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A city of legend, civilisation and enduring culture, Athens is a majestic and magical urban sprawl. Extraordinary elegance and grace combine with grit and graft in Greece’s capital, where highways encase ruins from antiquity, and gleaming museums and galleries stand beside concrete sprayed with edgy street art. These contrasts enhance and elevate the wonders of this 2,500-year-old city, however, which can count notable contributions to philosophy, drama and democracy, among its global legacy. Piraeus’ giant port and naval base welcome you to the edge of the Athens’ urban area.
From there it’s a simple jaunt to the centre. The majestic ancient citadel of the Acropolis dominates an elevated platform and is a constant presence as you explore the city. The wonderful remains of the columned temple of the Parthenon – which date back to the 5th century BC – stand here, representing the pinnacle of classical architecture. The nearby Acropolis Museum adds context to your visit and frames the broad views from its giant glass windows. Or rise up Mount Lycabettus, to be rewarded with perhaps Athens’ best panorama of the Acropolis sitting high over the city on its grand stage. See the marble horseshoe of the Old Olympic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, for more of the city’s enduring legacy. Elsewhere, golden beaches and temples stretch out along the coastline, should you wish to explore a little further afield. Coffee is an art form to the Greeks, and it’s an unwritten rule that coffee time must never be rushed. So prepare to settle down for a couple of hours and lose yourself in a good chat. Feeling hungry – try traditional souvlaki made with sauces handed from generation to generation.
Of all the Cyclades Islands, Santorini is often considered the most dramatic. Once an active volcano, in approximately 1620 BC, the volcano erupted with such force that the center of the island literally exploded, leaving a submerged crater. The island’s small villages were preserved in the ashes giving a fascinating view of everyday life from 3,600 years ago.
Santorini’s landscape offsets its simple buildings, which shine in the brilliant sunlight. The rich volcanic soil is ideal for grapes and the local vines produce a crop known for its “special volcanic taste.”
Enter Souda Bay to land on Greece’s largest island, and explore the sun-soaked charms of this fascinating land of legends, landscapes and luxuries. Packed with beautiful beaches and rich maritime history, Souda Bay’s huge natural harbour is a spectacular entrance, opening up the treasures of Crete’s many well-stocked museums, rich archaeological sites, and charming Venetian fishing towns. View less
The massive natural harbour of Souda Bay also makes the site an interesting spot for military history – with a huge NATO base here, as well as the Souda Bay War Cemetery, which honours Allied soldiers of World War II. Soak up some Mediterranean sunshine by heading straight to one of the luxurious white sand beaches – where you can recline to a soundtrack of fizzing waves, and dine with sparkling sea views stretching out before you. Explore olive groves producing golden oil, and savour the deep, fruity flavours. The island’s renowned wineries, also invite you to sample lovingly-crafted Vilana grape wines. Rethymnon’s old town and star-shaped, seafront fortress are impressive sites to explore, or you can head to Akrotiri to discover the Arkadi Monastery’s role in the Cretan resistance – and visit the site where the Greek flag was hoisted high into the sky by rebels in 1897. Crete retains its independent spirit but has gathered countless influences over its history. The island’s most beautiful Venetian port – Chania – is close by, and its picturesque old town and collage of historical influences are a highlight of any trip.
The former capital of Greece is a popular town on the eastern coast of the Peloponnese. Stately, medieval architecture recalls its Venetian occupation in the 15th century. The most dominant structure from this time is the crenellated Palamidi Fortress towering high above the town.
The lively port and resort town spreads around a scenic harbor. Its center is crisscrossed by narrow streets, which are best negotiated on foot. Several monuments remain from the towns’ Turkish past, including a mosque and the parliament building. Relics from ancient sites are on display in the Archaeological Museum. Those who are interested in handicrafts and traditional costumes may enjoy a visit to the Folk Art Museum.
Enjoy exploring along the waterfront and around the main square of the Old Town. Open-air cafés and restaurants invite you for a break to enjoy a light snack or a seafood lunch while taking in the local atmosphere.
Loggerhead turtles patrol the clear, calm waters of Cephalonia island, which rises majestically out of the Ionian’s emerald green haze. A place of simple, fundamental pleasures, discover this island where lazy waves lap against long, sweeping expanses of silky sand, and contented laughter echoes above tables groaning with platefuls of fresh seafood and generously splashed wine. It’s not always been this peaceful, however. View less
Having survived German and Italian occupations – and the bloodshed of the Greek Civil war – Cephalonia was finally overcome by a devastating earthquake in 1953, which razed practically every structure during a hellish half-minute of destruction. Nowadays, Cephalonia is a heavenly mirage of idyllic beaches, all overlooked by the huge rise of Mount Aenos – a black-pine coated mountain where wild ponies roam freely. Wander the shorefront of Argostoli – along the bustling harbour – and keep an eye out for fishermen lobbing their rejected haul back into the waves. Chances are this daily ritual will summon the loggerhead turtles who cruise these waters and gather to enjoy the free feast. Tuck into a feast of your own in Argostoli’s central Vallianos Square, where mandolins and guitars interplay, and locals wine and dine in shaded bars. Spectacular – if a little hair-raising – roads lace the island, and you can venture out to Vouti Beach to discover crystal-clear waters shifting in hue through the full ombre of blues. Take a long, undisturbed swim in the warm waters, surrounded by flashing fish life and huge, loosely scattered rocks. A refreshing tossed Greek salad awaits on the shore. Fiskardo, meanwhile, is one of the island’s prettiest harbours, where a hubbub of colourful fishing boats are moored within touching distance of tavernas, serving up deliciously grilled sea bream and anchovies.
This sickle-shaped island of Mediterranean bliss flaunts its sun-kissed sophistication with effortless grace – having cherry-picked the best influences from Venetian, French and British occupiers. With over 3,000 years of history, The Grand Lady of the Ionian has played a starring role in Greek history and mythology, and legendary tales swirl around you, as you explore sparkling beaches, mountains splashed with wildflowers, and historical, perched fortresses.
The soft hues of Corfu’s UNESCO World Heritage List Old Town brings together Corfu’s mesh of European influences, with its romantic stone floors and vine-clad cafes. Find somewhere to settle in for a morning coffee ritual like a true Corfiat, and sip at the laid-back pace of the locals – allowing the thick bitter concoction to settle before indulging. The oddly out-of-place sound of leather on willow can be heard in Spianada Square – the largest city square in the Balkan region – where a manicured cricket pitch spreads out incongruously below the Mediterranean sun. Take the hike up to the 13th-century Paleokastritsa Monastery, where you’ll be escorted by the resident goats, and have to step over cats contentedly rolling around your feet on arrival. This beautiful, daffodil-yellow building is splashed with a fresco of vivid purple fuchsias, and a crowning triad of bells. Inside, explore gold-framed frescoes, and watch as monks squeeze oil from the monastery’s trees’ bounty. Wander out among the groves to views of Corfu’s never-ending sea reaching out to the horison below you. Corfu’s sweeping sand beaches and hidden coves display the full spectrum of vivid Mediterranean seaside colours – which shift from turquoise greens to cobalt blues. The famous Canal d’Amour is a gorgeous inlet, and island legend says couples who swim together in this narrow channel of water stay together forever. Enjoy an afternoon sit-down and drink of ginger tea, or something a little stronger in the form of Corfu’s famous, radiant orange, kumquat liqueur.
Embedded into the slopes of the steep Lovćen mountain, and overlooking the deep blue Adriatic, the fortified town of Kotor boasts a spectacular, imposing staging that few can match. Squeezing in through the tight Bay of Kotor is a daunting and impressive approach in itself, as you arrive via the waterway of Europe’s most southerly fjord. A pearl of Montenegro and the Adriatic, Kotor’s warren-like streets drip with history and authenticity. View less
Under Venetian influence for four centuries, the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site old town invites you to wander amid atmospheric stone-clad streets, overlooked by a sea of terracotta roofs and the double towers of the cathedral. Protected by thick stone walls – and the mountains behind – Kotor draws comparisons with another fortified Adriatic wonder in Dubrovnik. Many favour Kotor for its compact layout, smaller crowds, and authenticity, however – having been spared from shelling during Yugoslavia’s breakup. The tightknit streets here are patrolled by a slinking population of feline residents, who were adopted as the town’s mascots, after being left behind by transient trader ships. Learn of the city’s extensive heritage on the waves, in the dedicated maritime museum that is contained within Grgurina Palace. Pick your way through tight alleys of workshops and studios, walking below fresh laundry strung from windows, before settling into shiny, paved piazzas for an afternoon coffee or seafood meal. If you’re up for an aerobic challenge, tackle the 1,350 steps up the steep walls to St John’s fortress. The views over the gorgeous bay make the arduous slog worth it, as you rise past the city’s eye-catching 15th-century church bell tower.
Bari, capital of the province of Apulia, lies on southern Italy’s Adriatic coast. Its busy port is a leading commercial and industrial centre as well as a transit point for travellers catching ferries across the Adriatic to Greece.
Bari comprises a new and an old town. To the north, on a promontory between the old and new harbours, lies the picturesque old town, or Citta Vecchia, with a maze of narrow, crooked streets. To the south is the spacious and regularly planned new town, which has developed considerably since 1930, when the Levant Fair was first held here.
The heart of the modern town is Piazza della Liberta. The busy thoroughfare, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, separates the new town from the old. At the eastern end of the Corso begins the Lungomare Nazario Sauro, a magnificent seafront promenade that runs along the old harbour.
Bari and the Apulian region were long recognized for their strategic location, attracting a succession of colonizers such as the Normans, Moors and Spaniards, each leaving their mark. Romanesque churches and powerful castles built by 13th-century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Swabia are among the most impressive buildings in the region. Bari’s Basilica of San Nicola became famous as the final resting place of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus). According to local tradition, sailors from Bari went to Myra in Turkey, stole the saint’s remains and brought them back to Bari. St. Nicholas was the popular bishop of Myra, who was revered as the patron of sailors, virgins and children.
In addition to unspoiled scenery and historical sites, Apulia is also known for its hearty cuisine that has evolved from more than 2,000 years of foreign influences. While not as famous as other areas in Italy, Bari and its surrounding region hold many surprise attractions that make it well worth exploring this ancient land and its capital at the heel of Italy’s boot.
Croatia’s crowning glory rears up vertically from the tranquil waters of the Adriatic, and Dubrovnik’s daunting fortresses town is a truly imposing sight to behold. Encircled by chunky stone walls so thick and dramatic they could have been purpose-built as a film set, this city’s unmatched old town is the setting for countless films and shows – from Star Wars to Robin Hood, Game of Thrones and every production in-between seeking a truly authentic medieval flavour.
This fantasy fortress’s walls – which are no less than 12-metres thick at places – are certainly not just for show, however. They kept Dubrovnik safe when it was a maritime republic and they were besieged as recently as 1991, when Serbian and Montenegrin forces attacked, as Yugoslavia broke apart. Fully restored now, the stone streets of the city take you through a beautiful mosaic of architectural splendour, baroque churches and splashing fountains. Tapering alleys rocket up from the central boulevard of Stradun, offering spectacular views down, but you’ll need to walk the city walls to appreciate the fortress city’s full scale. Banking up sharply to the rear, you can gaze across an ocean of terracotta roofs and church spires, clamouring together before the sparkling Adriatic. Visit the neighbouring fort of Lovrijenac, for another perspective, or swing up to Srd fortress’s glorious panorama on a cable car. Dubrovnik’s streets are crammed with eateries and candlelit tables, where couples splash wine into glasses and enjoy gnocchi mixed with creamy truffle sauces. Nearby beaches like Banje are also close by, and hidden bays reward the intrepid who venture out beyond the old town. Take sunset drinks to sit back and watch as flotillas of sea kayaks roll by, or sail on the pristine waters to explore island gems like Lokrum – where peacocks are the only permanent residents.
Split is a busy port with numerous ferries operating to and from nearby islands. It is also a popular resort with beaches, pleasant promenades and good hotels. Venetian Gothic and Renaissance houses and several medieval churches add architectural interest. As a major cultural center, Split does not lack in museums and art galleries. However, the city’s principal attraction is Diocletian’s Palace. It occupies an area of 34,680 square yards and was constructed to serve as a residence and a fortified military camp. By the Middle Ages, the palace had been enclosed within a strong wall with square corner towers, enclosing a town with narrow house-lined alleys. As the city grew, people gradually moved outside the walls and the city center shifted westward.
The first documented mention of Rovinj was in the 5th century. However, it is very likely that Rovinj is much older, emerging somewhere at the turn of the 3rd and the 4th centuries. During this period, Istria was occupied by the Romans who stayed there until 476. Later came the Ostrogoths, Franks and the Venetians. During the Venetian times, Rovinj was developing into a strong fishing, shipbuilding and maritime center, especially in the 17th and 18th century when they had the precedence over Istria. At the time that the town walls were secured, the town started to expand to the mainland and in 1763 the channel between the mainland and the island was covered up and Rovinj became a peninsula.
In 1797 the Venetian republic lost its power and for a short time and Istria fell under Austrian and then under Napoleon’s rule.
In 1813, Rovinj became part of the Austor-Hungarian Empire and a period of industrial and urban development started.
Rovinj fell to fascist Italy until the end of World War II and in the second half of the 20th century was a part of Yugoslavia, as was all of Croatia, until 1991.
In the past 40 years Rovinj has developed from a fishing village into a real tourist center thanks to its picturesque surroundings, its pleasant Mediterranean climate and its cultural-historical values.
Losing none of its allure over the years, this floating city of canals, bridges and masks is a place of eternal beauty and enduring elegance. The lagoon of more than 100 islands is a heavenly sight, transporting visitors on a journey through time – from its Roman inception, through centuries of trade to the modern face we see today. Navigate Venice’s sparkling waterways by romantic gondola, or on cruises along wide canal boulevards. View less
Span the Grand Canal over its iconic original crossing, the Rialto Bridge, which – with its parade of tiny shops – gives some of the city’s most endearing views. If the crowds unsettle you at any point, take two turns away from the main thoroughfares to find peace alone, amid the city’s labyrinth of tiny streets. Hurry to Piazza San Marco to be immersed in Venice’s elegant glory. Basilica San Marco transports you back to the wealthy days of the Doges, who ruled for over 1,000 years. Initially their private chapel, it’s now decorated with beautiful Byzantine mosaics. Nearby the Campanile di San Marco bell tower offers views over the higgledy-piggledy rooftops of times gone by. Just a hop skip and a jump around the corner is the Doge’s Palace, where the levels of opulence ramp up even further. Justice was meted out in this stunning Palace, with the guilty walking to the cells across the covered Bridge of Sighs. Vaporetto trips to local islands offer even more adventures to float your boat, whether it’s Murano with its world-famous glass, Torcello with its amazing Cathedrals, or Burano with its handmade lace and delightfully colourful painted houses.
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