Greece

6 of the Best National Parks to Visit in Greece

Visitors in Greece need to think strategically about how they spend their time. While it is worthwhile to see some of the country’s incredible museums, individuals should also make time to explore the beauty of the country. Tourists tend to focus largely on the Greek islands, but the mainland has its fair share of incredible locations to explore.

One of the best ways to experience the breathtaking scenery of the Greek country is exploring one or more of its national parks. Some of the must-see national parks in Greece include:

 

  1. Pindos National Park

Located in the western part of Macedonia, Pindos provides visitors with a landscape not commonly associated with Greece. This mountainous area has dense forests of beech and pine, as well as whitewater rivers, springs, and mountain lakes. A few of the peaks in the area reach above 6,500 feet. When people arrive in Pindus, they will first encounter the Valia Kalda valley created by peaks from the Pindos mountain area.

Pindos National Park

Image courtesy Nikos Patsiouris | Flickr

This area is home to Eurasian bears and one of only three sites in Greece where the animal can be seen. Visitors may encounter a number of other exciting fauna, including otters, lynx, wild cats, golden eagles, and eastern imperial eagles. In addition, the park boasts more than 80 different varieties of mushrooms and a handful of flowers endemic to the Balkans.

 

  1. Olympus National Park

Established in 1938, Olympus National Park surrounds the highest peak in Greece, Mount Olympus. According to Greek mythology, this mountaintop served as the home to the 12 ancient gods.

Visitors will find more than 50 peaks in addition to Mount Olympus, as well as a variety of different trails for hikers and climbers. Individuals interested in doing multi-day hikes can make use of the network of refuges built in the park. These safe places can house up to 12 people at a given time.

Among the thick forest and deep gorges of the area, tourists may catch a glimpse of golden eagles, wolves, fox, deer, and woodpeckers. Recently, the park was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and named one of the most important places in Europe for bird species.

 

  1. Parnitha National Park

Not far from Athens, Parnitha provides the perfect escape from the city. Parnitha is known for its dense pine forests that transition to fir trees at higher altitudes. Individuals can find examples of rare trees in the park, including the Lebanon cedar, as well as both Hungarian and Italian oak. Visitors can also find wild tulips depending on the time of year.

Parnitha National Park

Image courtesy Στέλιος Δ | Flickr

At the Mpafi refuge, a restaurant serves a limited but delicious menu. This refuge also serves as a starting point for guided tours and hikes, as well as mountain-biking and rock-climbing adventures. Tourists can also engage in archery and tree climbing.

 

  1. Sounio National Park

Another park situated close to Athens, Sounio is a common day trip for tourists. People often come to Sounio to see the ruins of the temple to Poseidon, god of the sea, that dates back to about 440 BC. Cape Sounio is also mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

Today, visitors will find historic mines that they can explore, including the Lavrio silver mines, in addition to caves and a relaxing beach. The forest at Sounio is composed primarily of Aleppo pine although several other endemic plants can be found.

 

  1. Mount Parnassos National Park

The very first national park founded in Greece, Mount Parnassos has become famous for its ski resort. The park stretches between the ancient home of the oracle at Delphi to Arachova. In addition to skiing, visitors can hike, mountain bike, and explore the ruins at Delphi.

Mount Parnassos

Image courtesy Babis Kavvadias | Flickr

Two common plants in the area are the Cephalonian fir tree and the Parnassian peony. As far as fauna goes, visitors may encounter boars, weasels, badgers, and wolves, as well as various species of birds of prey.

People who happen to be in Greece during the fall should definitely try to make it to Mount Parnassos to see the changing colors, as well as the wildflowers that flourish in this season and cover the ground. At the foot of the eponymous Mount Parnassos, tourists can explore some massive olive groves.

 

  1. Prespes National Park

Tourists who visit Prespes National Park will find the gorgeous Mikri and Megali Prespa lakes, which are separated by a small, sandy island and surrounded by large mountains. The lakes are especially charming because of the aquatic plants growing in the water, which have large leaves floating along the surface.

In addition, the area remains an important breeding ground for several breeds of aquatic bird. More than 200 species have been identified, including wild pelicans and red pelicans. The lakes are located close to the borders of Albania and the former Yugoslavia. They attract a number of tourists from those areas in addition to those from Greece.

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greece

What You Need to Know about Greece’s Four Wine Regions

When individuals think of the European countries that make the best wines, Greece is likely not close to the top of the list. However, the increasing number of Greek fine dining establishments in the United States continues to expose Americans to the country’s many different wines. Fans of wine should definitely take the time to explore some wineries while visiting Greece. Among wine enthusiasts, there is a saying that wines taste best when enjoyed where they are produced, and this sentiment is particularly true in Greece, where the rustic wines serve as the perfect complement to fresh Greek dishes and cheeses.

Because climate has such a strong impact on the quality of wine, Greek wines are typically grouped together by region. The following are the four main regions in Greece associated with wine production:

 

  1. The Aegean Islands

Samos, Limnos, Santorini, and other islands in the Aegean produce a number of wines. However, this part of the country is most known for its white wines, especially Assyrtiko, the most famous white wine in Greece. Assyrtiko has subtle hints of lemon and passion fruit that are balanced by a mineral taste. Often, this style of wine has a hint of bitterness and perhaps even saltiness that makes it pair perfectly with the fresh seafood served on these islands. A slight variation on Assyrtiko is known as Nykteri and comes aged in oak barrels to bring out the sweetness of the wine.

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Some argue that the island of Samos is the birthplace of Muscat Blanc, one of the most renowned varieties of white wine in the world. On Samos, travelers will find many types, including dry and sweet versions, of Muscat. However, all varieties have the perfumed notes for which Muscat is known. Visitors can also find some unique aged Muscats that have a deeper color and flavors more akin to raisin and cocoa.

 

  1. Southern Greece

Southern Greece, which includes Crete, Kefalonia, and the Peloponnese, has a very hot Mediterranean climate perfect for producing white wines, although one very famous red does come from this region. Agiorgitiko has become one of the most-planted red varietals in Greece. This grape produces a wine that has a full body with undertones of plum, black currant, and raspberry, as well as hints of bitter herb and nutmeg. Individuals who like Merlot will likely enjoy Agiorgitiko, although the Greek version does have more spice. Some producers make rosé with Agiorgitiko, which has a strong raspberry flavor and a deep-pink hue.

Crete, the southernmost island of Greece, has one of the warmest climates. On the island, Vidiano remains one of the most popular choices. This white wine is dry with some hints of melon and pear. Outside of Vidiano, Crete also produces Kotsifali and Mandilaria, two reds that often come together as a blend that has a sweet, spicy character. Typically, the blend has hints of cinnamon and allspice. Lucky travelers may find Liatiko, a rarer red available in the summer that also comes in a sun-dried sweet variety that tastes like a cherry maple syrup.

 

  1. Central Greece

The areas around the Agrafa and Pindus mountains have a climate much like that of Napa Valley, which makes it the perfect place to produce red wines. Some of the common varietals include Krasato, Stavroto, and Xinomavro. Wines usually come as a blend of these grapes with Xinomavro typically being the dominant flavor. This grape has subtle tannins that build on the palate and light fennel and anise notes. People who like Rhône blends will typically like these wines.

Greece

A little south of this region, the climate becomes more arid and white wines start to dominate. This is where vintners plant Savatiano, the most popular white grape in Greece. The grape has a slight acidity that makes it similar to Chablis. However, producers often age the wine in oak, which brings out strong lemon and bread notes. Historically, Savatiano has been associated with very bland wines, but this was due to economic constraints associated with conflict rather than to the varietal itself. Today, several different vineyards are showing the world the true potential of this grape.

 

  1. Northern Greece

Macedonia, Thrace, and Epirus have much colder climates than the rest of Greece. However, these areas still produce some great wines. Producers in Macedonia focus largely on Xinomavro, which features the flavor of dark cherry with a little bit of acidity that may remind people of tomato. In Naoussa, the vineyards largely grow in clay soils with a lot of limestone, which provides more tannins and bolder fruit character.

In Northern Greece, vintners grow many different white wines, including Assyrtiko and Roditis. Often, producers blend these grapes with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Malagousia for a smoky white that pairs perfectly with fish. Vineyards in this region have also played with blending imported grapes, including Merlot and Syrah, to make their wines more familiar to international wine drinkers.

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4 Etiquette Tips that Will Save Tourists in Greece from Embarrassment

When visiting Greece, it’s a great idea to take some time exploring the smaller towns to get a true feel for the country and its people. However, regardless of where they visit, travelers should spend some time getting acquainted with Greek culture prior to their trip. When visitors don’t take the time to learn about the customs in a foreign country, they can come across as extremely rude, even when they’re trying to be polite. Customs about everything from arrival time to tipping vary widely by country, and Greece is no exception. Some of the cultural norms in Greece related to etiquette that travelers should know include:

 

  1. Greeks greet each other warmly.

When meeting people in Greece, it is commonplace for both men and women to shake hands firmly and maintain eye contact. Unlike in some other countries, children in Greece should always be shown the same courtesy of a firm handshake. However, tourists may find that the handshake formality ends after the first meeting. Upon subsequent interactions, it is commonplace for people to embrace each other and even kiss cheeks. Men sometimes slap each other playfully on the shoulders.

 

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Greeks tend to greet each other in a number of situations where people in other countries might not. For example, when entering a bakery to purchase a loaf of bread, asking for the item before providing a greeting would be rude. “Kali mera,” meaning “good day,” is a typical greeting, but individuals may also hear “kali ebdomada” on Monday or “kalo mena” on the first day of the month. These phrases mean “good week” and “good month,” respectively.

 

  1. Informal clothing is reserved for the beach.

Much of Greece is surrounded by gorgeous beaches. However, clothing in these locations is not as casual as it sometimes is in other beach locations around the world. Bathing suits are acceptable garments only at the beach. Greeks typically put something over their bathing suits whenever they leave the beach to visit a restaurant, stop by a café, or do some shopping. In addition, Greeks almost always wear footwear once they step off the beach. Bare feet can come across as rude in some situations.

Because Greece is a country with strong religious traditions, tourists need to take extra care when entering local churches. Virtually no Greek man would wear shorts inside of a church. Greek women generally would not wear a sleeveless top. In the most traditional churches and monasteries, women are expected to wear long skirts. In most churches, however, pants are an acceptable choice for women.

 

  1. People take hospitality seriously.

Visitors who accept an invitation to dine in a Greek home are in for a treat, as Greeks appreciate the art of hospitality. However, keep in mind that some of the norms surrounding dinner parties in Greece vary from other countries. In general, guests should never arrive exactly on time, as the host will not be ready. Typically, arriving 30 minutes late is still considered being punctual and coming earlier may catch hosts off guard. Bringing a small gift, such as a nice wine, is encouraged. Guests should always dress well as a sign of respect for their hosts and offer to help prepare food or clean up. While these offers are unlikely to be accepted, they will be met with appreciation. Guests should always compliment the house as well.

 

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When it’s time to eat, guests should not sit until invited to do so. Often, the oldest individual is served first. People should not begin eating until the host takes the first bite. Meals in Greece are meant for socialization, and Greeks often ask very personal questions to get to know their guests. These questions are not considered rude in Greek culture. Guests should try to finish the food on their plate. Asking for another serving is a compliment to the host. After the host gives a toast, guests can return it later during the meal.

 

  1. Nonverbal signals can be different than expected.

Many people rely on nonverbal gestures to communicate, especially when they do not have the skills to speak to locals in their own language. However, it is critical that travelers in Greece learn about the different signals used in the country, as they may not align with the gestures at home. For example, the “OK” sign formed by making an O with the thumb and forefinger is considered a vulgar gesture. A better option for expressing approval is making a thumbs-up with a closed fist.

The other two nonverbal signals that often cause confusion for tourists are the signs for “yes” and “no.” Most Greeks will indicate “yes” not by nodding, but by simply dipping the head downward. Furthermore, shaking the head is not a universal sign for “no” in Greece. Instead, most people will bob the head slightly upwards.

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6 of the Most Fun and Fascinating Day Trips to Take from Athens

Many tourists choose to start their Greek adventure in Athens, the country’s cultural and political capital as well as its largest city. While Athens has some incredible culinary offerings and some of the most iconic ruins in all of Greece, you should still make an effort to get out and see other parts of the country. Luckily, there are a wide range of exciting day trips from Athens that will allow you to see more important ancient sites, truly breathtaking scenery, and other attractions. Some of the day trips you may want to check out include:

 

  1. Delphi

One of the most culturally important cities in Ancient Greece, Delphi is an active, extensive archaeological site as well as a modern city. On a day trip from Athens, be sure to check out the Temple of Apollo and the Tholos, as well as the nearby town of Arachova, a picturesque winter resort. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Delphi once served as the home of the famed oracle; the Ancient Greeks believed Delphi was the “navel of the world.” The ruins in the area include stadiums, temples, and theaters, all situated on the southwestern slope of Mount Parnassus, with commanding views of the surrounding area. To orient yourself and learn the context for everything you’ll see, start your day at the Delphi Museum. To get to Delphi, you can rent a car and drive at your own pace, but there are also many guided tours that will take you directly from Athens to Delphi.

 

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  1. Meteora

While Meteora is much further from Athens than Delphi, you can still make the trip in a single day if you’re willing to spend a decent chunk of time in the car or on a train. However, Meteora is worth the time it takes to get there. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Meteora is home to many centuries-old monasteries constructed on top of enormous natural rock pillars. The natural scenery is incredible, and the manmade structures blend in perfectly with the imposing rock formations. You can also explore parts of the monasteries and meet some of the monks while enjoying the fresh air and natural scenery. There are several travel companies offering overnight tours that combine Meteora with Delphi; consider one of these to combine a trip to two stunning sites.

 

  1. Cape Sounio

Not far from Athens is Cape Sounio, which can be a half-day or full-day trip from the city. The primary attraction in the area is the Temple of Poseidon, which dates back to about 50 BC. This ancient ruin celebrates the Greek god of the sea and provides some of the best views of the Aegean in the whole country. A nearby beach offers crystalline waters for swimming and diving during the summer months as well. In addition, the area is known for its tavernas with fresh seafood dishes. If you go, try to stay in the area to snap a photo of the sunset—the sun sinks behind the ruins and lights up the sky in beautiful orange and pink. Fortunately, there are number of different organized tours to the area, so a trip to Cape Sounio is easy to fit into a busy travel schedule.

 

Cape Sounio

 

  1. Ancient Olympia

Olympia is the home of the first Olympics held in ancient times, and you can see where the original games were played as well as view related artifacts on display at the nearby Archaeological Museum. This museum also houses a number of pieces from the Temple of Zeus, a local structure that has become a shining example of Doric architecture. To learn more about the history of sports in Greece, visit the nearby Museum of the Olympic Games.

Visitors can book private tours to Ancient Olympia that focus on both the gorgeous landscape of the area and its historic importance. Many of these tours also stop at the Corinth Canal, which divides the Peloponnese peninsula from mainland Greece. Built in the late 1800s to connect the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf, this narrow canal flows between steep limestone cliffs. Though its narrowness prevented it from ever attracting much shipping traffic, the canal is now popular as a tourist attraction.

 

  1. Evia

Not all of the incredible day trips from Athens are bound by land. If you want to get your feet wet, check out Evia, near the Attica prefecture. This island breaks many of the preconceived notions about Greek islands because of its huge size and expansive green space. In addition, it features some great ancient cities to explore and spas heated by thermal springs in Aidipsos. However, if you’re after a more traditional Greek beach trip, Evia also provides that too—try the Lichades islands. This small group of islands off the northwest coast of Evia is often called the Maldives or Bahamas of Greece.

 

Evia

 

  1. Thermopylae

If you have a strong interest in Greek history, take a day trip to Thermopylae, the site where Persian troops led by Xerxes and guided by Ephialtes launched a surprise attack on Greek soldiers. The ensuing Battle of Thermopylae saw King Leonidas of Sparta staying behind with a small group of soldiers and fighting to the death to protect the rest of the Greek forces as they retreated. The story was retold in the 2006 blockbuster 300. Thermopylae also has significance in Greek mythology. Purportedly, Hercules used the hot springs here to bathe and regain energy after his exploits. Guided tours that take visitors on hikes around the area are available, and these options often include a dip in the same hot springs that Hercules is said to have used.