Winning tip: Ideal island retreat, Gulf of Corinth
Trizonia, in the Gulf of Corinth is a small island visited mainly by Greek families and “yachties”. We spent time there while sailing round the Med, from our home on the Isle of Skye. Filled with olive groves and wildflowers, Trizonia is a 10-minute ferry ride from the mainland and makes for an ideal retreat, or a base for exploring the mainland. No cars, just donkeys. There are tavernas and bars in the pretty village, and various accommodation options. Porto Trizonia Taverna is our favourite. A mainland town nearby is historical Nafpaktos with its Venetian harbour.
Spectacular train ride to the coast, Peloponnese
While backpacking last summer, a local farmer gave me a lift on his tractor to the mountaintop village of Kalavryta in the northern Peloponnese and told me about a beautiful train ride to the coast. A spectacular trip on an old narrow rack railway, called Odontotos (the toothy one), took me across 49 bridges through the Vouraikos gorge and river. The main route was opened by Hercules – who, according to legend, split a massive rock blocking his path to the sea and his lover. It’s a lovely area, off the beaten track, full of dense forests and fir trees, and there are locals ready to offer fruit from the roadside stalls you pass.
Walk and throw pots in Preveza
Base yourself in Preveza, on the mainland’s west coast, south of Corfu, and you can sunbathe on the white, sandy Monolithi beach (which runs for nearly 14 miles). You can also explore the ruins of the ancient Roman victory city of the Nicopolis, shop in Parga, and kayak on the Acheron River, entrance to the mythological realm of the dead. Or you can swim in the early morning at Alonaki beach, celebrate Easter by throwing pots from the balconies and spend your evenings promenading along the seafront before choosing your favorite taverna for the evening.
Refreshed by a forest walk, Rhodes
Far from the hustle and bustle of Faliraki, on Rhodes, is Sianna, a village where you can visit the old church with its painted clock. Refresh and refuel before wandering beyond the village into the pine forest where you’ll be hypnotized by the sound of the tzitzikas (cicadas) and, if you’re lucky, enchanted by a glimpse of the deer that roam free there. Amble past the abandoned cottages, built in another era, with glimpses of an ancient castle on the way to the shore, where you can bathe in the Mediterranean.
Beautiful retreat between two valleys, Crete
In the mountains of western Crete is Milia, a village long abandoned by its inhabitants, though recently resurrected by two local brothers as an eco-retreat. Between the Topolia and Sirikari gorges, and overlooking a steep and verdant valley, Milia serves dishes of locally grown, organic produce in a traditional stone taverna. Blending into the rocky terrain among the trees, the once-deserted 17th-century homes have been transformed into sustainable rooms for rent, equipped with solar panels and wind turbines. Visitors can relax in these peaceful surroundings, go on scenic hikes or explore the Cretan way of life.
Indie shops and art on Andros
For a little-visited (by tourists) but fairly accessible island you can’t beat Andros, the most northerly of the Cyclades. Chora, the capital, is a working town with a pedestrianized high street full of independent shops. The town has a good, small museum, as well as an impressive art gallery. It’s on a headland with, on one side, a long, sandy undeveloped beach. On the other is a slightly more developed beach with a handful of cafes and three of the town’s tavernas. Walking on the island is great and Andros Routes has a stack of good information.
Old town charm and epic scenery, Vikos gorge
Go to beautiful Monodendri, an hour or so from Ioannina in northern Greece, with its cobbled streets and stunning views. Tea Vikos Hotel has affordable rooms (from €75 B&B) and the breakfast is superb. Head out early and pick up a Greek pie from a bakery for lunch, then descend the steps into Vikos gorge. It’s around a four-hour walk to Zagori, where you can climb the steps out of the gorge for a well-earned beer at Vikos View, or keep going to Papingo. Voidomatis springs is great for a swim; the path is just after the Zagori exit. Taxis can take you back to Monodendri.
Quiet coves and olive groves, Pelion peninsula
Milina, on the west coast of the Pelion peninsula, is a tourist village which doesn’t seem to be overwhelmingly touristy. It’s got lots of character and charm and hasn’t been built up with hotels taking advantage of the long stretch of seafront. Instead, cafes, restaurants and independent shops line the front; just a street or two back, the tiny roads are home to houses where trees spill over from gardens. Short walks in either direction bring you to usually empty coves where the swimming is safe and, when the sun gets hot, the olive groves at the back offer welcome shade.
Walking the wild side of Corfu
Visit Erimitis, on Corfu, a beautiful – and ecologically diverse – area. We met up with a guide who took us on a hike where we saw wild tortoises and grass snakes. Tea area is under threat from development, so visit and enjoy, then make a donation to protect it for others.
History and heritage in the Aegean
The island of Chios doesn’t attract the same attention as its more touristy Aegean neighbours. It retains a Greek feel and has a wealth of history, from the beautiful Unesco-listed Byzantine monastery of Nea Moni to the mastic villages around Pyrgi, with their characteristic geometric exteriors. The island has a bloody past in the Greek war of independence, the fortified villages of Avgonima and abandoned Anavatos bearing testimony to the resilience of the population. The coastal town of Vrontados comes to life every Greek Easter, with thousands of homemade rockets fired between two churches in the village.