BY STACEY ZABLE
Antiquities, beaches and cuisine are just a few reasons to visit this historically important, naturally beautiful and culturally rich country.
The decision to take a trip to Greece is as simple as A-B-C, and the memories will be deep and long-lasting. Even after you return from the Hellenic Republic, you’ll remain in awe of the ancient civilizations that stood on the same ground that you traveled. You’ll cherish images of the beautiful sea and the sands that fringe the Greek Islands. You’ll find yourself recalling cliffside views of blazing orange sunsets glistening off whitewashed buildings. And you’ll long for a taste of the day’s fresh catch and for some freshly baked bread dipped in tzatziki sauce.
Despite Greece’s economic woes, tourism is strong, with 33 million visitors in 2018 and expectations that those numbers will increase in 2019, according to the Greek National Tourism Organization.
Most visitors to Greece begin their journey in Athens, the country’s capital, where the Acropolis, an ancient citadel and UNESCO World Heritage site that dates to 5th century BC, sits high above the city. It’s not an easy walk up the famed hill, but the reward is a 360-degree view of the city and the Aegean Sea beyond. You can also get an up-close look at such ancient treasures as the Parthenon, one of Greece’s more than 100 archaeological sites. The imposing temple standing guard over the city has 17 columns on its longer sides and 8 columns on its shorter sides. Another of the Acropolis’ temples is the Erechtheion. The impressive Caryatids, six detailed maiden statues, can be found on its south porch.
For more on the Acropolis but on lower land, the 10-year-old Acropolis Museum houses many sculptures from its namesake. Built above an archaeological excavation site, the museum has glass floors in some areas, to allow visitors to see an ancient neighborhood of houses and streets below.
Beyond Athens and near the city of Heraklion on the island of Crete is the archaeological site Knossos. Walk along what was once the most prominent center of Minoan Civilization and the site of the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Two of the highlights are partitioned off for protection, so visitors cannot enter; however, you can peek inside the Throne Room with its restored throne and the Queen’s quarters with its reconstructed Dolphin Fresco to get a glimpse of palace life.
Some 6,000 Greek islands and islets dot the Aegean and Ionian Seas, many of them tourist destinations featuring whitewashed buildings, blue-domed roofs and some of the world’s most spectacular sunsets. Greece’s 10,000 miles of shoreline are home to stunning beaches, each with its own vibe. Many beaches are fronted by restaurants and hotels that rent lounge chairs and umbrellas for relaxing in the sands.
In Milos, check out Sarakiniko Beach’s gray-white volcanic rock that creates a moon-like surface. You’ll want sturdy shoes to navigate your way down to the inviting water. The scene offers opportunities aplenty for selfies and scenic shots of the fascinating rock. While there are no permanent services on this beach, a food truck sells necessities such as bottled water and ice cream at the entrance.
Another Milos beach worthy of a stop is Paleochori. Here, dramatic red rocks tower just beyond umbrellas and lounge chairs. The crystalline water offers lulling waves that make it hard to leave their trance.
On Santorini, the island’s past volcanic activity has produced unique beaches that include the black lava sands of Perissa. This beach boasts waters that are as calm and inviting as the umbrellas and lounge chairs that line it. Don’t be surprised to find a few friendly neighborhood dogs following you into the water or taking advantage of the shade of your umbrella.
Sunset is an Instagrammable event in Greece. On certain islands, including Mykonos and Santorini, photographing the sunset is a daily ritual, with visitors lining up cliffside to capture the fiery sun. Avoid the crowds by finding a restaurant with a view; fortunately, there are plenty of choices.
Greek cuisine typically features fresh local ingredients enhanced with olive oil. Most tavernas offer similar menus featuring meats and seafood, often grilled. Many of the islands’ seaside restaurants proudly hang their calamari out to dry and invite you back to the kitchen to see the seafood selection for that night.
In terms of classic Greek dishes, the recipe for moussaka, traditionally made of eggplant, potatoes, tomato meat sauce, béchamel sauce and grated cheese, may be tweaked here and there. Greek salad is served in Greece without lettuce but with plenty of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers, a big chunk of fresh feta and olive oil. The tzatziki, usually made from cucumbers, garlic, lemon and Greek yogurt, is incredibly fresh. And, yes, Greek yogurt for breakfast with honey and an assortment of fruit and granola fixings is a must. Treat yourself to a glass of the local Greek wine as well. Greek wine dates back thousands of years, and wineries can be found in numerous areas around the country, including Santorini and Crete.
In Athens, explore the many restaurants that dot the neighborhoods of Plaka and Psiri. One good choice is Grill House Aischilou in Heroes Square, featuring a reasonably priced menu of traditional favorites such as moussaka, tzatziki, Greek salad and fried cheese, along with live music nightly.
Santorini’s new Andronis Arcadia Hotel in Oia opened its doors in June with three upscale dining options that are available to the public by reservation. Along with a quiet and spectacular place to watch the sun setting into the Aegean Sea, Opson Restaurant offers tasting and à la carte menus designed with the help of a consultant who holds a doctorate in archaeology with a specialty in ancient Greek gastronomy. As a result, you can dine on foods similar to those the ancient Greeks once ate, all of which have been sourced from local produce suppliers, including the hotel’s own gardens. Among the main course options are lamb with artichoke and ancient grains and sea bass with fennel. Also designed to face the setting sun, the al fresco Pacman near the hotel’s infinity pool offers drinks and sushi. For another view of Santorini’s sunset and the chance to look up at Oia terraced above, Ammoudi Fish Tavern in Ammoudi Bay is the spot. You’ll sit alongside the Aegean Sea, where you can see the small fish swimming. Time it right for dinner for a front-row view of the boats making their way into the bay to see the sunset. Start your meal with toasted bread dipped into fresh tzatziki, and enjoy seafood dishes such as linguine and shrimp with fresh tomato sauce and a large selection of grilled fish, including grouper and bass.
Whether on the islands dining in a local taverna, exploring the beaches that hold such natural treasures as black sands and moonlike settings, or in such places as Athens or Crete walking amid ancient dwellings, it’s as easy as A-B-C (antiquities, beaches and cuisine) to understand the magic that lures visitors to Greece’s magnificent shores.Read more articles