Beyond Greece’s whitewashed villages lies a whole world of history, Natural beauty and culture that just right for exploring. Most of us will be Familiar with the stereotypical Greek island setting, with traditional stone buildings going against an azure sky. And wow this beautiful backdrop is very loved for a reason, there is a whole different side to this patient, mythical land that you might not have seen it. Here are just a few of the under the radar activities you could get up to…
Take, for example, the mountain village of Nymfaio on Mount Vernon, in West Macedonia. Not only is it recognised by UNESCO as one of the most picturesque villages in Europe for its stone houses and cobbled path’s surrounded by beech forest, it’s also the home of Arcturos environmental sanctuary. The sanctuary is working to solve the continuing problem of beer and wolf imprisonment, and ex-captive bears live in a fenced area that imitate their natural habitat. Elsewhere, there is a lake for laid-back boat rides, and in winter, the snow-covered village develops a magical air. In short, no matter when you visit, Nymfaio is like a village from a fairytale.
For another wildlife wonderland, visit the wetlands at Lake Kerkini, one of europe’s top bird watching destinations. Home to 300 species of bird, this is the place to spot protected species like the pelican and the pygmy cormorant. For a more active adventure, head out on a bike or by boat and you might just be lucky enough to spot flamingos and water buffalos.
If you’re more about myth and legend, head out on a steam train up the slopes of Mount Pelion, home of the centaurs. After a breathtaking journey you’ll find the town of Milies, filled with guesthouses and taverns.
Out of the islands, head to Melissani Cave on Kefalonia for a day of stunning natural beauty. Not only is this underground like a unique geological phenomenon on, but its beauty is such that it was an ancient place of worship dedicated to the god Pan and the nymph Melissani, who committed suicide and fell in the lake because Pam didn’t return her love. Take to the water with a guided boat tour and you see the ruins of pants sanctuary on a tiny islet.
Over on the island of Lesvos is the Petrified Forest, a unique natural monument. Here, intense volcanic eruptions millions of years ago covered a section of woodland, preserving the trees all the way from the roots to the fruit, leaves and seeds. You’ll see hundreds of standing and falling red, yellow and black conifer tree trunks, including the tallest petrified tree in Europe. A visit here is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to get an insight into 20 million years of history.
And for an island that offers leisurely walks through pine forest, olive groves and orchids and a rich tapestry of history, look no further than Alonissos. It’s home to the National Marine Park of the Sporades, the place to spot Mediterranean monks seals, rare birds and dolphins. As you can expect from such a beautiful Greek island, it’s surrounded by crystal – clear waters that are perfect for cruising. Head out on a boat trip that will take you to the neolithically inhabited stalactite cave that was home to Homer’s Cyclops and the romantically remote and deserted island of Psathoura.
If all that whet your appetite for more under the radar Greek culture, make sure you track down some utterly delicious fouskakia donuts, cheese pie and fresh local figs with honey.