Alternative tourism: Plan your Greek Odyssey

/ New Delhi
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Greece, the land of Gods and the birthplace of Greek mythology, western philosophy, historiography and Olympic Games, is also home to 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While Greece has always been an attractive tourist spot, it is gearing up to present itself as something beyond just sun and sea.

Greece is a paradise for many with its sun, sand and sparkling sea. Steeped in natural and cultural wealth, it is the root of western culture, mythology, philosophy and democracy. While millions flock to Greece for a getaway on the white sandy beaches to enjoy a resort holiday, the destination is now trying to present itself as much more than just the sun, the sea and the heritage and offer alternative tourism options to the discerning travellers.

Alternative tourism is intended to encourage visitors to interact with the environment, people and communities. The term tries to include the concepts of active tourism as well as explorer and encounter travel and even the concept of committed tourism.

Along with being an ideal destination for a sunny beachside vacation, this friendly country also offers a lot of options to explore its abundant natural beauty, its historic cultural wealth by following the footsteps of the ancients or have a gastronomical journey with a food tour, you can get to explore the country as closely as you want. One has so many choices from agritourism to fishing expeditions on a caique (a traditional wooden fishing boat), wine tasting at the small vineyards surrounding the Dodecanese islands, learning Greek recipes and much more.

“When we visited Greece, we covered Athens and Santorini mainly. We stayed near Acropolis, which I think is the best place to stay at in Athens. We went on to visit the historical places around and I must say that if you are a history buff, then Athens is the best place for you to explore Greek history. And Santorini was one of the most beautiful places, I have ever been to with its mesmerizing sun and sea,” Anurima Bhattacharjee, an ITES professional from Kolkata, tells India Outbound.

So, if you are thinking about getting to know Greece more closely, here are a few trips you can take:

When the Grecian mountains call

With nearly 80 pc of the country being mountainous, Greece is a paradise for hikers. Even the islands have got secret trails for the tourists to explore. From hiking up the famous Mount Olympus, mountain of the gods to be close to Zeus or go on to discover the less-explored peaks and gorges, one will be spoilt for choices. While northern Greece has plenty of rugged hilly terrain and trails around the Zagorohoria in the Pindos mountains and around Prespa lakes, the Louise Gorge and Mani beyond the mainland in the Peloponnese are also best for exploring on foot. Crete has got many gorges along with the famous Samaria Gorge suitable for hikers with a different skill level.

The small islands also provide you with a variety of paths like kalderimis, cobbled or flagstone paths which have connected settlements since the time of Byzantine empire; and monopatia, shepherds’ or monks’ trail, which have been linking settlements through rough unmarked trails.

Exploring beyond the beach

With the thousand miles of coastline surrounding Greece and its islands, it is no surprise that there are exciting diving and snorkelling opportunities to be found at the shores. With a magnificent sea-bed and an abundance of sea life, the emerald waters seem to be calling out to you to explore the underwater world.

Few spots to get your snorkelling fins out are Paro’s Monastiri, Xirokambos Bay on Leros, Paleokastritsa on Corfu and the coasts of Kastellorizo in Megisti. In order to protect and preserve the antiquities in the depths of Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, the Greek law states that diving be done under the supervision of diving schools and there are numerous diving schools all over, including on the islands of Corfu, Leros, Milos, Evia, Mykonos, Rhodes, Paro, Santorini, Skiathos, Crete, Glyfada near Athens and even in northern Greece in Parga and Halkidiki.

Live like a Greek

What better way to learn about a place than to immerse oneself entirely in the local culture! Rather than visiting the areas with high tourism, zero into the villages on lesser explored islands. Staying with the locals, in their homes or small B&B accommodations and boutique hotels offers the best manner to be integrated with the locals and experience their customs and culture.

Gastronomy is yet another authentic and experiential way in which to learn about a place. The Greek cuisine is rich in flavours and aromas and it is believed that the first cookbook was written by a Greek, Archestratos. Fill up your plates with moussakas, frappes and the famous Greek Salad choriatiki along with a glass of ouzo or wine. “Mussels, Kalamari and famous kababs of Greece, they are delicious and quite affordable. And also, Greece is known for its varieties of cheese and Baklava sweets which is a must have!” says Anurima.

Sitting under the shade of a tree in a tavern surrounded by the aroma of oregano, thyme, rosemary and mint, enjoy a hearty Greek meal with a variety of options for both vegetarians and non- vegetarians.

“The Mediterranean menu with the pita breads, hummus, non-veg steaks were really enjoyable. We also liked the street-foods available along the sides of the Athens square, where you can enjoy the delicious food while watching the people go about their life, is a great experience too,” Ranan Bhattacharya, senior agile coach at the oil gaint, Shell, tells India Outbound.

Cruise around the Mediterranean

A country surrounded by water and having nearly 3,000 islands, of course, demands to be enjoyed by the waterway. Sailing on a boat or yachting or cruising, there’s choice in how one can experience it. Take a sail boat or a motorised one, and you have abundant deserted beaches, which can’t be reached by land, to row away to. And if you want to add a bit of luxury, book a cabin on the state of the art Greek and foreign-owned cruise ships.

“We took a cruise to Greece from Italy where we travelled to Athens, Santorini, Mykonos and Crete. It was an all-inclusive programme where the cruise arranged all the trips on land like transport, guides and others. We would tour the places all-day and then get back to sail in the night. I would really like to visit Athens and Santorini again for their beauty,” said Ranan.

One can also avail of the all-inclusive programmes on these cruises combined with guided tours to the archaeological sites on the islands, visiting the traditional markets, and swimming across the beaches. Greece is an idyllic location for both short and long cruises with an ideal climate and available ports.

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