Category Archives: Travel

Syros island, the Lady of the Aegean

The island complex of Cyclades, to which Syros belongs, is located at the southern Aegean sea.

With such islands like

  • Melos, where the famous statue of Venus (the one adorning today the Louvre Museum) was discovered;
  • Santorini, a favorite destination for loving couples from all over the world;
  • Mykonos, adopted by the international jet-set and by the LGBT community,

as well as many more breath-taking small and bigger ones, images from the Cyclades circulate all over the ‘net and the glossy magazines, raising the imagination and the desires of all age and income groups.

Location – Transport

Syros is at the centre of the Cyclades island complex. It is regularly served:

  • by ferry boats, all year long, from Piraeus, and also from Rafina, another well-known ferry port near Athens;
  • by plane, with Syros’ airport being at no more than3 km(~2 miles) from the island’s capital, Hermoupolis;
  • by bus lines covering most of the island and allowing easy transport between the villages and beaches of Syros (during summer time, some of these lines operate on a 24-hour basis);
  • by ferry boat lines connecting Syros with several Cyclades islands.
The Quarantine House (Lazareta)

Syros History

Excavations at the areas of Halandriani and Castri have proved that Syros was inhabited since pre-historic times (3rd millennium B.C.)

Prehistoric settlements:
The settlements belong to the Proto-Cycladic civilization (2,700-2,200 BC) and are among the most well-preserved sites of this historic era, with a cemetery with more than 600 tombs containing offerings, as well as remnants of houses, metallurgy workshops, fortifications, etc. Some of the findings are housed at the Archaeological Museum of Syros island.

The island was continually inhabited throughout the passing centuries, under the consecutive control of Phoenicians, Minoans, Mycenaeans, and others. Archaeologists have discovered vestiges of settlements of the Greek classical and pre-classical eras at various spots of the island. The great philosopher Pherecydes, master of Pythagoras of Samos, was born at Syros.

The island flourished up to the beginning of the Christian era. Later, pirates plagued Syros; then, the island came under Venetian rule; in the early 17th century, the Turks destroyed Syros. All these adventures caused the quasi-devastation of the island, which remained with no more than 2,500-3,000 inhabitants (16th-18th centuries).

Syros began to flourish in the mid-19th century, when it became the main port of the newly-founded Hellenic (Greek) state, until the mid-20th century, when Piraeus took over the reigns as the major port city in Greece.


Main Towns

Hermoupolis’ architecture reflects the unique history of this Greek island. Massively populated in the 19th century and quickly becoming the main commercial port of the newly-founded state, the town displays rich and impressive buildings of the period, mansions, churches, museums, and numerous places of historical interest.  Its name actually means, The Town of Hermes (Greek god of commerce).

The Town Hall of Hermoupolis. Designed by Εrnst Ziller and built in 1876-1891, this neoclassical building is one of the many architectural jewels of Hermoupolis.


Vaporia (=Ships) was the quarter of rich ship owners and captains of Syros (19th century). Today it is one of the most picturesque spots of the island with wonderful, elegant mansions, many of which have been recently renovated.
Syros, Hermoupolis, St Nicholas Greek-Orthodox church

Beginning from the port, the town climbs up two distinct hills: one used to be the quarter of the Orthodox inhabitants (Hermoupolis), the other used to be the quarter of the Catholics of the islands (Ano Syros).

Ano Syros
In sheer contrast with the urban, neoclassical architecture of Ermoupolis, Ano Syros is a medieval walled settlement with cobblestone-paved alleys, roofed passageways and traditional two-storeyed houses. Built  by the Venetians on a twin hill opposite to what later became the town of Ermoupolis, Ano Syros is a historical heritage site.

Ano Syros, San Giorgio, Cathedral & Cappuccin Monastery, first built in the 13th century

Beaches and Villages

One of the most popular resorts onSyrosisland, a long sandy beach on a quiet little bay, with several hotels and rooms to let. Water sports, good food and varied nightlife options make Galissas a perfect choice for either families or younger visitors.

Syros, Galissas beach


Besides popular and crowded beaches,Syros has got several less frequented spots, with no umbrellas, taverns or other modern facilities to spoil their natural beauty. Varvaroussa is a rock island that can be reached by boat (regular transportation from Kini beach) or on foot from the nearby Apano Meria.

A picturesque fishing village turned into a family resort, with little hotels and rooms bordering the sandy beach, fish taverns offering fresh and tasty sea food, places of cultural interest, as well as a couple of religious festivals with charming local customs.

Syros, Kini village & beach



Image sources:

Quarantine HouseChurch of St Nicholas, Ano Syros 1Ano Syros 2, Galissas, Kini
Vaporia & the Town Hall: wikipedia article on Hermoupolis

Holy Mount Athos, Northern Greece, Macedonia

In Northern Greece, to the east of Salonika, second largest city of the country and a great commercial port of the Balkans, stands Chalkidiki.

Chalkidiki is one of Greece’s 51 prefectures; it spreads over 720,053 acres, and it’s been home to Greek-speaking tribes for many, many centuries. When looking at a physical map, you will see a large earthly protrusion into the blue Aegean waters, resulting in a trident – three “fingers” of land pointing to the sea: Cassandra, the blue and green Sithonia, and the tall mount, Athos.

Greece map, Chalkidice, Northern Greece, Mount Athos
Map of Chalkidice

is also called the Holy Mountain, or the Garden of the All-Holy Mother of Christ. Despite the fact that the whole region is dedicated to a woman, an interdiction of passage for females exists onMount Athos. The peninsula is a monastic haven, unspoiled from urbanization, and a World Heritage site.

From an administrative point of view, Athos is an independent monastic state whose status is governed by ancient and modern laws and rules.



  • Uranopolis: Its name means The City of Heavens. It is the last station before entering Athos – where short-time residency papers are issued for those who wish to enter the area and remain there for a few days.
  • Caryes: A town of approximately 230 inhabitants (census 2001), it is the capital Athos and seat of the clerical and secular administration of the state..
Photo: Karyes, Mount Athos, Greece, Travel in Greece
Caryes, Mount Athos, Greece

As everywhere on the Holy Mountain and its surroundings, females are banned — do you notice that only men are chatting at the street? It is not coincidencial, I assure you.

  • Daphne: A coastal settlement of 38 inhabitants, “used mainly as a port and an entry point to the Athonite monastic state“.
The little port of Daphne


Here is a map of Athos, with Uranopolis just outside its boundaries, Caryes at the center and Daphne a little more to the west.

Holy Mount Athos, Greece, map
The independent monastic state of Athos, Northern Greece, Macedonia.

As we can see on the map, the monasteries are built mainly near the coasts:

Monastery near the sea, Northern Greece, Holy Mountain Athos, Travel in Greece
Gregoriou Monastery, Athos, Greece

The mountain (Mount Athos) is 2,000+ meters (6,500+ feet) high.

Holy Mount Athos, Travel in Greece, Northern Greece, Macedonia
Approaching Holy Mount Athos from the sea

High on the mountain tops, suspended between the sea and the sky, the Cross makes the site’s character very clear:

Mount Athos, Greece, Wooden Cross

Cars are not allowed in the area; only exceptions, the buses taking people to and from, some cars belonging to the monasteries, the occasional craftsmen (for the monks don’t need much, they take quite good care of themselves, having gardens to cultivate and crops to gather for their subsistence).

Mount Athos is ideal for hikers: forested, unmolested, where human constructions remain simple and strictly functional:

Rodbench in the woods, Mount Athos, Greece

The Holy Mountain was proclaimed a place of monks in 885, and no laymen or farmers or cattle-breeders were allowed since to settle there.
Long before that,  Pelasgians from the island of Lemnos, Northern Aegean were the ones who populated the peninsula — the ancient Greek historiographer Herodotus recorded five cities.

Today it includes twenty sovereign monasteries, a number of sketes (“communit[ies] of Christian hermits following a monastic rule, allowing them to worship in comparative solitude, while also affording them a level of mutual practical support and security”), and several cells.

Xeropotamou Mnastery, Athos, Greece
Xeropotamou Monastery, Catholicon, ie. the major temple of a monastery


Pelion, The Mountain of the Centaurs

Mount Pelion rises in Central Greece, at 200 miles from Athens. This distance is, of course, an approximation, as Pelion is a big mountain stretching over a whole peninsula — it is, nevertheless, where you will find Volos, the capital of the prefecture, over which tower the imposing heights of the mountain.

You can reach Pelion by road, train, and… boat! Yes, this is not a typo — Pelion’s feet are washed by the blue waves of the Aegean, and some amazingly beautiful beaches are only a breath away from the shady mountain slopes and picturesque villages that you can discover there.

Below is a view of the mountain from above; you can see the sea reflecting the evening sun on the left side of the photo:

Thanks to its varied landscape, Pelion is a summer as well as a winter destination. Its ski resort, at almost 5,000 feet, is one of the first that operated in Greece. With its international level specifications, it attracts ski enthusiasts coming from all around the world to enjoy its tracks, as well as an unforgettable visit to the mountain’s beautiful villages.


Travel in Time

Pelion is not only the home of legendary Centaurs. The mariage of King Peleus and Thetis, future parents of the hero Achilles, took place on Pelion — this is where the spark that burnt Troy was initially ignited, the place where Eris (Strife) dropped the golden apple with the inscription “To the fairest” and led to the Judgement of Paris and the subsequent rape of Helen of Troy.

Pelion is where Jason grew up before setting out to fetch the Golden Fleece; the trees of the mountain became lumber for the construction of the mythical ship Argo.

During Ottoman rule of the country (1453 – 1830), many scholars, teachers, priests, merchants, artists and artisans took refuge on the mountain, contributing to the founding of several villages and settlements, the construction of highly tasteful architectural works (mansions, village squares, libraries, churches, monasteries) and to the general wealth of the area. During the 17th and 18th century, Pelion was the richest and most densely populated area in Greece.

Today, many of the old mansions are renovated and operate as traditional hostels. Even if you’re not going to book a room there (which would be one of the best choices, by the way), they’re well worth a visit for their remarkable local architecture characteristics. And, if you think the outside is charming… just wait till you see the inside!


Villages of Pelion

There are 24 villages on Pelion mountain, and each one of them is different from the others. Some are big, some are small; some are wealthy, others are humble; some can be seen from miles away, attracting the visitor’s eyes, while others are almost invisible, hidden in the thick woods surrounding them.

Almost all of them have a paved square with high platan trees, a stone fountain and the village church. A coffee shop, a couple of taverns, some shops, perhaps a kiosk complete this quasi-typical image.

Most of the villages have quite a treasure of local sights for the visitor to enjoy. Nature holds premiership, with dozens of secret caverns and bewitching valleys, age-old towering trees, and gargling brooks at every step.

Besides nature’s wonders, man-made constructions are of almost equal beauty. Monasteries and old churches, famous for the history associated with them, featuring unique architecture as well as their masterly woodwork and religious iconography; old, newly constructed, or reconstituted mansions; charming old stone bridges and cobbled alleys, crumbling mills and castles; historical buildings, museums, and libraries.

Every summer you can witness numerous festivals, celebrations, and religious feasts of a local character, while we should also mention the various performances, concerts, and cultural events taking place in the area.


Beaches of Pelion

The area of Pelion and its beaches and seaside villages can be distinguished in two main parts:

Lower part of the 3-D map, Pagasitikos bay, with Mount Pelion advancing into the sea on the N-to-S axis, creating the peninsula that separates the bay from the Aegean Sea.
  • the ones inside Pagasitikos bay, which are more “hospitable” and sandy, with relatively shallow and calm waters;
  • the eastern beaches, outside Pagasitikos bay, wild and majestic at the Northern coasts, or with a more graceful beauty to the South.


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Beautiful Medieval Town in Greece: Mystras

Mystras is, without any doubt, the most famous castle and medieval town in Greece. It is located in Southern Peloponese, at 140 miles from Athens and no more than 5 miles from modern Sparta.

When Crusaders overcame and seized the Byzantine Empire back in 1204, they founded various latin states, building towns and castles to protect their new conquests. Nevertheless, Francs’ dominance over Moreas (as Peloponese was called back then) didn’t last long. Their last prince, William Villehardouin, was defeated in battle, imprisoned, and forced to give up the seat of his Despotate: Mystras came back to Byzantine hands.

During the 14th century, Mystras flourished as a major political, military and spiritual centre — while being constantly harassed by Westerners and Turks alike. The fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire (1453) did not mark the town’s decline though. The castle continued to be contested between Venetians and Turks, with all the subsequent destructions and degradation, until it was finally burnt down in 1770, when a revolution of the Greeks was suppressed violently.

The town itself climbs up the slopes of a height on top of which (at about 900 feet) sits the medieval  citadel. It is divided in a lower, middle and upper town, the lower being the abode of the poorer classes and the upper including the houses of the noblemen and their families. An external wall surrounded the ensemble, while there was a second, internal wall that protected the upper town. Both are visible today, although the internal wall is in much better shape.

The view from the citadel is majestic, as Mystras was a strategically selected site and oversees the plain and nearby mountain, rendering the town invulnerable from unexpected attacks.

The town of Mystras is full of beautiful Byzantine temples, monasteries and palaces in various states of preservation …or deterioration. Works are being undertaken for the erection of destroyed buildings, as the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the modern village of Mystras, at the feet of the medieval town, you will find rooms, hostels, restaurants and shops. The characteristic stone houses of Laconia create a quite singular ambience and the lush Taygetos Mountain in the background will make you feel a part of the place’s history through the ages.

Reserve at least a couple of hours, most preferably four, in order to enjoy your visit. It will take a little climbing, but you won’t regret it — especially when considering that you won’t get annoyed by large crowds of people and you’ll practically have the place to yourself. The ticket is 5 euros (2012) and children are admitted free.

If you’re going to Mystras from Athens, you should take the Autoroute from Athens to Corinth, then follow the Autoroute that goes from Corinth to Tripolis. When approaching Tripolis, follow the route that leads to Sparta and Gytheion. There is also daily bus service from Athens, Sparta, and Tripolis.

Best Beaches in Greece

1. Navagio, Zakynthos (Zante)

Navagio is perhaps the most famous of all Greek beaches. Its photo has made the round of the Earth on posters, calendars, postcards, and has been used as a promotional image of the country’s tourism.

Navagio beach, by Wikimedia Commons

Navagio means Shipwreck in Greek. The dark silhouette of a rusted ship against the white sand beach and the high rock behind it, combined with the extremely clear blue water that kisses the shore, make of it a natural work of art, worthy of its fame. The ship, smuggling cigarettes, stranded on the beach at 1983 due to bad weather and to getting off course while trying to avoid the coastguard.

The beach is located at North-West Zante. The only way to go there is by boat. Actually, there are lots of daily excursions from many points of the island. Porto Vromi is the closest spot from where the boat puts about 20 minutes to get to Navagio. At the port of the capital town, at Laganas bay, and at Alykes you can join cruises that take you around the island. Another option is Agios Nikolaos of Volimes and Cape Schinari(at the North of the island), from where excursions to Navagio and to the Blue Caves (don’t miss these either!) are organized regularly.

If you don’t care about swimming at the beach, you can reach the spot by car at about18 milesfrom the town ofZante, near the village Anaphonitria. There’s no way to get you down to the beach, but you can stand at the little platform and take some spectacular shots.


2. Balos Lagoon, Crete

 On the North-West corner of Crete, at 36 miles from the picturesque city-port of Chania, you can find one ofMediterranean’s best beaches. Shallow and warm, with blue and green waters, tiny rosy shards of sea shells coloring the white sand, it is worth the trip – for it is not easy getting there…

You can either take the boat that makes the regular trip from the little port of Kasteli, leaving at 09:30 and returning at 16:00. You can also reach the spot by road, but that’s where trouble begins: you’ll put a bit more than6 milesto arrive, riding on a bumpy dirt road, so having either a 4X4 car or a bike is a must. The last part of the way is not accessible by car, which means that you have to walk another 15 minutes to enjoy a unique view of the lagoon from above – if you’re up to it, it’s definitely worth the effort.

The lagoon is situated at the back of a quiet bay; furthermore, as the entrance of the bay is blocked by the islet of Gramvoussa, the trade winds will not disturb the peace of this corner of paradise. Children will play safely and enjoy the agreeable temperature. Be sure to bring an umbrella with you, for there is no shadow on the beach. Bring also your own food and water – there are no tavernas or canteens on the beach, just you and the seagulls.

For those who like the open sea and feel more adventurous, outside the lagoon waters are deep and blue. You can enjoy a nice, long swim or go diving and snorkeling in the extremely rich underwater world.


3. Porto Katsiki, Lefkada

 Lefkada is the only Greek island to which you can go by car, driving over the bridge that unites it with the opposite mainland shore of Western Greece. The Ionian Sea, betweenGreeceandItaly, is famous for the verdant islands, blue waters and white beaches, and Porto Katsiki has won its place as the most beautiful beaches of the area only by a few points.

You can recognize Porto Katsiki among a thousand beaches: it is a long, narrow, white strip of a beach just below a high lateral precipice of white rock. The beach itself is covered with tiny white pebbles, characteristic of the area, and waters are clear, fresh and light-blue.

Porto Katsiki is located at the South-West of Lefkada island and, unlike Balos lagoon inCrete, it can be approached by an asphalt road, some 25  miles from the island capital. There are parking lots where you can park your car for a few euros’ worth, but then you have to walk a little – not to mention descend some hundred stairs to get to the beach. Remember to buy some bottles of water and something to eat from the little shops before starting on your way down, for there is no such option on the beach.

Another way to go to Porto Katsiki is by boat, with daily excursions from the ports at Vassiliki and at Nydri. Not a bad idea, since you get to see the breathtaking view of the steep rock from the sea and get the photos that will make your friends back home green with envy.


4. Agios Prokopios, Naxos

If you want easy access to a beautiful beach, Agios Prokopios on Naxosis what you’re looking for. A long stretch of sand, going for more than a mile, with clear waters that seldom suffer from the blowing of the sea wind, Agios Prokopios is the island’s most popular resort.

A series of hotels, rooms, restaurants, cafes, bars and various shops nearby will not disturb you in the least while you’re relaxing on the sun beds under the many umbrellas (for the beach is highly organized) or you’re getting away from the crowds at the farthest end of the beach, which is left intact from tourist facilities.

The “red lake” is one more attraction of the beach — a salt lake, where herons can often be seen standing on its banks.

If you like water sports, especially windsurfing, Agios Prokopios is your place. The beach is also highly recommended for children, with the additional security of lifeguards.

Agios Prokopios is very near toNaxos’ capital (3 miles) and there is regular bus service to and from the beach.


5. Koukounaries, Skiathos

 At 8 miles distance to the South-West of Skiathos Town, Koukounaries is a quickly developing resort and one of Greece’s most famous beaches. Koukounaria is the pine tree, and you can guess by the name the magical picture of the evergreen pine tree forest almost diving into the blue Aegean waters.

Besides the beautiful nature, you can enjoy all kinds of tourist facilities, hotels, rooms, places to eat, drink and shop, making Koukounaries ideal for both romantic and family vacations. Water sports facilities are also available on the lengthy sandy beach, and the little sea port receives boats and yachts for those who prefer visiting by the sea.

Behind the forest, the lagoon of Strofilia is a wetland of breath-taking beauty with many rare species of birds nesting there. Near Koukounaries, the beaches of Banana (nudist beach) and of Agia Eleni complement the landscape and provide some more options for escape from the crowd.

Koukounaries is very easy to reach from either Skiathos Town or the airport; there is regular bus service, and you can also rent a car or bike, or even get a cab to take you there, as the distance is almost negligible.


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All photos, except otherwise noted, are intellectual property of their respective creators, shared under a Creative Commons license. You can get to the source page by clicking on the images.