Tis the Season… Best Festive Spots in Greece this Christmas
By Maria Paravantes
Whether it’s beach or city-break, skiing or windsurfing, exploring or relaxing, Greece has a spot for every taste. Add centuries-old Christmas traditions, luscious holiday sweets and fine Greek hospitality and you’ve got the whole deal. Because Greece may be known as that tiny Mediterranean country brimming with sea and sun but in the verse of Greek Nobel Prize winner Odysseas Elytis ”This Small, This Great World” holds within its warm embrace a diversity like no other, offering December visitors the chance to simply… have it all.
Keen on cuddling up in front of the fireplace in a log cabin resort after hitting the slopes? Want some scuba diving thrill and kite surfing action? Eager on discovering new traditions and sampling unique foods? Seeking that inspiring experience that will bring faith back into your heart? Well then this ”compact” country is the place to visit this holiday season. Why? Because it’s the experience that counts. And if there ever was a country where boredom was not an option than Greece is it.
That said, the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) has singled out six destinations for a once-in-a-lifetime winter experience along a ”road less traveled”.
Located in the mountains of Evrytania, Central Greece, amid rivers, waterfalls and chestnut tree forests, this town offers some of the finest accommodation facilities, ski activities and trekking opportunities. But the region is also packed with historic monasteries and tiny villages where locals still keep with traditions. Karpenisi is the ideal choice for the winter sports lover, offering a diverse range of choice including hiking, white-water rafting, horseback riding and skiing but it is also home to several of the country’s most well-preserved monastic landmarks including the Proussos Monastery which will not only inspire and impress due to its location – in a cave above a canyon – but also thanks to the spectacular journey there.
The first capital of Greece, ideally located in the heart of the Peloponnese, is perhaps the most loved destination of all Greeks. It may be small to the eye, but this seaside town exudes an aura like no other. Surrounded by some of the country’s most historic sites spanning eras including the Theater of Epidaurus, the Palamidi Fortress, Mycenae – the home of Agememnon who was commander of the Greeks during the Trojan War, or Ancient Tiryns, whose massive walls are said to have been built by the Cyclopes – all offer the history lover plenty to discover. At the same time, if you’re after some sea and sun, then don’t fret. There are literally dozens of beaches near and around Nafplio. You could take a swim in the warm waters of Paralio Astros, a half hour’s drive from Nafplio, and then head on up to some of the region’s most isolated villages hidden in a chestnut tree forest on the slopes of Mt Parnonas – most likely set in snow – as smiling locals welcome visitors by the fireplace with chestnut-based delicacies.
Yes, we’ve heard about the Greek capital over and over again. About Kolonaki’s posh high street, about its exciting nightlife and of course, about the dozens of ancient sites – a life well-traveled wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Cradle of Democracy, the Acropolis and the footpath (Areopagitou walkway) where philosophers once strolled. But the Athens we’re suggesting is behind the glamor and legacy of its central historic district. A walk down Athinas Street off Omonia Square and into all those small side streets left and right will take you to a different Athens. One where history is in the making; where the sights, sounds and smells of a multicultural society are getting louder by the day. Tiny shops offer everything from Egyptian ”tablas” and mouthwatering falafel to traditional Pakistani ”shalwar kameez” (trousers and shirts) and spices of all sorts, not to mention Athens’ central Varvakeios market which is an experience in itself.
A world of experiences, Crete offers both summer and winter holidays in one. Add its famed cuisine and products and you can’t go wrong. If you’re daring enough, then a trip to the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) known for being snow-capped all year round and their villages are bound to mesmerize with their traditions and stunning natural beauty. If it’s seascapes you’re seeking and perhaps a bit of swimming for the more venturesome, then a tour of the southern side of the island is a must. With high temperatures due to its proximity with the northern African coast, the southern villages and their respective beaches can offer a taste of summer… mid-winter. Don’t forget to try the local cheeses, the omni-present spirit of choice (and production) ”raki”, the honey and of course, the hundreds of local dishes.
Hardly ever presented as a holiday destination in its own right, this multicultural town in northeastern Greece carries within its stone pathways the traditions of a beautifully mixed and harmoniously living population. Local Greeks, Greek refugees from Asia Minor and East Thrace, Muslims of Turkish, Pomak and Romani origins, Sephardic Jews, descendants of refugees who survived the Armenian Genocide, and Pontic Greeks from north-eastern Anatolia and the regions of the former Soviet Union all make up this colorful melange of cultures each bringing its history and traditions to its central square, aptly named Plateia Irinis (or Square of Peace). Besides the vibrant nightlife and youthful feel thanks in large part to the university student population, the town is known for its open-air market (“pazari”) held for hundreds of years, where producers from across the Macedonia and Thrace region show (and sell) their wares including everything from brass coffee pots and wooden tools to local syrup-based sweets such as halvas and soutzouk loukoum (or Turkish delight), handmade embroidery (“tsevres”), art and homewares. The town is also the place to browse and find rare antique items at low prices.
This four-stop road trip takes you from one traditional Peloponnesian village to the next through lush evergreen and pine tree forests, running waters and snow-capped mountains. The four villages remain in tact true to their traditional stone architecture transporting travelers to a time when life was in tune with nature’s desires. Besides the time-honored winter cuisine, unique dishes include wild boar with onions, the garlic-based “lagoto stew” (once prepared with wild rabbit) which won over UK celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and the famed pork and celery stew complete with wonderful red wine. The Lousios River and gorge which run through the region offer exhilarating rafting and trekking activities while on the cliffs hidden away from the intruding eye, a series of monasteries await the more spiritual traveler. At the Philosophou Monastery founded in 1691, monks will treat you to a “loukoumi” (sugar sweet) upon your arrival and then take you to a cave suspended above the gorge where the Old Monastery of Panagia Philosophou, built in 963 AD, once schooled the children during the 400-year Ottoman rule.
The most beautiful moment whatever the choice is hearing those church bells ring in Christmas. Rejoice and don’t forget to wish everyone “Kala Christougenna” (Merry Christmas) and “Chronia Polla” (Many Years of Health). Our wishes for you.