Located in Southern Europe and situated on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula, mainland Greece and the Greek Isles encompass an area of 131,940 square kilometers, which is comparable to the size of Alabama. A Greece cruise includes exploration of the country’s nearly 15,000 kilometers of unbelievable coastline. It is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe, with approximately three-fourths of the country being hilly and mountainous, with ranges extending into the sea as peninsulas or chains of islands.
Often called the cradle of western civilization, Greece’s rich, mixed culture has evolved over thousands of years and has influenced people throughout the world, especially in Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Greeks have contributed greatly to philosophy, astronomy, science, and the arts. It was also the birthplace of the legendary Olympic games. Travel to Greece and you will find that there is hardly another place in the world that evokes such a sense for cultural romance.
Sparkling azure seas, miles of sandy beaches, ancient olive groves, sleepy villages of tumbling white washed houses and endless sunshine – these images are synonymous with mainland Greece and her 6,000 islands. Alone they would be reason enough to make it an ideal destination for escape and exploration but these attractions are only part of the picture. Greece is a nation steeped in history, ancient culture, myth and legend. Everywhere one finds evidence of the many cultures and nations which have ruled and inhabited these lands, beginning with Neolithic man and progressing through Roman, Venetian and Ottoman periods among others.
This colourful and varied history, influenced by so many different cultures, has left each island a little world unto itself - each has its own legends, traditions and something which marks it as unique.
Greece cruise itineraries vary widely, although many of the more popular ones focus on a specific group of islands such as the Cyclades. This large, central Aegean island group is typified by quintessentially Greek villages and towns with low, white washed and flat roofed houses. Ports of call can be numerous but may include the cosmopolitan and vibrant Mykonos, the haunt of celebrities, interwoven with tiny alleys and, according to Greek mythology, the site of the battle between Zeus and the Titans. Stops on a Greece cruise at Mykonos usually include its tiny neighbour – Delos. This uninhabited island is home to an archaeological site of enormous historical significance. Ancient market squares, temples and ceremonial avenues of great carved lions are just the tip of the iceberg.
Also lying within the Cyclades group is Santorini, formed when an ancient volcano exploded in the Late Bronze Age, creating what is believed to be one of the largest eruptions ever to occur on earth. Whitewashed villages give the appearance of being impossibly perched on cliff edges and the rich volcanic soil means Santorini is renowned for many crop specialities, particularly a species of extra sweet cherry tomato.
Kynthos, which boasts more than 70 beaches, is another popular port of call for Greece cruises. Many of the tiny winding streets are unable to take vehicles so locals on donkeys are a common sight. Low key is the island's theme and centuries old traditions linger on. The Katafiki cave here is one of Greece's largest and the island is also home to natural thermal springs with healing properties.
Folegandros, with its towering cliffs, large cave and architectural and cultural influences coloured by a history of Athenian, Venetian and Ottoman occupation, is another typical Greece port of call.
The Dodecanese islands, which lie between Crete and Turkey, are another group which often feature on cruise itineraries. For many, the island of Patmos within this group is an essential stop because of its spiritual significance. Patmos is mentioned in the bible through the visions of St John the Theologian, an island inhabitant. The site of these visions was reportedly the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St John, founded in 1088, is a famous island landmark. Both sites, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are popular with tourists and Christian pilgrims alike.
The Saronic islands, which are among the closest lying to the Greek capital, Athens, are popular ports of call for both cruise ships and day tripping island hopping. Pretty little Aegina produces cotton, almonds, olives and figs but is most famous for its pistachios. Sited here is the Temple of Aphaea which dates from 500 BC and is a romantically ruined, columned structure. The Saronic island of Hydra on the other hand, has only one town, which is also its port, but is a bustling mix of shops, open air restaurants and cafes, markets and galleries.
Greece cruise itineraries will often begin or end with a visit to the hugely significant historical and cultural city of Athens accessed via Piraeus. It is almost impossible to wander around Greek's capital city without stumbling across some evidence of its ancient culture and colourful history which dates back more than 3,000 years. As the central seat of Greece's ancient and classical culture for arts, philosophy and learning, it would be impossible to list all that there is to see and do in Athens and equally impossible to visit it all. The most famous of all Greece's ancient landmarks is the Parthenon while other notable tourist destinations are the National Archaeological Museum which houses the largest collection of Greek antiquities in the world, the Agora market, the stone theatre known as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Stoa of Attalos which are ruins of an ancient covered portico.
A Greece vacation typically combines a mix of beaches, culture and history and, depending on the cruise length, may visit one, two or even more island groups along with certain mainland ports.
Greece has a very long and incredibly rich history – during a tour of Greece there are plenty of opportunities to witness the remnants of this historic region. The first proof of human existance in Greece came with the discovery of Petralona Archanthropus’ Skull – a skull dating back to approximentally 70,000 years ago. The earliest civilization to inhabit the region was the Minoan civilization. They occupied the land from about 2600 BC to 1450 BC. Minoans were eventually invaded by the Mycenaeans from mainland Greece.
The Myceneans led Greece into the Bronze Age period. Then, around 1100 BC the Mycenaean civilization collapsed. Numerous cities were sacked and the region entered into the Dark Age.
The Greek Dark Age lasted from around 1200 BC–800 BC. Archaeology shows a collapse of civilization in Greece within this period, determining that the area experienced a decline in population and literacy.
The first Greeks arrived in Europe some time before 1500 BC, but really there are no fixed or universally agreed dates for the beginning or the end of the Ancient Greek period. But typically this era refers to all Greek history before the Roman Empire. At its peak, Greek Civilization ruled everything from Greece to Egypt to the Hindu Kush mountains.
Ancient Greece is considered by most historians to be the cultural foundation of Western Civilization. Greeks were highly influential on the Romans. Ancient Greek civilization has been immensely influential on language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, art and architecture. Ancient Greek also hosted the first Olympic Games in 776 BC.
The Hellenistic period of Greek history begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the annexation of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome in 146 BC.
The Romans dominated Greece for several centuries (187 BC-AD 395), and then Greece entered into its Medieval Byzantine phase. It should be noted that the term "Byzantine" is a contemporary one established by historians. People used to call the Empire from the 10th century on, the Greek Empire as well as Romeo-Greek.
Greece then fell to Ottoman Rule and from there, modern Greece was born. The Ottomans ruled Greece until the early 19th century. Starting in about 1200, western Europeans governed parts of Greece until the Turks took over in 1453. The Turks ruled until Greeks gained their independence in 1829.
Often called the cradle of western civilization, visitors to Greece will enjoy the country’s rich, mixed culture that has evolved over thousands of years and has influenced people throughout the world, especially in Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Greeks have contributed greatly to philosophy, astronomy, science, and the arts. There is hardly another place in the world that evokes such a sense for cultural romance.
Greek is the official language and ethnicity of the country. As for religion, about 98% of the population is Greek Orthodox, which is largely due to the importance of Byzantium in Greek history. The churches role in society is an important one, and a majority of Greeks attend a church service monthly.
Historic sites span an unbelievable four millennia. During a Greece cruise visit some of the many museums that exhibit meaningful ancient art. In Ancient Greece, it was common for painters to work on wooden panels and to sculpt statues of marble or bronze, many of which can be observed in these museums. Ancient architecture continues to stand tall throughout the country as well, especially at The Parthenon. The Parthenon exists as a lasting symbol of Greek culture, it is known as the temple of Athena, and is located in Athens. It is the best-known remaining building of ancient Greece. Today, Greek talents continue to create a vibrant contemporary culture of arts, crafts, music, dance, imagination and style.
The country boasts a legendary nightlife. From casinos and nightclubs to theatre and dance, Greece has it all. It is common for people to relax in taverns and bars. A cruise to Greece offers the chance to enjoy local theater performances. In Athens, people attend theater under the stars – at the same location where people have enjoyed plays under the sky for thousands of years.
Greece is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe, with approximately three fourths of the country being hilly and mountainous, with ranges extending into the sea as peninsulas or island chains. The rugged Pindus range in western Greece is the country's mountain backbone. The famous Mount Olympus, in northern Greece, is the country's tallest mountain. A Greece tour also offers large forested regions to explore; nearly 30% of the country is covered with forests.
In western Greece visitors will find numerous wetlands and lakes. Four main, short rivers cross through the country. No part of Greece is more than about forty miles from the sea. Greece’s coastline is broken up by thousands of inlets and bays that run deep into the mainland. Almost one fifth of Greece’s total land area is made up of islands. The region is home to many golden beaches and a tour of Greece should include at least one evening on the shoreline observing an idyllic sunset.
Plant life in Greece is very rich with many different species. Most popular species include, evergreen oak, cypress, and pine and shrubs such as juniper, myrtle, and oleander. The northern mountains have forests of deciduous trees such as oak, chestnut, ash, and beech, with fir and pine on the upper slopes.
There are some areas of rich and fertile land in Greece. On these lands farmers can grow a variety of crops including wheat, cotton, and vegetables. Other areas tend to be more rocky and barren, and farmers can graze sheep and goats on these lands.
Traditionally served warm instead of hot, Greek cuisine is not real spicy, and has a distinctive style that is typical to the Mediterranean region. During a Greece cruise sample some of the many locally produced olive oil that is made from trees throughout the country. Important vegetables in Greece include tomato, aubergine, potato, green beans, okra, and onions. There are a number of dishes that use filo pastry, which is a dough used in thin layers to make pastries that originated in Mediterranean cuisine.
Meze or appetizers, are usually served with Ouzo, a Greek anise-flavored liquor that is similar to absinthe, but without the wormwood. Meze often consist of pita bread or loaf bread and various dips, such as Tzatziki, which is a mixture of yoghurt, cucumber and garlic. Another appetizer to enjoy during Greece travel is Spanakopita or spinach wrapped in filo pastry.
Eggplant casserole (Moussaka) is a famous Greek dish, which can also be made with zucchini or rice. Kleftiko, lamb marinated in garlic and lemon then slow-baked on the bone, is another popular dish among the Greeks. The ever-popular Gyros are another Greek specialty where meat is roasted on a turning spit and served with tzatziki or another sauce of choice. Usually, Gyros are garnished with onions and tomatoes and served on pita bread.
Fish dishes are common, especially amongst the many islands and coastal regions. Beef dishes are more of a rarity because the landscape is more favorable for herds of sheep and goats. Anchovies and sardines are used in a variety of dishes.
As for desserts, Baklava is among one of Greece’s favorites. It is a sweet dessert, composed of thin filo pastry layers accented with nuts, sugar, syrup and cloves. Yogurt with honey is another, more simple dessert to try while on a Greece cruise.
Wine is one of the most common drinks in Greece and nowadays wine made within the country has increased quality. Locally produced beer like Heineken, Mythos, Henniger, Amstel and Kaiser, are widely consumed as well as the 80-proof clear alcoholic liquor, Ouzo.
A Greece tour is widely favored because of its location and legendary history. Located in Southern Europe and situated on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula, mainland Greece and the Greek Isles encompass an area of 131,940 square kilometers, which is comparable to the size of Alabama.
Greece shares its northern borders with Bulgaria and Albania, and its eastern boarder with Turkey. The Aegean Sea is to the east of mainland Greece, and the Ionian to the west. To the south, in the Mediterranean basin, 2,000 plus Greek islands lie scattered throughout the waters.
A Greece cruise offers nearly 15,000 kilometers of unbelievable coastline to explore. Further inland is Mount Olympus, which is the tallest mountain in the country with an elevation of 9,570 ft. Mount Olympus provides for a popular, yet challenging trek. In the past, this mountain was regarded as the throne of the Greek Gods. The Pindus mountain range also dominates this area, with the highest point in the range reaching 2,636 meters (8,648 ft).
On March 25, 1821 the Greeks rebelled (with the help of their allies) and declared their independence, yet did not end up succeeding until 1829. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries the Greeks partook in a series of wars with the Ottomans. Greece sought to enlarge its boundaries to include the ethnic Greek population of the Ottoman Empire.
As a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912 to 1913, Epiros, Crete, Samos, Chios, and southern Macedonia were incorporated into Greece. The Greece you travel today reached this territorial area in 1947.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Greece experienced gradual and consistent economic growth, aided by significant grants and loans by the United States. Starting in 1965, however, a series of turbulent political events unfolded that led to severe political uncertainty.
The country became the tenth member of the European Union in January of 1981. Over the course of the last 25 years, and particularly during this past decade, Greece has experienced economic growth. In 2001, Greece joined the Eurozone. In 2004, the Olympic games returned to their origin and were held in Athens.
Visitors enjoying Greece travel might be interested to know that the country has a Parliamentary Republic with three primary government branches, the executive, legislative and judicial. The executive includes the president, who is the head of state, and the prime minister, who is head of the government. The legislative branch is made up of a 300-seat unicameral "Vouli". The judicial branch includes a Supreme Court. Administrative subdivisions within the country include 13 peripheries (regional districts) and 51 nomi (prefectures).
Suffrage is universal at the age of 18. The current President is Karolos Papoulias and the Prime Minister is Kostas Karamanlis. The legislative body elects the president for a five-year term. Greece’s last presidential election was held in February of 2005. Presidents are only allowed to serve no more then two terms. The president is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister. The president on the recommendation of the Prime Minister appoints the government cabinet.
Greece established a constitution on June 11th, 1975, and most recently amended it in April of 2001. Greece is now a developed country as well as a member of the European Union. The world-renowned city of Athens is Greece’s capital city.
A Greece cruise takes travelers on an escape through myth, legend, and history in the making. Not only are the sights, the sounds, and the people still holding the ancient mystique and sharing the Mediterranean flavors for which they’ve gained a reputation over the centuries, but remarkable economic and political events this summer have spilled out with an equally measurable presence and curiosity; plus a promise for the future.
No matter what part of Greece, a definite sense of old and the new permeates throughout. Modern port cities still give tourists an amazing experience with sunny beaches, unique shops, sunset backdrops, and rich nightlife. Coupled with the surrounding and intermingled ruins and historical museums, sight-seers really get what they come for. The only exception to that coming from the brief shutdown of public transportation and the closing of popular attractions like the Acropolis, during some unavoidable financial issues this summer.
Most blame the difficulties on the economic position of Greece and the politics it drives. A slowing economy lead to what many refer to as a financial “haircut.” As part of such, the government reduced the national minimum wage. This cut, along with cutting-back billions of Euros in other government spending, are expected—combined with loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—to gradually float Greece out of its current sea of financial uncertainty.
A weak economy in other European countries has added some tension to that which is already present in Greece. Athens, in particular, happens to be a focal point, where immigrants flow into the country. The immigrants often come to Greece looking for jobs and this causes resentment with some locals, who are currently facing high unemployment rates as it is. On the other hand, tourists and international investors—especially from the US—seem quite welcome, since any source of additional income for business owners helps a great deal.
The people of Greece and many abroad, especially in those countries that also use the Euro for their currency, voice mixed opinions on Greece’s future. Some believe Greece’s economy would recover and stabilize faster if it receded from the Euro and used its own currency. Others contend that Greece needs to keep the Euro in order to maintain stability which comes from having a multi-national currency.
The attempt to rebuild the Greece economy may actually benefit tourists, unintentionally. The costs of exports for many countries are commonly reduced during times financial difficulty. Therefore, tourism-related products and services may actually be reduced in price to become more competitive.
The future of Greece over the next five years keeps just out of the reach of certainty. If the government manages to recover from the economic downturn, the country and its attractions will remain as the tourist hot-spots they always have been. On the other hand, if Greece’s finances do not recover as hoped, the country may find itself reverting to another form of currency—perhaps the Drachma—and even a new style of government which can transform its tourism into an entirely new animal.
This all leads the enthusiastic Greek people to want to help steer inevitable changes in their country for the better. Public demonstrations during the summer of 2011 were only moderately effective and probably won’t serve much in the future. Instead new and upcoming political parties seem to be taking hold and may be just what Greece needs in order to become financially stable again.
No matter which direction Greece takes, it stands out as a highly anticipated destination for vacation, both Greece cruises and land tours alike. Better or worse, tourists will keep coming. The allure of ancient history, exotic locales, and the desire to be part of it all continues to draw travelers and should do so for years to come.
Before planning your Greece adventure cruise, learn a little more about the weather and climate to determine the best season to visit the country. Greece has three main climate types, Mediterranean, Alpine, and Temperate. Generally, Greece has hot dry summers and mild wet winters. In the mountains, winter temperatures can be severe and Athens can even get bitterly cold. Southern Greece stays warm longer than the northern region. Summers are long and dry, with extremes of 37°C (99°F), making the yearly mean temperature about 17°C (63°F). Maximum temperatures on the Greek islands hover around 30°C (87°F) in summer, but the heat is often mitigated by the northerly wind known as the meltemi. Rainfall figures vary, depending on the region. Thessaly is very dry, receiving around 38mm (1.5in) per year, whereas the western coast receives about 1,270mm (50in) of rain.
Rare marine species such as the Pinniped Seals and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle live in the seas surrounding mainland Greece, while the dense mountain forests in central Greece are home to the endangered brown bear , lynx, roe deer, wild goats, wolves, wildcats, martens, wild boars, badgers, lizards and snakes. In the south and the coastal areas, Mediterranean animals such as the jackal, wild goat, and porcupine are common. The subtropical climate in Greece also encourages a variety of insects, including mosquitoes and the sandfly. Birders will enjoys spotting larger species during Greece travel; birds of prey, such as eagles, hawks, herons, storks, pelicans and vultures make this region home.