Lefkada

July 28th, 2014

P1040844aToday we’re leaving beautiful Parga, catching a bus, and heading down the coast to Preveza. There we stop at the bus station and wait for another bus to take us across the isthmus to the island of Lefkada (sometimes known as Lefkas).

You can be excused for thinking Lefkada is not really an island, for it was once joined to the mainland. But Corinthians, way back in the 8th century BC, dug a canal through the isthmus and a causeway now sees you across. It’s a pretty drive over the flatlands, with sea views on either side, culminating at the Venetian Fortress of Agia Mavra (well worth a visit), obviously built to defend the island from pesky invaders.

From there it’s a short drive to Lefkada Town, the main town of the island. Due to earthquake damage and modern rebuilding, this town, to me, lacks ambience, so I prefer to move on. But Lefkada Town has a relaxed feel, a good place for R&R. It’s a great place for “yachties,” for the lagoon and its marina are peaceful and attractive.

Moving south, after a most attractive drive, the bus comes to the town of Nydri. The waterfront quay is probably the most interesting part of this town, and the only reason I can see for anyone stopping here is to catch a ferry to see the islands of Meganisi, Skorpios, or Madouri. Or to discover the hill towns such as the pretty village of Karya, which is noted for its special embroidery. Nydri itself is a souless place full of unlovely tourist shops – even the beach is not as pleasant as some.

P1060327aBut further south is Vassiliki, a lovely tranquil place, situated on a bay known for its watersports, and backed by high wooded hills. Because of prevailing winds, it has become known as the must-visit place for windsurfing in Europe. Here you can have the complete package – enjoy the peace of the little village, or live it up at the waterfront hotels across the bay – or both! Windsurfers fascinate me and I can sit on the pebble beach and watch them for hours, especially the windsurfing classes. I’ve stayed many times at Vassiliki – walks along the coast are very pleasant (look for the yellow butterflies).

Around the coast from Vassiliki are several very interesting villages and beaches – the one most visited by tourist boats is Porto Katsiki. Its sandy beach, sheltered by towering cliffs, is very picturesque.

From Vassiliki one can catch a ferry south to the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaki – where we’ll go next week! Come with me!
More pictures on my photo gallery…

Trips from Parga

July 21st, 2014

Welcome to all the bloggers that joined me recently. I hope you’ll enjoy my trip around Greece.

Last week I started in lovely Parga – north-west Greece in the region of Epiros. I’m still there, but this time I’m taking you on some of the lovely trips you can do from Parga. My friends at the ITS (International Travel Services, near the bus stop) do a wonderful job arranging tours, hire cars, even drivers to take you around the attractions. Ask for Helen or Debbie for info, and Richard for driving – they are very helpful.

P1170408a1. Paxi and AntiPaxi
From the Parga quay you can board an excursion boat to take you across the Ionian Sea to the tiny island of Paxi. It’s well worth a visit. The boat noses in through a winding waterway to dock at the main town of Gaios, which is breathtaking in its pink and cream Venetian-style buildings, and pretty waterfront. You can potter around the town, view its attractive shops, and its equally attractive tavernas, walk around the waterfront to the little beach and swim, or take longer walks. See if you can find the WW2 airplane engine tucked away along the waterfront! The boat usually takes you to the neighbouring island of AntiPaxi and the stunning beaches Vrika and Voutoumi, where swimming in the crystal blue water is quite an experience. Also the blue caves are amazing.

2. Corfu
I could devote a whole post to the Ionian island of Corfu, but suffice it to say that a day boat trip from Parga is a must. The trip up the Ionian Sea to the island is pleasurable to start with, then, depending where you land, the walk through Corfu Town is fascinating. I have never thought of Corfu as a true Greek island – it is too influenced by its British (they still play cricket here), Italian and French past (and present), and its blatant tourism over-development, but I do love Old Corfu Town and its wonderful Venetian atmosphere. A wander through these delightful old streets to the Spianada and the Fortress can take up most of the day. I always stop and have a baklava and icecream at the Liston, a Parisian style arcade well-known to Grecophiles.
P1050172a

3. Other Ionian Islands
A very long day tour takes you by bus across the isthmus to the island of Lefkada and the town of Nydri, where you embark on a boat tour. This takes in the small islands of Skorpios and Meganisi on the way to Porto Katsiki on Lefkada. The beach here is unusual and a great place for a swim in those amazing blue waters. (More about Lefkada later.) From there the boat heads for Kefalonia and the port of Fiskardo, where at the least you will see about fifty yachts in situ and some great waterfront tavernas. Fiskardo is one of my very favourite places, although now perhaps a little too touristy. From there the boat heads to Ithaki and the tiny village of Kioni. Ah Kioni! More about you later too. Picture-perfect. The trip back to Parga is long but interesting, and altogether a most satisfactory day.

4. Meteora
Because of the new motorway (the Egnatia) across northern Greece, it is now possible to make a day tour from Parga to Meteora, where the monasteries sit on top of the massive rock pinnacles in a kind of fantasy setting. If you haven’t a long holiday time, this day tour is worth it, for Meteora is one of the most visited and photographed places in Greece, and rightly so. Climbing the steps up to the monastery Moni Megalou Meteorou is an experience in itself, then a wander around inside is quite fascinating. See my photos in the photo gallery!

P1170478a5. Albania
Yes. You can take a day tour into Albania! I did this one on my last trip to Parga. Travelling up through Igoumenitsa then across the border to the Albanian countryside, one passes pretty villages and cultivated fields set against a backdrop of mountains. The city of Saranda on the coast, about 4 kms opposite Corfu, is an attractive place to have lunch and sit and watch the locals go about their business. Walking along the beach is pleasant, for the waterfront is lovely – the day I was there not a ripple was to be seen in the water – with some very agreeable cafes along the perimeter. The tour then takes you to the Roman ruin of Butrinti – a place not many people know about. It’s a truly amazing place and well worth seeing, for some of the attractions are still being excavated – the mosaics of the basilica were being revealed as we passed!

So… Visit Epiros and Parga, not just to experience the Greek Riviera, but much, much more.
Visit my photo gallery for more pix.

Parga

July 14th, 2014

I’m starting my tour of Greece at the lovely town of Parga, situated on the north-west coast of the Greek mainland in the region called Epiros.

Never heard of Epiros? Not surprising – it remains one of Greece’s best kept secrets. Situated as it is in the north-west, bordering on Albania and Macedonia, and stretching down the west coast to the southern area around Preveza, it has been largely ignored by the travel industry, fixated as they are with “island-hopping” in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and luxury island cruises.

Epiros is a mountainous region that doesn’t necessarily equate with the usual Greek pix of whitewashed churches, antiquities, and perfect blue seas. But trust me – Parga is a hidden jewel from which you can base a totally different Greek experience.

I happened on Parga by accident. I missed a night bus from Preveza to Igoumenitsa, hoping to get to Corfu from there. There was only one bus left for the night and it was to Parga, so I caught it. I was so tired when I finally arrived that I went straight to the lovely Hotel San Nektarios and to bed. But next morning I thought I would just have a little look around before moving on…

I never did move on. I stayed there. I’ve been going there ever since.

Situated on the aquamarine Ionian Sea, Parga is almost invisible from the coast road. It’s not until you walk down the cobbled alleyways to the seafront that the full beauty of the place is revealed. Think Venetian-style houses – with shuttered windows over Juliet balconies and red rib-tiled roofs – stacked against a hillside topped with lush vegetation, and crowned with a ruined Venetian castle. Add to this three different, but perfect, beaches; a paralia (waterfront) lined with sophisticated but traditional Greek tavernas; and a veritable market of dinky shops, and you have tourist paradise.

However, if it isn’t your intention to lie around on the beach all day, or sit drinking coffee in a picture-perfect environment, Parga is the jumping-off point for the many attractions Epiros has to offer. These include:
1. The environs of Parga. Climb up to the Venetian castle brooding over the town and experience the views.
Catch the “tourist train” through leafy villages to the ruined castle of Ali Pasha, and see the spectacular coastal sights. Another “train” will take you to an ancient water mill.

2. Parga is the gateway for the region known as the Zagoria, and the majesty of the incredible Pindos Mountains. Because of the new motorway opening up access to this region, exploration of the many grey-stone villages clinging to the precipitous mountainsides; tortuous tracks to the unusual grey stone “forests”; and the hand-built stone bridges spanning swiftly flowing icy green waters of mountain streams, are all available for day trippers. A visit to the glorious Zagorian villages – Monodendri, Aristi, Vikos, and Megalo Papingo ( to name a few) is a must.

3. The Vikos Gorge is stunning, with jaw-dropping vistas over vertical cliffs into abysses. You must see it!

4. The ancient ruins of Dodoni are worth a visit – the amphitheatre is almost on a par with the one at Delphi. From here you can travel on to the city of Ioannina which has a very pretty lake, a castle and caves.

5. The Swiss-lookalike town of Metsovo, (take in the Saturday market), and more of the mighty Pindos mountains.

6. The ruins of the Nekromanteio of Afyra, once feared as the gateway to Hades.

Eating in Parga is an experience. My favourite estiatorio (restaurant) along the waterfront is “Gemini” where the service is excellent, and the food delicious. But it’s lovely at night anywhere, sitting outside, looking at the necklace of lights reflected in the water and relaxing.

There are many trips and tours you can take from Parga. I’ll go into more detail next time. The photos on this blog are my own, and you can see more at
If you have any questions about beautiful Parga don’t hesitate to ask me – helen@greekpixandwords.com

Heading to Greece for holidays?

July 6th, 2014

How do you decided where to go? The Ionian Islands, the Peloponnese, or the Cyclades? Or other places? It’s a hard choice when you only have a few days or a couple of weeks. I’m lucky, I can spent the whole of the three months I’m allowed in the EU in Greece, visiting all my favourite places.

Ideally I start on the north-west coast opposite Corfu, at the gorgeous town of Parga, then head down the Ionians to Paxi, Lefkada (Vassiliki), Kefalonia (Fiskardo and Sami), and Ithaki (Vathy and Kioni).

From Patras I head back down the Peloponnese to Olympia, Pylos, past Kalamata to the Messinian Mani and Lakonian Mani. Or I go from Pylos via the magnificent Langada Pass to Sparti and Mystras. From Sparti I go to Monemvasia, then find my way to Corinth, then Nafplio.

Athens! I always spend some time there, perhaps taking a tour to Delphi. Then from there to Piraeus and by ferry to the Cyclades Islands of Naxos, Santorini, Folegandros, Milos and Sifnos. Tours to many of the other islands are available.

So, are you ready for the grand tour?
Because I can’t go this year I’m going to take it on this blog. Follow me each week (hopefully on a Monday), beginning in Parga next time. Never heard of Parga? Well you are in for a treat! Watch this space!

Summer!

June 27th, 2014

Wish I was there! How lovely to be swimming in the perfect blue waters of Greece.
Due to family matters I have to wait for my next trip to Greece and endue an Aussie winter. However, I have my gallery of photos to keep me sane.

Revised Edition!

June 27th, 2014

GREECE – 100 Travel Tips
My hugely successful eBook is now out in a revised edition on Amazon, as well as Smashwords. it is rated 4 and a half and 5 stars on both.
Here are the links:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00GXYZIAE
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/126404
It only costs $US2.99, and is full of fun info on how to make the most of a great holiday in Greece. Take a look.

My travels in 2013 were amazing, and full of new adventures, revisiting favourite places, and catching up with friends. Not a lot has changed despite all the problems Greece has had, but there are improvements to general tourism.

From my last blog – here’s what the description in my book says:
“Planning a holiday to Greece? “100 travel tips” is a must-read before you set out. It discusses when to go, what to expect, luggage, transportation, the traditions, food, accommodation. It considers the people themselves, island-hopping, the ancient sites, outdoor activities, and shopping. Even if all you want to do is veg-out in peace under the Mediterranean sun, you still need to check this book.”

My first eBook is published!

February 20th, 2012

Thanks to all those who have left comments for me about the Blog, and I have to apologise for not posting for a while. I’ve been busy!!

Yes, my first eBook is now up and for sale on Smashwords. GREECE – 100 Travel Tips has been a huge learning curve on how to put your work into the amazing world of eBooks. Here’s the link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/126404
It only costs $2.99, and is full of fun info on how to make the most of a great holiday in Greece. Take a look.

Here’s what the description says:
“Planning a holiday to Greece? “100 travel tips” is a must-read before you set out. It discusses when to go, what to expect, luggage, transportation, the traditions, food, accommodation. It considers the people themselves, island-hopping, the ancient sites, outdoor activities, and shopping. Even if all you want to do is veg-out in peace under the Mediterranean sun, you still need to check this book.”

We are all following the doom and gloom surrounding Greece and its bail-out, with those subsequent demonstrations and strife in Athens and other main towns. But the rest of Greece is going about its business and trying hard to make the best of things. My lovely friends are all beavering away as usual, and the glorious islands and stunning countryside are awaiting tourists for this coming Season as they always have.

Any queries? Email me at helen@greekpixandwords.com

Terra-cotta Heaven

September 19th, 2011

I was out in my garden potting out some cute new cactus plants and, as I was told they do best in terra-cotta pots I hunted around in my collection of cast-offs. Then later I was looking through my Greek pics and I came across this one – garden potting heaven! It was taken on the island of Sifnos where much handmade pottery is done and families carry a tradition of fine work.

Although we all have favourite garden shops where they sell lovely pots, there is nothing quite like the Greek ones where the patterns are taken from ancient times. On Sifnos The funny looking ones with ‘funnels’ and a bird on top are actually chimney pots and quite distinctive. I am fascinated by them and at various trips have carried back to Australia all sizes of them. At one stage I lugged a really big one back, much to the amusement of my family – they thought I was souvenir crazy.

Do you like the one with what looks like an octopus on it? A bit heavy to carry I fear.

Food, Glorious Food

September 5th, 2011

I was in the fruit and vegetable section of my local market this weekend buying strawberries. They were heaped up and you could choose your own. It reminded me vividly of a local market in Nafplio where the cherries were in huge piles and so cheap you just picked up handfuls and shoved them in a bag. And great heaps of red capsicums, glorious tomatoes, eggplants and zuccinis. Not to mention the nectarines, melons, apples, oranges and everything else. And so fresh and cheap!

Most of the towns in Greece, large and small, have a farmers market, usually on a Saturday. I love them. It’s not only a chance to wander among the locals as they shop, but to see the local produce at its glorious best. One of my favourite markets is in the mountain town of Metsovo. Here you’ll also see people dressed in traditional costume as they move from stall to stall. It’s also a great chance to sit in the main square and watch the to and fro as you partake of the local beverage or a good strong cup of coffee.

 

 

Where Have the Last 2 1/2 Months Gone?

August 16th, 2011

Yassus!
What a journey! Beginning in Athens and Attica, over 10 weeks I’ve travelled the Cyclades, the Ionians, the Saronics, North-west mainland, and the Peloponnese. During that time I took 4636 photos with the new camera! Hope to get to reorganising the website soon – it’ll be a huge job.

Poor old Greece is in a bit of a mess but it was only in Athens where you noticed the troubles. Out on the islands and up in the interior it is business as usual, but unfortunately tourism is down considerably and the lack thereof isn’t helping the economy – it was a little unnerving to be the only one staying in a hotel usually full of travellers. I did experience problems with sudden strikes effecting transport, but as I wasn’t on a strict timetable it didn’t matter. Anyway, I had some wonderful moments – like the fantastic wildflowers in the awesome mountain country and standing on the edge of the stunning Vikos gorge in the Zagoria (north-west Greece), seeing stork nests with chicks on top of the telegraph posts in a tiny village, suddenly seeing a loggerhead turtle swimming around the marina where I was sitting, climbing up to the ‘gates’ of the awesome Gorge of Samaria on Crete, riding the little rack-and-pinion train from Diokofto to Kalavryta etc etc. But the very best thing was renewing friendships, and being recognised and hugged by people, even taverna owners I had met on my last trip!

I have lots of new info about travel in Greece which I will be updating into my ebooklet for independent travellers “100 Tips For Greece” (email me for a copy – it’s only $7.50 through Paypal).

More later, when I collect my brain from the lost luggage department at Brisbane airport!