Greece has, for many years, been a favourite package holiday destination. With warm weather from April to October, sandy beaches and turquoise seas in abundance, it is easy to see why it continues to be so popular. Whilst Greece was bristling with self-confidence after the successful Olympic Games of 2004, it has struggled with ongoing economic challenges and austerity since – being close to expulsion from the European Union in 2014/15.
With its endless past, from ancient temples to Byzantine churches to Crusader castles, it is a place of pilgrimage for historians of every era. But the more intrepid traveller can also find plenty to discover.
With more than 1400 islands, only 169 of which are inhabited, island hopping can still bring a sense of adventure. Greece has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean basin (and the 11th largest coastline in the world) and a vast landmass of 131,000 square kilometres. Greece boarders Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria to the North, Turkey to the East and the Mediterranean to the South – with various ferries running to nearby Cyprus and Italy (among many others). As of 2015, the Greek population was 11.1 million people.
In 2013, Greece welcomed almost 18 million international tourists. Many find it surprising that 80% of Greece is mountainous, rocky and barron – a sharp contract to the glistening turquoise seas. When visiting Greece ensure you balance your trip with a spot of island hopping and time to explore the mainland.
The islands provide something for everyone; from Crete, the largest island, once home of the Minoan civilization, with a mountainous interior and fierce sense of identity, to Mykonos, with its 365 churches existing alongside a hedonistic nightlife, to Kastellorizo, the most South Easterly located Greek island with its tiny fishing population, scenic harbour and iridescent blue grotto.
The mainland also has much to offer. Athens is a lively, vibrant, if smoggy, city. The Parthenon rests on the Acropolis as a beacon and symbol of the city’s past glory; but modern Athens with its numerous bars, cafés and restaurants is an exciting destination in itself. Much of the mainland is comparatively little visited, but is ideal for exploring on foot, containing a great variety of landscape, from the extraordinary monasteries precariously built on rocks at Meteora, to Mount Olympus, home of the gods and still a place to inspire awe. [/wptab]
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
All-inclusives, Package holidays & Economic Leakage:
All-inclusive resorts can alienate tourists from the destination they are visiting and the people who live there. Positive cultural exchange is hampered, while resentment builds among local people who are blocked from being able to benefit from the tourism economy.
Various negative issues have been identified, including poor working conditions and huge environmental impacts such as water wastage & domestic waste. The largest concern is the decreased patronage to local businesses, such as restaurants, shops, taxi drivers and small guest houses – as guests are deterred from leaving the hotel grounds.
The way in which the industry is organized means that, for the most part, consumers spend much of their holiday cash in buying the package – before they leave home. Much of that goes into the pockets of foreign owned companies in the host countries: not many nationals of poor countries get to own marble-floored hotels, shopping chains or flashy restaurants serving fusion food.
Statistics vary; but some people argue that what is known as economic ‘leakage’ – the extent to which local economies lose (or never receive) the revenue generated by tourism – is as high as four-fifths the cost of a holiday. Even if it’s not that high, leakage remains a serious problem for most host countries.
We are calling for tour operators and hotels to take a rights-based approach to sustainability, and to undertake due diligence throughout their supply chains in order to identify and address the negative impacts of the all-inclusives power play, and race to the bottom that this entails.
You, the tourist, can also make a difference by opting for holidays that offer a fair deal for local businesses and people. In many cases half-board or Bed & breakfast options are cheaper options and provide you with a far greater level of freedom & choice!
Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned around the impacts of all-inclusives and have published various reports on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on All inclusives:
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of the friendly people of Greece is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
As in many countries, animals in Greece such as donkeys and horses are used to transport tourists from place to place. A particular focus has been put on Santorini and Lindos, where there are serious concerns both for the welfare of the donkeys, which are worked very hard and often not treated well, and also for tourists, as it has been reported that bridles and other equipment are not always up to standard.
See more at Right Tourism; http://right-tourism.com/issues/beasts-of-burden/#sthash.EWneOXS8.dpbs
According to Right-Tourism.com, loggerhead turtles are the most common turtle in the Mediterranean, nesting on beaches from Greece and Turkey to Israel and Libya. However, many of their nesting beaches are under threat from tourist development. Loggerheads are highly migratory and particularly vulnerable to accidental capture in the nets and long-lines of the world’s fisheries. The Greek government is working to establish a network of protected areas in order to protect nesting beaches.
Golf Courses; Land displacement, Deforestation & water usage:
The building of land-guzzling golf courses, has denied local people their land and their jobs, as investors have gobbled up land for the golf craze, while paying very little in compensation. There have been protests in a stream of countries worldwide, at the way in which golf courses have invaded protected forest areas, ancestral lands and farmlands.
Golf course projects such as a proposed tourism complex at Cavo Sidero, Crete, continue to outrage environmentalists. As Professor Peter Warren, an archaeologist from Bristol University, pointed out in a letter to the Guardian (6 March 2008) about the Cretan plans: The complex will impact severely on an unspoilt landscape of wild natural beauty, high botanical interest and full of ancient sites. There will also be a huge demand for non-existent water, met only by major desalination, which in itself has energy costs.
But golf courses do not just displace people and pollute the land: they consume vast quantities of water. In the welter of statistics, it has been claimed that one golf course in the USA uses enough water annually to provide at least 1200 people with their basic needs for a year.
Greece has a Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine, mild temperatures and a limited amount of rainfall, making it one of the premium ‘sun & salt’ destinations in Europe. Due to the country’s geographical position, a mix of arid mainland mountains and coastal islands, there is great variation in Greece’s climate.
In summer, the dry hot days are cooled by seasonal winds called the meltemi, while mountainous regions have generally lower temperatures. The winters are mild in lowland areas, however mountains can be snow-capped (especially in the northern mountains)
The Greek environment is one of versatility and pristine beauty. The Islands provide some of the most picturesque settings in Europe with deep, turquoise, clear water kissing white washed villages. Mainland Greece is mountainous with many snow capped peaks in the north. Whilst the landscape can appear dry, baron and rocky, the soil is very fertile providing perfect growing conditions for delicious fresh produce such as Tomatos, cucumbers, grapes and watermelons.
In regards to environmental policy in Greece, solar hot water systems are commonly found on many residential houses. However, fossil fuels still play a major part in energy production especially on many of the islands. Greece has a poor reputation for waste management, with recycling services, coastal waste prevention and waste-to-energy systems still in its infancy.
Greeks are warm and hospitable people. When meeting someone for the first time, shake hands firmly, smile, and maintain direct eye contact. Good friends often embrace; they may also kiss each other on each cheek. Male friends often slap each other’s arm at the shoulder.
Greeks celebrate ‘namedays’ (the birth date of the saint after whom they are named) and Christmas. During these celebrations gifts are exchanged with family and friends. Some Greeks celebrate birthdays, but in general, celebrating namedays is more likely
If you are invited to a Greek home, here are a couple of tips:
- Don’t be early – arriving 30 minutes late is standard.
- Dress well – this demonstrates respect for your hosts.
- Offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served. Your offer may not be accepted, but it will be appreciated.
- Expect to be treated like royalty and overfed, accepting a second helping compliments the host.
- The host gives the first toast – a guest should return the toast later in the meal. A common toast is “to your health”
Greek gastronomy has a recorded history of around 4,000 years. Archestratos wrote the first cookbook in history which is dated at 330 B.C. Scientific studies have shown the positive effect of a balanced Greek diet on a person’s health, beauty and longevity. Contray to popular belief, “moussaka”, “souvlaki” and “choriatiki” (Greek salad) are not the only worthwhile Greek dishes.
Greek cuisine is based on four secrets: good quality fresh ingredients, simplicity, correct use of herbs & spices (oregano, thyme, mint and rosemary) and the famous Greek olive oil. Greek olive oil deserves a special note. It accompanies almost all Greek dishes, it is used abundantly in most of them, it is of excellent quality and it is very good for your health.
When you head out for dinner make sure you order feta cheese with honey and sesame seeds, fresh grilled fish of the day, and baklava for desert!
The history of the Greek Language is a fascinating story that has undertaken a range of changes. After the conquests of Alexander the Great (335-320 BC) the language underwent dramatic changes. Greek was adopted as a second language by many territories to the East that had come under Greek rule. Greek also became the standard language of commerce and government, existing along side many local languages. Greek was ultimately transformed into what has come to be called common Greek today.
The three terms Hellenic, Hellenistic, and Byzantine are used to designate long periods in the history of the Greek Language:
- “Hellenic” refers to the same period as “Classical Greek.” It is the time of Homer and later the great Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
- “Hellenistic” refers to the period after Alexander the Great’s conquests that spread the Greek language around the Mediteranean Sea and far into the orient in the 300s BCE.
- “Byzantine” refers to the period in which Byzantium (later Constantinople) was the controlling economic and religious center for most of the eastern part of the waning Roman Empire.
Below are a few phrases to try – pronounce “e” as in “egg”:
- kalimera = good morning
- kalispera = good afternoon
- kalinihta = good night
- yassou = hello or goodbye (informal)
- yassas = hello or goodbye (formal)
- adio = goodbye
The Greek Orthodox faith is most common in Greece. The Greek population in mainland Greece and the Greek islands is Christian Orthodox per 98%. Other religions in Greece include Muslims, Catholic and Jewish. Greece and Russia are the only countries to have such a great proportion of Orthodox population. The Orthodox Church forms the third largest branch of Christianity: after the Roman Catholics and the Protestants.
Religious tourism is a common reason for travel in Greece, with Greeks and foreign visitors alike stunned by Greece’s majestic churches and metochia (monastery grounds and gardens). All through the year, Greece plays host to religious festivals with specific customs and traditions – if you are lucky enough to be visiting Greece during these festivals, there is a strong chance that you will find yourself getting involved in the festivities.
Greek Easter is the largest of all celebrations, with its host of religious events and popular traditions each spring. The “summertime Easter”, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15th August, is similarly spectacular and is especially popular.