This is the view that awaited me when stepping out onto the balcony of the Hilton Athens. The sun was setting over the Acropolis and the Aegean, providing a stunning view that was breath taking.
There was smoke billowing up form some unknown source giving the whole scene and even more atmospheric quality.
The Parthenon and Acropolis is one of the most well known archeological sites not just in Greece but in the World. There are actually quite a few other acropolis in the country but none have the significance of this one, which has a place on the European Culture list of monuments.
Today it is simply stunning!
Top it off with a lovely meal with Tina the even lovelier Communications Manager for Hilton Athens and it is the end of a perfect day. We heard a few sirens which were a sign not everybody was enjoying such a pleasant evening, but it did not spoil our evening which was filled talk about travel and good food.
It does not really matter how many pictures you may have seen there is nothing that can really prepare you for the first glimpse of Meteora in Greece.
Driving into the region earlier today when the first pillars with their monasteries appeared my heartbeat quickened and the excitement was almost overwhelming.
They are the most spectacular site and really looking forward to visiting them properly tomorrow, hopefully there will be an early morning mist which will only add to the other worldly appearance.
Magical, mystical and magnificent, these are all terms that can be used to describe Meteora the monastic city in the rocks.
There are twenty four monasteries in total of which seven are still active and two are psecifically for nuns. The day was quite hazy and getting an image that truly captured the splendour of this amazing location was a challenge.
It is not often that a postcard destination is repeated the next day, but on this occasion it is worthy of a doing so, ‘must visit’ destination is an oft used cliche for me Meteora is one such place.
If you are unaware of Meteora in the Thessaly Plain of Greece look it up, I promise you are in for a visual treat.
The stone pillars themselves are extraordinary enough but when the monasteries which are perched at the top are considered it almost becomes a surreal scene.
Once a series of thriving monastic communities they are mainly tourist attractions now.
It is quite difficult to imagine how they were built and how supplies were transported to them. Ropeway baskets were used to to gain access and to bring supplies to individual monasteries. This was literally a ‘matter of faith’ as the ropes would only be replaced when “the Lord deemed it necessary” in other words when they snapped!
Steps are the slightly less tiring but much safer method of entering them now.
The Pelion is a mountain in Thessaly known as the Mountain of Centaurs. It is made up of twenty four villages one of the prettiest of which is Makrinitsa. Due to its elevated position on the hillside affording glorious views of Volos and the Gulf it is known locally as the ‘Balcony of the Pelion’
Arriving late in the day the view down onto Volos and the Pagasetic Coast was spectacular, although it must be even more impressive during sunrise or sunset.
Just over a kilometre away is Portaria famed for its crystalline water and blessed with an abundance of hotels it is the perfect base for exploring this lovely mountain.
Olympia is well know as the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games and there are many reminders in the area and town. It is however an extremely interesting and beautiful place regardless of this association.
It is a site of great archelogical importance, the ‘Altis’ is located very close; a conglomeration of ancient ruins, including the Temples of Zeus and Hera, the Pelopion and of course the stadium where the first games are believed to have been held.
There is also a museum which houses many statues and artefacts from the original site, it does not take very long to walk around, but it is well worth taking the time as some of the exhibits are very impressive indeed.
Anybody looking for a little peace and tranquility would be hard pushed to find a better spot than Lake Kaiafas near Olympia. Mountains, waterfowl and serene water are just some of the attractions.
There is a pleasure boat for taking a leisurely ride around the lake simply drinking in the surroundings.
There are also natural springs and these provide all the health benefits normally associated with a soak in a natural spa. There is a covered pool for relaxing in and whilst it may not look as flash and impressive as the usual spa facilities of a big town they appear to offer a totally authentic spa experience.
If really lucky it maybe possible to spot a turtle or two sunning themselves in the shallows of the outer pools, where visitors cannot swim.
The pretty port/resort of Nafplio was until early in the last century the capital of the country.
It is a very attractive town with an old inner city near the port itself and a high walled fortification which overlooks the whole city. The majority of the old city is sited on a peninsula that protrudes into the Argolic Gulf and the small island of Bourtzi island sits just off the shore.
It is possible to take a short trip from the port to the island to visit the Venetian completed fortress and it plays a part in hosting the Summer Music Festival held in the city. The resort has plenty to attract visitors with shops, coffee houses and good restaurants and is one of the most popular destinations for the Greeks to visit.
Whilst driving from Olympia to Nafplio this small hut was spotted at the side of the road. It looks really picturesque with the mountain in the background so some further investigation was required.
It turned out to be on the edge of a large olive grove and guess it is used by growers to store tools and possibly give them somewhere to shelter when the conditions are not so pleasant.
It looked quite inviting for just sitting down to relax instead of driving and it was a bit of a wrench to get back in the car and continue the journey. It is a good job Nafplio turned out to be well worth the effort!
There seem to be plenty of such tempting stopping off points around whenever driving around Greece.
One of the lovely Saronic Islands and located in the Aegean Sea, Hydra has not always been so peaceful.
Along with neighbouring Spetses it played an extremely important role in the War of Independence. Being a centre for commerce and trade it was a wealthy region with a population larger than Athens at the time. Both islands provided much of the naval vessels that were vital in gaining liberation.
Nowadays the population is a great deal smaller even when swelled by the summer tourists, but the naval tradition continues as there is a training Academy on the island which was established in the 17th Century.
This is just one of many cannons which defended the harbour area and it is easy to imagine them roaring in unison to protect the inhabitants during attack of any sought from the sea.
Located in the Pelion, the mountain in Thessally, Makrinitsa is one of the traditional villages that make up this region and community.
The village features steep narrow streets with attractive houses lining the central square and the streets. Cars are not able to enter the main town so other forms of transport are required such as asses which have probably been used here for hundreds of years.
Many of the streets in the centre of the village were constructed also using traditional techiniques probably more than a century ago. Large flat rocks are buried into the earth on their ends so they are deeply and securely embedded, then compacted with earth all around them. This forms an extremely solid contstruction that is a sturdy today as when it was built.
These maybe a little difficult under foot for the animals but also withstand the wear and tear of their hoofprints better than modern tarmac paving ever would.
Buying and selling of local produce is an important part of the way of life in the communities of the Pelion and the narrow streets that lead to the village centre are lined with plenty of stalls offering home-made jams and locally produced honey.
Fruit and vegetables are equally popular, chestnuts, herbs, spices and red golden delicious apples which are a massive part of the harvest from this region. It is also possible to purchase a special ‘camomile’ type tea which is sold in bags and extremely popular throughout Greece.
The stalls are almost laid out market style and browsing them for either some of the local produce or crafts of the region is a great way to spend an hour. It may then be time to enjoy a meal in one of the friendly family run restaurants in the village and maybe a view of sunset over the Volos and the Pagasetic Gulf that Makrinitsa provides.
The lovely Saronic Islands lie close to the mainland of Greece within easy reach of Athens. Located in the Saronic Gulf from which they obviously take their name, there are regular ferry services to the islands from the port of Piraeus.
During my recent trip I visted Hydra which technically speaking is not one of the islands but is generally included as such and Spetses. Both have plenty to attract them with narrow winding streets, beautiful harbour areas filled with impressive ocean going yachts and small traditional fishing boats alike. There are also countless little restaurants, bars and quality hotels for those that wish to stay the night.
Cars are not allowed on these islands apart from moving between home and harbour, so transport consists of pony drawn carriages, cargo and people carrying asses, scooters, pushbikes or small tuk-tuk like vehicles.
A quick, more expensive way of getting between the islands is by sea taxi, small craft which ferry visitors around. They can cut the journey down to a neighbouring island or even the mainland to a fraction of the time of the larger ferry operators. The journey can be a little rough in adverse weather conditions but the convenience can be well worth it.
Sitting at a little coffee shop on the dockside of the pretty harbour in Hydra on the Greek Saronic Islands chilling out whilst the world did not rush by me is a great way to wait for a ferry.
The coffee is made in the traditional manner using a hot sand heater, and the coffee is ‘stirred’ through the sand thereby warming it.
Not all places offering Greek coffee make it in this manner as the heaters are relatively expensive, so if really looking for the genuine article make sure the cafe possesses one.
The harbour is a great backdrop for a photo and for just relaxing, I have deliberately kept it out of focus however as the coffee was the star this day.