plenty of family fun and all sorts of outdoor activities. Here you have everything from the sea to the mountains and it’s a place where you will pretty much find every single variation of Greece in one place. Definitely a great island to use as a home base – especially if you want to do some day trips and it speaks to you if you want to be active or if you want to be laid back and chill.
Chalkidiki: A wide peninsula in Northern Greece, it features great beaches and is part of the Region of Central Macedonia.
- Classical: This gorgeous area is about one hour from Thessaloniki by car. Among its towns are Polygyros, which is located in the center of the Chalkidiki peninsula. Chalkidiki is a popular summer tourist destination – a coastal village – that is very famous for summer holidays and offers accommodations of all forms. Maria noted it is extremely popular with the residents of Thessaloniki due to its proximity to it and many have their holiday homes there. In these beautiful Mediterranean waters you will find more locals with not as many tourists as other beaches in Greece.
Chios Island: This is the fifth largest of the Greek islands and is situated in the northern Aegean Sea.
- Classical: Maria described this as a unique product and one of her favorite islands in Greece. It is known for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is “The Mastic Island.” There are a lot of villages here that produce this product which is used for the gastronomy as well as for some medicines. Chios tourist attractions include its medieval villages and the 11th-century monastery of Nea Moni – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gastronomy is unique – authentic gastronomy with ancient roots – and per Maria – Chrissa and her went from village to village tasting the local recipes on a fantastic gastronomy tour that they will never forget.
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.
- Corfu Island
- Classical: I love this island and I think it is one of the most beautiful of the Greek islands. Corfu has its own unique identity and very tasty local gastronomy. You will also find a lot of beaches, a lot of monuments and much history as it’s an ancient area. It also has a long history of hospitality to foreigners, residents and visitors. The northeast coast of the island has been developed by a few British holiday companies with large holiday villas that make for great accommodations.
- Kefalonia Island
- Classical: Kefalonia was used as the shooting location of the Hollywood movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and is a popular spot for filming tv shows as a lot of producers choose this island as an attractive background for their stories. Once again, this island features great beaches. Most people think that only the islands of the Aegean Sea have beautiful beaches, but the Ionian islands are home to equally great beaches. A lot of people prefer Corfu and Kefalonia and both are famous abroad – along with Zakynthos – which is a popular spot for UK residents. All of the islands in the Ionian Sea have distinguished local gastronomy and Maria noted that the cuisine in Greece varies throughout each destination so everywhere you go you will find different, tasty dishes.
- Classical: Lefkada – and its’s capital – the town of Lefkada- share the same name and can be reached by flying into the Aktion National Airport as it is just a 25-minute ride from there. It can also be reached via road so there is no need to take a boat to reach this island thanks to a large bridge that connects the island with the mainland. Many prefer driving there so that they don’t have to spend money on a boat. And once again there are beautiful beaches and great gastronomy!
Epirus: A historical region in southeastern Europe, now shared between Greece and Albania and laying between the Pindus Mountains and the Ionian Sea.
- Classical: So, we mentioned before that a lot of people think Greece is only sea and sun and beaches and summer – but it’s so much more. Zagorochoria is an example of that as it is a cluster of 46 villages located throughout the mountains. There are plenty of accommodations to choose from as well as activities and sports including trekking to diving. They too have a unique gastronomy with very tasty dishes, as well as being an area of great history and impressive ancient monuments. If you love mountains – this is something out of the box to do in Greece – spending a couple of days hiding away from everyone and taking in nature.
- Classical: The largest city in Epirus is Ioannina City and it also happens to be its capital. Home to a great archaeological site – that contains the ancient theater of Dodona which is a fabulous opportunity to see an ancient theater in Greece. And do to the fact that Greece was under Ottoman rule for 400 years you will find many Ottoman monuments. A must see here is the Ioannina Castle a beautiful castle on the rocky peninsula of Lake Pamvotida. Lake Pamvotida the largest lake in Epirus and here you can take a boat to a small island in the middle of the lake for a tour of it. And while you are there be sure to try their unique small plates – called Mezes. Mezes is a variety of food – all small portions but a lot of quality – and per Maria it is quite common in Greece and Cyprus to start your meals with these small plates along with wine or ouzo.
- Classical: This seaside village is known for its accommodations including villas and lovely hotels situated near the great beaches. It is actually referred to the “Riviera of the Ionian Sea” and is a fabulous destination for those you love sailing and of course great gastronomy too.
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.
- Vathia, Mani
- Classical: Vathia is a village on the Mani Peninsula and is characterized by its stone tower houses on a hill in the countryside. These stone houses were built during the 18th and 19th centuries and being here makes you feel like you are going back in time. It is a place with great history and has become an extremely popular tourist attraction in the spring and summer thanks to an abundance of wildflowers that cover the nearby hills that make for incredibly scenic views. There are also great beaches here like on the Mediterranean side.
- Classical: This beautiful area – located in the southwestern part of the Peloponnisos region consists of three peninsulas and therefor offers a lot of great beaches. Its capital is Kalamata.
- Modern: Wellness continues to be a big travel trend and people who were interested in doing spas are now flocking to new retreats such as Euphoria Retreat in Mystras that brings a completely different level of a holistic spa experience to Greece. This incredible spa resort is unlike anything they’ve had before. The concept is that you have all of these transformational experiences making it a place where your body gets to recharge. You’ve got treatments from ancient medicines, you can participate in tours to learn how to pick the local herbs and how they’re used in healing, you can do Spartan warrior training here – which is doing lot of body weight exercises and training the same way the Spartan soldiers did. (If you’re interested in getting fit what a cool way to do it!) You will also find a lot of thermal spas, incredible food, wine regions, olive oil production and you can visit beekeeping farms – so there’s a lot of different ways that you can experience how food is made and where it comes from. And you will see that it is in ways that are truly healthy and untouched while also taking care of your mind and body.
- Modern: This is one of Mina’s favorites and while it is very difficult to get to – the experience that you’re going to have of just being able to look out into nature, star gazing – you can literally just put your blanket out anywhere. It’s a Blue Zone meaning that it is referred to as an island where people forget to die. My great grandmother died literally five years ago at the age of 102 and the way that they that she lived up until the day she died was amazing. There were always people around, so there’s a lot of movement back and forth and you see that everybody tends to stay extremely healthy. They really they take care of themselves. They visit the spa and eat very well. It’s place that is absolutely beautiful and untouched. Perfect for people who do want to get off the radar and see something unique – she highly recommends it!
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.
- Modern: One of the southernmost islands in the Saronic chain, it tends to go really well with Hydra, with Aegina and also with the Peloponnese as we can connect all of these very easily by sea. This is an island that’s known for its spices – in fact, it’s known as The Spice Island. So, you are greeted by amazing aromas and great foods making it a really nice place to just get away and experience all the good things in life. Plus, it’s an island that’s not very well known by most people so here’s an opportunity for you guys to do some traveling off the beaten path. It’s an amazing island and when you tell everyone at home all about it they are going to be envious that this was your Greece experience!
- Aegina Island
- Modern: You’ve definitely got the wellness buzz here – thanks to a variety of spas.
- Modern: Hydra is pretty amazing with one notable difference – here there are no cars – instead, donkeys are your main mode of transport! What an exciting opportunity – something that is authentically local. And guess what – that is how you’re going to get to your hotel – they’ll put your luggage onto the donkeys, and you’ll walk – or ride – with them to get to where you need to go. It would probably be best to be a good hiker here because you’ll probably do a lot of walking on this island, but it is it’s definitely something that’s quite unique and a beautiful experience.
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.
- Pissouri Beach
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.
- Vathia Gonia Beach
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.
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!