• Leon Vonk

Why you should visit Greece

When people think of Greece, they usually think of the islands and the many beaches. They’re not wrong, but Greece has so much more to offer than that! There many ancient temples, small bridges, beautiful landscapes, and some monasteries on peculiar locations. But whether your heart is set on discovering the many temples, or hiking through the gorgeous sceneries, Greece has got you covered! My own trip to Greece lasted only two weeks but it was enough time to discover what the mainland has to offer. And, honestly, it was much better than I could have imagined! The flowers were starting to bloom, the sun was shining - most of the times anyway - and the sceneries were absolutely amazing.

The Temple of Hephaestus

I’ve seen great things on my trip, like an amazing sunset by a temple near Athens, the ancient theater of Epidaurus, beautiful stone bridges near the Vikos gorge, the monasteries in Meteora, and the archaic ruins of Delphi. Suffice it to say that I was overwhelmed by Greece’s beauty and I would absolutely recommend you to go there for a visit as well, so let me share with you where I went and what I did so you have some inspiration.

My trip started in Athens, Greece's capitol, the birthplace of democracy and arguably the start of the civilization as we've come to know it. Now, if you love traveling off the beaten path, Athens is not the city for you! That being said, it's absolutely worth a visit. Like any tourbook will tell you, the Acropolis is the place to start as it's located in the city center of Athens, and also the city's most important site. Don't forget to visit the museum, it's well worth a (short) visit. Another site that's worth visiting is the ancient agora of Athens, although not much is left (except the main temple) you get a pretty good idea on what the city used to look like.

The ancient agora of Athens

Make sure to pass by the Roman forum on your way there, and if you fancy a drink the famous Plaka area will be a nice place to stop (try a freddo espresso or cappuccino). Another recommended place to grab a drink is Six d.o.g.s., a very modern café that will suit well with the younger crowd. If you're looking for a bite to eat I can vouch for Just Made 33, they have amazing sandwiches, or go to Μαύρος Γατος (which I think translates to 'Back Cat'), for some great, traditional, food. But honestly, if you go outside of the touristy streets, chances are that you're going to get great food.

Obviously, there is much more that you can do in Athens, but I think that for people, like me, who prefer landscapes and/or discovering much in a very short time frame, this will be plenty. There is, however, one other site that I would recommend you to visit, but it's about an hour drive south of Athens, in the opposite direction of basically anything else. But it's so worth it! So, add the Temple of Poseidon to your list and make sure to arrive during the last hour of the day so that you can see the spectacular sunset.

Sunset at the Temple of Poseidon

Leaving Athens behind me I traveled to the Peloponnese, a peninsula directly west of Athens. The area is known for its many ancient archaeological sites, the first one you'll pass is the site near Korinth, a small but nice site. Next up is Mycenae, a larger site but with almost nothing left standing. Most impressive here is the Tomb of Agamemnon just south of it, which reminded me a bit of the tombs in the valley of the kings in Egypt. The last site that most people visit is Epidaurus, mainly for its immense theater that is still intact to this day. Make sure to go at the end of the day to avoid the masses. Also keep in mind that you're going to get an overload of ancient sites, so make sure to pick and choose wisely.

There are some sites that I didn't visit myself, because of a lack of time, but if you're really into seeing historic sites you could consider going to the Archaeological site of Olympia, where the Olympic games started thousands of years ago. There are also some sites around ancient Sparta, although I don't think there's much left standing.

Ancient theater of Epidaurus

After seeing so many historic sites it was time for me to move towards the north of Greece to discover the natural beauty of the country. Pindus National Park is the name of the area that I went to, but it's so big that it's not specific enough. I visited a part of the Zagori region and even that was too big for me to discover in the two days I was there (although I have to add that the weather wasn't great). I could see myself visit this area for an entire week and still discover new things every day! For people who love hiking, or for photographers who love shooting undiscovered areas (like myself), this is the perfect place to visit. During my visit here I felt like I was the only tourist and even the locals seemed surprised by my presence.

The main things to see in the region are the stone bridges that were build in the 1800's and the immense Vikos gorge. I went to see the Kokkoros or Noutsos bridge and the Plakidas bridge before driving up the mountains to do a small (30-60 minute) hike to the Beloi viewpoint, to witness the gorge's magnificence. As the weather wasn't great, and I had only a limited amount of time, this was unfortunately everything that I was able to do while I was there, but I'm sure that I'll come back here to discover more. There are many more viewpoints of the Vikos gorge on the west side to discover, like the Oxya viewpoint, but there's also an amazing hike to the Drakolimni lake, which supposedly is gorgeous to see.

One of the many stone bridges in the Zagori area

Leaving the area with a heavy heart I continued to Meteora, which is a more popular tourist destination that I had thought beforehand. The small city of Kamalbaka is the main hub for the area and is full of hotels, restaurants, and excursion offices. Even though I don't love overly touristic destinations, Meteora is well worth it. Besides the fact that some old monks decided to build monasteries on top of the very inaccessible rocks some thousand years ago, the rock formations are unlike any I've ever seen! It's truly a remarkable area that deserves to be seen, although I would probably be in favor of a limitation in visitors. There are 6 monasteries that you can still visit, but personally I believe it's more than enough to visit two or three. The ones I visited were the Great Meteor Monastery, the biggest, most impressive, and most visited one of all (think march of the penguins), and the last one was the Monastery of Rousanou, inhabited exclusively by nuns.

As a photographer on limited time, I had decided some weeks before the trip to take the Meteora Photo tour so that an expert of the area could show me all the great photography locations and I wouldn't waste time trying to look for them myself. I was really happy with that decision, even though the weather wasn't good enough for great photographs, because this way I got to see and mark down all the great views of the area, in a lot of cases without any other tourists! It made me realize how beautiful the area is and how many photography locations there actually are. I knew right then and there that one day I will go back.

Just outside of Meteora, in the direction of Athens, you can go to another area with lots of mountains, lakes, and stone bridges! Although I didn't have much time I took a small detour and visited the stone bridge near Pyli and the stone bridge of Palaiokarya. The latter is the one that makes the detour feel like the main event, the bridge itself is quite nice but what makes it special is the two waterfalls right next to it! It makes for an amazing view that you will never forget.

Stone bridge of Palaiokarya

Back on the road, passing Trikala, the flats of Greece awaited me on my journey to Pelion. The drive itself was very dull but luckily my destination wasn't. Pelion is a beautiful green mountain range with some very picturesque villages, on the top of the mountain you can see the Aegean see on one side and the Pagasetic Gulf on the other. If you go down the mountain on the east side you will be treated with many cliffs and rocky beaches, like Fakistra beach. If you're more into hiking there are many trails you can follow, the most famous one being the Centaur's Path. Unfortunately for me the weather was bad, so bad that there was no point of going over the mountain and enjoy the nice views or find photography locations. Don't be scared off by this though, the area is gorgeous and deserves a visit, I'm sure you'll be one of the few foreign tourists coming here.

Last light of the day hitting the houses in Pelion

Nearing the end of my trip I had one more stop before arriving back in Athens, so after some hours of driving through beautiful mountain ranges I arrived in Delphi. The town of Delphi didn't quite look the way I expected it to, it's really small (basically 2 streets) and the only things you'll find here are small (old) hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. I did expect the touristy part but was surprised by the size. The town of Arachova, 15 minutes outside of Delphi, looks so much nicer and more like what I would've expected Delphi to look like. In short I would recommend you to not sleep in Delphi, but if there is no other option I would recommend a stay in Hotel Kouros, it's old but it's really cheap and relatively comfortable.

The archaeological sites of Delphi were much nicer than the town though and are definitely worth the visit, if you like historic sites. I took a private guide at this location as I wanted to know more about what I was seeing and I have to say that I was really happy I did that, the scene really comes to life with some extra information. Besides the main site you also have the Temple of Athena, a bit down the road, which you definitely know from looking up Delphi online. I would also recommend you to check out the museum, personally I liked it a bit more than the Acropolis museum in Athens, even though the findings are less impressive. It's all included in the one ticket you pay for the archaeological site.

The temple of Athena, ironically not on the main site

Leaving Delphi effectively marked the end of my trip, I did go back to Athens and visit some more thing but for convenience purposes I've included that in my earlier chapter. Before closing off I will leave some general remarks and tips about the mainland of Greece, perhaps you'll find something useful.

Driving in Greece wasn't problematic for me, just keep in mind that;

- Most of the Greek drive way too fast, they don't follow the speed limitation whatsoever.

- They don't mind passing you from all sides, so keeping your lane works best.

- They don't use their honk at all, even though they drive fast they're actually very patient.

- Parking is done where they need to be, even if parking is not allowed.

- In general, adapt to the local way of driving and I'm sure you'll do just fine.

- The roads are really good, much better than I expected them to be and on par with countries like France or Switzerland.

Costs of traveling in Greece were much higher than I expected. Since we've been hearing for years and years that the Greek economy isn't great I just thought it was going to be dirt cheap, or maybe similar to the countryside of Spain or Portugal. I was wrong, prices in Athens city center were not much lower than, for example, Amsterdam. And prices in the countryside were lower but higher than in Portugal or Spain. Lets take coffee as an example, an espresso in a small town in Greece cost me 2 EURO's whereas in Portugal it went as low as 50 cents! What about food? Well, I've seen some places with main courses starting around 8 EURO's, but mostly I've seen main courses for 10 to 15 EURO's. Hotels aren't cheap either, especially around the more touristy places like Meteora. So manage your expectations if you're thinking of a very low budget vacation.

Talking to Greek people is easy, most people actually speak English (try that in France or Spain). I don't think they expect you to speak Greek because every time I said hello, thank you, or goodbye, to someone in Greek they seemed surprised and asked if I spoke Greek. Of course I don't, but I always find it important to know a few words, as a politeness. Traveling in France for many years have taught me that people are much more likely to help if you take the effort of saying a few words in their tongue. With Greek people this is not the case, they are super friendly, willing to help, and speak English.

Greece is a beautiful country that has a lot to offer, so consider it for a future trip but don't wait to long, who knows when the masses discover the yet to be discovered beauties.

If you have any questions about my trip, Greece, or anything else, please reach out to me and I'm happy to get back to you.

Me looking over the Vikos gorge


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© 2019 by Leon Vonk Photography. All rights reserved.