Cleo Contogianes, the tour guide explains 5,000 years of history starting with why Acropolis was chosen in the first place. The hilltop affords great views of the surrounding area and the Aegean Sea – perfect for spotting and fending off would be invaders and pirates. The Acropolis’s crowning glory is the Parthenon, a well-preserved ruin of a temple. It’s the columned building you see in virtually every promotional piece on Greece.
“It’s a masterpiece of architecture and mathematics,” points out Contogianes.
As such it is Greece’s biggest tourist attraction drawing 10 million a year to ooh and aah and click their cameras from every angle.
But most Canadians don’t come to Greece to only climb the Acropolis.
“Greece is a popular summer destination for Canadians,” says Angela Soucie, a director with Transat Holidays, which offers summer flights, island-hopping and cruise packages to Greece from both Toronto and Montreal. Most want to start in Athens for the Acropolis and then get out to the islands.”
Greece has certainly made headlines lately with its financial crisis and riots protesting government austerity.
But the problems have simmered down and the country still has the history and beauty that attracts tourists.
As such Greece is the perfect destination for a bit of cradle-of-civilization-and-birthplace-of-democracy-and-the-Olympics history with plenty of beach, pool and time in the sun thrown in.
It doesn’t hurt that Greece is also famous for its cuisine (Greek salad, souvlaki, mousaka and baklava anyone?), fresh wines, strong ouzo liquor, and the national beer, Mythos.
The tour group’s itinerary is usually typical – a quick hit of Athens and then out to the isles of Mykonos, Santorini and Crete. Each of Greece’s 1,400 islands has its own personality – Mykonos the party place, Santorini the postcard perfect and Crete the big and wild.
Santorini, though. is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the isles and those quintessential Greek scenes of white buildings with blue dome roofs on mountainsides that plunge dramatically into the sea are everywhere here.
A ferry ride to Crete reveals Greece’s largest island, a mountainous land mass best explored by four-wheel-drive vehicle. It’s an exhilarating mix of off-roading combined with cultural stops at a monastery, mountain village and cheese maker.
On the other hand, there is Mykonos which has gained quite a reputation for itself as a party island.
While you can certainly find clubs that are open until dawn in Mykonos Town, you’re just as likely to find quiet beaches and stunning pool complexes at luxury hotels such as the five-star Myconian Imperial Resort where we stayed.