Having evolved over thousands of years, Greece contains arguably the most significant history and philosophy in Europe and is essential to understanding the rich modern culture that it has evolved in to.It can easily seduce history enthusiasts, who will be intrigued by the beguiling mythical history behind Greece’s ancient ruins and Greek philosophy.Combine this with the country’s fantastic seascapes and coastal lines, world-famous food and friendly, talkative, warm hearted locals and you have yourself a truly inviting destination. Food, religious practices and traditions are all an integral part of the culture in Greece.
Having been highlighted in the media in recent times firstly for the influx of refugees, according to recent government figures some 62,434 are stranded across Greece and secondly for its debt crisis which in turn has led to high unemployment with 23.5% of people being out of work (48% of under 25’s are affected) some may be surprised at our desire to visit.
I have been coming to Greece on and off for short one or two week holidays for over 20 years, visiting a variety of Islands, including Crete, Zante, Kos, Rhodes and Symi. I met one of my best friends on the Greek Island of Corfu around 24 years ago and even met my ex-husband whilst holidaying here which led to us honeymooning at Parga and Lefkada . So my love of Greece started many years ago and continued when Paul and I spent time exploring several more Greek islands over a number of years. Not one part of it has ever disappointed me, along with stunning beaches, azure waters, lush greenery and history in abundance; it’s the Greek people that make this place extra special. Their natural hospitableness and friendly nature just shines through as they throw a sunny smile your way or a jolly Kalimera. As you can probably appreciate this place was always high on our list of places to visit on our European adventure and so our loose plan is to work our way from the central mainland to the Peloponnese and then up the east coast in the general direction of Bulgaria. Having been here now for almost a week, we are already feeling like it’s going to be hard to leave.
Having made our way to Italy from Barcelona by ferry, two weeks later we hopped on another ferry from Ancona Italy to Igoumenitsa on the central Greek mainland. The 2nd leg of our trip gave us the option to book “Camping on Board” the boat which allows you to spend the night inside your motorhome on board the ship. A unique experience and one we would highly recommend. With all our creature comforts at our finger tips and electrical hook up provided, although we could access the decks and boats facilities we really didn’t need to. We would have been refreshed from a good night’s sleep had I have not got the timings wrong and got us up at 3.30am thinking we docked an hour later, only to find out that we actually didn’t dock until 8.30am! Although as soon as we realised our mistake we quickly retreated back to our bed, sleep didn’t come instantly and we were left feeling somewhat jaded!
Greece bound – camping on board the Anek lines ferry
We’d arranged to meet up with fellow motorhomers Karen and Myles Davis (you can read their blog at www.motoroaming.com) and discuss routes and plans to spend a few weeks travelling some of Greece together (a first for both of us).
Our 1st Ouzo in Greece
In less than a week we have already experienced some jaw dropping scenery. Our journey taking us along the west coast of the central mainland to the pretty coastal village of Parga which is sandwiched between mountains and a sweeping bay. This really is one of those seaside destinations you see on a postcard, where small boats bob in the harbour which is lined by traditional Greek tavernas and overlooked by an array of colourful houses which cling to the hillside.
We longed after somewhere a little less touristy though and found it in Ammoundia just 9kms southeast of Parga which became our beauty spot for our first night (GPS 39.236269 20.479371). With the mouth of the Acheron River on one side and the Ionian Sea on the other this small fishing village offered us a perfect peaceful spot for our first night together with our first stunning Greek sunset.
Ammoundia Our 1st Greek sunset
Our sights were set though on the island of Lefkada (also called Lefkas) which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Corinthians cut a canal through the sandbanks connecting it to the mainland in 600BC, but Lefkada still (just) qualifies as an island. With 117km’s of coastline we were almost guaranteed to experience some top beachside loco’s. We drove the at times challenging circumference passing through hilltop villages and down single track roads in order to find some near on perfect spots. The island didn’t disappoint, with traditional fishing villages and azure seas backed by lush green mountains this little paradise was virtually all ours.
With the Peloponnese calling though we headed south, finding a perfect spot in sight of the bridge (GPS 38.351708 21.628325) to Patras. With the winds at gale force though our plans to take the Peloponnese east to west were reversed with us all preferring to opt for the less windy west coast first in anticipation of it warming up somewhat before we head east. The bridge across the Gulf of Corinth is one of the world’s longest multi span cable stayed bridges and is almost 3km long. What a feat of engineering. The toll charge of £13.20 feels a little steep but I suppose it goes some way to covering the 630 million euros it took to build.
A new motorway (parts of which are still under construction) carried us quickly down the east coast, but a sat nav malfunction meant we missed our original planned overnight stop at Valimitka and detoured further along to Diakopto. As we approached a possible overnight wild camping spot on the edge of a pebbly beach we realised that both a Dutch and a German motorhomes that had just pulled on beforehand had quickly sunk down into the deep pebbles. Feeling like our detour meant we were in this place for a reason and not wanting to leave without at least first seeing if we could help, our good deed for the day was completed when we attached a tow rope to Myles & Karen’s van and managed to drag them both out. We quickly realised with that with the winds still gusting the beach wasn’t a good option for a peaceful night’s sleep so retreated into the town for shelter. With the inclement weather not set to pass for a couple of days, we gathered our various guide books and combined info and stumbled across the main reason most visitors come to Diakopto which is the Diakopto to Kalavryta railway. The single track runs 22km’s through the amazing Vouraikos gorge. This has got to be one of the unmissable journeys to make in the Peloponnese. The scenic ride takes you directly through the gorge, clinging to a narrow ledge above the rushing rapids below. To reach Kalavryta the train climbs over 700 metres, using a rack and pinion (cog) system for traction. The pretty mountain village of Kalavryta which is surrounded at this time of year by lush green snow-capped hills has a sad history having suffered a massacre in 1943 where more than 500 died when Germans entered the village and locked all the women and children in the school and set it alight whilst executing the males elsewhere in the village. A small museum details this horrific event and offers a fitting tribute by remembering each one of those that were unfortunate not to survive.
The not to be missing train ride over the Vouraikos gorge
The sad truth of war – the museum remembers
With the weather set to be kinder to us from Sunday onwards our intention is to get to a beach and drop anchor for a few days before we wear ourselves out.
Things we have learnt or been reminded of in our first week in Greece
- The coast, mountains & villages could rival almost anywhere in the world with their outstanding beauty
- The Greek people are so warm hearted and friendly it instantly restores faith in humankind
- The Greeks know how to cook fresh ingredients well, producing outstanding cuisine from recipes that haven’t changed in generations
- The roads are in need of some serious TLC and tolls are expensive
- They have their own alphabet which makes reading the language difficult, but with the help of our best friend google translate we are learning a new phrase every day to help us on our way.
- Beer in supermarkets is expensive and we are yet to find good Greek wine (any suggestions welcome), although Ouzo is available everywhere and has quickly become a firm favourite
Boris enjoys a visit from a herd of goats
More Greek adventures coming soon
Andi & Paul x