Where to Get off the Beaten Path in Greece
To get off the beaten path in Greece, all you have to do is venture to the lesser-known towns and islands and immerse yourself in the cultures found there. The Northern Aegean, in particular, offers hospitality, romance, and breathtaking scenery under a warm Mediterranean sun. Despite Greece being a popular destination, it’s surprisingly easy to find you’ve wandered a little off course, and into the welcoming arms of new friends.
Mention ‘Greek Islands’ and one instinctively thinks of Santorini or Crete. But there are literally thousands of other islands scattered between Greece, Turkey and North Africa. The smaller ones like Poros (above) are just as charming. I don’t know what it is but I just love these scenes of blue skies, blue sea and white buildings with terracotta roofs. Though it may look crowded, I still get a sense of peacefulness and serenity. Life here moves just that little bit slower :)
Pilos 240 01, Greece
In Greek mythology, Heracles slew all the sons of the King of Pylos except Nestor, who became king of Pylos himself. Nestor appears as a sage elder in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, expounding on how things were really tough back in his day. If you visit Voidokilia Beach, about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from Pylos, you can take a 15-minute walk to see Nestor’s Cave. First, enjoy your time on the beach, which is renowned for its natural beauty. Then climb over the dunes at the beach’s southwest end and follow the hillside path to the cave, which sits just below the ruins of the Paleo Kastro, the old Pylos castle. As legend has it, this cave is where Hermes hid the 50 cattle he stole from Apollo. The trip is worth it for the views alone: The higher you go, the more you’ll see, as the panorama takes in Voidokilia Bay, the Gialova lagoon, the Bay of Navarino, the Peloponnesian hills and the city of Pylos.
Hydra, Idra 180 40, Greece
If you dream of a tranquil island free from traffic and the din of human activity, where donkeys are the only means of transportation, Hydra is it. Beautiful Mediterranean waters, cobbled streets, and preserved architecture makes Hydra an idyllic getaway. Spend a day here, and you’ll know why famous artists like Leonard Cohen made this place their second home. There’s even a fan festival dedicated to Cohen here once a year.
Pyrgi 821 02, Greece
Pyrgi is known for its famous “xysta” design – the black/grey and white geometrical facades featured on all the buildings. This is created by hand-engraving the design onto plaster. Even the 13th century Byzantine church is covered in it. The town makes a fine effort in keeping the designs fresh and fun. The xysta style is based on the Italian “Sgratffito” and originates from Genoa. Grab a frappe in the town square and take it all in.
Considered to be the “ouzo capital of the world,” Plomari even has an annual Ouzo Festival. Take some time to walk around the tiny town, visiting the tavernas and meeting the locals. Most of them tend to be very interested in your visit, as Lesvos does not get a great deal of tourism from the western countries. There are a handful of pebble beaches nearby, and you’ll notice most of the houses have covered balconies extending into the street from the second-floor.
The name can be misleading: Lesvos’s petrified forest is really only the remains of a prehistoric forest. On the other hand, those remains are 20 million years old, and the forest is just one of two found in the world. The hike along the coast is worth it, and you’ll be able to get up close to some of the old tree stumps. Their size is impressive; the trees must have been massive in their day! There is also a visitor’s center onsite.
Most people come to the tiny town of Ioannina to cruise Lake Pamvotida -- the town’s most popular landmark. You’ll find yourself on a small island in the middle of a beautiful fjord, where the water is smooth as glass and your surroundings are spectacular. Ioannina itself is an intellectual city, known particularly for its university. Several famous poets and novelists call this place home, and the city often runs several arts-related events year round.
Lefkada is the only Greek island accessible by land, but it doesn’t mean it sees a lot of tourism. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe it ISN’T one of the most highly sought after destinations: Egremni Beach is one of the best beaches in Europe, and the island is home to important sights like the Nydri medieval castle of Agia Mavra. Lefkada is also famous for its kitesurfing community. If you’re a kitesurfer, you’ll want to check it out. And if you’re not, maybe it’s time to try something new?
Icaria, Ikaria, Greece
In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a master craftsmen. Daedalus builds a set of wings for Icarus, who flies too close to the sun. The heat melts the wax holding the wings together, and so Icarus plummets to the sea where he drowns. The lesson is about failed ambition, which somewhat sets an appropriate tone for Ikaria: the island life is laid-back to the extreme, and you won’t find anywhere else like it in Greece. Time is a mere concept here. None of the shops open until noon, and then they’ll stay open until the early morning. The locals know to go into a shop, pick up some items, and then leave the cash behind for the shopkeeper...who may or may not be in attendance. If you go, stick around for one of the village parties in the square. The folks of Ikaria are laid-back, but they do know how to party!
If you’re looking to move away from the popular Cycladic islands, head to the Ionian Sea. Besides the busy hub of Corfu, there’s also Paxos, a small island surrounded by turquoise sea, beautiful caves, and idyllic villages. Rumour has it that Poseidon and Aphrodite got cosy here. Loggos and Lakka are the two main villages to explore on Paxos. But since the island only has 2500 residents, you won’t have to try hard to compete for space.