Greece has a fascinating history that has notably shaped philosophy, religion, language, science, medicine, mathematics and politics through the ages. Great minds like Socrates, Aristotle, Homer, Plato, Hippocrates and Alexander the Great are among Ancient Greece’s most famous. More recent famous faces born in Greece include Arianna Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post) and Prince Phillip (husband to England’s Queen Elizabeth II). Ancient Greece had captivating art, sculptures and architecture that is still present today; some as ruins and some still relatively well intact. It was also the location of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, and today has a wealth of archaeological museums.
Welcome to the land of ancient gods and legendary lifestyles. Sail across crystalline Mediterranean waters, savor Michelin-starred cuisine in the shadow of timeless ruins and journey along the rim of Santorini's caldera to arrive in the vibrant heart of Fira.
Feta cheese, olives and olive oil, honey, sea sponges and marble are some of the main products that Greece is best known for. Next time you’re doing a calculation, or playing a musical instrument, it’s the work of the Greek Pythagoras, some 2,000 years ago, that paved the way for mathematics as we know it and working out the distance between each note in musical scales.
History enthusiasts and art-lovers will be in their absolute element in Greece. Athens, often referred to as the ‘City of the Gods’, is an incredible destination boasting multiple famous landmarks. These include: the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympics took place in 1896; the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian's Arch; the Acropolis and its monuments, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the exquisite Temple of Wingless Victory and the majestic Parthenon, built in the 5th century BC; the Theatre of Dionysos, where the great Greek tragedies were first performed; and the mighty Old Royal Palace – an architectural delight. Venturing to the Island of Mykonos, will place you in the playground of the rich and famous, where you can admire breathtaking views over the Aegean Sea. The captivating town has a winding maze of walkways, white-washed houses, magnificent windmills and uninhibited nightlife. The waterfront at Little Venice and the Shirley Valentine Beach are among an endless array of dazzling beaches surrounding the island.
Only a short boat ride away from Mykonos lies the holy island of Delos, which according to Greek myth, is the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo. Known as one of the most romantic islands in the world, exploring Greece must include a trip to the island of Santorini, with unforgettable views of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. Here the sand is either black or red, owing to its volcanic origins. While in Santorini, Akrotiri, a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age, is well worth visiting. Like the fate of Pompeii, a volcanic eruption in the 17th century covered the island, preserving archaeological artefacts and structures from as early as 4,000 BC.
With so many edible delights grown locally, Greece’s traditional dishes are abundant with olives, olive oil, feta (goat’s cheese), yoghurt and honey as key ingredients. Dips are a regular feature accompanying savoury meals. Among them, taramasalata (a blend of roe, olive oil, lemon juice and bread or potatoes) and tzatziki (a yoghurt-based dip combining cucumbers, garlic, olive oil and herbs) can easily be found across Greece. The latter is often eaten with grilled meat skewers, called souvlakia. Dolmades is another highly popular dish, (consisting of rolled vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), as is gemista (stuffed tomatoes or peppers). The salty-tasting feta cheese produced in Greece works wonderfully in salads, pastas, dips, or simply being eaten on its own. It can also be used to make saganaki – fried cheese seasoned with pepper and lemon juice.
Lamb plays a dominant role as well, in dishes such as kleftiko, where it is slow-cooked on a bed of tomatoes, garlic, red pepper and potatoes to bring out a superb flavour, and moussaka (minced lamb combined with aubergine, onions, passata and potatoes, then covered with béchamel sauce, to create a lasagne-type meal). For desserts, Greece uses its delicious, locally produced honey wherever possible. Greek yoghurt with honey and nuts, baklava (filo pastry layered with pistachios, or other nuts, butter and cinnamon, and honey on top), and loukoumades (small puffed dough balls drizzled with honey) are few of the sweet treats you can savour.
Greek ouzo holds the top spot as the national drink – a distinct blend of alcohol and aromatic herbs. For a stronger alcohol content, both raki and tsipouro are spirits made from grapes, while masticha is a liqueur made with resin from the mastic tree. Greece has been producing wine for over 6,000 years so there are a multitude of varieties to choose from and the supply is abundant. Numerous microbreweries and breweries also make a range of high quality craft beers to try. All manner of soft drinks are available, again with regional differences. Sour cherry, lemon and lemon cola-flavoured carbonated drinks are sought-after, while kanelada (a mix of sugar, water and cinnamon) and almond-based soumada are more unusual flavoured beverages, that can either be drunk warm or cold.
Landscape and wildlife
Mountains, forests, sandy beaches lapped by crystal clear waters, lakes, rivers, caves, canyons and volcanoes can all be found in Greece and its thousands of islands and islets. Not surprisingly, such varied landscapes bring with them great diversity in Greece’s fauna and flora. Brown bears, wolves, foxes, wild goats, minks, badgers, beavers, and chinchillas are some of the wildlife living here. Among Greece’s bird population are kestrels, golden eagles, vultures, pelicans, woodpeckers, herons, storks and flamingos. Hundreds of plant varieties unique to Greece attract rare wildlife. At sea, four different types of dolphin, sea turtles and loggerhead turtles, and the Mediterranean seal are beautiful aquatic mammals you might be lucky enough to see, although the latter are one of the most endangered species in the world.