Discovery: a great blog about Greece

Chrysoula Manika – Chrissy for short – writes a stunning blog,  travel passionate, about traveling in Greece. I’m reblogging one of her posts, just to give you a taste. But do go and take a look, it’s full of great places to visit, restaurants and hotels; day trips, fun things to do, where to get street food; she even gives tips on what to pack!
5 reasons to visit Greece in winter
by Chrissy on November 22, 2015 in Travel Ideas
Greece is considered one of the top summer destinations worldwide. What is not widely known, is that Greece is a great winter destination as well, with many sites worth visiting and many activities worth doing. Here are some reasons why Greece makes the perfect winter destination.


Why you should visit Greece in Winter:

It’s cheaper

If you are traveling to Greece during winter you will see that everything is cheaper and especially in popular summer destinations. There are a lot of Greek islands that you can still visit in winter and although some hotels and restaurants do close, there are always some that are still open with very low rates compared to summer. Also the restaurants that stay open are the ones that the locals visit, so you are bound to eat some good food. So if you don’t have the Greek beaches in mind there are a few islands that can be easily visited in winter, for example Santorini, Crete, Syros, Corfu, Rhodes and Hydra to name a few. During winter all the air fares are cheaper as well, both domestic and international. I have recently booked a return air ticket from Athens to Santorini with only 30€.

imageold town of Corfu from harbour

Less crowded
During the busy summer season everything is crowded. The lines for the Acropolis are big. The little alleyways of the islands are filled with people. On the contrary during winter you will have a more enjoyable experience having the site just for yourselves and a few more. You shouldn’t worry about the weather either. Although it gets cold from December till February winters are usually milder compared to most countries.


imageme at lake Plastira
Nice cities to explore
Athens, the capital of Greece is a great destination all year round. You will see less tourists in winter and you will get the chance to observe the local life. Apart from Athens and its countless sites that you can visit there are other beautiful cities in Greece worth exploring, Thessaloniki in the north is a very vibrant city with many archaeological sites, a great food and shopping scene and a lively nightlife. Kavala located in the north of Greece as well, is a very picturesque seaside town built ampitheatrically with many sites worth visiting.



Great winter destinations to discover
Apart from the big cities and the Greek islands that one can visit during the winter, Greece has many popular winter destinations as well, with great natural beauty. The beautiful villages of Zagorohoria and the town of Kastoria in Epirus, Pelion villages, Arachova and lake Plastira near Meteora in Thessalia. Kalavryta, Mani and Nafplio in Peloponnese to mention a few. All these areas and many more make the perfect winter destination with their picturesque scenery, archaeological sites, incredible nature and local cuisine.


imageVathia village Mani

A variety of sports activities
Did you know that you can ski in Greece? There are a few big ski and snowboards centers in Greece like the one in Arachova and Kalavryta. Other sports activities include hiking trails in the mountainous regions, rafting in one of the country’s rivers and horseback riding. One of the world’s leading athletic event takes place in Athens every November, the Athens Marathon, where athletes from all over the world come to run the original classic route.


imageoutside Trikala
imageMakrinitsa village in Pelion

Now you know and you can too, arrange your winter visit to Greece.

Have you ever visited Greece in winter?

Did you like it?

Click on the blog name to get there – I’m sure you’ll find plenty to interest and tempt you!

City break: Athens in the winter

Most people think of Greece as a summer destination. The sea, the islands, guaranteed sunshine. But in the summer one is too hot and lazy to do much. You get into a routine of late breakfast, swim, lunch, siesta, swim, dinner. You can’t be bothered to move.



In the winter, you still get plenty of sunny days. Athens is a lively, bustling city, and it is easily accessible from most European countries. So, if you have a free weekend, book a flight.


There are plenty of things to do, even if the weather is bad (we do have a winter, and you might just be unlucky). Here are some ideas:


Walk in the streets. Window shop, sit in cafés and people watch, sample street food. Plaka, the old town beneath the Acropolis, is stunning. Wander around the stalls in Monastiraki market.

Visit. The Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum should be on everyone’s bucket list. But the city is full of antiquities, beautiful museums, Byzantine churches and art galleries.
Eat. There’s something for every taste, from luxurious gourmet restaurants to neighborhood tavernas. Great fish, in many places with a view of the sea. And ethnic: sushi, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican…

Take in a show. Films are not dubbed in Greece, and sometimes there are plays in English. Concerts, classical music, jazz, rock… Dance, classical and modern.

Athens is famous for its nightlife. Bars, discos, Greek bouzouki music.


If you like sports, you can indulge: Sailing, windsurf, golf courses. A lot of people don’t know this, but you can ski on Parnassos, two hours out of Athens. The trails are not huge, and on the weekend there are queues, but if you go midweek on a sunny day, it’s brilliant. The mountain is beautiful, the ski instructors are great. You can ski until two, then go down the mountain and have a late lunch in Arachova. Or you can stay in Arachova and visit the temple of Apollo at Delphi the next day. In the spring, you can ski in the morning, then drive down the mountain and through a lovely olive grove to swim in Galaxidi.



If you can stay more than a few days:

Rent a car and get out of town (or join a bus tour) for a day trip or overnight stay. The are so many stunning places to visit: Delphi, the Metéora, Nafplion, Korinth, Epidaurus, Olympia.
On a sunny day you can take a day trip to one of the nearby islands. Within an hour or two, you’re in another world. The islands are different in the winter, green and covered in wild flowers. It’s calm, the locals go about their business. At lunch in one of the tavernas, you’re likely to come upon the local policeman eating with the village priest. The owner’s kids will run in after school, and sit at a nearby table to have their lunch and then do their homework. The pace of life is slow and relaxing.

So, take a look at the weather report, and book a flight!

November Q&A: The hotelier

imageIoulia Mavrelou works in her family’s hotels. One, the ESPERAS, is a dream destination on the beautiful island of Santorini, with its black volcanic beaches, its town perched high above the sea and its stunning views. The other, the MYRTO, in the old quarter of Athens, Plaka, is at the moment undergoing renovation. Ioulia’s husband works alongside her and they have three young children.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Athens by a rather conservative family. After school, I left to study Hotel Management at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. I also have a BA in Tourism and Hotel Management from Surrey University in the UK and an MBA from ALBA University in Athens

After my studies I worked in prestigious hotels in Europe and the USA, and I also taught Operations and Administration for Hotels at BCA University in Athens. In 2001 I returned to Greece full time, and became the Managing Director of my family’s HOTEL ESPERAS in Oia, Santorini, and later a VP of Operations at Hotel Myrto in Athens.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

It’s been hard, for reasons both economical and psychological. The fear people had of traveling to Greece due to the unstable economic and political environment meant we’ve had to face and overcome financial problems. Decisions made by Greece’s politicians result in continued uncertainty and distrust, so it’s a constant psychological roller coaster.

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

During the last five years, my father and my husband have been the inspiration that drives me forward. My father taught me about hard work, and to be patient; to wait and to act at the right moment. My husband inspires me to pursue things until the end and not to give up.

imageWhat are your hopes/plans for the future?

I hope that the economic situation in Greece will become stable and that we will have the opportunity to grow our company.

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes would you like to see happen?

In my opinion radical changes need to be made in order for the country to survive. Unfortunately I don’t believe that any Greek government is willing to implement those changes in areas such as education, pensions etc. or to allow privatizations and implement measures to help entrepreneurship and allow the country to move forward.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

We are considering leaving as a family and moving to an English-speaking country since we feel that the adjustment will be easier, especially for our children. Of course, the fact that we work in our family business plays a major part in this decision, making it particularly difficult.

If you have already decided to leave, what would make you stay?

A complete and radical change in Greece, which would force the Greek people to change their ways as well.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something more you would like to do?

I feel that I am – and have been all my life – doing my part as an entrepreneur by paying all my taxes and creating jobs for honest folks.
Tourism is a major source of income for Greece. In spite of all the difficulties, last summer was a reasonably good season for us and bookings have remained steady for 2016.

How do you see Greece in 5, in 10 years?

Unfortunately I see my country in the same situation if not worse than today. Observing the measures taken so far does not allow me to be optimistic.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?

I am blessed to have a loving family and friends I can count on, who have been next to me when needed.

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

The climate, our extended families and all the assets we have in Greece are the biggest reasons for staying. The summer vacation I spent with my family were exactly what holidays by the sea should be…

imageIoulia kindly agreed to be the Guinea pig for this feature, so any comments about improvements are welcome. If you want to see the site of the stunning ESPERAS HOTEL, just click on the name.

Road trip to Metéora

Taking advantage of the brilliant weather, we headed out for an overnight excursion. Our destination: Metéora, the largest complex of Orthodox monasteries in Greece, outside of Mount Athos.
The monasteries are built atop almost inaccessible sandstone peaks, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios River and Pindos Mountain, in central Greece.


Monks settled on these ‘columns of the sky‘ from the 11th century onwards. Twenty-four monasteries were built, despite incredible difficulties, at the time of the great revival of the eremitic ideal in the 15th century. Today there are six left.

To break up the four-hour journey, we stopped for a snack in the town of Domokos. The crisis is apparent here as well, with a lot of empty shops in the central street. An abrasive woman in a red pickup honked as we tried to park the car. The taverna that had been recommended to us was shut. We asked the woman, who was by now walking down the street, where we could get something to eat, and in two minutes she had managed to sell us a bag of beans – her own production – which she offered to bring to the kebab shop, apparently our best bet.
imageAs we walked down the street, ultra-modern shops alternated with more decrepit ones like the one in the picture above, which took us straight back to the 60s. Pyjama bottoms, socks, plastic baskets and kitchen paper – and those rolls of PVC tablecloth in hideous prints that most Greeks used in their kitchen! Some still do, apparently.

Walking into the kebab shop, we looked at each other in dismay. It was tiny, grotty, and the clients consisted of two crusty old men and an elderly lady, sitting at small metal tables. A half-eaten, uninspiring gyros was roasting on a spit. Amazingly, the young man behind the counter made us delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches that were just perfect. In the time it took to fire up the grill, we had become firm friends with everyone. The old guys chattered away through their dentures, the lady spoke Greek with a very strong local accent but perfect English to someone on the phone, and the abrasive woman came in for a bite with us (she had the gyros), bringing the aforementioned bag of dried white beans. We answered the usual ‘Where are you from?’ questions, discussed the monasteries’ hospitality policy, and found out the best place to buy local cheese.

On to Metéora, which was simply magical. There is no other word to describe it.
Metéora in Greek means ‘suspended in the air.’ The sheer majesty of the rocks upon which the monasteries are perched like eagle nests is breathtaking. The monasteries themselves are large, complex, beautiful structures that look as if they’ve emerged from the rock.


We started with the biggest one, Great Metéoro. Nowadays there is a road leading up to the opposite mountain slope. We scrambled down one flight of steps, crossed a bridge spanning the chasm, passed through a tunnel hewn in stone and, finally, faced a climb up another large number of steps – 330 to be precise – to emerge at last upon a stunning view.
The monastery church is a perfect specimen of Byzantine architecture; the 16th-century frescoes covering the walls mark a key stage in the development of post-Byzantine painting. The large courtyard is planted with cypress trees.

Before leaving we inspected the crude net and primitive pulley system by which monks were lowered, at great danger, to the ground, in the days before the road was built.



After climbing back down all those steps it was time to repair to our hotel, the Dellas Boutique Hotel, a stone building just outside Kalambaka, which is the nearest town. The welcome was warm, and the lounge contained a bar, comfortable chairs and even board games. The smiling girl in charge gave us maps of the area and recommended we visit an exquisite Byzantine church in the town. Then she sent us off to dinner at a taverna down the road serving local specialties.
Our rooms had a great view on the rocks, which were floodlit at night, the fissures and crannies casting mysterious shadows. At breakfast there were home-made jams and cake, local yogurt and honey scented with pine, oregano and thyme. When I asked where I could buy some to take home, I was directed to the local butcher’s! As well as a large display of appetizing meats, he sold all sorts of other products: fresh eggs, herbs, the said honey, even slabs of salted cod. I got my honey, plus some local cheeses; after which he gave me a present of his homemade country sausages, which he even vacuum-packed for me!


imageThe 11th-century Byzantine Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary – in Kalambaka itself – which was our first stop, exceeded expectations. With beautiful and intricate rose-colored brickwork on the outside, its inside walls were covered with frescoes of the Saints and the pillars were of solid marble, since the church was built on top of a temple to Apollo. Part of the floor has been dug up to expose the ancient mosaics.
imageNext we made our way to the monastery of Saint Nicholas Anapafsas. We parked the car on the edge of a wood, and there was the monastery, about two miles up in the sky above us! It looked unreachable. As we climbed rough-hewn steps through the woods, the undergrowth was strewn with pink cyclamen and the air was crystal clear. In no time we were at the foot of the walls, and then up the 270 steps to the top. One sole monk lives in this monastery, but it was bustling with life. A lady sweeping the floor told us she worked there ‘for the views’, a bunch of workmen were putting new tiles on the roof, a Japanese tourist was availing himself of the bread and loukoumi (Turkish delights) set out for visitors. The monk said to us, ‘Up here you are in heaven.’


The next two monasteries we visited were nunneries, and the female touch was evident. They both had lovingly-tended gardens, full of roses and lavender. The larger of the two, Aghios Stephanos,  is inhabited by 31 nuns.

The monasteries have small museums containing frescoes, precious relics and illuminated manuscripts. Every window or terrace has a different view, of the rocks, of the other monasteries seen from below or from above, of the Thessaly plain and the glint of the river.
The people who first climbed the rocks and built upon them, trying to find protection from the raids of various conquerors, established a tradition of Orthodoxy which has continued uninterrupted for 600 years. Today the Metéora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.




Before heading for home, we made a detour to catch a glimpse of the man-made Plastiras Lake, named after the Greek prime minister who had the vision of building a dam across the Tavropos River in order to irrigate the plain of Thessaly. It was a glimpse only, since the lake is large and surrounded by an area of exceptional natural beauty. It merits a trip in itself, in order to explore the villages surrounding it and enjoy the various activities on offer. We only had time to stop for a delicious lunch at a roadside taverna, where once again the owners were friendly and welcoming, as well as being great cooks! After lunch and a chat, we walked through oak woods dotted with mushrooms to the shores of the lake, whose waters were calm and clear as well as – we were told – teeming with fish.


Some photos are mine , others by Anna Koenig. I will leave you to guess which! To go on the Dellas Hotel site, click on the name. Great value for money.

7 tips for a Greek holiday

Daily we are subjected to weird headlines: 
* Greek PM Tsipras says no to speedy elections, but…
(His party is riven in half, so he might not have a choice.)
* First taverna  to accept Bitcoin is inundated with tourists.
(Can that even be true?)
* 50% of Germans want Greece to stay in the Euro.
(No comment.)
* Athenians have not left to go on holiday yet..
.(How can they, they have no money.)


Meanwhile, travelers to Greece have been getting bombarded with advice: Bring thousands in cash. Do not get robbed. Keep away. Beware.

People have been bemoaning the lost tourist season, another stroke of bad luck for the stricken economy. It is said there are many canceled bookings and workers in tourism will have to be laid off. But then friends who did not cancel reported from a variety of islands to say they were having a lovely time. Also my friend Emanuele called from Italy to see how we were faring. He told me a lot of Italians are changing their destination from other countries to Greece in order to show solidarity and spend their money here. A message both touching and cheering.


My take is the following:

1. COME! The sun still shines, the sea is turquoise, ancient temples beckon. Take a boat, or climb a mountain. Whether you want to party, veg out or sightsee, Greece is still the place to be. Best holiday ever.

2. Bring some cash (just in case). If you lead the simple island life, you won’t need much, especially if you’ve already paid for transport and accommodation. A few drinks, a meal by the sea – swimming and siestas are free. Except if you’re headed for Myconos – but that’s another story. About getting robbed? It could happen wherever you go. Greece is far from being the most dangerous place on the planet. All over the world, most people get their wallets stolen in their local subway station.

3. Go to an open-air cinema: nothing beats watching a film under the stars, surrounded by jasmine and bougainvillea. In Greece, films are not dubbed.

4. Check out open-air concerts (free), or the panigyri (traditional festival celebrated on saints’ name days) at the local church. A lot of islands also put on interesting art exhibitions.

5. Talk to the locals. Most people speak English. They will be more than happy to try and explain the unexplainable political situation – in their opinion, of course! It makes for lively conversations.

6. If things get fraught, just get out of the center of Athens. Everywhere else will be fine.

7. Last but not least, there are bargains to be had. A lot of places – shops, hotels or restaurants – have put their prices down.