Accessible from Athens

A couple of readers who are going to the Summer Olympics asked for information on travel in Greece. I have been to Greece 20 times in the last 20 years, most recently in October ’03. I have traveled independently there and gotten to know many wonderful Greeks. In addition to discovering delightful places to stay, I have found the Greeks to be the most hospitable of people. Here are some of my suggestions on things to see and do there.

Near Athens are many interesting sites, such as ancient Corinth, Mycenae (going back to 14 to 15 centuries before Christ), Epidauros and the beautiful town of Nafplion. These areas can be reached on a day trip from the city; any hotel in Athens can give you information on the one-day tour. In addition, there are day trips to Delphi and 2- and 3-day trips from Athens to Olympia and the monasteries of Meteora. Also close to Athens are several islands in the Saronic Gulf: Aegina, Hydra, Poros and Spetses.

Due to improved boat services in the Greek Islands, you can get to the wonderful islands in the Aegean Sea from Athens in less than five hours. The high-speed ferries and the Blue Star Ferries can take you to the islands of Syros, Tínos, Mykonos and Paros in no more than five hours from Athens at a cost of less than $35. On these islands you can experience the relaxed pace of life on a Greek island and experience the Greeks’ laid-back style of living. I highly recommend that you stay at either a rooms-to-rent establishment or a small hotel where you can experience the wonderful hospitality of the Greeks.

My favorite island is Syros, which is less touristy than some of the others. On Syros there is a wonderful sandy beach at Galissas plus excellent, spotless rooms to rent at Dendrinos Rooms-to-Rent (phone 011-302-2810-42469 or 011-302-10-823-9939), each room having a refrigerator and hot plate. Double rooms go for about $50.

The cost of rooms is reasonable on Syros, as are meals. Local tavernas, such as the Savvas Taverna in Galissas, serve delicious food for good prices (€8-€10 per person with wine or beer).

I have helped many friends plan trips to the Cycladic Islands of Santorini, Paros and Syros, which I think give a good overview of the Greek Islands.

Santorini is a “must see.” About half of the pictures you see of Greece are of Santorini. You can either fly there on Olympic Airways from Athens for about $80 one way or take a boat from Piraeus. Santorini is a volcanic island and one of the leading candidates for being the lost continent of Atlantis.

On Santorini I recommend the Akis Hotel (call 011-302-2860-31-670 or fax 011-302-2860-31-423) at Kamari Beach, a volcanic black-sand beach. Akis takes good care of his guests. Across from the Akis Hotel is a fine taverna, the Amalthia, offering very good Greek food at good prices. From Kamari you can take a bus into the capital town of Fira with its beautiful view of the caldera.

Next I recommend the classic Cycladic Island of Paros. Staying in the port town of Parikía allows you to experience all of the activity of the ferries that ply the islands. A wonderful hotel there, Hotel Irene (phone 011-302-2840-21-476 or fax 011-302-2840-22-7410), has double rooms with bath and fridge for $50 that also have balconies overlooking the sea. Nearby is the Taverna Katarina with good, inexpensive food and great views of the sunset over the Aegean Sea.

If you want to go to the island of Crete, you can take an overnight ferry from Athens (Piraeus is the port of Athens) in a first-class cabin for only about $60 per person. You can stay on either the touristy northern coast or the more relaxed southern coast.

On Crete, because of its size, you will need to rent a car, but traffic is light and the scenery along the northern coast between Heraklion and Rethymnon and Chania is breathtakingly beautiful with blooming oleanders all along the side of the road and spectacular sea views. I like to stay along the southwestern coast near Plakias.

If you have any questions about travel in the Greek Islands or the western or southern coasts of Turkey, you may e-mail me c/o ITN.

Columbus, IN