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Set in southeastern Europe, and boasting thousands of breathtaking islands in the Aegean and Ionic Seas, Greece is a country that remains virtually unrivalled in the sheer volume and diversity of its historical and cultural repertoire. For centuries visitors have been drawn to the country’s spectacular natural landscapes and rich archaeological sites, which contain the relics of four millennia of ancient culture. From the bustling nightlife of Mykonos to the breathtaking sunsets of Santorini and exquisite turquoise waters everywhere you look, Greece’s islands are arguably its biggest drawcard. Must-see heritage attractions include the numerous ancient structures of Athens; Meteora Monasteries, one of the world’s most remarkable ecclesiastical sites; the towering Mount Olympus, home of the gods; and of course Delphi, Greece’s most sacred site where the oracle once answered the questions in the temple of Apollo.
TRAVEL, TRANSPORT AND GETTING AROUND
Greece’s main carriers are Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines. Other airlines operating flights from the UK include British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair. The cost of flights to Greece peaks in July and August when most Europeans take their holidays. Throughout the rest of the year prices vary according to demand.
Greece’s motorway network has been significantly upgraded over the past decade or so. Motorways and some bridges incur a toll. In rural areas, and especially on the islands, many roads are narrow, twisty and poorly surfaced. Most major international car hire firms operate throughout Greece, with offices at airports, ferry ports and in all major cities. The legal age for hiring a car is 21. All Greece’s main cities and many small destinations too are connected by an extensive network of long-distance buses, which almost always prove more efficient than the train. Major routes include Athens-Thessaloniki and Athens-Patras.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Greece has a warm Mediterranean climate. In summer, dry hot days are often relieved by stiff evening breezes, especially in the north, on the islands and in coastal areas. Athens can be stiflingly hot, with temperatures occasionally exceeding 40°C (104°F) in July. Winters are mild in the south but much colder in the mountainous north, where it is not uncommon to see snow and temperatures plummeting to well below zero. November to March is the rainy season, most notably on the Ionian islands.
Food and Drink
Greek food tends to be very simple, rarely involving sauces but with full use of local seasonal produce, olive oil and charcoal grills – just as people have been eating in outlying villages for many centuries. However, Athens and some of the more fashionable islands such as Santorini and Mykonos have seen the arrival of fusion cuisine and so-called modern taverna fare (involving lighter dishes with more subtle flavours and artistic presentation).
Tap water is drinkable in Athens and other cities – in fact, in areas where the local water is good, bars and restaurants are obliged by law to provide customers with glasses or jugs of tap water free of charge upon request. However, visitors should be wary of drinking tap water in remote areas, and on many islands – even if the locals do it. Bottled water is widely available and prices are strictly controlled on the mainland and islands. Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and vegetables are considered safe to eat.
Tipping waiters in bars and restaurants is the usual, 12% to 15% is the norm.
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