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Athenians have fallen for the thriving but unpretentious food scene on this Cyclades island. We pick six of the best places to eat between trips to the beach

The word-of-mouth buzz about O Hamos, a family-run taverna on the Greek island of Milos, had been so loud that I’d heard it in Athens. So I decided to discover it, over a late lunch, for myself.

Now, it may be a surprise that there is no seafood on the menu – given the restaurant’s fantastic location near the sea – but if the Psatha family can’t grow it, breed it or produce it on their farm, it’s got no business being on their hand-thrown plates. Plus, as well as supplying all the taverna’s meat and vegetables, they also make their own cheeses.

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Travel writers pick their favourite beaches to swim, surf, party, eat and just hang out from the Atlantic to the Aegean, from the UK to Turkey

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Even on our crowded continent there are remote regions where you can still spot bears, bison, lynx, wolves and more

Kainuu forest

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A disused Greek factory overlooked by Patrick Leigh Fermor revealed a different side to the place he made home

Writing in 1958 about the little Greek town that was eventually to become his home, the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor was satisfied to note that the Guide Bleu gave it only half a line. “It is better so,” Leigh Fermor wrote. “It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism.”

His next paragraph describes the town in early evening when, waiting for a freshly caught fish to cook on a grill, he and a few fishermen sit under a mulberry tree outside a taverna and watch the sun sink over the mountains. Caiques – the wooden working boats of the Mediterranean – rock gently “with each sigh of the green transparent water … tethered a few yards above their shadows on the pebbly bottom”. One of Leigh Fermor’s typically exact (and perhaps exacting) images follows when he describes the sea lapping over a flat rock “with just enough impetus to net the surface with a frail white reticulation of foam which slid softly away and dissolved while a new one formed”.

The tumbledown factory loomed on the shore, a picturesque ruin in brick and concrete where fig trees grew

Related: My Amsterdam is being un-created by mass tourismJoost de Vries

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Rhodes and Kos are the Dodecanese’s big names, but this new island-hopping trip focuses on the archipelago’s smaller gems, where visitors may have the gorgeous beaches to themselves

There is a blueness of sea that seems feasible only via Photoshop or an Instagram filter, but which is made real around the south-east Aegean’s Dodecanese islands. The star players of the archipelago are Rhodes, Lesbos and Kos, but there are 12 large islands in the group, plus tens of smaller ones. The refugee crisis has affected bookings to the region, according to operators, despite the fact that most islands, in particular the lesser known, are unaffected.

I’d come for a week to see for myself, visiting Kalymnos, Telendos, Leros and Lipsi. It’s easy enough to island-hop independently, of course, but with my backpacking days long behind me, I’d decided to let someone else book ferries, transfers and hotels – a tour operator which had just introduced the islands to its portfolio and provides a local rep on each island to greet visitors and give them tips.

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Tour classical sites with locals and discover the guesthouses, restaurants and bars being opened by young entrepreneurs in a city buzzing with creativity

The revival of Europe’s classical capital has attracted plenty of artists, curators and digital nomads. But it’s entrepreneurial young Athenians who are opening pop-up restaurants, design collectives and guesthouses, regenerating derelict buildings in rough-around-the-edges areas such as Pangrati, Kypseli and Keramikos. Messy and unpredictable, Athens fizzes with an intense energy that burns bright into the night.

Related: Filmmaker Hossein Amini on Athens

Related: 10 of the best hotel, B&Bs and apartments in Athens

Related: Greek gift: Athens’ new cultural centre

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This Dodecanese gem has 20th-century Italian influences as well as the classic repertoire of secret beaches and laid-back tavernas

‘It is an unusual island,” said my friend Yannis, slightly self-consciously. “We are a bit different from our neighbours.”

Yannis, a cafe owner, is right: Leros is unusual, but in a good way. It is just a few miles from Turkey, but a million tourist miles from Kos and Rhodes, its Dodecanese siblings. It has mostly slipped under the holiday radar, which is a shame because it has everything we all want from a Greek island – beaches, fishing villages, tavernas, ruins – plus an extraordinary modern history. And for that we can thank Mussolini.

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The city seems a bit like the German capital, with its street art, bars and a palpable energy. But among locals the comparison rankles

Take a place that has been hurt, abandoned, impoverished or subject to seismic social and cultural change yet has become alluring to the young, poor and creative – and it more often than not gets labelled “the new Berlin”.

It’s not a pejorative term.

Related: Greece relaxes capital controls to prove worst of turmoil is over

The guy that runs my Airbnb has been forced into the share economy – literally

Related: Greece tourism at record high amid alarm over environmental cost

Related: 10 great Greek islands: readers’ travel tips

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Whether they choose deserted beaches, fabulous local food, walking or ferry-hopping itineraries, our readers have the Greek Islands well and truly sorted

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