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Welcome to the land of gods and heroes, never-ending sunshine and beaches, hedonism and thick layers of history. Greece has given us so many things, it might be easier to count what it hasn’t. First, democracy and political science. Then western philosophy, medicine, literature and historiography. Tragedy and comedy and the earliest mathematical theorems. The Olympic Games, marathon running and showers. Zeus and company, Alexander the Great, Maria Callas and Kojak. And on a more sour note, the alarm clock – thanks, Plato. The ruins, remnants and reminders of this vast cultural heritage are proudly put on display in Greece’s record number of archaeological museums. Its other treasures, however, are everywhere you go. Lose yourself in the untouched beauty of Corfu Island, with its quiet villages, ancient olive groves and soaring cliffs. Dance on the table to the infectious rhythm of locals’ favourite summer anthems in a downtown Athens bouzoukia. Or follow the Minoan trail right back to the Palace of Knossos, King Minos and the blood-thirsty Minotaur on the island of Crete.
‘“Eleftheria i Thanatos”' (“'Freedom or Death”'), reads Greece’s motto. It was first shouted as a war cry during the mid-19th-century Greek War of Independence but has remained in use long after. And flipping through the country’s 4000-year history, it would have certainly been fitting long before. Does the Battle of Marathon ring a bell? In one of the most heroic fights ever fought in human history, legendary Athenian general Miltiades led his fearless contingent to victory over a Persian armada ten times its size, changing the course of the Greco-Persian Wars and European history forever. The Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC marked the beginning of centuries of foreign occupation that came to a head during the Greek Revolution against Ottoman rule in 1821. Greece finally regained its independence in 1829 and went on to become the Ellinikí Dhimokratía (Hellenic Republic). Today, legions of honeymooners, art lovers, winter sun-seekers and history buffs are the country’s main occupying force, greeted with a warm welcome, chill vibes and fun-loving crowds.
Western culture was built on the ruins of Ancient Greece. Thankfully, many of those ruins are still around today to teach lessons, tell stories and keep Greece’s robust legacy alive. Why not start at the beginning? Visit the hotbed of the Minoan civilisation on the island of Crete. Praised by Homer and rumoured to be the inspiration behind the legend of Atlantis, the southernmost Greek island gave birth to the region’s dominant Bronze Age cultural and sea power, the chilling legend of the Minotaur and the most vibrant pieces of prehistoric art. Stand enthralled within the monolithic columns of the Acropolis’s crown jewel, the Temple of Athena Nike. Erected some 2,500 years ago, the Ionic sanctuary was a premier place of worship in time of war, where Athenians pleaded with city patroness Athene in the hope of a victorious outcome. Add a trip to medieval Greece to your itinerary, too. Rhodes is home to the continent's largest medieval old town, frozen in time during the 200-year rule of the Knights of The Order of St John of Jerusalem, who turned the island into a major stronghold on the one hand and a living and breathing time capsule on the other.
Do you want to live a long and healthy life? You should give some serious thought to moving permanently to the island of Ikaria, one of the world’s five blue zones, aka places where people have the longest lifespans on Earth. If that’s not an option, eating your way through Greece can be a viable alternative. Learn the basics of the life-changing Cretan diet in one of the many gastro temples around Heraklion’s Morosini Fountain. Stock up on the non-negotiable ingredient, olive oil. Greece’s dripping gold is a serious business in every corner of the country, but the extra-virgin varieties produced in the Protected Denomination of Origin Areas of Kolymbari and Sitia are said to be the finest. Get a taste of Rhodes’ ever-blazing love of pasta and truly amazing pasta dishes, made with makarounia, matsi, koulouria, trachana or hilopites. Phyllo pastry is another thing Greeks proudly say they’ve elevated to the level of art. Judge it for yourself: try Thessaloniki’s trademark phyllo triangles, Trigona Panoramatos, or bougatsa, an all-purpose, all-Greek breakfast food filled with semolina custard, minced meat or fresh mizithra cheese.
Here’s a fun fact that will probably make beach lovers’ heart skip a beat: no place in Greece is more than 137 kilometres from water. And by water, we mean bright blue seas lapping the most luscious beaches, from soft and sandy to pine-fringed and pebbly. And here’s another one, just for the fun of it: the Greek archipelago has about 15,000 kilometres of coastline spread over 2,000 islands. ‘“Only”' 170 of them are populated, granted, but that’s still a dizzying number of beaches to choose from. In the southern pocket of Zakynthos, Gerakas Beach awaits you with a spacious coastline, golden sand and a famous resident, being the favourite nesting site of Caretta caretta, aka the loggerhead turtle. Sidari, Corfu’s charming northern coastal resort town was made for beach holidays, boasting soft, sandy beaches and some remarkable rock formations, shaped by crystal-clear, emerald waters. Don’t miss out on a swim in Canal d’Amour (Channel of Love) that promises eternal love for those who make their way through it. Athens’ beaches have a lot going for them, too. Starting with the fact that pretty much all of them are just a short tram ride away from the hustle and bustle of the city.