The time for vacation planning is upon us, and Susan and I are thinking it may be a good time to visit Greece or someplace on the Adriatic. Have any Dopers visited and willing to share their experiences?
Some background on what we’re looking for:
Beaches. We love to lay on the sand and people watch.
A resort isn’t out of the question, but we’d prefer something off the beaten path.
We enjoy getting to know the locals and don’t mind getting a little lost as long as we can get back to where we started. Big cities are out as a final destination. Small villages are great.
Beaches. Did I mention that we want to be on the beach?
We aren’t wealthy, but we don’t mind spending the money if the destination is worth it. We like to splurge every once in a while.
Neither of us speaks a lick of Greek or Croate - but we’ve never let that stop us before.
Toursity places are out.
We LOVE to eat and drink and socialize, but I’d just as soon not have to worry about the water.
Beaches. I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but we enjoy being in the sun and near the water.
Oh, yeah. It has to be near the ocean. Preferably, with a beach.
Haven’t been to Greece lately, but not from lack of wanting to. Spent a wonderful summer there 10+ years ago (… sheesh, has it been THAT long?)
A few tips that I don’t think are outdated:
there are TONS of islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Some our touristy; others aren’t. Just about all of them have beaches and are incredibly beautiful. The best information you’ll get is from a good travel guild. Pick an island one or two ferry stops away from a touristy one. In general, they’ll be touristy enough to have a nice beach area and good restaurants, but not so touristy that you’ll have to deal with crowds of partiers.
I particularly liked the island of Andros (close to Mykonos and Santorini, both major tourist destinations) and Zakinthos also known as Zante (on the western side of Greece, between Greece and Italy.) Like I said, though, that was 10+ years ago. Things might have changed.
Most of the younger generation speak at least some English. Unless you’re heading to the REALLY out of the way places - ie, small villages on the mainland nowhere near a beach - I doubt you’ll have problems. Just in case, buy one of those little phrase books.
MAJOR TIP: Take the time and learn the Greek alphabet. Even if you can’t speak the language, it’s majorly helpful to be able to sound out road signs. Imagine being on a train, pulling into a station, and you can’t read the sign to see if it’s your stop or not.
Learning the greek alphabet will only take you an hour or two. There’s only a few letters that don’t look and sound more or less like their Roman equivalents. Remember the thing that looks like an ‘n’ is a vowel.
I envy you. Need a slave to take along? I’m sure I could remember enough greek to be very useful on the trip!
The potential for finding stunningly attractive people was high on the criteria for our final destination - we’re a very social couple Sardinia is also in contention (really, nearly any island on the Mediterranean - we loves us some Mediterranean folks).
My wife and I spent 3 weeks travelling throughout Greece and Turkey several years back. While we mainly were focusing on the classical religious and historical sites, we of course found plenty of time to devote to the natural aesthetics as well.
Santorini was absolutely incredible, a likely candidate for the Atlantis fable. White stucco restaurants and homes scattered on the edge of an old caldera. You really can look out and feel that there’s no where else in the entire world you’d rather be. Thira (Thiera) was an experience we’ll never forget. One drawback… you don’t really go there for the beaches.
Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes, Patmos and Chios were all wonderful as well.
You might consider going to a bookstore and looking through the Greek calendars in order to see where the best beaches are. Some of the shots in a couple I picked up on the trip were simply stunning.
One more thing… our absolute favorite city to visit was Delphi. Absolutely beautiful views, unbeatable history and architecture, great antiques, hotels that give you a real sense of the place, supurb food. I’d retire there in a heartbeat.
I went there last September and if you have your own wheels and travel/ book your accommodation etc. independently (i.e. not through a tour operator) you can have a great time. There are loads of really nice beaches and some absolutely stunning ones. It’s easy to get away from the resort scene if you hire a car and the mountain scenery is amazing as well. We drove all over Crete stopping in places we liked and it was great fun. Elafonisi is an idyllic beach as is Prevelli but you need a car to get to either. Plakias on the south coast is a lovely laid back place too and accommodation is really cheap (especially in September)!
Hania is also lovely as is Rethymno (2nd and 3rd towns). There are also some beautiful, sandy, protected and consequently unspoilt beaches between Hania and Rethymno but you need a car to get to these too. You’ve got to be responsible tourists if you go to these beaches though obviously…
I wouldn’t bother with Heraklio (capital) unless you want to go to Knossos - one night there is ample!
We also spent some time on Santorini. Santorini’s towns are gorgeous but I didn’t think the beaches were great, though the red beach was worth a look (Wine-coloured cliffs and sand).
While I was in the Marines, we landed there for a week. It was on the Government’s bill, so you know that it is affordable. The city is beautiful, right on the water, but is a tourist trap.
Three other buddies and myself rented a car for 10 US dollars a day, yes, a day, and went cruising up the coast. Beautiful beaches everywhere, and plenty of places to get “lost”. Most of the locals spoke English.
If not there, then I would recommend Malta. Everyone spoke English. It is a small island, so you can’t get too lost. And, the history of that island was practically bottomless.
I must be the only person on the planet who dislikes Greece. But then I don’t like the beach. I found it to be too hot and the insects arrived in clouds after dark…big, crawly, nasty-looking critters. The noise from them actually made sleep a problem (we were staying in a fairly cheap place). The food was okay, but nothing memorable, but we were on one of the more touristy islands.
I’ve been to Rhodes and Skyros.
Rhodes is fairly large and popular, with fantastic history (the Collosus of Rhodes was built there) I can’t remember the beaches (this was 20 + years ago) but the tavernas were fantastic. Rhodes has a very middle-eastern feel to it, it is near Turkey and the influence is obvious.
Skyros is a much smaller less well known Island, I weant there to a action-holiday retreat sort of thing (web searches will find these sort of holidays there) but there are hotels as well for more normal holidaying. The island is beautiful, with fantastic warm sea and some sand and some stoney beaches. The main city on the island is not much more than a small town, but very interesting to visit. Skyros is an ideal place for relaxing and seeing a different culture close at hand.
You should also consider island hopping as an option. Fly to Athens, coach to the coast and then catch the ferry to the island that takes your fancy. Then stay or move on as you feel like it.
My brother and I went to Greece in '91; I was 23 at the time. We went to Hydra, Mykonos, Santorini, and Ios. Ios is probably out for you; it’s like a Pagan Roman orgy for 20 year olds. Mykonos is hip, young, and fun with beautiful people. Santorini is upscale, beautiful, has a lot of shopping, and is generally considered romantic and more couples oriented. My favorite was Hydra: very small, no cars, laid back. It’s basically a U-shaped harbor that’s got a couple restaurants and two cafes with really comfortable chairs that you can lounge around and bullshit with people all day in a friendly, casual atmosphere. Unfortunately there isn’t much beach to speak of. As a matter of fact, I went to at least 6 beaches while in Greece and I don’t think any of them were sand, mostly small to medium sized pebbles. If you’re that crazy about beaches I don’t know if Greece would be my first choice. But I had the time of my life.
I agree with lieu, youdneverguess and Chicago faucet’s opinions.
In 2001 we visited Corfu, Crete, Santorini, and Ios. Spent about two weeks.
Spent a good 5 days on Crete, which was my favorite island. We had wanted to get to Amorgos but the ferries didn’t run often enough.
Corfu was green and lush and still has some unspoiled spots, as did Crete.
Ios was great for people-watching.
Santorini had the most breathtaking view I’ve seen–just mesmerizing. Cool volcano excursion, too, and some wonderful restaurants. Stay in Oia.
If you’re looking for sugar-sand type beaches like you see in Florida, forget it.
But if you are looking for fascinating history, incredible antiquities, friendly people and often, some darn good food, check out the Greek Islands. It’s best to pick an island group and go from there, unless you have more than two weeks. Guidebooks are helpful. We ferried from Venice to Corfu, flew from Corfu to Crete, and ferried our way from island to island back to Athens.
Not to rain on your parade, but if you want to go to the Med, spend time on the beach and avoid ‘touristy’ you better book a flight to Tripoli and head for the beaches of Libya. In short, there isn’t a beach left in that part of the world were you won’t be harrased by ‘The Wandering Tribes of Senegal™’ trying to sell you watches, sunglasses or belts. Basically, Coca-Cola culture, clubs playing the latest top 40 songs (from the US) and slimeballs trying to sell you time share con(dominium)s are abundant on every beach. You want to avoid touristy? Stay away from beaches and go to rural inland or big cities.
And that’s the crux of islands. There is really no inland (in the sense ‘far enough from the beach to be not touristy’), and very few big cities.
So judging from what you want, I’d say:
Stay a few days on the beach and be prepared that it’ll be just like any other touristy beach, anywhere in the world. Then head to Athens or Istanbul.
I’d say you were lucky then. Corfu is a grand total of 229 sq. miles and receives a million tourists a year. Crete is a lot bigger with 3.190 sq. miles and receiving 2 million tourists a year, so chances of finding a non-touristy spot is a lot bigger there.
Well, we rented a car on both islands. One thing we noticed (more so on Corfu) is that people tended to congregate. There were little German “villages” and little British mini-resorts. All we did was drive a bit. Also, we were there in mid-to-late June, before the season got too busy, perhaps?
But even on Ios, there was no hassling to buy stuff. No hassling of any kind, anywhere at all.
Rhodes is nice. Rhodes City isn’t that big (but most of it is very touristy), and one of the beaches (the western one if memory serves) is really beautiful. On the other side, the wind blows in the wrong direction and it is generally rather chilly and dingy.
I liked Crete, but it doesn’t sound like what you’re looking for.
I think you’d like Lesbos best. The island is rather large but has no large cities. It’s not too touristy and has great beaches. Wherever you are, it’s just a short walk out into what most European tourists consider wilderness. Beautiful nature. Nice people. Beautiful architecture. Just don’t go there in July.
Oh, and if you do decide to go to Lesbos, remember that most travel agencies refer to it as Mytilene, probably to avoid offending certain people. You know who you are.
I’m going to be different and tell you to go to Croatia. I’ve never been there myself, but the mother of one of my best friends is from there, and my friend has been there multiple times. Every picture he’s brought back has been completely stunning. His mom is from one of the dinky islands off the Dalmatian coast (Brac, I think), which is enough off the beaten path that you can only reach it by somewhat infrequent ferry. Plus how many Americans can say they’ve been to Croatia?
If you want more specifics, I can ask him for you. Have fun; I’m jealous!