Travel notes on visiting the Greek islands
Flowers on Alonissos
Many delights await the visitor to the Greek islands. The wonderful light, the emerald seas and densely wooded hillsides have been praised in many a travelogue and tourist brochure.
But there is another side to a country. Until the late '90s the standard of living was well below the European average and the culture shock was significant. Since then things have changes , and particularly since Greece joined the European Union and ditched the drachma for the euro.
Out went the days when the holiday visitor could dine out for few drachma and expect a free bottle of wine thrown in. Prices were soon on a par with the UK when the Greek economy faced a meltdown and harsh austerity measures brought an even stiffer hike in prices.
That said, a holiday to Greece still costs little more than to other parts of the world. Flights to Greek islands are short haul and relatively cheap. As air ticket prices make up a significant proportion of the overall holiday budget it is no wonder the Greek islands still one of the mosy popular of holiday destinations. It's a pity perhaps for those tourists who remember the good old days of cheap food, cheap wine and cheap rooms. But there's a lot to be said for a little luxury, both for visitors and for Greeks themselves.
Taverna visitors prefer to eat Greek
Holiday visitors in the more popular Greek Island resorts will see plenty of tavernas boasting 'Full English Breakfast' and 'Fish & Chips'. But Greek taverna owners may be missing a trick. Recent research shows that most people prefer to eat Greek when on holiday in the islands. They opt for traditional Greek meals like souvlaki, moussaka and stifado when faced with the menu. And Greek food not only tastes good, it's healthy too. Lots of research that shows that people on Mediterranean diets, with plenty of olive oil and fresh vegetables, stay younger and live longer. There are a few things to note when eating Greek. Most locals start their evening meal late - after 10pm - so expect tavernas to fill up then; Greek food is traditionally served lukewarm and visitors are free to tour the kitchen and inspect the food.
Spring flowers herald the holiday season
There is nothing like spring in the Greek Islands. The warm spring weather not only attracts holidaymakers but botanists too. Each year around Easter, the rare flowers flush into bloom captivating both nature lovers and scientists. The further south the island the more special spring becomes. Botanists from all over the world fly into Crete each spring to study the island's rare orchids and wild tulips, many of which are native to Crete. The red tulip of Crete, for example, one grows only on one small plateau high in the mountains. But you don't have to be a botanist to enjoy the Greek countryside in spring. Many ordinary visitors make spring the time to visit Greece. Hillsides and fields are awash with wild flowers for a few short weeks before the hot summer sun burns everything to a crisp.
Greek museums show how its done
With so much history it is no wonder that Greek museums and monuments are among the best in the world. To celebrate the fact, museums and archaeological sites across Greece and open their doors each year to celebrate International Museum Day. Holiday visitors not only get in for free but they can also enjoy a host of museum events including concerts and exhibitions and the sale of replica artefacts and remembrance coins. Many museums across the Greek islands stage special exhibitions, hold educational programmes, open workshops, conferences, lectures, guided tours, music performances and promote other events. The International Council of Museums established International Museum Day in 1977 to boost public awareness of museums and Greece has always been happy to show off her great heritage.
Greek holidays have wildfire hazards
Wildfires are a perennial hazard in the Greek islands given the hot summer sunshine, tinder dry forests and fresh island breezes. It is no surprise to see island fires recently reported in Rhodes, Crete and Serifos and we can expect even more later in the holiday season. Holiday visitors in the south of Rhodes, including the hugely popular beach resort of Lindos, are on emergency alert as fires threaten inhabited areas and residents of Serifos were jumping into the sea to avoid the flames. Although summer fire outbreaks are common in the Greek Islands it is very rare that they affect inhabited areas and Greek emergency services are well geared up to fighting these outbreaks. They shouldn't put anyone off a Greek Island holiday but everyone should play their part and not smoke in woodland areas or worse still light a barbecue.
Poster adverts for Greek island litter
Regular visitors to the Greek island will know of the litter problem that seems endemic on the islands. Greeks have never been great ones for keeping the place tidy and it's a real problem anyway - what to do with litter on an island. It's expensive to remove and we have all seen hillsides covered in old fridges and rusting cars. Things have improved with stricter controls on fly tipping but one area where litter seems unrelenting is fly-posting. In most resorts almost every tree, wall and lamppost will have one or more posters stuck to it. They advertise everything from local beach bars to visiting circuses. They never get taken down after the event and eventually they end up flying around in the wind. Beautiful street scenes are not only defaced daily but become a reservoir of litter for the future.
Greek wines enjoy taste of success
Greek wines have never made much of a mark in the wine world but that could be all about to change. Greek winemakers have seen a big rise in demand as its reputation rises for high quality wines and international acclaim grows from wine experts. Once known only for its retsina (an acquired taste) there have been big improvements in production techniques and modern Greek wines are enjoying a better reputation. Some 300 varieties are cultivated on both the mainland and the Greek Islands. The leading white is Assyrtiko, from Santorini where the volcanic soil adds a unique flavour. A clutch of Samos wines recently picked up gold medal at an international competitions and the Robola wines of Kefalonia are having another big impact. Greek wines may soon be as popular as Australian and Californian labels.
Greek beaches are thick with superstars
Greek islands holidays are a just popular with your average Joe, they attract the rich and famous. Hollywood superstars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones often cruise by Kos and Symi while pop icon Madonna not only holidays on the Island of Ithaca but is believed to be looking for a home there. International celebrities down the years have stayed on Ithaca including Sophia Loren, Nicholas Cage, Tom Hanks, Jamie Lee Curtis and Steven Spielberg. Top-name stars to grace Greek Island beaches include John Travolta, Robert DeNiro, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Demi Moore has been spotted on Mykonos as have supermodels Bar Refaeli and Naomi Campbell while the celebrity Kardashians recently stopped on Mykonos to film their show. In the Greek Islands it seems you can hardly move for superstars.
Clean water approval for Greek beaches
It's good to know that your chosen Greek holiday beach has clean water for swimming and paddling. Now families can feel pretty safe after official tests found more than 90% of Greek beaches to have 'excellent' bathing water quality. Out of more than 2,000 beaches across Greece only a handful, six, were found to be less than good. The overall quality of bathing waters on beaches across EU countries has improved significantly since 1990 when water testing was introduced. Water quality tests were carried out by the Greek Ministry of Environment and results are used when handing out the prestigious annual European Blue Flag awards for safe, clean holiday beaches. Greece picked up 393 Blue Flags this year - second only to Spain out of 49 countries with clean beach awards.
Island hopping on a seaplane
Island hopping in the Greek islands has up to now meant taking a ferry or hiring a boat. That could all change as talks get under way over launching seaplane services between the islands. Moves are already well advanced to launch seaplane serves between Corfu and the other Ionian islands later this year. Now the south Aegean islands are getting in on the act too and seaplanes could soon be flying regular routes between popular holiday islands like Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, Naxos and Paros in time for the next summer holiday season. Many islands do currently have domestic flights but they are mostly to and from Athens airport. Seaplanes could open the way for fast, cheap Greek island hopping in the future. A recent relaxation in licensing laws has paved the way for renewed interest in Greek holiday seaplane services.
Greece is the richest country
The Greek people have always been famously friendly so it's good to see holiday visitors returning on droves this year. Now the Greek tourist office is to launch a massive online advertising campaign to attract even more visitors and it is urging Greeks make holiday visitors even more welcome. The campaign's slogan is 'Greece, the richest country in the world' plays on the country's economic problems in a positive way as videos are posted online over the summer holiday season. The promotional push comes as Industry analysts forecast a record-breaking rise in Greek holiday arrivals in 2013. Popular islands such as Zante report a 12.5% hike in holiday arrivals in June with some 655 charter flight aircraft bringing in 94,431 passengers most of them arriving from the UK.