Natural attractions

Τhe country’s geographical fragmentation, infinitely varied terrain and temperate climate have richly endowed it in terms of scenery, ecosystems, flora and natural attractions generally.

Given the dominance of the “sun, sea and sand” theme, some of the most popular natural attractions are the endless beaches, like those of Rhodes, Corfu, Halkidiki, Crete and -more recently- Messinia. But there is probably no such thing as a typical Greek resort, so others, of the more cosmopolitan variety, have relied more on the scenery of their landscape, like Santorini, Myconos, Skopelos and Cephalonia; the allure of Zakynthos and Alonnisos strongly relies on their national parks for marine life.

The diversity of natural attractions is also true of mainland provinces, which offer some of the best and least exploited opportunities for alternative and winter sports in Europe, particularly along the breathtaking mountains of the Pindos range. Landscapes vary from the rainy and lush forests of Pilio to the stony deserts of Mani, and from the stunning lake districts of Prespes and Kerkini of Macedonia to the awesome Vikos gorge in Epirus. Besides their natural attractions, areas like Pilio and western Macedonia are also noted for their vernacular architecture.

Crete, the largest island, combines the wild beauty of its mountains and gorges with some of the most breathtaking beaches in the country. A couple of islands, like Leros and Kea, offer opportunities in diving for wartime and other shipwrecks; Greece also has several dozen of spa resorts -Aedipsos has in fact attracted the powerful and the celebrities since antiquity. For more details on Greek natural attractions and resorts, log on to

Monuments and ancient sites

Greece is best known throughout the world as the cradle of democracy and the Olympic Games, and for its classical period (5th-4th century BC) which produced a flourishing of the intellect and glorious monuments such as the Parthenon. But that period accounts for only a fraction of the historical monuments and ancient sites which the visitor can marvel at in Greece today, spanning well over four millenia of civilization.

Perhaps no other country can in fact claim as extraordinary a diversity of monuments and ancient sites, due to the numerous states and empires that grew on or vied for control of this bridgehead between East and West. The monuments and sites of the classical period postdate by several centuries those of the palatial civilizations of Crete and Mycenae, and the settlement of Akrotiri on Santorini with the wonderful frescoes.

The list of ancient monuments and ancient sites includes the legendary and the renowned, such as the Acropolis of Athens, Knossos, Olympia, Delphi, Thera and Vergina (complemented by wonderful museums), as well as the obsure, such as those of the Kavirian deities on the islands of Lemnos and Samothrace, and the engineering feat of the Eupalinian tunnel on Samos. The ancient heritage includes a strong dose of Roman influence, as exemplified in the modified classical theaters, the Odeon of Herodus Atticus in Athens and the Galerian palatial complex of Thessaloniki.

The several regional empires and invaders who succeeded the Romans all made indelible additions to the list of monuments and ancient sites. The Byzantine era accounts for the countless number of churches and monasteries (notably the complexes of Mt. Athos and Meteora), as well as forts and ghost towns like Mystra. The Franks and Venetians left a strong architectural legacy, mainly in the form of awesome fortifications on the Peloponnese and the islands (Rhodes, Heraklion, Corfu, Nafplion, Methoni and Monemvassia most prominently). The Ottoman legacy is mainly evident in several mosques and institutions, such as Kavala’s Imaret, now a hotel. For a comprehensive guide to Greek museums, monuments and ancient sites, log on to

Untapped potential

The breathtaking, wild and hugely varied landscape of the mainland and Crete, that features a wealth of rivers, gorges, waterfalls, caves and pristine forests hosting unique ecosystems, natural habitats and some of the most diverse flora and fauna in Europe, have spurred the growth of alternative activities, such as ecotourism, geotourism, trekking, bird watching, and extreme and winter sports, in the last 25 years or so, but there is still a huge untapped potential. Most non-Greeks would probably be surprised to learn that Greece has some 15 winter skiing centers, none of which is on an island.

Traditional settlements, the rich folk heritage and the abundance of historical and religious sites also leave a largely untapped potential for cultural and religious tourism.

The untapped potential extends to agritourism, culinary tourism and wine tourism, for which the country’s mild climate offers a strong competitive advantage. Greece is no longer famous for its moussaka, souvlaki, retsina and ouzo alone. Dozens of sophisticated Greek wineries have sprung across the country in recent decades, offering guided tours of their installations and samples of the hugely varied Greek cuisine.

Wine Destination Greece

In the second half of the 20th century, destination Greece came to be recognized as state-of -the-art in global tourism industry and in traveler’s conscience as well. The Greek tourism industry has come a long way since a series of films in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, like “Boy on a Dolphin”, “Never on Sunday” and Zorba the Greek” brought to Western viewers the charms and spirit of a land slowly recovering from the ravages of nearly a decade of war.

In actual fact, those were the days when there was no Greek tourism industry, in the sense of facilities catering for large numbers of foreign or domestic visitors, and accounting for a big segment of economic activity and currency earnings. Those were the days when traveling for leisure –especially abroad– was still the prerogative of the wealthy. Most people who ventured this far east to Europe’s backwater had for long been academics and students (archaeologists, anthropologists, theologians), or simply curious explorers. They would more aptly be described as travelers rather than tourists. The occasional call by a cruise ship completed the picture of a extremely different “destination Greece”, comparing it with what it is today. In effect, those were the days when Greece’s tourism industry consisted merely of traditional city hotels and a few spa resorts -with only domestic patrons and virtually only in summer.

Films shot in Greece of 1950’s and early 1960’s helped this country differentiate its traditional, predominantly classical and mystic image: A raw, stunningly scenic and unspoiled land with friendly and exuberant people waited to be discovered. A near-barren landscape baked bronze by the sun, white-painted houses, tiny domed churches, windmills and golden beaches along the intricate lace of its coastline –all against the background of the breathtaking blue of the Aegean Sea. Sun, sea and sand became Greece’s three new pillars as the post-war economic boom in the West fueled mass tourism. Destination Greece was born.

Since then, tourism, along with shipping, is one of Greece’s two main industries and can claim to have largely changed the country’s face. Well-known Myconos, once a place of proverbial poverty but now the idealized version of a Greek island and one of the indisputable benchmarks of destination Greece, has the country’s highest income per capita. Sun, sea and sand remain the Greek tourism industry’s most potent weapons and the country as a destination is still predominantly identified with its islands –once common places of exile for political dissidents since Roman times! Three Greek island destinations, Corfu, Spetses and Hydra –where “Boy on a Dolphin” was filmed in 1957– recently figured in a Vanity Fair list of the 46 preppiest places to have a summer home worldwide. But the islands comprise only a fraction of the country’s total area, and the predominance of the core “sun, sea and sand” theme, along with the ever-present appeal of classical antiquities, has largely obscured Greece’s many other extraordinary attractions.