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Greece again and again - our Greek travels part 1

First of all: Greece is a great travel destination. Years before we started travelling with the children, we had already been to this great country several times. Totally unjustly, Greece is left out by many European travellers, yet this country has so much to offer and is considered the "cradle of Europe". What follows is a somewhat longer love story.


Donkeys and horses are still a frequently seen means of transport in some parts of Greece. We think that's great!


We love Greece, its nature, the people and their way of life, the weather and above all the fantastic food. For these reasons, Greece is our favourite "substitute destination" when we don't go on a long-distance trip or visit a destination we've never been to. Accordingly, we have been to Greece many times.


By the way, have we already mentioned the fantastic food? Oh, yes....


Our trips to Greece

I've been to Greece twice with my father as a child. Back then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, travelling by car was still more of a hassle. In the beginning, we could only dream of flying. My father had to drive through Yugoslavia 40 years ago, and we made the journey to Thessaloniki in two days. At that time, the roads were not nearly as good as they are today. I can still remember how we spent the night in a cheap motel in Belgrade and how my father got upset about the speed at which the waiters worked. You don't forget experiences like that.


When I was 21, I went to the party island of Ios for a week with three former school friends. I must confess that I can only remember this week very vaguely. It was a very long seven days with very long nights.


My wife and I ventured to Greece together for the first time in 2004. Here I would like to give you a short overview of our trips to Greece - including some tips:




2006 - round trip with off-road vehicle, 5 weeks

The back story: In 2004, my wife and I, still childless, bought an old Landrover Discovery. Our dream car at the time already had 260,000 kilometres on the clock and was anything but a spring chicken, but we loved it. At our first "Pickerl" (the § 57a inspection, like the TÜV in Germany), the shock came: the car was no longer roadworthy. The main problem was the rusted-through floor panels and wheel housings. A repair would have cost around 12,000 euros - six times the purchase price. We could not afford that at all. A solution was needed. Selling the car again was out of the question for us, so I started researching and remembered the old welding machine that was already in the garage of our rented house when we moved in. I wanted to try to repair the car myself. The only problem was that I had never welded a car before, let alone repaired one.


No matter! As you know, you never stop learning, so I came up with a concept and got two large metal sheets and a cheap riveting machine from the nearest DIY store. The cost was about 60 euros. I lifted the car with the jack and started to take measurements: All four wheel arches and the side floor panels. Finally, I cut out the sheet metal parts with the flex and bent them to shape before I taught myself to weld on the car. I worked on the Landrover for three weeks and got better and better. To be on the safe side, I fixed the sheet metal with rivets in several places. Finally, I generously smeared black underbody protection on all the important parts for about € 30,- for the inspection. I was so nervous at that time!


Fear of the review

My excitement was groundless. The inspector found nothing wrong, the underbody was as good as new and I was the proud owner of a Land Rover with a valid inspection sticker. Instead of 12,000 euros, the repair had cost me only 90 euros and several hours of personal effort (and a few nerves).

Knowing that I had a roadworthy car, I installed new springs with the help of a good friend (we raised the car), a new propshaft, a radio and a simple storage space for the boot. For my 30th birthday, my wife and the rest of the family gave me a second-hand roof tent. Equipped like this, we wanted to go on a bigger tour as soon as possible.


At the beginning of July 2006 we set off for Greece. With all kinds of camping equipment in our luggage and three friends, we drove in the early hours of the morning towards the ferry port of Venice. The friend who helped us repair the Landrover, a passionate car enthusiast, accompanied us on the journey in his Toyota Hilux with camping body. He had also got himself a radio so that we could always stay in touch on the journey. We had a lot of fun with it right from the start, even though we had no idea about radio discipline. Once an angry lorry driver who recognised our number plates even called us "schnitzel pigs" over the radio. We laughed a lot.


We will never forget the round trip with our old Landrover and roof tent.


The arrival of terror

From Venice we finally took the car ferry to the port of Patras. We wanted to spend the first few days of our round trip in the Peloponnese. The journey from Venice, via the port of Igoumenitsa, to Patras took 33 hours and was exceptionally uncomfortable and exhausting. To save money, we decided on the "sleeping on deck" option, a big mistake, as we soon realised. We were all around 30 at the time, but had to share the deck with a huge group of motivated Matura students, all equipped with pipes and wanting to party around the clock. Sleeping was out of the question on this crossing, so we arrived in Patras overtired. I can still remember the violent fantasies we all had on the ferry ride, every time someone used their pipe - and yes, that was very often. Our tip: Even though it's more expensive, we definitely recommend a cabin for the crossing! After all, the holiday already starts on the outward journey.

We left Venice for Greece by ferry.



Sometime in the middle of the night, we drove out of the belly of the ferry and made our way to the town of Nafplio. Our accommodation, the Bungalows Ingrid, was a small private complex under German-Greek management that still exists today. When we arrived, it was about 1 a.m. and the owner, a Greek named Giorgos, was already waiting for us asleep in a hammock. In the middle of the night - what a service! Before we could move into our small, fine bungalows, we had to have a (very large) glass of ouzo with Giorgos at the bar, which almost knocked us out after the long, sleepless drive. At this point we had really arrived in Greece! On the first day, however, we wanted one thing above all: to sleep in!



Nafplio, a small town to fall in love with

Nafplio is a picturesque town with around 14,000 inhabitants and also has a lot to offer travellers. It is a wonderful starting point for exploring the Peloponnese. Already here we started to fall in love with Greece. The hospitality of Ingrid and Giorgos was outstanding. Every morning we were served a sumptuous Greek breakfast and picked up tips for possible exploration tours with our cars. It was great and the Peloponnese is a wonderful destination for newcomers to Greece. The Peloponnese is the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula, making it the furthest into the Mediterranean. The southernmost point of the Peloponnese is Cape Tenaro. The peninsula is bordered by the Aegean Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the west.


What does Greece cost?

Although general statements about travel costs are always highly subjective, prices in the Peloponnese and on the Greek mainland are by and large extremely moderate. Even today, you still get your money's worth, even though everything has become more expensive since 2006 and there have been several financial crises in between. We circled the peninsula once in the first week and visited the towns of Spárti, the capital Kalamáta, Argos, Pylos and Pyrgos. At almost every stop we either drank a cold Greek coffee frappé, a very strong Greek iced coffee, or enjoyed the food. Greek cuisine would actually be worth a blog article of its own, no, a whole book.


Driving through Greece in off-road cars was a dreamlike adventure in 2006.


Greek food is a dream

Many times my wife and I have asked ourselves the question, which country's cuisine would we choose if we had to decide on one for the rest of our lives. The answer was always "Greek cuisine"! Greek food is compact yet versatile. It is tasty, sumptuous but also light and healthy. And it tastes best of all in a Greek taverna with a view of the sea and a carafe of house wine or a bottle of Mythos. In Greece, every meal is a feast.


It usually begins with the thickly sliced, soft Greek white bread that is traditionally served with all dishes. It is usually eaten as an accompaniment to the wonderful appetiser platters, the colourful meze, or the varied main courses. Quite often, however, we had already emptied the bread basket before the starter - but the waiters are very happy to bring more. Meze, or mezedes, are small Greek appetisers of vegetables, meat, fish or seafood. Meze is often described as a starter, but we very often order meze platters as a main course.


Who's mouth isn't watering at this photo? Hungryyyyyyyyy!


The main courses also delight: from the classic souvlaki, the typical meat skewers, to musaka (which is often mistakenly called Greek lasagne) and the excellent Greek salad - in a restaurant in "Hellas", everyone will find something. If you're unsure, just try a typical Greek tzatziki, a baked sheep's cheese in sesame breading with honey or a deliciously fruity shrimp saganaki. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Let's get back to travelling ...


A special theatre experience

On the last evening of our stay in the Peloponnese, we visited the ancient theatre of Epidauros. Today it is considered one of the best preserved theatres of antiquity. It was built in the 4th century BC (ca. 330 BC) overlooking the mountainous landscape, the Argolis. The theatre has excellent acoustics, so that you can understand every word even from the top rows, and it was filled to capacity that evening. The performance of Aeschylus' tragedy "The Persians" was in ancient Greek, so we didn't understand a word, yet we will never forget this extraordinary evening. The atmosphere on the hard stone stands was unique and you could really feel the historical significance of this cultural site.


The theatre of Epidaurus is worth a visit, even if you don't understand a word.



The next morning we finally sailed across the Corinth Canal, past Athens, to the mainland. The details of our route are a bit hazy after all these years. I only know that due to the high temperature that day, we decided against visiting Athens and drove along the coast as best we could. After a night on an almost empty and somewhat creepy campsite in the roof tent, we continued towards Volos and the Pilion Mountains.


We were very impressed by the Greek mountains, because we would not have expected such lush flora in Greece. There are even ski lifts in the area. Volos itself is a Greek harbour town and municipality on the Pagasitic Gulf in the Thessaly region. The Pilion Mountains, with their dense forests, magnificent gorges and wooded heights, attract hikers as well as holidaymakers looking for peace and quiet. We spent the night at a beautiful campsite and saved a man from drowning. What an adventure.


A bay that is anything but lonely

After the excursion into the mountains, we drove via Larisa and Katerini in the direction of Thessaloniki. On the way there, we made detours through some small, still very unspoilt villages. Once we even had to turn around with our cars, as the roads were more and more

became more and more a path for donkeys. There was no way through. Halfway to Katerini, we drove our four-wheel-drive vehicles down a few branch roads. We were determined to find a lonely bay where we could set up camp for the night. After only a few attempts we found it: We found ourselves in a breathtaking little bay, at the far end of which stood a small house.


With a bottle of wine in our luggage, we knocked on the house and asked if we could spend the night in the bay. We were allowed, and one of the most beautiful nights of the whole trip could begin. We parked our cars so that we could see the sea from our roof tents. We prepared our dinner outside and sat together until late at night, talking, laughing and admiring the magnificent starry sky. That is real luxury!


Memory of a great trip. In Greece, everyone gets their money's worth.


In the morning, a dog greeted us at the compound. One of our friends advised us not to pet and feed the dog. "He will surely come back and bring his friends", he warned us. We didn't know how right he was, but differently than he would have thought. After we had petted and fed the friendly guy, he disappeared and came back after some time. However, he had several hundred goats in tow, which became quite intrusive. We hid in our roof tents until the hairy horde disappeared again. We really had fun then.


Separate ways

When we finally arrived in Thessaloniki, we went our separate ways. Our friends drove the second car via northern Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro to Croatia and my wife and I continued our round trip as a couple. After some sightseeing in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, we decided to drive to the middle of the three so-called "fingers". We took a small, cheap room in Sarti and spent the next few days exploring the entire coast of the middle finger. Here we found some of the most beautiful bays anywhere, accessible only on foot, by boat or with a good off-road vehicle. The water was bright blue and clear and the weather was great!


Info:

The three headlands of Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos are located in Halkidiki and protrude into the Aegean Sea in the shape of fingers. Because of this unique shape, the peninsula is nicknamed the "three fingers of Greece".


The monasteries of Meteora

Five days and one water park visit later, we made our way to Igoumenitsa. Our car ferry back to Venice was to depart from this port city. The route took us past the famous mountain of the gods, Mount Olympus, and to the monasteries of Meteora. This name describes the location of the monasteries, which were built on high sandstone rocks and sometimes seem to float in hazy air. The entire complex consists of 24 individual monasteries and hermitages, of which only six are inhabited today. The remaining eighteen monasteries are either too difficult to reach or have been abandoned because of the danger of collapse. A visit to these monasteries is an absolute must if you are ever in the area, because not only the buildings themselves, but the whole environment is highly impressive. We were to have the pleasure again 14 years later with two children.


The monasteries of Meteora are located in an impressive landscape - a must!


The last days

We spent the last three nights of our round trip in a cheap hotel in the harbour town of Igoumenitsa. We have a particularly funny memory of the Hotel Oscar. Looking for affordable accommodation near the ferry docks, we came across this unassuming two-star hotel. When asked for a free room, we were asked whether we wanted hot or cold water and, somewhat puzzled, we opted for the hot shower option. When I was the first to take a shower, I realised the point of the question: the water only came out of the tap hot. Burning hot! There was no option to mix cold water with it. When I got out of the shower, I had to laugh, but didn't tell my wife. She found out herself, cried out loudly, and finally came out of the bathroom herself, buffeted by a fit of laughter. If only we had opted for cold water. We still laugh about it today when we tell this story.



By the way, from Igoumenitsa there are some very nice campsites and beaches to reach by car. It is also very easy to stay here! On the morning of the fourth day, we boarded the ferry and made our way home again. We finally drove the Venice-Vienna stretch without a break. After more than 5000 kilometres and five weeks of round trip we were back home. Since then, Greece has had a permanent place in our hearts and has certainly not seen the last of us.



In the further parts of our Greece series you will find reports on our following trips (if they have already been published):

  • 2012 - Naxos Island, 2 weeks

  • 2015 - Island of Crete, first time with child, 2 weeks

  • 2017 - Island Skiathos, 2 weeks

  • 2019 - Island trip Karpathos and Rhodes, 3 weeks

  • 2020 - Second round trip with own car, 4 weeks

  • 2021 - Island of Crete, 3 weeks, three places, three accommodations


We look forward to your feedback and are open to a lively exchange. You also want to travel, like to travel often and have a question, just write us and comment.


Kind regards,

Steffi, Max and the kids

(Author of this blog: Max)

 

Shopping and book tips for Greece



Lonely Planet’s Greece is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore the elegant Acropolis, climb to witness the magnificent Meteora, and tour the venerable landmarks and vibrant culture of Athens; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Greece and begin your journey now!




 

Greece's ancient art and culture is the cradle of Western civilisation - numerous monuments and museums still tell of the country's rich history. But also its breathtaking landscapes, hospitable inhabitants and dreamlike hotels make Greece unique and a longing destination for many travellers. The fresh and healthy cuisine, the crystal-clear sea water and the canvas-worthy sunsets do the rest: a trip to Greece makes you happy all around.


Angelika Taschen travels from the mountains of Macedonia in the north to the Peloponnese with its mythical places like Corinth, Sparta and Olympia to the larger and smaller island groups in the south. It opens the doors to some of the country's most extraordinary hotels, including Imaret in Kavala, housed in a former Ottoman complex, Tainaron Blue Retreat in a secluded former defence tower in the Mani, and The Windmill, a converted windmill on the Cycladic island of Kimolos. She invites you to legendary luxury hotels such as the Eagles Palace on Halkidiki or the Poseidonion Grand Hotel on Spetses and takes her readers to enchanting bed & breakfasts such as Guesthouse Mazaraki in Mystras or Mèlisses on Andros, run by food blogger Allegra Pomilio.



 

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