Greece in so many ways epitomizes a Mediterranean dream vacation.  World famous for its long stretches of beach, seemingly endless coastline with the bluest of blue sea, and postcard worthy islands for every type of traveler.  Historical and archaeologic sites that are unparalleled, 18 UNESCO heritage sites, fresh seafood and wonderful wines, and incredible greek hospitality only add to the many reasons this country is one of our most requested destinations. 

It's romantic, breathtaking scenery and luxurious and warm accommodations make it an excellent choice for an anniversary trip or a honeymoon, a romantic getaway as a couple, but greeks are also incredibly family orientated and children are happily welcome almost everywhere.  It's one of our personal favorite places to visit, and through these long months at home, images of our past travels always made us smile.  As soon as we can start traveling again, it's one of our first places to visit!

Our guides in Greece are nothing short of spectacular.  To close out our blog series, we spoke with several of our local colleagues (and friends) on the ground in Athens and Crete that lead and guide our clients through their country.  They shared with us some of their expert tips and advice, stories and memories, and some travel inspiration to show you just how special their country is.


1. What do you love about being a guide/why did you decide to become a guide?

Alexandra, Athens (below): I am an archaeologist, I love art, history and people. At some point during my training to become a licensed tourist guide I was told “you do not need to become a guide, you are already one”.  Then I knew this is the job for me.  My greatest joy is to give you that little extra to better understand what you encounter so that ruins, monuments, artworks, tastes, local habits and charming spots for pictures become an experience.

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Marianna, Athens: Being a guide is a way to introduce someone to your country and familiarize them with the country’s history, culture and people. This way, the visitor can see through my eyes a country that he had never visited before and feel comfortable and ‘at home’.

Ourania, Athens:I became a guide because of the wedding party of a best friend! I was dancing at the dance floor and I was approached by the mother of my friend, one of the great guides of Greece, and she said to me “you should become a guide”. By that time, I had already worked as an archaeologist and as an art historian and curator of galleries. Somehow, I felt that was my call. When I actually started working as a guide, I realized that everything I loved in my life, I could find in guiding - traveling, great art and meeting people from all parts of the world. What I cherish the most, is the interaction with our guests and the impact that traveling has on their lives and mine as well.

Konstantina, Crete: I wanted to become a guide since I was a child, from the age of 10 or 11 if I remember well. I felt I wanted to do this job, after I carefully followed my God mother accompanying some friends of hers on a brief tour in the country side of Crete. I was sure then ,that I love history and culture, that I like to be connected to people and most of all,I found out how much I like traveling and discovering the past. How people evolved, how they built their relationships and how they got through their difficulties. This became the passion of my life and my most desirable dream...Back then it was a dream and I was determined to use all of my skills to make it come true!  What I love mostly about being a guide, is the opportunity to share my interest about the history and the culture of my country, which I love deeply.  I also enjoy helping my guests discover how the past connects with today, how little and may be meaningless things, brought us to what we are now, how the people loved, how they create, how they felt and reacted about the same issues that concern us today...

2.  What is a destination or site that you most enjoy taking guests?
Ourania (below): I will not sound very original, but rather stereotypical, because my choice of site in Athens is the Acropolis Hill. But when in Athens, this is the absolute destination for me. A site that with the magnificent temple of the Parthenon, crowns the city and there and only there, one can feel the splendor of classical Athens of the 5th century BC. The Parthenon encapsulates all the cultural and political achievements of the Athenian people. If one wants to comprehend philosophy, if one wants to understand democracy, the Parthenon is the visual embodiment of all.
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Alexandra: Of course the Acropolis is a must-see for the first time travelers to Athens but personally I also very much like to take my guests for a stroll on the  Ancient Agora which was the commercial and political heart of the ancient city. Here, the daily life of the ancient Athenians took place. Imagine a market buzzing with vendors surrounded by imposing buildings where politicians and
philosophers gathered about 2500 years ago.

Konstantina: I enjoy taking them anywhere between a natural beautiful landscape and a place with a strong historical identity seen all over.  There are so many places in Greece and Crete that combine both.  The archeological site of Delfi is my favorite on the mainland of Greece.  On Crete, I mostly enjoy the impressive site of ancient Aptera, on the west of the island

Marianna: There are plenty of places in Greece that I love visiting, eg. Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympics, the sacred island of Delos, a city of 4th century B.C and one of the first duty free places in the Mediterranean sea, but in Athens, my favorite is the Agora, where democracy was born and we can trace back to where and how politics in the modern era started.

3.  What is your best moment with clients that you can remember?
Marianna (below): The best moment was when after a long time I guided the same lady again, who told me that my stories helped her overcome the awkward feeling she had, of becoming a grandmother for the first time (probably she felt old, even though she was not) and she made her grandchildren and her children calling her yiayia (grandmother in Greek). So she felt grateful that she could enjoy it thanks to that her new stage in her life.
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Ourania: It is a recent experience in a way. The first days of 2020 I guided a couple of Americans from New York of Jewish heritage. Both, in their eighties, we visited the Acropolis with a very low temperature, snow had covered the surrounding mountains and the wind was unusually chill for the typical weather standards of Greece. The gentleman was a music conductor and professor of classical music, the lady, a professor of history. They guided me in that occasion, I admit. They guided me and gave me their insight of life and moral values. We stayed at the top of the hill for two hours admiring the architecture, and we talked about almost everything. Last words we exchanged when I kissed them goodbye at the hotel reception “call your mother and visit your parents more”.

Alexandra: When clients asked me during a visit to Philippi to find them a place for a small religious ceremony I took them to the stream nearby where it is said that the apostle Paul baptized Lydia who became thus the first woman baptized on the European continent. To be there with them was truly a touching moment.

Konstantina (below): Quite a few years ago, I was given the chance to guide some people with special needs that had been in Greece many times before, when they were younger, healthier and stronger. I spent 12 days with them and their assistants, while traveling all over the country. This was a unique experience for me. What I 'll remember is the strength and determination that they all carried inside their hearts. It was a life lesson for me. The days we spent together allowed us to create strong bonds and share so many things. All the myths, the stories, the philosophy ,the history had a healing effect on them and on me of course.We spent hours under the moonlight ,by the seaside, in the forests enjoying the silence and the singing of the birds...Last day ,before their departure, we climbed up the hill of the Acropolis. It wasn't  easy, I would say it was an enormous achievement for us all..As I was helping out one of the ladies, she turns to me saying: " Thank you for helping me experience this moment " I'll never forget her. She made me feel like a super hero..  Moments like that are the greatest reward!

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4.Your recommendation for the best time of year to visit your country/city/town and why ?

Alexandra: You can visit Greece all year round I would say! The islands for a perfect summer time. In and around Athens or Thessaloniki there is a lot to be
discovered and not only during the summer months. Especially Athens has
mild winters with regularly sunny days. Perfect for exploring the city by foot
and for visits to the many archaeological sites, museums and medieval
byzantine churches.

Konstantina: Crete is a beautiful place all year round.The high mountains, the valleys, the canyons and the plateaus of it, create an environment that offers different views and colors each season. But, I would definitely recommend spring and autumn time. April and May, as well as late September and October are the best time, for me. During these months, visitors have the chance to attend a variety of local activities, that are special and can only be experienced certain times of the year. 

Ourania: I would recommend early spring and autumn. There is a certain sweetness in the early months of spring, few rainfalls, crisp, light air, and blossomed wild flowers, like poppies and lilies of the valley on the slopes of the hills of Athens. Plus, the perfume of the flowers of the orange trees, which are planted on the pavements of the city centre of Athens. As for autumn, the temperatures are equally pleasant, and one can get the vibe of the Athenians that have returned back from their summer holidays and the people are meeting at the open air cafes and restaurants, still with their skin suntanned.

Marianna: For me it can be either beginning of May, at the start of the summer season, or October, when it's still warm (even for swimming). It is less crowded and more pleasant to explore each destination at a relaxed pace.

5.  What you find most exciting or inspiring about your area?
Konstantina:  Being born and brought up on the country side of the island of Crete, I could find many exciting and inspiring things about it.  It's the place of my heart and that is something I found out, after I had seen other places around the world and returned back.  The thing though that I find most exciting, unique and inspiring is the fact that this island includes all these natural beauties that someone would find while exploring the land of a big continent. Sudden and many changes on the landscape, created from heights and slopes, divided from deep and wild gorges in between, shape a controversy that adds a very dramatic beauty.  Every corner, every little side of the island's coast, has something different to give to the visitor.
Marianna: Even though it's a big city (the largest in the country) you never feel that you are lost. You can find charming, authentic places where you can relax away from the busy city life; you can get a feeling of escaping although you are never alone in this city.
Ourania (below): I will choose to talk to you about my city. Athens is such a diverse city, the capital of Greece, and although I take pride of being a local guide, still I find myself at awe upon discovering constantly new neighborhoods, buildings that I hadn’t noticed, a café that serves great coffee and even in museums and sites, every time, there is something new to marvel to. Athens has exited an economic crisis that lasted for ten years and the people of the city showed solidarity and community comradeship. At the recent time of the pandemic, we were somehow prepared to show respect to the rules for the common good. Right now, I am writing these lines from my favorite café, and I enjoy seeing the people of my neighborhood back to their usual habits. Athens, as any capital city of the world, is a living and breathing body of people with hopes and open possibilities.
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Alexandra: Greece is unique with its rich culture and beautiful places. But what I find truly exciting is its vibrant energy, often ready to explode in nature, in colors, in music and in the ways of its people.
6.  Which place do you love to visit in their country?
Konstantina (below): I certainly love the countryside of Crete with the numerous traditional or abandoned villages...There is so much of history and stories there,hidden well under any piece of stone! The areas that I find most special are Chania and Rethymnon. That's the western part of the island and the most picturesque one.
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Alexandra: That is a difficult question because there are many places I love to visit. I like Ioannina and the area of the Northern Pindos mountain range with traditional villages and towns like Metsovo. But I have to admit; also Santorini remains one of my favorite places I always go back to.
Marianna: Greece is famous for its islands and as a typical Greek I am no exception. My preference are the smaller, off the beaten path islands where it can be only you, the sea and the sun.

Ourania: That’s the toughest question you can ask a guide!!I love every bit of my country, the remote mountains, the smallest islands. But since I have to choose one, I would choose Mykonos, a cosmopolitan island that everybody loves to visit from all over the world. I visited it very recently, in June 2020. It still surprised me with its beauty. Soft low granite hills, sandy beaches, crystal pristine blue waters. White cubic houses, blue shutters, churches with blue domes. One of our two Nobel prize laureate poets, Odysseas Elytis, had described Mykonos as “an oyster open to the world”. I cannot find better words than his.

7. If you could give a tour to anyone (from the past or present), who would it be?

Ourania: That would be Sigmund Freud. Sigmund Freud visited the Acropolis Hill of Athens on the 3rd of September 1904, accompanied by his brother, Alexander. For the occasion, he wore his best shirt. When at the Acropolis, he looked at the Parthenon, he was dumbfounded. He said totally taken by surprise “so, it really exists, like they taught us at school!”. He later wrote a letter to a friend commending on his visit to the Acropolis and his feelings about it. I think, I still share the same reaction with him when I take a look at the Parthenon, it truly exists!

Konstantina: I would love to give a tour to my favorite philosopher Epicurus. I'm sure he would  love the simplicity of life that the people of Crete enjoy..and he probably would  enjoy my curiosity and admiration about his ideas.

Alexandra (below): Jeff Koons, my favorite American artist.

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Marianna: Probably Socrates, who, even though he lived in Athens, I would like to show him how much the city has changed and how his ideas helped shape the world we now live in.

8. Personal favorite restaurant?
Alexandra: For seafood down town I definitely recommend Aiolou 68 restaurant behind the Varvakios Central Market. And for some nicely cooked Greek dishes I
often go to Minibar in Psyri, the bohemian neighborhood of Athens.

Ourania: There are countless great little restaurants or Michelin starred restaurants in Athens, that would satisfy every delicate palette. My favorite restaurant however is called Varoulko. It is actually a restaurant at a small bay, called Mikrolimano. Right by the water, it is a restaurant focused on sea food and fish. Having a dinner there at sunset, watching the small sailing boats returning from the sea, having a glass of Greek white wine with grilled octopus and a salad with fresh green herbs, tomatoes, olive oil and soft cheese, is quite an experience.

Konstantina: In Crete "Prima Plora" and "Avli". Both in Rethymnon, where I live..Incredibly delicious dishes of local Cretan cuisine and recipes of the past with genuine flavors.

Marianna: I enjoy eating in Melilotos, in Kalamiotou str., in the city centre, serving a more modern Greek cuisine. Another favorite is ‘Okso Nou’, located in the bohemian part of the city called Exarhia. There you can enjoy mezedes (Greek style tapas) and a true local experience.

By Christine Mitchell-De Fina | June 30th, 2020 | Insider, Greece, Travel Tips, See & Do | 0 Comments

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