The start of the Greek summer

May is a beautiful season in Greece. Not too hot yet, brilliant sunny days interspersed with the occasional shower, a pure transparent sky.


The sea is still a little chilly but, once you’ve warmed up in the sun, the initial shock only lasts a few seconds. And the sense of well-being afterwards lasts for hours.


The sun is good for replenishing Vitamin D, and the heat seeps happily into the old bones.

Below, fishermen mending their nets

Athens, too, is showing its best side. Cafés have opened their terraces, although people are still wearing masks in the street. And the bougainvillea is out in all its glory.


I’ve been volunteering to teach Greek online to a bunch of boys (unaccompanied minors in a refugee shelter belonging to the Home project, about which I posted a while ago) and we finally got a chance to meet in person, which was lovely.

Philopappos monument. Photo: Wikipedia commons

We went for a hike on Philopappos hill. This large park, which is known for the beautiful landscaping and stone pathways created by architect Dimitris Pikionis, is the home of many indigenous bird and a great variety of plants and trees. It is a favorite promenade of Athenians and presents the visitor with great views of the Acropolis, the whole city of Athens and the Aegean Sea that surrounds Attica. In 115 AD, a monument dedicated to the exiled Roman Prince Gaius Julius Antichus Philopappos of Commagene (a region in ancient Armenia) was erected on top of the hill. 
After his exile, Philopappos settled in Athens, became an Athenian citizen and held religious and civil offices. He was considered a great benefactor and was highly esteemed by the residents.

Best of all, the backdrop: the Parthenon, under a  brilliant Attic sky. 

The view through Harold’s lens

In my last post, Greece – through Harold’s lens, I showcased some of the wonderful photographs he took of Greece. Today I will post the remaining ones he sent me, since I found it impossible to leave any out.

I urge everyone to check out his blog, Through Harold’s lens. Harold travels widely, and has a very personal take on things. I especially love his portraits. Sometimes he even writes poetry to go with them.












These pictures of Greece remind me of an earlier, simpler time – Greece in the 50s and 60s. A more remote, more romantic country. This Greece still exists today, alongside the modern country with street art, cutting-edge technology and European problems. It exists in the countryside, in the villages, in the poorer neighbourhoods of cities. And of course the temples and monuments are timeless.







I discovered, by chance, an interview Harold gave in the blog Global From Home. A must for anyone interested in his methods – I especially liked his explanations of how he approaches strangers in order to take their photograph. (Click on the name to read the interview.) 




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!

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.

Greece through the eyes of a Welsh yachtie

Having left his previous life to follow his dream of living on a yacht, Darren has been boating in the Greek islands and occasionally blogging about it. He also had the chance to explore Athens and the mainland and observe Greek reality for himself. He kindly let me borrow a bit from his Musings from the Med to re-post here, since I always find it interesting to take a look at things through someone else’s eyes. See what he says below:

“It’s now a little over one year since I first discovered Greece. I came initially to view a boat and make a holiday out of the trip. A sailboat was bought and Greece has been home for 2015.
Athens, 2014, where my trip began was hot and bustling. I had opted for a hotel not too far from Omonia square. The guide book said it was an area renowned for Russians, prostitutes and general dodginess – not that I am trying to make a connection here, nor was that the reason I chose that area! It was simply cheap and geographically well suited to my needs of exploration.
I seem to recall the streets being full. The flow of people, made up mainly of tourists, was difficult to pass if caught going in the wrong direction; Monastiraki was crammed with people sipping their freddo coffees and pointing cameras through all cardinal points. The city was alive!
With a hire car I ventured further afield: Peloponnese, Lefkadha, Meteora and Sounion. No matter where I went, I found a natural beauty I had not found anywhere else in Europe. The tourists were still there, the numbers varying with the area/location.
2015: economic crisis, debt uncertainty and politics – something I don’t concern myself with – very much the focus in Greece. It wasn’t like this when I first arrived in early March of this year. I had made friends with some fellow yachties and talk was of pleasant sailing, discovery and fine dining on the abundance of fresh fish and seafood one can easily find here.
Apart from a few teething problems, the sailing began well. The warmer weather became more permanent and the winds and rain became less of a concern. I had been asked to go back to Africa in June to help out on a project I had been involved with in 2014. It was only for 5 weeks so off I went. It was during this period that I became aware of the crisis unfolding in Greece. Had I paid more attention to politics and, well, read newspapers or listened to the news, it may not have crept up on me so suddenly!
The scaremongering of the news people was good; I was fearful for a lot of things. My money and life were tied up in a boat in Greece. I had no idea what could happen but did fear the worst! It was time to head back to Greece and face the uncertainty. I came back armed with euros and a plan to take the boat elsewhere should the situation look impossible. I needn’t have worried half as much. Not all cash machines had money but those that did readily churned out notes for me. My boat was not going to be impounded and sold off to put money in the Greek coffers…
Actually, at first, all seemed as I had left it. I remained in Athens a few days before heading back north to Preveza. During my stay in Athens I began to notice the difference. The bustle was less; there was an uncertain calm; there seemed to be more homeless on the streets – or more than likely they were now visible due to the lack of visitors to the capital – perhaps they had always been there, hidden and ignored by the masses too eager to get snaps of the Acropolis.
Whatever the reason, Athens was not the same as when I had first visited 12 months prior. It seems to be the same story all over. I have pulled into anchorages and town quays in the Ionian expecting to fight for a spot only to be pleasantly surprised at the amount of space available. Boat numbers are definitely down on previous seasons, so I am led to believe. Great news for a novice sailor like me but not good news for the Greek economy.
The Greek people seem subdued and confused with what is happening to them and their country. I have made good friends with a local restaurant owner and a dentist. Panos, who owns a restaurant near a marina I frequent, and that does very well, is moving to Sweden at the end of the year having had enough of the uncertainty – a sentiment shared by many no doubt. Konstandina, my dentist, is also looking at openings in either the UK or the Netherlands. She chose to open her practice here in Greece because of her love for the place. However, with a young family to support, and recent events and an unclear future not helping much – she is being forced to look at other options.
As for me, well, I absolutely love the country and hope it all comes good. I have only good things to say about the people I have met: their happiness, kindness, honesty and their willingness to make me feel comfortable and accepted. My plans are such that hopefully one day, in the not-so-distant future, I will leave Greece to travel further west – though I am sure I can fit in another season or two before leaving. This happens to be the same plan shared by many a yachtie out here on the water, most of whom never left and have been sailing here for upwards of 10 years…so we’ll just have to see what happens!”


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.