In southeastern Europe at the foot of the Balkan peninsula, Greece encompasses rugged mountains, fertile plains and over a thousand islands. On the south coast, the charismatic capital, Athens, is Greece’s cultural, economic and political centre, and its main transport hub. There are seven island groups including the glamorous rocky Cyclades, the lush green Ionians and the proud timeless island of Crete. Thessaloniki, the country’s second city after Athens, lies in northern Greece overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Holidays in Greece are mostly about relaxing. Greeks will admit that the pace of life on the islands is far slower than on the mainland. Explore sleepy hillside villages made up of white-washed cubic buildings, then seek a secluded beach and enjoy a swim and a snooze. For restful unspoilt beaches try Vai with its palm forest in eastern Crete, Myrtos backed by dramatic cliffs on Kefalonia and white-pebble Lalaria on Skiathos. Families might prefer Hersonissos on Crete or Koukounaires on Skiathos, both complete with beach bars, tavernas and water sports facilities.
Often described as the cradle of western civilisation, Greece is packed with historic monuments. In Athens, the Acropolis remains Greece’s most visited attraction, while the nearby New Acropolis Museum combines contemporary architecture with ancient art. Beyond the capital, Delphi is an impressive archaeological site located above a dramatic gorge, while on the Peloponnese, Ancient Corinth, Mycenae and Ancient Olympia all date back over two millennia. On Crete, Knossos is a partially restored Minoan palace, while the uninhabited islet of Delos, near Mykonos, was an ancient sacred centre and is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Greece is perhaps Europe’s top sailing destination. The calmest waters are on the Ionian, and the roughest around the Cyclades, which are exposed to the gusty meltemi wind in August. The top windsurfing venue is Vassiliki on Lefkada, while sea kayakers enjoy the sea caves around Milos or Kefalonia. For underwater enthusiasts, scuba diving venues include the dramatic volcanic crater of Santorini’s Caldera, underwater caves near Hios, and reefs near Elounda on Crete. On the mainland, try white-water rafting down the Lousios River on the Peloponnese peninsula.
A break in Greece means delicious fresh seafood if you’re holidaying on the islands, or hearty meat dishes if you head for the mainland mountains. During summer, most restaurants work the day through, so mealtimes are flexible, and beach bars serve snacks so you needn’t leave your sun lounger. After dark, indulge in a romantic candlelit dinner at a waterside restaurant, then move on to a beachfront bar for cocktails under the stars.