Discover Hidden Gems In Greece
Photo: Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, Delphi © Lefteris Papaulakis | Dreamstime.com
Each day of my eight-day jaunt through Greece brought me something different: from island vistas to mountainous landscapes, from scuba diving along the coastline to sampling locally produced prosciutto high in the mountains, and from the modern version of history at the Acropolis Museum to the ancient ruins of Delphi. Perhaps the true delight of a Greek experience is that you never know what wonder will next unfold before your eyes.
It began in Athens. For first-time or repeat visitors, the Acropolis is a must-see. It was my second time to both the site and the newer Acropolis Museum, but each visit offers new opportunities to explore the rich, deep background and an unbelievable amount of historical wealth. I stopped to marvel at different relics during this visit to the museum. I wandered areas of the Acropolis I didn’t have time for the last time around. I found myself in a different version of Athens than previously experienced.
It was time, however, to travel more of the country and see parts I’d never visited to unearth new treasures. Evia, Greece’s second-largest island after Crete, lies only about a one-hour drive from Athens, making it an easy second stop on my excursion. Despite development in recent years, the island remains genuine and traditional, and while tourists flock to Evia year ’round, it’s not overrun. Here, the Greek experience is authentic.
Get to know the capital of Evia, Chalkida, by strolling along the promenade. In addition to taking in the more historic options such as Town Hall, the Red House and the National Resistance Memorial, settle into any of the cafés, coffee shops and restaurants lining the water and relax, people-watching as night falls.
Scuba divers visit Evia 365 days a year. Based on its geography and strong sea currents, the area’s seabed and biodiversity are exceptionally well-preserved. Divers can find great spots anywhere around the island, even right in Chalkida. To the south, dive in Marmari and Karystos, and to the north in Lichadonisia, Artemisio and Pili. The coasts of Skyros present remarkable cave diving opportunities.
My journey took me next to Northern Evia, stopping along the route at Saint John the Russian, one of the most important religious sites in Greece. The saint’s holy relics rest here, and thousands of religious pilgrims visit the site annually, especially on May 27, his feast day.
For a mid-morning break, I happened upon the seaside village of Limni. Quaint and unassuming despite its breathtaking vantages, it proved yet another spot on Evia to simply take a moment to indulge in the views and find a period of respite amid natural, authentic beauty.
Evia proves good for one’s health as well, evidenced in an overnight at Thermae Sylla Spa & Wellness Hotel. The area’s curative waters and mud have proven benefits in treating rheumatologic, arthritic and kinetic diseases. The 5-star hotel’s spa uses the natural resources in treatments. I found myself in a room that looked almost surgical, lying on a table as my therapist unleashed buckets of mud from a large spout on the wall. After evenly distributing the mud around my body, she tightly wrapped me in a plastic sheet. I lay there trying to remain still for 30 minutes as the mud worked its restorative benefits on my skin. Pre-mud wrap, I indulged in the therapeutic waters, moving through the spa’s pools of varying temperatures.
The wellness experience continued at Hotel Galini Wellness Spa in Kamena Vourla. The thermal sources possess radioactive elements, acquired from the rocks the water passes over on its route. A tiny amount penetrates the skin and the respiratory system and lends therapeutic effects on neuralgia, the lungs, the nervous system and more. The property is part of Mitsis Hotels, the largest chain in Greece. Other Mitsis properties can be found in Crete, Athens, Corfu, Ioannina, Kos and Rhodes.
Both of the towns surrounding Thermae Sylla Spa and Hotel Galini offered charming cafés and stores, spots to linger, unwind and watch life as it unfolded. Are you beginning to sense a theme? Indulging in sweet treats while sipping a coffee amid gorgeous scenery became the refrain of my time spent kicking back in Greece.
Spa-going sadly concluded, it was time for wine. In the Atalanti Valley, a unique microclimate is conducive to wine grape growing, and the area’s Domaine Hatzimichalis, the first Greek winery to achieve the French “domaine” status, proves the perfect spot to spend an afternoon touring and tasting. The winery has won more than 250 international wine awards. I blended my own keepsake bottle, which I’m not sure is award-winning but holds court on my wine rack nonetheless, waiting for the perfect moment to uncork.
A change of scenery, as it was time to leave behind the island life. Next stop was the mountain region of Karpenísi, and as I pulled up to the Hotel Spa Montana, I immediately felt transported to a Swiss chalet. Karpenísi offers a range of outdoor activities year ’round that attract adventure-seekers: climbing, rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
I discovered a hidden gem while winding the mountain roads. Deep in the mountains is Stremennos, a Greek delicatessen, producing high-quality — and delicious — aged, cured meats. Products include ham, award-winning prosciutto, pork tenderloin, salami, sausage and smoked bacon. The surrounding environment coupled with the tasting experience is almost surreal.
Sated, I headed down those same winding roads. The Monastery of Panagia Prousiotissa, built in a steep, rocky area, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and serves as the spiritual and pilgrimage center of Evrytania. During the 1821 Greek Revolution, the monastery, believed to date somewhere between the 12th and 14th centuries, sheltered civilians. A visit to the ecclesiastical museum and to take in the stunning landscape is a must.
And don’t fret — the town centers offer plenty of quaint cafés on the way to and from Karpenísi to stop and bask in the surroundings and the Greek life. One recommendation is family-run Casa di Neve.
Much as I began the trip high above Athens at the Acropolis, I spent my last day at the ancient site of Delphi, located in the region of Central Greece and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. During the sixth century B.C., Delphi was the religious center of the ancient world as a site of worship for the oracle of Apollo. The archaeological site and Delphi Archaeological Museum are open to the public. Operated by the Greek Ministry of Culture, the museum houses many discoveries found at the site dating from the pre-historic period onward.
Fittingly, I happily whiled away my afternoon and early evening post-Delphi idling at a waterside restaurant in the naval town of Galaxidi. As the town, just a tiny dot along the water from my first vantage point in the town of Delphi, came into view, my entire Grecian experience came full circle.
Greece Info to Go
Seasonal direct flights to Athens (ATH) depart from New York (JFK) on Delta Air Lines and from Philadelphia (PHL) on American Airlines. The island of Evia is about a 50-minute ride from Athens. From Athens to Karpenísi, viable transport options include bus, train and car. Bus service runs between Athens and Delphi. To travel between several different areas of the country, consider renting a car or hiring a private driver.
Where to Stay in Greece
Hotel Galini Wellness Spa & Resort The property offers accommodations, dining, meeting and event space, a spa, swimming pools and beach access. Ger. Vasiliadi 5, Kamena Vourla $$$
Hotel Spa Montana Built on Mount Tymfristos, the challenge here is deciding what is more decadent — the 5-star accommodations or the views. Karpenissiou – Lamias Road, Karpenísi $$$
Thermae Sylla Spa & Wellness Hotel Find relaxation as well as curative spa effects at this 5-star hotel housed in a Neoclassical building dating from 1897. Posidonos St. 2, Loutra Edipsou, Evia $$$
Restaurants in Greece
Dionysos Location, location, location! Dionysos offers modern Greek cuisine with an incredible view from its location at the foot of the Acropolis. Rovertou Galli St. 43, Athens $$$
Varoulko The menu at the Michelin-starred restaurant in Athens’ port of Piraeus draws its inspiration from the sea. Akti Koumoundourou 52, Mikrolimano, Piraeus $$$$
Zygos Traditional Greek cuisine finds a modern flair at this waterside restaurant in Galaxidi; a classical taverna with friendly service. Akti Oianthis 115, Galaxidi $$