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Your Summer gateway to Greece – Part Two, Cyclades and Ionian Islands

Lesser known Cyclades and Ionian Islands

With Summer in a full swing, it’s time to bring the second part of our gateway to Greece, your guide to Cyclades and Ionian islands.

We hope, that the Part One of our blog, where we took you to Athens and Central Greece, inspired you to plan your next adventure to this beautiful country. If not, there is still time to do so, as you will get an amazing time in Greece until October. September is actually a much better month to travel and explore Greece, once the crowds returned home and the hot August weather has cooled off a little bit.

So, where do we go now? We will take you on a journey to the lesser known Cyclades and Ionian Islands, that you may or may not heard of.

 

Authentic Ionian Islands gateway

The Ionian Islands is a group of seven islands, which lie off the country’s west coast, in the Ionian Sea. The islands have centuries long Venetian influences, which is still visible in distinct architecture, much different to that of Cyclades.

Ionian Islands, Photo by Chris Karidis via Unsplash

Ionian Islands, Photo by Chris Karidis via Unsplash

Corfu, Zakynthos, Cephalonia, Lefkada, Ithaka, Paxos and Kythira are the seven Ionian Islands, even though Kythira, being closer to the southern tip of Peloponnese and further away from the other islands, is considered a part of Greek Attika region.

So, let’s forget about the most popular, but beautiful islands of Cephalonia, Zante or Corfu and venture off the beaten path to equally beautiful Ithaka, Paxos and Kythira in search for sun, sea, relaxation and adventure.

Ithaka

Mythical Ithaka, only a couple of kilometres away from Captain Corelli’s Cephalonia, is much smaller, less touristy and more rugged than its neighbour. And if you loved Cephalonia, you will fall even more in love with Ithaka’s tranquillity, peace and authenticity. This is more authentic traveller, than package holiday kind of place, which is why is on our list!

Small and sleepy little island will give you a perfect getaway from the crowds, with hiking, snorkelling, sun soaking and sailing opportunities. The picturesque capital of Ithaka – Vathy, with its architecture protected by law, to resemble its original style destroyed in earthquake in 1953, is the island’s main harbour since 16th century. The capital is also the liveliest place on the island, but far away from the noise of its bigger neighbours, Corfu or Zakynthos. Morning walks, hikes, sun soaking and exploring Greek villages, with hardly any tourists are the lazy summer activities of Ithaka. But the island is definitely worth visiting, it has been described by some, as the most beautiful Greek island.

Paxos

Not far from Corfu, lies the smallest Ionian island – Paxos. A perfect summer getaway for independent traveller, where you can enjoy freshly caught fish, olive groves and exploring the pebble bays and coves of the island. With only 2500 habitants, the three main towns of the island are Gaios, Lakka and Logos, but luckily, with plenty of tavernas serving Greek salad, tzatziki, saganaki and grilled octopus. If you are into yoga, meditation and escapism, the island, which is only 10km long and 3km wide, will offer you an opportunity, to find time and space to do just that and detach yourself from the rest of the world.

Kythira  

Another beautiful place in Greece to escape mass tourism and seek authenticity amongst medieval ruins, monasteries, Venetian architecture and secluded beaches. Exploring local villages and archaeological museums, enjoying empty and undeveloped beaches, visiting Mylopotamos waterfalls and taking a swim in the refreshing ponds, or eating authentic Greek food whilst drinking Mythos will be as far as you will go with your adventure here. And if you’d like Kythira and would like to own a piece of heaven, you can think of settling in nearby Antikythera and Greek government will even pay you to live there, to populate the island!

 

Off the beaten path Cyclades

The Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea. The archipelago consists of 220 islands, although many are inhabited. And whilst you may be familiar with Mykonos, Paros, Naxos or Santorini, there is much more to explore in Cyclades, if you venture off the beaten path from the well-known and touristy islands. But, whilst we take you to less explored destinations, it is worth to keep the larger islands on your bucket list. Nothing beats Oia’s sunset in beautiful Santorini or drinking chilled wine in Scorpios, Mykonos seating on comfy cushions and staring at sea, at golden hour.

 

'Welcome to Amorgos. Nobody will find you here.'

It takes an effort to get there and not many people bother, hence Amorgos has been lucky to escape from the mass tourism. If you are flying to Greece, you can get to the island by ferry from Mykonos or Athens.

It is 1988 and the movie called ‘The Big Blue’ - “Le Grand Bleu”, by Luc Besson with Jean Reno is being filmed. It’s a tale of underwater adventure by two friends sharing the passion for free diving, filmed in a beautiful blue waters of Amorgos island. There aren’t that many adventures to do on the island, but free diving or scuba diving are certainly one of them. You can free dive or scuba dive, even do your PADI course in Amorgos Diving Center or just take a snorkelling trip.

Besides wild adventures, such as reading your book, meditating, enjoying Greek coffee in a local taverna; you can do hiking trips, explore the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa build on a rocky mountain and cool off afterwards in Agia Anna, a secluded beach nearby, where the movie ‘Big Blue’ was filmed.

There is no vibrant nightlife on the island, for that you’d have to head to Naxos, Mykonos or Ios island. However, even though the island is not touristy, you will find enough bars and tavernas in the main towns, of Chora, Aegialis, and Katapola. By the way, Chora is usually the name of the main town in many Greek islands.

The best part of the island are translucent waters and beautiful beaches, plenty of which to explore. There was a reason why Luc Besson have chosen Amorgos for the movie location. And that reason is for you to explore!

Folegandros

Fall in love with this stunning and untouched island and enjoy peaceful holiday free of traffic and noise. There are three villages on the island: Karavostasi - the port the “Chora” – the capital and Ano Meria and traffic is not allowed in any of them. You can enjoy walking cobbled streets, amongst white houses with blue roofs, tavernas, bakeries and feel transported in time. The island, one hour by Ferry from Santorini or Paros, might feel isolated, the noise you are likely to hear at night will be that of the ocean, rather than coming from anywhere else, but that what’s makes it different from its bigger and more famous neighbour Santorini. Folegandros unspoiled and breath-taking beaches are part of the island’s charm and you can get to most of them by a local bus or a taxi boat. They will be so much different to the beaches of Mykonos, you won’t find many umbrellas here costing you your monthly mortgage, but instead you will get idyllic and peaceful surroundings with spectacular views and awe moment sunsets.

You will stay mainly in B&Bs in Folegandros, but since the word is out, there are more little boutique hotels coming into the island, giving you choice to immerse in a little luxury in this peace of heaven.

Ios island, more than just a party

Ios Island, photo by Matthew Waring via Unsplash

Ios Island, photo by Matthew Waring via Unsplash

In the last years, Ios has risen to the reputation of taking over from its famous party island – Mykonos. However, in both cases anyone who thinks Mykonos or Ios are just party islands is fundamentally wrong and is missing out by avoiding the islands. And since the majority of our ‘off the beaten path’ places in Cyclades and Ionian islands are also quiet and slightly isolated islands, we are throwing Ios into the mix. Good thing, when you visit Cyclades, you don’t usually limit yourself to one island alone. Most people choose island hopping and there are plenty of well - connected ferries to take you to the island of your choosing. So, you may want to combine your peaceful stay with heading to the livelier neighbour – Ios island. Bonus - is it not as expensive as Mykonos.

So, why visit Ios? Imagine Mykonos or Santorini beauty minus the crowds. Equally beautiful beaches to Mykonos, equally beautiful sunsets to Santorini, sans selfie-sticks. You get the same beauty, but more authenticity and you will be more spoiled for choice than Amorgos, Folegandros or other lesser known Cyclades islands, with bars, hotels, nightlife, tavernas. Immerse yourself in relaxing in one of many Ios beautiful beaches, with Mylopotas, Gialos, Agia Theodoti and Manganari being the most popular ones. Gather in Chora before the sunset, to watch the sun setting in one of many bars, before heading to dinner for souvlaki, fresh fish, tzatziki, washed with Greek wine (try the wine from Santorini).

You can also do water sports in Ios, such as windsurfing, scuba diving or enjoy trekking routes, for example the 4hrs walk from Chora to the monastery of Agios Ioannis, during which you can enjoy beautiful island views.

Weather it is mainland or island Greece; this beautiful country will not leave you disappointed and if you were ever told to watch more sunsets than Netflix, Greece is the place to be for that.

If you would like to meet other people whilst travelling, download Tribd on iOS. Tribd helps you to find travel buddies and connect with other solo travellers who have similar travel plans. 

Follow @tribdapp on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for stories and travel inspiration and join our group of solo travellers on Facebook!

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Cyclades Islands, lunch with a view. Photo, author’s own.

Your summer gateway to Greece – Part One

Part One - Mainland Greece

Squashed between the Aegean and Ionian Seas, lies a small country of a remarkable natural beauty, rich history and culture, beautiful beaches and a tasty food – Greece. A place to visit at least once in a lifetime and one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

For those more adventurous travellers, if you think Greece is just beach and souvlaki, think again. The country has plenty of adventures to offer, beyond typical sun and sand type of holiday. But if you want to take advantage of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and immerse yourself in staring at fifty shades of blue through the entire holiday, we can’t blame you. Greek sea has the colours you will not see anywhere else in the world.

For those who have never been to Greece, or have not seen much of this beautiful country, we have to tell you, that even though Greece is tiny, no two places are the same and you will have completely different experience visiting Cyclades vs. Central Greece, so we have put together four different itinerary ideas for your summer vacation. In Part One, we will take you to Athens, Peloponnese and Central Greece. In Part Two, your travel inspiration will be to travel to either Cyclades or Ionian Islands.

Join our mailing list to receive Part Two of your Greek summer inspiration as soon as it is published on our website.

 

Athens and Peloponnese

Acropolis of Athens. Photo by Arthur Yeti via Unsplash.

Acropolis of Athens. Photo by Arthur Yeti via Unsplash.

If Acropolis is on your bucket list and you decide to book your flights to Athens, then it’s worth to give the city a couple of days for major attractions and afterwards, either take the ferry from Piraeus to Greek Islands, or rent a car and spend a week or two touring beautiful Peloponnese peninsula, which will be slightly less touristy and has even more historical and archaeological sight seeing opportunities. It is also worth to mention, that many roads in Greece’s mountainous areas (in both mainland and in the islands) are quite rural and often unexpectedly dangerous, which might not be immediately obvious at first. The views will be beautiful, the danger will be real.

When you arrive at Athens, you may not be positively surprised, and if you expected to have the same architectural experience to that of Rome or Paris, you could be disappointed. Unfortunately, years of chaotic urban development without proper planning resulted in creating ‘The City of Errors’, not to mention the traffic and air pollution. But it is still worth making a stopover in Athens for once in a lifetime opportunity to teleport yourself to the 5th-century BC civilization of ancient Greece.

Athens – home to Plato and Aristotle, one of the oldest cities in the world is considered a birthplace of democracy and the beginning of Western civilisation. Nowadays, it is also the city where history meets trendy boutiques, beautiful cafés and fancy night clubs, where locals usually don’t head out until 10 PM and stay till early hours of the morning, eating, drinking and enjoying life, often as families - adults and children together. New York is not the only city that never sleeps…

The core to sightseeing Athens is Plaka and Monastiraki neighbourhood – the historic centre, where you will walk through narrow labyrinth of streets lined with houses, bars, taverns, and souvenir shops, leading you to the number one of Athens’ bucket list - The Acropolis of Athens. It is worth combining your Acropolis tour with visiting nearby Acropolis Museum.

Greek Parliament building in Syntagma Square and in front of it, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by the Evzones in traditional costume are both a must-see during your Athens city tour. And if you happen to be in Athens on Sunday, make sure you head there before 11 AM to see the change of guards’ ceremony. From here, you can seek shadows and greenery in 24 hectares full of beautiful plants in Athens National Gardens.

In Kolonaki neighbourhood, which is considered to be one of the aristocratic areas of Athens, you will find the most grandiose streets of Athens, with beautiful buildings, expensive boutiques and many other visit worthy museums, such as Benaki, Byzantine and Christian Museum and National Gallery.

If you are done with your historical and cultural immersion, it’s time to take the ferry from the port of Piraeus and head to one of many Greek islands, or jump into your rented car and start a part two of your Greek adventure – Peloponnese.

With the new highway, you will reach Peloponnese in an hour, and once you cross the Corinth Canal, you can consider arriving at your destination. Or, rather at your first stopover. Now, depending on how many days you are planning to stay in the Peloponnese, you can plan your adventure as a road-trip staying in different places, or make one of the main towns your base and do day trips from there, with plenty of beach time in between. Don’t be afraid to get lost. Away from touristy towns, you will see the real Greece. And there is no better way to get to know the country, then eat where locals eat.

Peloponnese is a land of natural beauty, with many unspoiled beaches, historical and archaeological sites, castles, and plenty of opportunities for adventure lovers, including… surfing and windsurfing. Yes, did you know you can actually surf in Greece? Well, it won’t be the same experience as Bali, but there are surfable waves in Costa Navarino, which could be a great opportunity to combine leisure with adventure and get some surf lessons. You will be chasing mavericks in no time.

Here are the places to put on your Peloponnese trip map and decide where do you want to stay and how would you like to plan your adventure.

EpidaurusMycenae and Corinth – the trio is close enough from each other to see in one day and Corinth is your getaway to Peloponnese, so it is likely to be your first stopover. Epidaurus is home to the famous Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus with extraordinary acoustics - a performer standing on the open-air stage can be heard in the back rows almost 60 metres away. Mycenae is one of the most important archaeological sites of Greece and the centre of Mycenaean civilisation, collapse of which 1200 BCE set Greece back to the Dark Ages. Corinth is famous for its famous Corinth Canal, Temple of Apollo and historical sites surrounding the city. If you get tired of history, take a plunge in a beautiful Mediterranean Sea and enjoy a bottle of cold Mythos (Greek beer) with Greek salad and a freshly grilled octopus or souvlaki in one of many taverns.

Nafplio, located a short driving distance from Epidaurus and two hours drive from Athens is one of the most beautiful towns in Peloponnese. You can walk through narrow cobbled streets in Nafplio’s Old Town, set between elegant Venetian houses, neoclassical mansions boutiques and cafes or challenge yourself to climb the stairs of the Palamidi fortress.

From Nafplio, head down south to Monevmasia - a must see place whilst touring Peloponnese. Located on the south eastern side of Peloponnese, Monevmasia is uniquely preserved medieval town carved into the sea rock, not visible from the mainland. Historically the only way to reach Monevmasia was by boat, until the construction of the pathway linking the castle to the mainland. Once you finished sightseeing in a smoking hot sun, get lost walking in the cobbled streets of Old Town, have a glass of frappe (Greek ice coffee) in one of the cafés and head for a nearby beach.

Kalamata and Sparta are two other visit worthy towns on your Peloponnese road trip, en route to the Western part of the peninsula. But if you are tired of driving around and want to immerse yourself in little relaxation and luxury, it is worth staying a couple of nights in Costa Navarino. Located in Messinia in the southwest Peloponnese, it has one of the most unspoiled and breath-taking landscapes in the Mediterranean.

Recharged, pampered and hopefully not sunburn, head West, towards the last stop on your Peloponnese adventure – the Archaeological Site of Olympia, where in 776 BCE first Olympic Games were held. Ancient Olympia is one of the most beautiful sanctuaries and sites in archaeological sites in Greece.

Driving through the Peloponnese you will enjoy beautiful views, but the roads sometimes will take your breath away from different reason. The mountain roads will be step and narrow, often dangerous and with insufficient room for other cars to pass.

Beach in Lakonia, Peloponnese. Photo by  Alex Antoniadis  via Unsplash.

Beach in Lakonia, Peloponnese. Photo by Alex Antoniadis via Unsplash.

Don’t be afraid to get lost. The best advise is not to follow your travel guide meticulously but allow yourself spontaneity to discover off the beaten path roads, hidden beaches, taverns, where you can share a glass of ouzo with locals and enjoy the unspoiled and less touristy side of Greece.

What else you can do in Peloponnese? Scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking, windsurfing is all to be found there, so if you would like to combine sight seeing and beach time with adventure, just hit the internet and do your research!

 

Central Greece – Pelion, Mount Olympus and Meteora

 

Whilst Greeks and international travellers will mostly head to the islands during the summer, Central Greece will take you to the forgotten places and the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean.  Pelion is a large mountainous peninsula in Thessaly, central Greece. If you enjoyed the breath-taking views whilst watching Mamma Mia movie – you will enjoy Pelion, as this is where the movie was filmed, in nearby islands of Skiathos and Skopelos.

The highlights of your summertime in Pelion? Beautiful beaches, off the beaten path places, Mount Olympus for a spectacular hiking and climbing opportunities and the UNESCO heritage site, famous Meteora Monasteries.

To make the most of the beauty of Pelion and your holiday, it’s best to have a base in one of the beach towns in the peninsula and make day trips from there. You can also take a boat to Skiathos and Skopelos islands or move there for the second half of your holiday, depending how long you are planning on staying.

In Pelion you will have the opportunity to experience the real Greece but allow yourself to venture off the beaten path to see landscapes unchanged for millennia, rustic places and ancient footpaths.

If you are one of the active travellers, then a day trip to the Mount Olympus for hiking some of the 160 km trekking routes could be on the menu. Rock climbing, canoeing and rafting nearby rivers can also be pursued whilst visiting Mount Olympus and you can check more about different adventures here.

Meteora, meaning ‘suspended in the air’ and Mount Athos are extraordinarily beautiful orthodox monasteries suspended for centuries between the heavens and earth, perched on the edge of giant rocks, built by 14th century hermit monks seeking isolation and safety from Turkish raiders. The only way up was through the ropes and ladders and today Meteora, is not only a sacred religious site, but also the adventure capital of Greece for rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking.

Meteora Monasteries. Photo by  Georgios Kaleadis  via Unsplash.

Meteora Monasteries. Photo by Georgios Kaleadis via Unsplash.

Your visit to Greece wouldn’t be complete, without some time to enjoy stunning Greek beaches and the most beautiful shades of sea. Whether you immerse yourself in relaxation in one of the Pelion beach towns or decide to head to the North Aegean islands’ paradise of Skiathos and Skopelos, make sure you have some downtime seeing the world through your sunglasses with the glass of aperol spritz in your hand!

If you would like to meet other people whilst travelling, download Tribd on iOS. Tribd helps you to find travel buddies and connect with other solo travellers who have similar travel plans. 

Follow @tribdapp on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for stories and travel inspiration and join our group of solo travellers on Facebook!

https://www.facebook.com/Tribdapp/ 

#findyourtribe

Skiathos Island. Photo by  Nick Karvounis  via Unsplash.

Skiathos Island. Photo by Nick Karvounis via Unsplash.

How travelling helps us to rediscover ourselves

This post is a little bit more philosophical in nature, but comes from the experiences of our guest blogger Mirka, who left the comfort of the London life and her career, to travel the world. After months of travelling around South East Asia, she came back to London, but only lasted a year in her old ways of living. She and her boyfriend caught the travel bug, so they decided to leave for good. Their life is split between India, Indonesia, Thailand, other South East Asian countries and occasionally Europe. Read How travelling helps us to rediscover ourselves by Mirka Duchnovic.

Annapurna Trek, Nepal

Annapurna Trek, Nepal

What drives us to leave the comfort of our life and go travelling?

People have been travelling since their existence on this planet. Some have been doing it out of necessity, others out of curiosity.

Since I adopted the travelling lifestyle, I have been thinking about what drives us to leave the comfort of a modern life and take on travelling. Through my travels, personal experiences and exchanging views with fellow travellers, I have come to see how travel changes us and possible reasons why.

It usually starts this way…

At certain point of their life, some people feel that the space in which they live, becomes too small and shallow for their needs and dreams.

When the opportunity arises, they take a chance to travel, explore the world and rediscover themselves. It might require some courage to decide and stick to it. But once it’s done, it seems to be quite a natural process and one of the easiest things to do.

By jumping into the unknown, people thrive to discover new possibilities. Some of us find new ways, others come back to the old ways and the life they had. However, the time taken for discovering new avenues is never wasted. Because through travelling experience, something else happens - the expansion of mind.

There are many people, who managed to redirect their lives completely through travel, especially solo travel. Every place I have been to, I have met at least few people who have taken the journey to the unknown. Those who came back home, are not the same anymore, a new view of the world and expansion of mindset has changed them.

Do we need to prepare for our travels?

Logically thinking, yes. We should at least have an idea where and why we are going. But it is not necessary to plan it any further.

If we leave our page blank and venture into an unknown, we experience more and give the opportunity for expansion to occur. No matter how well prepared we are for our travels, there is no way to anticipate everything. Thus, the less prepared we are, the more flexible we become. Things which usually have annoyed us, suddenly become “no problem”.

By doing so, we are stepping out of our comfort zone. But why would we put ourselves through an uncomfortable situation? The answer is quite simple. Whatever our internal reason for travel is; subconsciously we do so to expand our mind. For that expansion to take place, we must first experience the unknown, which is often associated with discomfort. That doesn’t mean putting ourselves in a horrible situation, but the situation we haven’t experienced before. Diving into unknown, with no fixed plan or schedule might feel uncomfortable at first.

By being in uncomfortable situations, we learn to exist in them, often experiencing new thoughts and emotions, leading to a new space opening within us. Suddenly we have new ideas or have better understanding of ourselves.

The change we experience through travel

The process of change we experience through traveling is gradual and happens silently, without our mind permission. As we digest new experiences, meet new people, experience new cultures, we transform our mindset into a new space. Often, only realizing that we have changed, once the process of change has occurred.

Why people subconsciously or consciously look for that expansion to take place?

In my humble and not scientific opinion, it happens because people are creative creatures. The life patterns we nowadays follow, greatly suppresses our natural ability to express ourselves with ease. That new space within us helps connect to that creativity, eventually giving us a feeling of contentment, because it allows us to be ourselves. Eventually, the creativity helps us to rediscover and understand our unique nature. But we need to undergo the transformation, first. Once we connect to our creative force it will never leave us. It’s like a tattoo, letting us to experience much more than mundane routine, in which we are all caught.

Above thoughts have been taken from personal travelling experiences. There is no scientific proof of any kind. I am just sharing and hoping to encourage people to discover themselves through travelling. If you feel, that the space around you is too shallow to satisfy your inner needs, allow yourself to step out of the comfort zone and bring new ways to your life.

I would be happy to hear your stories of how travelling has changed or changing yourself. Please share them in the comments.

If you would like to meet other people whilst travelling, download Tribd on iOS. Tribd helps you to find travel buddies and connect with other solo travellers who have similar travel plans. 

Follow @tribdapp on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for stories and travel inspiration and join our group of solo travellers on Facebook!

https://www.facebook.com/Tribdapp/ 

#findyourtribe

Mirka and her partner in Indian Himalayas

Mirka and her partner in Indian Himalayas