5 off the beaten track adventures & destinations in Greece - by Anna Zika a Greece born adventure traveler and guide
#1 Crete - The Island that has it all
Crete is a top destination in Greece, especially among the European travelers. You will definitely meet some of them every year, spending their vacations visiting the exact same spot, eating in the exact same restaurants and becoming friends with the locals. Crete is the largest island of Greece and you will never say that you have explored all of it. Simply because there are so many things to do and see. Actually, we can say that Crete has everything that you can ask for.
Here are the top reasons to explore the Island of Crete:
- It has so much mythology and history that you will never be bored. Its geographical position is so important that everyone through the years wanted a piece of that land. Remember the Minotaur, the labyrinth and the thread of Ariadne?
- You can hike through the villages, climb on snowy mountains, cross gorges such as Samaria, the longest gorge in Europe, swim in pink and white beaches or even start hiking the E4, which is the famous cross continental trail that goes up to the Alps and passes through several European countries.
- You can visit lovely quaint towns in the southern part of the Island that do not have any cars and the only access is only by the sea, such as Loutro. You will absolutely fall in love, and you will probably want to stay forever.
- You can visit the endless list of archaeological sites, many being from the Minoan civilization, the first documented civilization in Europe.
- Last but not least, drink the wine and taste the traditional food with real flavor, so real that it is addictive. Try to visit one of the traditional villages up on the mountains and be prepared to drink some raki with the locals that won’t take no for an answer.
#2 Explore Meteora
Maybe you have never heard of that name before, but it is actually well known amongst the Christian Orthodox pilgrims, since it is one of the most important religious spots in Greece.
Nowadays, Meteora is not known only for that, but for several other reasons:
- It is a UNESCO world heritage monument and a unique geological phenomenon.
- The scenery is out of this world! It feels like you are on another planet, plus it changes depending on the weather and the time of the day.
- It is the goal of every rock climber to climb here, the sides of these huge sandstone pillars offer a pretty unique view. Don’t try it if you are suffering from acrophobia (Greek word by the way meaning, extreme or irrational fear of heights)…
- Nature lovers! You can enjoy the trails that surround the area offering beautiful views, nature and history. Also, the region is famous for birdwatching since every year everyone’s attention is on the Egyptian vulture which visits Meteora to find its other half and reproduce. Unfortunately, there are very few left and when they do come, it is breaking news for the town of Kalambaka! Another part of its uniqueness is the huge number of mushrooms. By visiting the local museum of Natural history, you can learn quite a few things about them and by visiting the area during the Mushroom festival, you can also taste them.
- These rock formations have offered a shelter to these monks and hermits for over 1,000 years. They were the first climbers of the region, looking for some piece of mind and serenity.
- Since they are located in the heart of Greece, you will find a very strong feeling of tradition, followed by Greek traditional costumes, dances, music, legends and food! You are probably familiar with spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)…
- For the James Bond lovers, here is the scene that was actually filmed in Meteora…
#3 Visit Naxos a forgotten Island
If you want to live the islander’s life, Naxos is your island. Everybody loves Mykonos and Santorini… before visiting Naxos. Naxos is the definition of the Greek island of Cyclades. US travel has voted Naxos as one of the top islands in Greece. Have you heard of this greek island before? If you have, it is probably because:
- Naxos has some of the most famous beaches in Europe, such as Ag. Prokopios or Agia Anna. Sandy beaches with crystal clear water. If you want to be totally alone, you will find several others.
- It is bursting in mythology! Zeus was raised here, up on the mountain Zas and his son Dionysos was the protector of the island. Here, as well you will find out a lot about the history since the Venetians ruled the island for centuries and they have a left as legacy one of the most beautiful Choras (main towns) you will ever see because it is actually inside the walls of a venetian castle.
- Hike between the cutest villages ever and you will climb up the Mt. Zeus peak and be followed by wild goats.
- Taste the most delicious food of the islands. Naxos is a big island compared to the others and the most fertile. Tomatoes, potatoes, cheese and meat taste different there!
- Naxos has one of the most beautiful sunsets in the Aegean Sea, at the end of your seaside walk, you will find the remains of the ancient temple of Apollo, Portara, which means big door. The sun sets right there, overlooking the blue water of the Aegean sea.
#4 Climb Mt. Olympus
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, and If you loved the myths that you had been taught in school about the Olympian Gods, then you should definitely hike the mountain of Olympus and here is why:
- As soon as you see the beauty of Olympus and feel its energy, you will understand why the ancient Greeks chose that particular mountain as the house of their Gods.
- You can hike at the highest peak of Olympus and swim at the Aegean Sea, all in the same day. Yes, the sea water is the best gift for your swollen feet.
- From the top, on a clear day you can see the shape of Greece. Even if it is not, the clouds and the fog will give you an extraordinary scenery!
- For the nature lovers, here you will find over 1,500 species of flora and several species of fauna such as jackals, wolves, deer, birds and butterflies.
- Reach the highest peak of Greece, you will enjoy the view of Zeus’s throne, you will add one more National park on your list and you will enjoy a mountain hut’s life, away from the crowds.
#5 Visit the Mountain Wonderland of Zagori
You always believed that Greece has only blue waters and white houses and that is exactly what you need to experience when you bought your ticket.
But the truth is that Greece has so much diversity in the villages, the tradition, the food and the scenery that it will really make you wonder: “Am I really traveling to Greece?” Zagori is one of those places that you would have never guessed that it is Greece. And it is pretty unique, because:
- You will walk through the cutest and the most historical villages that you can imagine. Beautiful mansions made by the local stone, built on the slopes of the mountain range offering breathtaking views of the Vikos gorge.
- Hike from village to village, crossing stone bridges that have been there, to connect the villages from the 17th century. A lot of legends and traditions will help you imagine what life used to be like.
- The national park of Vikos – Aoos includes the Vikos gorge which has been recorded in Guinness World Records as the “deepest relative to its width” gorge in 2005. Not to mention lakes, mountain peaks and even a ski resort. Who would have guessed that Greece has 24 ski resorts. Right?
- You can choose to cross the gorge on a raft. River rafting on the clearest river of Europe, with the turquoise water is a unique experience. Try to drink water from the river, with your hands. Yes, it is drinking water.
- Find out about the unique fauna and flora of the region. Beautiful wildflowers, mushrooms and some animals that you would prefer not to meet, such as bears and wolves are there to remind us that we are the guests.
- Before you leave, don’t forget to try the famous pies and drink some tsipouro (un-aged brandy) next to the fireplace overlooking the gorge.