Thursday, 23 March 2017



Five Places in Greece That Are Not To Be Missed in June



BalkanTravellers.com   
June is the “last train” to Greece, before the summer season is in full swing and its coasts cave into the sea, made heavy by the crowds. The summer is already breathing hot air into our necks and the cooling blue of the Mediterranean starts to become irresistible. On the hills of ancient and medieval ruins the wind that blows is still fresh, and, around noon, the octopuses start to wave around their tentacles invitingly, served with a half a litre of chilled Retsina wine. Free hotel rooms are easily found and start from 25 euro per night, and the spaces in front of the tavernas and the ouzerias are still crowd-free. Now is the time to grab the pleasures Greece offers by the handful.

The Wild Landscape and the Wild History of Mani




This is the southernmost point of continental Greece. The lighthouse of the Tenaro Cape marks the end of the peninsula’s dramatic landscape, where raw grey mountains slope steeply into hundreds of lagoons, in which human feet rarely thread in June.

The approach to Mani passes through two stone towns. Gythio, on the eastern coast, is a charming port with a life of its own, as un-touristy as is possible for a Greek seaside settlement. Areopoli is Mani’s first and last larger town on the western coast. Its houses, made from grey chiselled stones, and the Venetian bell towers of the churches already give away the charm possessed by the peninsula’s interior.



To the south, the road winds along the sea and from time to time reveals impressive views towards the water. But what makes the landscape truly unique are the towers – hundreds still-standing or half-demolished battle towers, an inheritance from a slightly sinister side in the Maniotes’ history – that of blood feuds. As a scene of hundreds of battles between different clans, the towers came into being during the fourteenth century and were continuously built and used until the end of the nineteenth century – while the unrests on Mani continued (the last of which was put down by the Greek National Army). Some of them clearly stand out with their darker colour as older, while others blend in with the contemporary structures that have not changed significantly in the last 100 years.

Gythio boasts good hotels and restaurants, but the eateries in Areopoli make a dinner in town worthwhile. We tried and liked the Gythion hotel, the oldest in Gythio: 50 euro for a double room, excluding breakfast (www.gythionhotel.gr, tel +30 27330 23452).


Mycenae’s Gold



Mycenae’s ancient ruins are one of the most interesting ancient sites in contemporary Greece – not only because of the beauty of the objects and buildings that were found there, but also because they correspond to the largest extent to Homer’s version of history.

According to the Iliad and the Odyssey the city was founded by Perseus, who killed the Gorgon Medusa, and was the birthplace of the Trojan War hero Agamemnon. As a confirmation of the legend, the golden treasure, found during excavations by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, contains brooches in the shape of Medusa’s hair. Agamemnon is credited with the impressive gold mask found at Mycenae, as well as with the barely touched tomb in the base of the Acropolis.



All in all, the town which existed between 1550 and 1200 AD is almost obliterated. It is one of those places that one needs to visit with a book in hand or a guide at hand. But the epic architecture, apparent from the tomb and the Lion Gate, as well as the copies of the golden treasure (the originals are in Athens) are enough to stir the imagination.

The most pleasant place to stay during a visit to Mycenae is Nafplion, 30 kilometres to the south. From there, you can reach the site in less than an hour by bus. Entry fee is 8 euro.

Tunnels of Bougainvillea in Nafplion

A historical seaport and the biggest town in the Argolikos Bay, Nafplion is the true hub of pleasure in June. Whether you drink a frappé in one of the dozens of cafés with a view towards the port on Bouboulinas, or walk around on the cool, polished stones of the little streets under tunnels of pink and red bougainvillea, or poke around the shelves of the hundreds of creative boutiques, this place is enjoyable through and through.

Strikingly located on a hill over the sea, Nafplion boasts Ottoman architecture and arrangement in its base, topped by a Venetian crown in the shape of a massive fortress wall. To this historical canvas a thick layer of Greek aesthetic has been added – from the finest kind, as the town was the capital of independent Greece between 1929 and 1934 and the headquarters of the new monarch, the Austrian-descended Prince Otto, in 1933 and 1934.

Mosques have been turned into churches and many of the old houses have been renovated into luxurious villas that can be rented. The dozens of restaurants scattered on the white streets turn the town every evening into a happy storm.



On the central square of the old part of town, Plateia Syntagmatos, stands the elegant building of the first Greek parliament – a massive stone structure with a colonnade facing the erstwhile mosque that is now used as a movie theatre.

Among Nafplion’s pleasures are the beaches (one is in the town itself) and a visit to the three fortresses. Two of them stand on the hill over the town and used to be one of the important fortifications during the war for independence from the Ottoman Empire. The third one, on an island across from the seaside promenade, was used as a luxurious hotel for a time.

The hotels in Nafplion start from 50 euro per night and the prices in restaurants vary. We tried and liked: the plain but with good views Hotel Victoria, 50 euro per night for a double, and Taverna Byzanthio with their delicious meat and vegetables platter for two, excellent house wine and the best street music performance we had witnessed for years.

Samothrace



Greece’s wildest island is not over-crowded even in the height of the season, but in June it offers an excellent balance between bearable temperatures, fresh water and the opportunity for seclusion on its beaches.

In addition to the Greek islands’ traditional set of pleasures – hanging out in the port cafés, wading in shallow water and lavish lunches with moussaka, Samothrace offers two more impressive experiences. One is taking a swim in an ice-cold mountain lake, as a finale to a heating trek through Mount Fengari, from whose peaks, it is said, Homer observed the Trojan War.



The second one is a tour through the ruins of the ancient sanctuary, which used to be one of the important magical places in Ancient Greece, together with Delphi, Ephesus, Aphrodisias and Perperikon. The statue of the winged goddess Nike, which is now displayed at the Louvre and reproduced in millions of plaster copies of souvenir kitsch, used to stand here. The scenery in which the original once stood is worth seeing – Nature’s creator was not in an especially cheerful mood when he made this place, but he showed impressive, albeit stern, taste.

Samothrace is accessible by ferry through Alexandroupolis and it is good to reserve a place ahead of time if you’re going by car (tel +30 5510 26721, Vatisis Agency, 5 Kyprou Street). Most hotels are located in Kamariotissa - the island's port town. Rooms start from 30 euro per night for a double.

Dionysus’s Followers in Tents on Mount Olympus

On June 21, the day that marks the summer solstice, one of the most fun parties on the Balkans has been organised for years under the peak of Mount Olympus. Greeks, who consider themselves descendants of the Ancient Hellenes not only ethnically, but also ideologically, come in crowds into “the gardens of Zeus,” in order to take part in the several-days-long summer festivities in honour of the ancient Pantheon of gods.

They set up completely contemporary tents, but walk around in togas and try to speak in ancient Greek, helped along by the Dionysian quantities of wine they consume. To the horror of the local fundamentalist Orthodox Christians, who drop by the St. John chapel located on the same meadow, the new-comers perform barbaric rituals: they dance pagan dances, name themselves with ancient names, get married and send prayers to Zeus and company.

If you ask around, you’ll probably be able to locate among the 1,000 Hellenes the movement’s ideologue, Trifon Kostopoulos. After teaching philosophy at the University of Stockholm for 25 years, one day he suddenly realised that he felt “more Greek than Christian” and started to gather followers.

If you don’t feel like sleeping in a tent, the village of Litohoro at the foot of Mount Olympus provides an alternative. Beside rooms that start at 35 euro per night and excellent food, it also affords easy access to the Aegean Sea’s beaches. In a 15-kilometre radius of the village, there are at least three resorts, of which the most pleasant one is Platamonas.

Read more about Greece on BalkanTravellers.com

 

 

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