Say Greece and you conjure images of classical monuments and white-washed fishing villages bathed by that magical Greek light and set against a backdrop of azure seas. Located at the nexus of three continents, it’s been part of many empires. Often considered the birthplace of Western civilization, its politics, philosophers, culture and art formed the foundation of modern thoughts and political structures.
Its history spans four millennia and that’s one reason you want to see Greece. There’s Athens, crowned by the Acropolis; Delphi, where men could speak to the god Apollo through the Oracle, the priestess through whom Apollo spoke to humans, and Olympia, site of the original Olympics. Be sure to see a play at the ancient theater of Epidaurus, a fairly easy drive from Athens.
But Greece isn’t just about culture and history. Its Mediterranean languor, benign climate and balmy seas have a special allure. While Greece has made huge commercial and technological strides--what had been a mainly agrarian nation famed for things like its legendary olive groves, beaches and political coups--it is now a sophisticated society where cell phones outnumber land lines and Wi-Fi hotspots seem universally available. But it’s still a must-visit destination for the easy-going traveler.
The mountainous Greek peninsula is surrounded by 6,000 islands, which extend into the Mediterranean and the southernmost reaches of Europe. The sea is intrinsic to Greece; you’re usually never more than 30 miles from the sea and even in northern Greece, the sea is generally never more than 60 miles away. Most of Greece’s islands are grouped in clusters that constitute the Greek archipelago. Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades are some of the famous and popular islands and island clusters in Greece.
Greek food is one aspect of its culture: the Greeks are social diners, food is fresh--Greeks expect it. Your best bet: go where the Greeks go. Those classic Greek tavernas can be fashionable or a very basic beachfront restaurant under a reed canopy. Typical fare is mezédhes (hors d'oeuvres) or orektiká (appetizers) and tís óras (meat and fish, fried or grilled to order).
When it comes to getting around on land, your choice is bus or car; there are few trains, except for the excellent Athens-Pátra and Athens–Thessaloníki lines. Ferries, catamarans and hydrofoils shuttle visitors to the islands, but an internal flight between, say, Rhodes and Athens can cut a 28-hour ferry trip down to a two-hour flight
Mid-July to the end of August is peak season, with soaring temperatures and crowds. June and September are good times to visit--the weather is warm, especially in the islands. Mid-October can be stormy, but most of that month is Greece’s summer and it’s an especially lovely time of year in Crete and the southern Dodecanese. Autumn in general is a beautiful time to be in Greece; the weather remains lovely and there are fewer crowds. One caveat, some islands and parts of Greece are open only during summer months.