To Greece With Love

Issue 6 - 2017
By Victoria Hislop, Lorna Pope, James Collard and Gill Morgan · Images Manfred Mehlig/4Corners, Rex/Shutterstock, Atlantide Phototravel, Karan Kapoor/Getty Images, Tetra Images

Whitewashed villages, azure skies and a rich cultural heritage – the glories of Greece continue to seduce travellers

Issue 6 - 2017
By Victoria Hislop, Lorna Pope, James Collard and Gill Morgan · Images Manfred Mehlig/4Corners, Rex/Shutterstock, Atlantide Phototravel, Karan Kapoor/Getty Images, Tetra Images

Whitewashed villages, azure skies and a rich cultural heritage – the glories of Greece continue to seduce travellers

victoria hislop

victoria hislop

“Hedonism is a Greek word. Here, you’re positively meant to live for the moment”

The bestselling novelist first visited Greece over 40 years ago – and she’s still drunk on its beauty

My relationship with Greece began a long time ago. It was 1976 and I went to Athens and then to the island of Paros on a family holiday. I was 17 and it was a life-changing experience. From outings to Hastings Castle and afternoons on a chilly beach in Bognor Regis (until then, the format for our vacations), suddenly I found myself gazing up at the Acropolis and down into water that was clearer and warmer than I could ever have imagined possible. It was love at first sight, and from that moment I began to visit once a year, then twice, and nowadays I don’t even count. I have a house there, speak the language and spend several months of the year travelling and researching for my books. When people ask me why I love Greece so much, part of me simply wants to say: “What’s not to love?” At every level, Greece has something to offer.

Culturally, it is the richest of countries, with a line of continuous civilization that begins from several millennia before Christ through to the present day, with a density of archaeological museums and sites unmatched anywhere in the world. Like most who visit, I know that places such as Delphi are more than simply rows of stones, not just remnants of ancient architecture. They have some kind of magic that draws us, its 21st-century visitors, in the same way they drew people several thousands of years ago. Sitting in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, for example, watching a play under a full moon, I have felt all those invisible barriers between past and present simply melt away. Standing in the stadium at Ancient Olympia, or at the entrance to the Palace of Knossos, has a similar effect.

In Greece, the idea of democracy was created, beauty was defined (even worshipped), the archetypes of comedy and tragedy were written, early forms of medicine were developed. We owe so much to Greece, and each day, even if unwittingly, we speak hundreds of words with roots in its ancient language.

But it’s not just the high culture of ancient history and the blazing glories of the Byzantine period (though these are undeniably beautiful and led the way for the rest of the world) that attract us to Greece. The living culture of food, wine and music are a huge daily pleasure for everyone in the country (Greek or visitor). Hedonism is, naturally, a Greek word. Dionysus was the God of the grape harvest, and quite rightly worshipped. There is no shame in enjoying yourself to the full there. You are positively meant to derive pleasure from the good things of life and to live for the moment.

The crisis that has hit Greece in recent times is undeniably hard for people there, but it has done nothing to mar the eternal beauty of their country. This cannot be tarnished and will endure for much longer than this period of hardship, which I hope will become simply a line in a history book.

Being intoxicated by a perfect, dry assyrtiko (never underestimate Greek wine) is one thing. Being drunk on the beauty of a landscape is another. I have travelled the length and breadth of Greece, slept on mountains and beaches (as well as in the cheapest and the most expensive hotels), and visited dozens of islands. Sometimes its sheer beauty is overwhelming. The rolling green-black hills of the Peloponnese, the dramatic mountains of Epirus in the north, the extraordinary bays of Halkidiki and the gentler landscapes of the islands – all of them are breathtaking. The bright blue-and-white Greek flag, which evokes sky, sea and the dazzling white of so many buildings, is proudly flown all over Greece. There is, of course, a single Greece, but at the same time there are many: ancient and modern, mountains and sea, mainland and islands. All of these things bring me back, time after time after time.


Victoria Hislop is the author of seven novels set in Greece, including The Island. Her latest is Cartes Postales from Greece (Headline Review)

Greece For...

New Romantics

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Whether you’re staying in the simplest of guesthouses or luxiest of hotels, the romance of Greece is the same: it’s in the sunsets, the boat rides, the ever-blue horizon, the echoes of ancient poets and philosophers. Not to mention all that crushed white linen worn against newly sunned skin… most of us rarely look better than we do in Greece.

Some romantic destinations demand the Big Moment, the va-va-voom outfit, the ultimate restaurant: it can all be a bit stressful, and when the moment doesn’t deliver, what a let-down. Not here – simplicity is all. Island-hopping is surely made for lovers, young and old; too unwieldy with friends or children in tow but the ultimate in romance, to pull out of a harbour, sail past ancient lands and onto the next whitewashed idyll.

When I think of my trips to the islands with boyfriends past (and husband present) – to Mykonos with its pretty coloured houses or Santorini with its red and black volcanic beaches – I think of easy days of lolling and reading, lunching and delicious siestas. A little culture, but not too much. Of strolling in the early evening as church bells chime. Of that lovely moment when you’ve showered after a day on the beach and join your other half for that delicious first gin and tonic on the terrace as the sun goes down. Lorna Pope

Scott Dunn Suggests

Greece’s enchanting luxury hotels make a for a truly romantic break
A wave of luxury hotel openings in recent years has made Greece the ideal place for couples and honeymooners. The island of Santorini is filled with characterful boutique hotels built into the rock face. The Grace Santorini, however, is a well-kept secret. Located in a quiet spot on a peninsula between the island’s two main towns of Oia and Fira, it’s where you’ll see the most beautiful sunsets over the caldera. On Mykonos, the Mykonos Grand lives up to its name and is on one of Greece’s very best beaches, Agios Ioannis, which you might recognise from Shirley Valentine. Located on the mainland, on the east coast of the Peloponnese, the Amanzoe is undoubtedly the ultimate luxury hotel in Greece, exuding exclusivity. The rooms are private pavilions, beach cabanas or villas, all with their own private pools, and there’s an excellent spa. The car-free island of Spetses is also well worth a visit. Stay at the Poseidonion Grand Hotel, which has a stunning waterfront location and is close to the picturesque old port. Call 020 8682 5080 to discuss your holiday to Greece with our experts.
the hotel Grand Bretagne has a rooftop pool to cool off in once you’ve explored the city’s cultural glories
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Greece For...

Culture Vultures

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For anyone who loves history, Greece is fascinating – and one of the few destinations where the reality often exceeds our fantasy of the place. I first visited Greece as a teenager – driving across Europe with my parents and some of their friends, taking it in turns between a battered 2CV and a splendid Vincent motorbike, the weather becoming balmier as we headed south. I loved it instantly, and even lived in Athens for a while in my early twenties – a time of youthful adventure, romance and eked-out drachmas.

I remember sailing past Cape Sounion on the way to the islands, and seeing the partially tumbled columns of the Temple of Poseidon – like a dream of ruined antiquity – the kind that inspired 18th-century Grand Tourists to adorn English parkland with classical follies. And who can forget their first sighting of the Acropolis – viewed from Mount Lycabettus, as Wordsworth saw it, or from the roof terrace of the King George Palace Hotel. And Delphi, the ancient world’s most sacred of places, which still retains the power to move , and has some kind of magic – no matter how many coachloads of visitors there are. And then in the archaeological museums at Delphi and Athens, you find some of the finest, sometimes the sexiest examples of the Greek fascination with the human form.

For many, it’s the jumble of epochs and of ancient and modern that gives Greece its immense charm (that, and the people). Like Rhodes, with its mix of classical ruins, medieval city, Byzantine chapels and former mosques, or the abandoned churches and Greek villages over on the Turkish mainland, a reminder that until the 1920s, ethnic Turks and Greeks lived alongside each other on much of the coast and the islands. And between them, Homer’s “wine-dark sea” – probably best enjoyed on a charter yacht. James Collard

Scott Dunn Suggests

From palace hotels to beach resorts, discover the best places to enjoy Greece’s cultural treasures
Athens is the perfect place for culture vultures to start. One of the glamorous old palace hotels is the best option for accommodation – either the five-star King George Palace in the city’s golden quarter, or the five-star Hotel Grande Bretagne, which has an incredible roof terrace with amazing views over the Acropolis, and a rooftop pool to cool off in after you’ve explored the city’s cultural glories. Scott Dunn can arrange private tours of the city with a historian or foodie walking tours through local markets and traditional tavernas, sampling Greek delicacies with a local expert. A 90-minute drive from the capital, the Cape Sounio Hotel has dramatic views of the Temple of Poseidon – it’s hard to imagine a more memorable location. Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, is also of historical interest. There’s plenty to explore, but it’s far more pleasant to stay at the five-star Danai Beach Resort, about an hour away in Halkidiki. Call 020 8682 5080 to discuss your holiday to Greece with our experts.
We hired a little boat... and that’s when we really fell in love with the place
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Greece For...

Your Family and Other Animals

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We’ve had more adventurous family trips, more far-flung, more stylish even, but none has been quite as happy as our holidays in Greece – six in total.
What is it about the place that makes it so perfect for families? It’s partly the fact that the Greeks love children, which brings a joyfulness to proceedings. Then there’s the simplicity of lifestyle, however chic the version: the whitewashed, unfussy decor, the outdoor living, the constant messing about in water, the relaxed tavernas and easy food.
We’ve done five-star luxury in Crete with a baby, a rustic villa in the lovely wooded hills of Paxos with two-year-old twins; and four separate stays in our favourite place of all – the north-east coast of Corfu, made famous by Gerald Durrell in his classic My Family and Other Animals. The first time, we stayed in the White House in Kalami, where Gerald’s big brother Lawrence had lived. We hired a little boat, and that’s when we really fell for the place: the magic of pottering around empty coves, jumping into clear blue water, pulling into a taverna for a shady lunch… I couldn’t believe a holiday could be so relaxing with three young children in tow. So much swimming and sunshine meant, when they were little, they always had an afternoon nap, under the boat canopy or when we moored in the shade of some cliffs – and often, rather helpfully, while we enjoyed a glass of rosé and a plate of grilled fish. Our nature-obsessed son could chase lizards to his heart’s content and the three of them would snorkel in wonder, pointing at brilliantly coloured fish as they went.
As the children turned into teenagers, we’ve rented villas up and down that little stretch of coast, from Kassiopi to Agni, and taken family and friends along with us. We know which are the best rocks to jump off, which taverna does the tastiest calamari, and which bays have the swankiest superyachts (ogling them is an enjoyable grown-up pastime all of its own). Simple pleasures. Gill Morgan

Scott Dunn Suggests

With so many great hotels, travelling to Greece as a family couldn’t be easier

For very young children, Daios Cove in Crete is ideal. It’s a compact resort and our Explorers kids club here takes children from four months old, so it’s perfect if you’d like a mix of family time and time alone. For slightly older children, Eagles Palace and Eagles Villas near Halkidiki on mainland Greece are bubbling over with activities. There’s a great watersports programme on offer, Aqua Explorers, so children can enjoy everything from paddleboarding to waterskiing and kayaking to sailing. If you’re travelling with teenagers, Costa Navarino on the mainland Peloponnese is the place to go. It’s a huge resort made up of two separate hotels, but what it lacks in intimacy it makes up for with a vast array of things to do. Facilities include a water park, go-kart track, bowling alleys and golf courses. And for the perfect villa experience, Villa Omina in Corfu, has a private pool and beach.
Call 020 8682 5080 to discuss your holiday to Greece with our experts.

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