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Winter light in the Greek islands

The light seems never to be full of Greek beauty. In winter, it is still there, bright as always but somewhat sweeter. It revives the winter colors, whilst the mild temperatures rejuvenate the desire for exploration of Greek beauty. If you believed that islands journey through the winter months in solitude, in the sea while reminiscing the lively summers, the time has come to be informed of the opposite.

Journey…

Corfu, the cosmopolitan

Where: The most northern island in the Ionian complex

Why: Stands out due to its refined Italian finesse and the cosmopolitan, Venetian character that impresses throughout the year. Renowned globally as the green island of the Feakes and Odysseus’s final stop before returning to his coveted destination, Ithaca. Corfu is one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, distinguished by its rich nature, as well as, wonderful attractions.

Pontikonisi_Corfu © GNTO/Ioniani slands prefecture

What to visit: The famous Old Town of Corfu, with the illustrious Esplanade, one of the prettiest piazza’s of Greece, with the Old Fortress on its East and a cricket court on the grounds. Walk through the prominent pathways and admire the unique estates. Enjoy a stroll through the beautiful Liston, adorned by elegant colonnades. Visit the imposing temple of Saint Spyridon, patron saint of the island, with the acclaimed crimson bell tower. Admire the palace of Saint Michael and Saint George, the only “Georgian” style monument in the Mediterranean and the masterpiece, Achilles, 19 kilometers southwest of the city. A trademark locale, is the small island known as Pontikonisi (Mouse island), the brightest gem on the Corfiot crown. We travel through time with Archaeological and Byzantine Museum’s and the Banknote Museum’s impressive exhibits. In the northern region, is the area of Paleokastritsa, known for Aggelokastro – the commanding remains of a Fortress – which along with Kalami and Kassiopi, are some of the most beautiful areas of the islands. While in the southern region you will be astounded by the traditional village of Vatos, as well as, the exquisite habitat of the Korission Lake.

Evia. Endless beauty.

Where: Stretching across the northeastern coastline of continental Central Greece

Why: Near Athens and with very easy access, Evia is the second biggest island of Greece and the sixth largest in the Mediterranean. Despite its tourism, Evia’s charm remains intact, enchanting the senses. The numerous beautiful cities, combined with renowned locations and impressive attractions, make Evia the ideal destination, even during the winter season. Its rich geophysical scenery, surrounded by imposing mountains and beautiful lakes, offers visitors a plethora of activities, such as hiking, biking and horseback riding, thus keeping the momentum going at all times.

Evia_Anthidonos_Alykes © GNTO/ Evia prefecture

What to visit: Beautiful Chalkida, the capital of the island, where you can enjoy a stroll on the beach with a background of the famous bridge. You will be able to admire the Castle’s old quarters, distinguished by its architecture, characterized by Turkish and Venetian influences and impressed by the plethora of exhibits in the Archaeological and Folk Museum. The ancient city of Eretria is especially interesting, only 22 kilometers southeast of the Chalkida, which in ancient times was one of the most prestigious areas of Greece, before it’s destruction by the Persians in 490 B.C.
Karistos awaits you in the south of the island, 130 kilometers from Chalkida; a historic city, with beautiful neoclassical buildings, decorated by the exceptional Venetian port of Castelo Rosso. The harbor includes scenes of traditional cafes, picturesque taverns, as well as, restaurants offering gastronomical delicacies that appeal to all taste buds. You will also be able to horseback ride and hike in the beautiful nature and of course blaze your own biking trails. In the northern part of the island, tracing back to the depth of ancient Greece, you will encounter the baths of Aidipsos, the most well-known health and wellness center in all of Greece. Also in the north, the settlement of Kymi, with a spectacular view of the sea, is one of the prettiest in the region.

Crete. Enchanting the soul.

Where: The most southern island of Greece

Why: The distinct variety of the geophysical scenery, the mild climate, as well as the innumerable cultures influencing the island, spanning from 6.000 B.C. when the first prehistoric settlements appeared, to 1913, when Crete annexed the rest of Greece, are the decisive factors that created Crete’s image today. Spectacular, beautiful and unique, Crete dominates the southern Aegean, full of pride and enchants, all who visit, with its irresistible charm

Where to visit:

Chania: The county of Chania is the most western of the four on the island, characterized by the imposing “White Mountains” and the famous national park that takes up the largest part of the county. Chania is also the capital of the county and is not only one of the most beautiful cities of the island, but of the whole of Greece. The magnificent neoclassical estates, as well as the Venetian strongholds, compose a unique setting. In the harbor you will find some of the greatest attractions, including the famous Maritime Museum and the Turkish mosque, one of the oldest Ottoman buildings on the island. While travelling with children, visit the City Park, which dates back to the 19th century. There you will find a small zoo, as well as, a playground, where you can spend a few carefree moments. You will have the opportunity to enjoy the now world renowned Cretan cuisine, known for its beneficial properties and the longevity it offers. For the nature-lovers, the county’s trademark is the Samaria Gorge, which is an ideal destination, mainly in the summer season. Also for nature-lovers is Lake Kourna, the only natural freshwater lake in all of Crete, where you can enjoy a one-of-a-kind evening walk, as well as, a family picnic.

Rethymno: Surrounded by the White Mountains and Mount Psiloritis (Ida) is the county of Rethymno, which is a jewel on the island of the Crete, defined by beauty and history. The old district of Rethymno, also the name of the capital, stands out for its unique architecture and a combination of Venetian and Turkish mansions that bewitch visitors with their every step. Built in the 16th century in order to protect residents from pirate invasions, the famous fortress Fortezza adorns the city’s harbor. The archaeological museum’s doors are open, helping visitors journey through the city’s history. The well-known Monastery of Arkadi awaits you 24 kilometers southeast of Rethymno; a symbol of bravery of the Cretans against the Turkish occupiers. For those who love mountains, 79 kilometers southeast of Rethymno, above Mount Psiloritis, is the breathtaking Nida plateau with its trademark, stone-vaulted, pastoral residences, known as “mitata”. Winter escapades and winter sports can be enjoyed at the plateau’s ski resort. Built on a rocky edge, at an altitude of 730 meters, you will encounter the beautiful, graphic village of Anogia. Visitors come closer to Cretan tradition, through shops with handmade, colorful weavings and embroidery and for those who love authentic, local flavors; you can experience culinary traditions in the village’s taverns. Indulge yourself in the aroma of raki and the Cretan lyra’s melodies.

Chania © GNTO/Rozaki

Heraklion: This is the largest and most populated county on the island and has some of the greatest archaeological sites in Greece. The Palaces of Knossos and Phaistos is just one of many sites. Heraklion is also the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, the most ancient civilization of the European continent and one of the greatest civilizations of humanity. This was also the birthplace of one of the greatest artists of all time, El Greco, whose works became a symbol of Renaissance perfection.

In the center of the town, Venizelos Square awaits, surrounded by stores for your shopping sprees and cafes for your relaxation. Standing in command in the harbor is the Venetian castle, which is worth your while to visit. Nearby, in Eleftheria (Freedom) Square, the archaeological museum is a true revelation, as it houses the largest collection of Minoan civilization findings. Two of the most important Minoan palaces in all of Crete lie a few kilometers away from the city; archaeological site of Phaistos is approximately 5 kilometers south of the city, while 65 kilometers southwest of the city, is the impressive Palace of Knossos

Aside from history, outside of the city, one can also enjoy Heraklion’s amazing nature. Caves, canyons and green areas delineate the hinterland’s scenery and invite explorers to enjoy activities such as hiking and biking. At the same time, well-hidden, traditional settlements and villages, with centuries of history, are waiting to be discovered in vineyards and olive groves, valleys and mountain slopes.

Lasithi: Surrounded by the three seas, Cretan, Libyan and Carpathian, the eastern edge of Crete is characterized by unique natural diversity and intense contrasts that create a charming setting. Famous tourist resorts and luxurious tourist complexes combine perfectly with destinations full of Cretan authenticity, untouched by tourism

The picturesque area of Agios Nikolaos is the capital of the county and is one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the island. The harbor is in the center of the city, which is attached to Voulismeni, a small salt lake with a depth of only 64 meters. The archaeological and folk museums of the city are open to all and offer a journey through time. The city itself is a base for the exploration of interesting destinations, such as, Ierapetra, the most southern city of Europe, with the famous Venetian castle and the Turkish quarters, as well as, the fantastic palm forest of Vai. Located 94 kilometers northeast of the Agios Nikolaos, it is the only palm forest in Europe with over 5,000 palm trees, in an area of approximately 250 hectares. Last, don’t miss out on the opportunity to have fun in a traditional Cretan festival. where dancing to the accompaniment of the lyra and feasting on exquisite Lasithian cuisine take central stage. An example of such a festival is that of Agios Antonios on January 17, in the village of Zakros, on the eastside of the county.

Syros. The mistress of the Cyclades

Where: the island complex south of the southern Cyclades

Why: One of the most beautiful islands in the Aegean, today, Syros is the commercial, administrative and cultural center of the Cyclades, an Aegean gem that impresses visitors with elegance, nobility and cosmopolitan character. Its diversity and contrasts, combines with the harmonious coexistence of prevalent Catholic and Orthodox elements on the island, compose the island’s unique character. Near Athens and with frequent routes to the island of Piraeus, Syros is the ideal destination for a beautiful, romantic weekend.

Syros © GNTO/Cyclades prefecture

What to visit: The splendor of beauty that is Ermoupoli, the largest city and capital of the Cyclades; built amphitheatrically, with amazing neoclassical mansions and imposing temples, it was one of Greece’s most important ports in the 19th century. You can get lost in the narrow streets of Ano Syra, on the hill of the catholic church of Saint George that stands out for is medieval character and enjoy a relaxing walk on the hill of the orthodox across the way, with the church of the Resurrection as a reference point. In the lower city you will admire the unique Miaouli Square and the impressive City Hall designed by the German architect, Ernst Ziller. On the left, at the island’s archaeology museum, one can enjoy exhibits that go as far back as 3.000 B.C. Nearby, at the Apollo Theater, a miniature of La Scala, one can watch theatrical and musical performances. Approximately 12 kilometers southwest of Ermoupoli you will encounter Delagratsia or Posidonia, one of the most cosmopolitan and tourist areas of the islands, inundated with wonderful neoclassical villas that stand out for their architecture and elaborate gardens. Syros maintains a lively social life throughout the year, with beautiful bars and restaurants, where one can enjoy unforgettable moments.

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