February 9, 2018

Road tripping Greek style

 

 Written by Lee & Bhanu from Adventureinourteacups.com

Opa! is a well loved Greek exclamation, often accompanying the happy tradition of plate smashing at weddings. It sums up the people well; loud, vibrant, warm, genuine and always ready for a celebration. Actually, as a traveler in Greece, these may well be the words used to describe your big fat Greek adventure. For such a seemingly small country, the stories that emerge are so dramatic in their richness, so emblazoned in history and larger than life. They make this heroic little country a masterpiece to travel through.

Walking through Athens, every street bursting with Mediterranean charm, the magic of the bustling ancient city is bewitching.

Athens View © Lee & Bhanu from Adventureinourteacups.com

The sun drenched ruins of the Acropolis Temple in Athens are an enthralling place to start your journey. Though packed with summertime tourists, the expansive views of the city from the nearby Pantheon are a silhouette of antiquity.

The Parthenon © Lee & Bhanu from Adventureinourteacups.com

Athens skyline today though is a rambling assembly of concrete box like buildings, adorned with satellite dishes, half-finished paintwork and impulsiveness. But there’s a vibrant currency to its culture, the same heartbeat that has shaped the city for centuries.

If you love history…

For history enthusiasts, the spectacular heritage of Greece is akin to Disneyworld for a six-year-old. Bathed in the open sunlight, sand coloured columns and crumbling temple walls have stood before the passing of empires.

As the cradle of Western civilisation and the birth of the Olympics, walking the archaeological ruins of Olympia is breathtaking, especially as the whole stadium is made of marble. Olympia became the most sacred place for the worship of Zeus. In his name, the temple was the largest and most significant building at Olympia and was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Ancient Olympia

Just hours from Athens the stories of classical Greece are etched within the preserved cities. Sometimes overlooked on the tourist trail, the modern city of Sparta 2 1/2 hours from Athens, is full of fascinating excursions and great cafes. As a rival city to Athens in many a Greek drama, the fierce warrior spirit of the Spartan’s clearly put this constitutional society on the map.

The Oracle of Delphi

Northwest of Athens at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, the Oracle heralded the time and tide of Greece’s destiny by imparting her wisdom. Today it’s an impressive archaeological site on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus, less than 3 hours drive from the capital.

Off the beaten track

Locals will tell you that if you hire a car and drive out of Athens, you’ll fall in love with the provincial side of life as much as Greece’s ancient heritage. The pastoral villages where time seems to have stood still, have a rustic and captivating charm, while the harmonious and industrial lives of those in the coastal fishing villages are a tranquil reprieve for travellers. Heading north with a free spirit and not really knowing where you’ll stay or for how long, is one of the most enchanting things about Greece. It’s refreshing to find yourself in a landscape that’s perhaps more dramatic than the ruins you’ve spent days walking around in Athens and to know that Greece is defined by more than her past.

Our road trip takes you from Athens and head north to Chalkida, the main town of the second largest island Euboea. It’s a favourite spot for locals to get a dose of sunshine and not touristy at all. There’s a beautiful shopping village and vibrant food and bar scene along the open bay. This is a great spot to continue on to the fascinating Monasteries at Meteora. Here, around 4 hours drive north of Athens, tall slices of sandstone pierce into the burning sky and remnants of the original 24 monasteries remain. For hikers, the sweeping views from the summits make it perfect climbing country.

Meteora Monasteries

Another stop on the winding drive through Greece is the city of Thessaloniki, else known as Salonika. It has the second largest population in Greece and being a University city is a vibrant arts and cultural scene, not the historic one you’re used to in Athens. The architecture is Turkish and French inspired and in the main food and wine district of Aristotle’s Plaza, it’s always buzzing.

White TowerThessaloniki has a fresh face and vibrant cultural scene that may see it overtaking Athens. From here, venture to the small fishing village Neos Marmaras on Poseidon’s Trident for the burnt orange sunsets and magnificent horizon. Parthenonas is a short 15-minute drive and worth it to see the ancient 1000-year-old olive tree. Continue to portside city of Alexandroupoli, only 40km shy of the Turkish border. As gateway to the historic Ottoman Empire, it’s the last capital of the Thracian states.

Revel in Island life

Wherever you decide to spend your time in Greece, it’s the island life you simply can’t skip. The crisp white-washed walls and splashes of azure ignite a yearning for the dreamiest of Mediterranean escapes. The Greek Archipelago is a unique stretch of islands, deeply rooted in tradition and history and familiar to travellers for their breathtaking sunsets, pebble beaches and warm transparent waters.

Over 6,000 islands belong to Greek sovereignty with just over 200 home to the locals. The dazzling scenery precedes a spirited and sophisticated nightlife, that is the draw card for much of it’s bustling tourism. You can hire ATV’s and zip from one village to the other or meander curiously through the laneways and marketplaces. Many of the hotels are perched into the hillsides and so a good pair of walking shoes and moderate luggage is recommended. The donkeys on Santorini handle it well and it’s charming to see them plodding along, but it’s advised not to ride them or load them up.

View of Santorini © Lee & Bhanu from Adventureinourteacups.com

While the most frequented islands are Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and Crete, there are many other smaller lesser known islands to excite the spirit. There’s Shipwreck Bay at Zakynthos; Corfu in the Ionian Islands, best for budget stays. Paxos is a sophisticated Mediterranean hideaway and Lefkada, a haven for water sports. Paros, Cyclades is perfect for island hopping between Santorini and Mykonos and Naxos is ideal for an energy packed island holiday. Skiathos, Sporades is known for it’s pristine beaches and wildlife and is loved by families during the scorching summers.

It’s all Greek to me

With it’s lengthy though poetic place names, getting comfortable with the language can be tricky for first timers. But as you drive a little, it gets easier as the towns are spelled out in Latin as well as written in Greek. There are trains that travel as far as Thessaloniki but it’s really best to hire a car. Remember, you will need an international drivers license and a good dose of boldness, even the locals will tell you they’re devils behind the wheel and driving on the shoulder of the road is normal.

You can comfortably eat dinner street-side for $10 euro’s for 2 people and even in Tavern’s a dinner of fresh seafood will still be about 25 euros for two. As a vibrant outdoor evening culture, locals eat at about 9.30pm and the traditional sounds of a musical fiesta start at about 10.00pm. A regular shopping day stretches from 10am to 10pm 7 days with a siesta squeezed in after lunch, mainly in the villages.

Opa! is a well loved Greek exclamation, often accompanying the happy tradition of plate smashing at weddings. It sums up the people well; loud, vibrant, warm, genuine and always ready for a celebration.

 

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