Combine business with a family vacation in the magical Greek isles.
BY EUGENIA LAZARIS
GREEK ISLES The waters surrounding Greece offer a treasure trove of islands filled with natural beauty, cultural significance and a special blend of adventure and relaxation. Whether in Greece for business on the mainland or attending an event on a distant island, there are plenty of ways to experience the Greek Islands. For those based in Athens on business, several nearby islands make daytrips convenient so everyone can reunite in the evening to enjoy the spectacular Athenian nightlife. When a few days away are possible, more distant islands offer the relaxation and abandonment for which island life is known, melting away stress and making the rest of the world seem like a distant memory. For those based in other cities like Thessaloniki, the islands prove equally accessible thanks to the country’s well-organized transportation systems. Airlines and a network of ferry routes make visiting one island — or several — possible, letting visitors experience everything from the whitewashed buildings of the Cycladic islands like Mykonos and Santoríni to the verdant landscapes of the Ionian and Dodecanese islands. The Saronic Gulf Islands, those closest to the port of Athens, provide the ideal way to experience the islands when your itinerary can only accommodate a day or overnight trip. Surrounded by waters in every shade of blue and accented with picturesque villages dotting mountainous landscapes, they teem with things to see and do and shouldn’t be missed. Consider a quick getaway to Aegina, one of the largest of the Saronic Islands. The island offers everything one would expect from a Greek island: beautiful beaches, delectable local cuisine and plenty of fun and culture. You can opt to stay in the port (Aegina Town) for the day to explore many shops and eat at numerous waterfront tavernas. You can also go for a swim in the calm and peaceful waters of the gulf at one of the nearby beaches, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the narrow lanes lined with beautiful architecture showcasing Byzantine churches and 19th-century Neoclassical buildings. The island also plays host to many prominent cultural and historic sites. It is possible to drive the entire island to see many of the best attractions within the course of a single day. Popular sites include the ancient ruins of the Temple of Aphaia in the center of the island; the Venetian Tower of Markellos in Aegina Town; and the Temple of Apollo at the prehistoric site of Kolona, just north of the port town. Not known only for its archaeological sites, Aegina’s claim to fame includes its vast groves of pistachio trees that give the landscape distinct appeal. Almost every shop and restaurant around the island features the tasty little nuts. The locals take their pistachios seriously. Tavernas, famous for incredible local seafood, incorporate this local treat into a variety of dishes such as pistachio paté, honey and pistachio preserves (the perfect accompaniment to a cup of Greek coffee) and roast lamb with a pistachio crust. When you’ve got a few days to get away, the Cycladic island of Paros makes a great choice, as it can be reached either by ferry or plane. While you can travel the circumference of this family-friendly island in just a few hours by car, its abundance of activities and places to explore can entertain you for a weekend or longer. The whitewashed buildings with blue trim, strong ocean breeze and the occasional windmill dotting the rugged landscape create an ambience that comprises the quintessential Cycladic island experience. Cobblestone streets line the maze-like towns of Parikia, the port town, and Naoussa, a fishing village on the northern coast of the island with a storied pirate history. Exploring them leads to hidden treasures like shops selling handicrafts and jewelry from local artisans and eateries and cafés serving delicious and refreshing local treats. Parikia’s highlights include the fourth-century Byzantine Church of 100 Doors, known as the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, and the ruins of a Frankish castle. Naoussa, built around the remnants of a 15th-century Venetian fortress, remains active as a working fishing port. Look for its ideal photo ops such as the ubiquitous octopus hanging to dry outside the many tavernas and bars that line the port. Outside of Naoussa, Moraitis Winery occupies a picturesque stone building well worth a visit. Perfect for the adults in the family, the tasting room offers a glimpse into the winemaking history of the island and features a delicious menu of Greek dishes to pair beautifully with the locally made wines. Outdoors enthusiasts will enjoy the island’s great hiking trails suited for a range of skill levels, but nothing compares to the beaches of Paros, which beckon visitors to their breezy shores. Some of the most notable for swimming — and the most popular — are Kolymbithres to the north near Naoussa and Santa Maria Beach on the northeastern tip of the island. The beaches on the island’s eastern shore, which shares a shipping corridor with nearby Naxos island, get extremely windy, making spots like Golden Beach ideal for windsurfing or kitesurfing. While most of the Greek islands make perfect getaways for friends and family of those visiting the mainland for business, some travelers arrive on the big island of Crete for both business and pleasure. As the largest of all the islands, Crete, once an independent state, offers plenty of ways for families to unwind without straying too far from their loved ones. Aside from the obligatory beautiful beaches with crystal-clear waters, endless sun and exciting water sports, Crete proves the perfect way to introduce the family to Greek history and culture. Key sites and attractions are often outdoors, a plus for those who enjoy the sun and fresh air. Considered the seat of the ancient Minoan culture, the island boasts many ancient ruins, including one of the most significant archaeological sites in all of Greece, the Palace of Knossos, near the capital city of Heraklion. Known as the oldest Bronze Age archaeological site in all of Europe, the beautifully preserved ruins offer a perfect opportunity to teach kids about ancient civilizations. The island’s diverse natural landscape begs to be explored, with multiple gorges (Imbros Gorge and Kourtaliotiko Gorge feature great hikes); thousands of caves (the most famous being Dikteon Cave, which Greek mythology credits as the birthplace of the god Zeus); and peaceful Lake Kournas, where local wildlife roams. With more than 200 inhabited islands to explore, you can’t go wrong when planning a getaway. Each island offers something unique, and with Greece’s well-organized transportation system, they all lie within reach for the family whether you are busy with work for the day or able to sneak off for a dream Greek island vacation.