The Cradle of Civilization Is as Magnificent as Ever
It is no secret that Greece has long danced to its own rhythm. One would expect nothing less from the place where western civilization itself was born. From poetry to philosophy, from democracy to drama, all the major disciplines that formed the building blocks of how we live today were created here during an ancient renaissance of arts, science and critical thinking.
For many – certainly, for today’s Greeks – the nation is so alluring because of the independence that it still exhibits today. And for all the attention it is getting regarding its place in the European Union, Greece remains one of the most beautiful and sought-after places on earth. How could it not? Its intense mountain and coastal beauty, dotted with colonnaded temples and awash in Aegean sun, are the stuff of every traveler’s dreams. Its lively culture, punctuated with dance and fabulous Mediterranean cuisine, engages the most stoic visitor. And its ancient monuments, proudly perched amidst cities, mountains and island vistas, have endured millennia of change. Dare we say, they will continue to do so. As for the Greeks themselves, they take hospitality to be god-given, just like their ancient ancestors. To them, warmth and kindness are divine rights that everyone deserves. They remain as welcoming as ever, their spirit soaring and their doors and arms wide open.
And there’s another reason to travel to Greece now: The nation’s euro-zone challenges are keeping many visitors away, though we can’t imagine why. For you, that means fewer crowds at ancient sites that are typically (and notoriously) overcrowded. It also means that you’ll find much lower prices as you dine out on your own and shop for souvenirs. And speaking of Greek dining…
Fresh, Mediterranean Cuisine at Every Table
Greece is world famous for its simple food. The Mediterranean diet has certainly won praise for its proven health benefits. Local dishes exude the steadfast character of their origins – fava in Santorini, amygdalota in Mykonos, cheese pie with honey in Crete. But no matter where you visit, you’ll encounter the pleasures of freshly baked breads and a bounty of vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and zucchinis. To Greeks, food is a celebration best served as saganaki, a fried cheese; souvlaki, grilled meat on a skewer; moussaka, a meat and eggplant casserole; and fried octopus – all enhanced with that crisp Greek olive oil. To wash it all down, uncork a bottle of an up and coming wine grown in the country’s diverse terroir. The flavors and notes of Greek wines is so unique that 72% of its vintages that were entered into the Decanter World Wine Awards received a prize, 3 of them gold and 50 of them silver.
Just as Athens is the Cradle of Civilization, it is also the central focus of many trips to Greece. Its Acropolis stands gloriously atop its hill like a beacon in the Grecian sun, as if shining down upon the modern-day city that it shaped. So many elements of civilization were born here—democracy, philosophy, arts—that it’s impossible to not be moved by a simple stroll among its temples and past its masterfully preserved Parthenon. Much of the site and its relics (as well as artifacts from Greek antiquity worldwide) are beautifully illuminated by a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. Indeed, it is considered one of the great museums of the world.
The legacy of the ancients lives far and wide, of course. But it’s especially poignant to witness the houses of democracy in the city of its birth, from the President’s residence to Constitution Square. And when it’s time for a relaxing stroll, the intimate streets of the shop-lined Plaka district at the base of Acropolis Hill invite you to explore.
The Pleasures of the Peloponnese
A 19th-century engineering marvel separates the mainland from the Peloponnese Peninsula. The Corinth Canal, which opened in 1893, was literally carved out of solid rock. It had long been a dream of the ancients to connect the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf; construction efforts date as far back as the 1st century AD. Today, the sculpted gorge is sheer-faced and dramatic.
The rustic Peloponnese Peninsula—to the west of metropolitan Athens—boasts a rich past of its own. Perhaps most famously, the first Olympic Games were held here, in Olympia. They were first staged in honor of the god Zeus, whose temple is still impressive despite that it lies in ruins. Nearby, the hillside city of Nauplion, with its stunning setting on the azure waters of the Argolic Gulf, was the capital of the First Hellenic Republic and a coveted city of many royal houses. Its cobbled streets, stone buildings, and multi-hued shutters date back centuries. Two castles add to its scenic splendor: The Venetian Bourtzi sits in the middle of the harbor and the hilltop Palamidi offers dramatic views of the town. In the second millennium BC, however, it was Mycenae that held sway over southern Greece. This major center of ancient civilization was defended by a solid stone fortress whose ruins whisper of sieges past.
Stunning Places of Worship and Wonder
North of the Peloponnese, Delphi attracted countless devout worshipers in ancient times. Legend recalls that a high priestess delivered prophecies here in a highly agitated state. It was believed that the gods were speaking through her, but today scientists suspect it was the vapors rising from a chasm below the temple that put her in an altered state. Today, Delphi still inspires awe, albeit more from its natural setting than from its incantations. This vast complex includes the Temple of Apollo, the Delphi and Tholos temples and a huge amphitheater—all of it surrounded by soaring mountain slopes.
More sources of inspiration are perched high on sandstone pillars in the town of Kalambaka in Greece’s central plains. Here, the six Eastern Orthodox monasteries of Meteora (translated as “in the heavens above”) are perched atop naturally formed rock towers averaging 1,000 feet above sea level. When they were originally built starting in the 14th century, they could only be reached by a harrowing climb up a rope ladder. These incredible structures must be seen to be believed.
The Aegean of Your Dreams
The Greek Islands find their way into every traveler’s dreams. Blue church domes and rustic windmills rise from a cluster of whitewashed villages that cling to hillsides. Sleepy cobbled streets lead to inviting squares and cafés where you can while away an afternoon over grape leaves and ouzo. Time slows down in the Aegean, and Gate 1’s island itineraries help you do the same in a magnificent setting, from the glittering Cyclades to the historic Dodecanese archipelagos.
The small island of Mykonos could be the most famed of the Greek Islands, thanks to its iconic windmills and blue-domed churches. Along the coast and amidst its hilly interior, white villages with blue doorways and rounded, thatched-roof windmills dot the landscape. Its labyrinthine tiny streets are a delight to explore and its sandy white beaches were surely made for basking.
Santorini is one of the most romantic islands. Its volcanic origins have given it beaches of white, red, or black sand. It is truly an otherworldly landscape of dramatic rock formations and lunar-like terrain. Its fascinating Bronze Age archeological site of Akrotiri opened recently, giving fascinating insight into primitive life here. Surprisingly, Santorini is one of Greece’s most prolific wine producers, as you’ll learn if you visit a local winery.
Vineyards also dot the landscape of Paros. All varieties of beaches line this pretty island’s shores, from tiny hidden bays to long swathes of golden sand. Gentle, terraced vine-laden hills and olive groves undulate over the island. The vibrant blue of Naoussa Bay plays host to fishing boats in cheery colors, a lovely sight against the waterside whitewash of the village.
Crete stands as the largest and most diverse of the Greek Islands. In addition to endless beauty and stunning beaches, tiny villages and agrarian settlements hold fast to tradition here. Medieval fortresses lord over the coast. Snow-covered peaks spill toward dramatic gorges that pour mountain-fed water into the sea. Crete is also home to large cities brimming with rich culture. But its historic touch-point is Knossos, an ancient palace complex dating to 1900 BC. This remarkable site is considered the oldest city in all of Europe. According to legend, King Minos kept his mythical son Minotaur in a labyrinth here.
These four islands offer just a taste of the Aegean’s magnificence. Select Gate 1 itineraries also call on the Cyclades Islands of Milos, Syros and Ios and the Dodecanese Islands of Patmos, Kos and Rhodes, where a beautifully preserved medieval city and the sprawling Grand Masters Palace overlook the glimmering sea. You can also explore the islands of Samos and Chios, semi-autonomous islands off the Turkish coast with their own brand of Aegean beauty and rich history.
So Many Ways to Experience Greece with Gate 1 Travel
A country as diverse as Greece opens itself up to limitless exploration. Gate 1 offers an array of travel styles so you can take in the rich and colorful Aegean culture your way. Our classic Escorted Tours showcase the best of the country for you, with a generous array of inclusions and the services of a local Greek Tour Manager. For the free-spirited, choose one of our Independent Vacations, which provide your basic necessities like flights and hotels and leave you to follow your own whims.
If the magical Greek Islands call to you, choose an itinerary that combines land touring with overnight accommodations either on a small ship or on a large Norwegian Cruise Lines cruise ship, exploring additional destinations as wide-reaching as Venice, Florence and Rome. And if you’d rather rub elbows with locals, some of our hotel-based trips let you island-hop on local ferries, for a truly authentic experience.
The Perfect Time to See Greece Is Now
The timeless antiquities, spectacular beauty and warm welcomes of Greece are to be savored. And with fewer crowds visiting its most iconic sites, you can do just that in a relaxed and hospitable atmosphere. Join us in 2016 and experience it all for yourself, at the value you’d expect, with Gate 1 Travel.