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Greece

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A flavourful melting pot of sparkling nightspots, fresh seafood, sizzling Mediterranean passion and mythical legend, Greece is a fascinating and enchanting destination - whether lounging on a sandy stretch, or exploring ancient relics.

Greece's urban hubs are home to some of the world's most glorious and prized ancient and medieval architecture - such as Athens' white marble Parthenon and Thessaloniki’s proud Byzantine churches - and the setting of some of humankind's oldest tales. On the coast, find bustling, umbrella-peppered beaches and secluded sandy coves, washed by turquoise waters and regularly doused in sunshine.

Off shore, Greece's 1400 islands, such as party-hard Mykonos and picturesque Santorini, offer a rainbow of paradisiacal settings for an idyllic island-hopping adventure. Find true Mediterranean peace on Kefalonia and Amorgos, ideal hiking terrain on the peaks and troughs of Crete, and prime scuba diving and sea kayaking conditions around pretty much every coastal corner.

But to explore the islands in the best way possible, you should charter a sailing boat. This can be bareboat (where you only hire the boat, but one of your group will need to have a sailing license), with a skipper, or as part of a flotilla (a group of six to ten boats, lead by an expert). Most sailing holidays last one week, and give you the luxury of being able to explore hidden coves, put down anchor in an emerald bay and swim, or moor up along the quay in one of Greece’s countless little fishing villages.

Feast on healthy Mediterranean fare, prepared with local seasonal produce and plenty of olive oil. Greek cuisine is more than just standard moussaka and kebabs, as the plethora of eateries serving ‘modern taverna’ fare attest - think salads with rocket and pomegranate, tasty casseroles combining pork and prunes, and delicious seafood dishes served with unexpected flavours such as aubergine or fennel. Some of the wines are pretty good too.

Do as the locals do a take an afternoon nap to restore energy for Greece’s hedonistic nightlife – chi-chi cocktail bars, open-air concerts and dancing on the beach below a starlit sky. Call it narcisstic, but the Greeks certainly know how to party.

When it comes to places to stay, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Those looking for extreme comfort might opt for a five-star resort complete with a luxurious spa and villas with private plunge pools, or a quaint boutique hotel furnished with traditional antique furniture, while those who prefer a back-to-nature escape can simply pitch a tent under a tree with a sea view at one of Greece’s many well-equipped campsites.

And don’t be put off by what the newspapers say. It’s true, the Greek economy is having a rough ride, but the sun is still shining, the locals are as hospitable as ever, and as tourism contributes 16% of the national GNP (plus tens of thousands of jobs), if you come here on holiday you’ll be putting your money where it’s much needed. Kalos irthate stin Ellada - Welcome to Greece!

  • Capital:

    Athens.

    Geography:

    Greece is situated in southeast Europe on the Mediterranean. The mainland consists of the following regions: Central Greece, Peloponnese, Thessaly (east/central), Epirus (west), Macedonia (north/northwest) and Thrace (northeast). High mountains, fertile plains, pine forest and scrub-covered foothills are all found on the Greek mainland.

    The largest mountain range is the Pindus, which runs north-south through central mainland Greece, and separates the regions of Thessaly and Epirus. The highest mountain is Olympus, which soars 2,917m (9,570ft) - according to Ancient Greek mythology, this is where the 12 Olympian Gods resided.

    The islands account for one-fifth of the country's land area. The majority are thickly clustered in the Aegean between the Greek and Turkish coasts. The Ionian Islands are the exception; they are scattered along the west coast in the Ionian Sea, looking (both geographically and culturally) towards Italy. The Aegean archipelago includes the Dodecanese, lying off the Turkish coast, of which Rhodes is the best known; the northeast Aegean group, including Chios, Ikaria, Lemnos, Lesvos and Samos; the Sporades, off the central mainland; and the Cyclades, comprising 39 islands (of which only 24 are inhabited). Crete, the largest island (with an astounding 1,000km of coastline and a population of some 650,000), is not included in any formal grouping.

    Government:

    Republic.

    Head Of State:

    President Karolos Papoulias since 2005.

    Head Of Government:

    Prime Minister Antonis Samaras since 2012.

    Electricity:

    230 volts AC, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are used.

    Timezone:
  • Currency Information:

    Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2, 1 and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.

    Credit Cards:

    American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa and other major credit cards are widely accepted (although less so in petrol stations).

    ATMs:

    ATM's are widely available in all cities and towns, on the mainland and the islands. They are generally reliable.

    Travellers Cheques:

    All major currencies are widely accepted and can be exchanged easily at banks. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.

    Banking Hours:

    Mon-Thurs 0800-1430, Fri 0800-1400. Banks on the larger islands tend to stay open in the afternoon and some during the evening to offer currency exchange facilities during the tourist season.

    Currency Restrictions:

    There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.

    Currency Exchange:

    Foreign currency can be exchanged at all banks, savings banks and bureaux de change. Exchange rates can fluctuate from one bank to another.

    Currencies: Exchange Rates:

    • 1 AUD = 0.71 EUR
    • 1 EUR = 1.00 EUR
    • 1 GBP = 1.28 EUR
    • 1 USD = 0.79 EUR

  • Best Time To Visit:

    Greece has a warm Mediterranean climate. In summer, dry hot days are often relieved by stiff evening breezes, especially in the north, on the islands and in coastal areas. Athens can be stiflingly hot, with temperatures occasionally exceeding 40C in July, so visitors should allow time to acclimatise - the evenings are generally cooler, but can remain very hot during heat waves. Winters are mild in the south but much colder in the mountainous north, where it is not uncommon to see snow and temperatures plummeting to well below zero. November to March is the rainy season, most notably on the Ionian islands.

    If you are planning a beach holiday, the sea is warm enough to swim from June through September, and hardier types will also manage in May and October. Seaside hotels are generally open from Easter through to late-October, as are water sports facilities.

    Sailing holidays need slightly more careful planning. Charter companies operate from May through September, but weather conditions vary greatly from place to place, and month to month. Beginners should start with the Ionian Sea, which sees moderate winds through summer. People with little sailing experience should avoid the Cyclades in July and August, when the unpredictable meltemi blows at speeds of up to 8-9 Beaufort.

    Spring and autumn are the ideal seasons for hiking and mountain biking, when the days are sunny but not unreasonably hot. Spring sees the Greek countryside dappled with wild flowers, while in autumn the trees take on russet hues.

    Although few people think of Greece as a winter destination, it is in fact possible to ski and snowboard here. Two of the most popular mountain ski resorts are Arahova (near Delphi) and Kalavrita (on the Peloponnese), both much loved by wealthy Athenians, and therefore also well provided with cosy hotels and authentic rustic eateries with blazing log fires.

    Required Clothing:

    Lightweight clothes (cotton is best) during summer months, including protection from the midday sun and sunglasses. Light sweaters are needed for evenings, especially on the islands. Waterproofs are advised for spring and autumn. Winter months can be quite cold, especially in the northern mainland, so normal winter wear will be required.