road trip

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.

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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!

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Skiathos Island. Photo by  Nick Karvounis  via Unsplash.

Skiathos Island. Photo by Nick Karvounis via Unsplash.

California Road Trip

Part Two

In the previous post, we have visited San Francisco and Northern California highlights; we will now take a trip further South, via scenic Pacific Coast Highway.

‘We've been on the run
Driving in the sun
Looking out for number one
California here we come
Right back where we started from’

- Phantom Planet

Monterey & Carmel

Heading South from San Francisco, a scenic 17-mile drive along the Monterey Peninsula will take you towards two picturesque little towns, Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Monterey is a former capital of Alta California (Upper California) and a beautiful coastal town, immortalized by writer John Steinbeck in his novel Cannery Row. These days Cannery Row offers an eclectic mix of shops and boutiques, art galleries and world class restaurants. Monterey is also home to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a pristine city with an artistic heritage, founded by writers such as Jack London, George Sterling, Mary Austin and Robinson Jeffers. It’s known for its fairy-tale cottages, art galleries, museums and stunning white sand beaches, suitable for surfing and scuba diving. There are plenty of beautiful hotels and B&Bs for those who want to enjoy an atmosphere of this pristine town for a little longer.

Big Sur

From Carmel, you can continue your scenic journey towards San Simeon, 90 miles South. You will drive through the world’s most memorable and alluring stretch of coastline – Big Sur. The blue of the ocean and the sky, the orange rocks, raw and unspoiled beauty will give you plenty of awe inspiring and unforgettable moments during your California adventure. You can experience some of the most amazing hikes here, surf unforgivable waves, visit famous McWay Falls – one of the most Instagrammed Big Sur’s spots, explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to trek amongst magnificent redwoods, take SUP in one of many Big Sur’s coves; or just absorb the beauty and spirit of Big Sur, relax and… do nothing.

American Riviera

From Big Sur taking a scenic Highway 1 through Central California, you will head to Santa Barbara, also called American Riviera because of its Mediterranean climate and a reminiscence to that region. Santa Barbara is a stunning and upscale coastal town. If you decide to take a break here, you can enjoy beautiful beaches, and plenty of outdoorsy activities, such as biking, hiking, surfing, sea kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing, or sailing. From here you can explore beautiful Santa Barbara County and a must-visit Channel Islands National Park. This remarkable natural reserve seems like worlds apart from California’s mainland, encompassing five remarkable islands and their ocean environment, with unique flora and fauna preserved by thousands of years of isolation.

Orange County

As you head south from Santa Barbara, towards Los Angeles, you will find yourself in Orange County, one of the most iconic California destinations. If you are a surfer, it’s time to take a break from the road and put the wetsuit on, because you have reached your destination. Huntington Beach, aka Surf City USA has been voted the best California’s surfing beach. All-year-round swell and a 10 mile stretch of a coast, make it a perfect place for all levels of surfing. If you haven’t tried surfing yet, you can learn how to surf in one of many surf schools; or just watch locals and maybe get inspired to give it a go.

Newport Beach, Venice, Santa Monica, or Malibu are also worth visiting for all surfers and non-surfers alike.

Some of the Orange County highlights worth seeing include San Juan Capistrano - the oldest California Mission, which you can combine with the Los Rios district, the oldest neighbourhood in California. Take a day trip from Long Beach to Santa Catalina Island, for hiking, trekking, or water sports activities, or venture to Santa Ana Mountains to take a hike.

Joshua Tree National Park

Whilst Northern California featured in our last blog, provides excellent outdoor opportunities, just a few hrs drive from Los Angeles or San Diego lies a Southern California wonder - Joshua Tree National Park. Surreal geologic features sculpted by nature, where two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together. Rock climbing and bouldering are very popular here, with 8000 climbing and 2000 boulder routes, making Joshua Tree National Park the ultimate climbing destination. Mountain Biking, Hiking, Camping or Horseback riding are also activities to be enjoyed in this fascinating natural ecosystem. You can forget about civilisation for a moment and enjoy natural beauty and uniqueness of the place, without the temptation to check your phone, as there is no cell signal in the park. Just unplug, bring plenty of water and explore the wilderness.

San Diego is where your California Pacific road adventure is likely to end, unless you have the luxury of time and the lust for more adventure, in which case you can venture through Baja California to Mexico!

 

Practical Tips

Here are some practical tips for your California Adventure, for San Francisco and Northern California described in Part One and the Pacific Highway road trip through Central and Northern California described in Part Two.

The largest international airports in California are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego.

The best way to travel in California is a car, and car rental is strongly recommended. It gives you the flexibility and freedom in deciding where to go, when and how long you will stay in each place. Maybe except San Francisco, unless you fancy driving and parking on very steep roads.

BART is a public transport system in San Francisco, while Caltrain is a California commuter rail line on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the Santa Clara Valley.

It’s definitely worth bringing portable charger with you, as California provides plenty of photo opportunities, which can drain your battery pretty fast. Google maps also come handy, especially in San Francisco and bigger cities.

Uber (or any other similar taxi service), is a life saver in San Francisco and California if you do not drive. Uber Pool can save you money and sometimes, if there aren’t others booking it along the way, you will end up being the only passenger taken to your destination with no diversions to pick up or drop off others.

You can find other practical tips here.

 

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