Top Reasons to Go to Greece
The great emblem of classical Greece has loomed above Athens (whose harbor of Piraeus is gateway to all the Greek Islands) for 2,500 years. Even from afar, the sight of the Parthenon—the great marble temple that the 5th century BC statesmen Pericles conceived to crown the site—stirs strong feelings about the achievements and failings of Western Civilization.
More than a million visitors a year answer the call of the island that inspired the landscapes of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Historically, these admirers are in good company—Normans, Venetians, Turks, Napoléon Bonaparte, and the British have all occupied Corfu, leaving fortresses, seaside villas, and an unforgettable patina of cosmopolitan elegance.
On Greece's most sacred ground, follow in the footsteps of the ancients and step into the temple of Apollo, where the Pythian oracle may or may not present a garbled answer to your questions. Even if the oracle doesn't send you into a spell, the spectacle of the sanctuary, theater, and treasure-filled museum will.
Crete will introduce you to the marvels of the Minoans, the first great European civilization that flourished around 1500 BC. First stop is Knossos, the massive palace complex of King Minos, then it's on to the nearby archaeological museum in Heraklion, where the playful frescoes that once lined the royal chambers show just how urbane these early forbearers were.
Getting closer to God, being halfway to Heaven … however you choose to describe the experience, ascending to these Byzantine monasteries perched atop 1,000-foot-high peaks is a most unearthly experience. With worldly diversions so far below, the religious visions lavishly pictured in frescoes and mosaics are all the more transcendent.
Backbackers and jet-setters alike share the beautiful beaches and the Dionysian nightlife—this island is not called the St-Tropez of the Aegean without reason—but the old ways of life continue undisturbed in fishing ports and along mazelike town streets. Not only are the hotels and cafés picture-perfect, the famous windmills actually seem to be posing for your camera.
The games that still hold all the world in their thrall were first staged here in the pine-scented stadium and hippodrome, arranged around a sacred zone of temples, in 776 BC. Natives of Greek city-states called a temporary truce and suspended all warfare to compete peacefully in their chariot races, boxing matches, and pentathlons, a tradition we moderns would be wise to follow.
One of the world's most picturesque islands cradles the sunken caldera of a volcano that last erupted around 1600 BC. To merely link the phenomenon to the Atlantis myth and the Minoan collapse misses the point—what matters is the ravishing sight of the multicolor cliffs rising 1,100 feet out of sparkling blue waters, a visual treat that makes the heart skip a beat or two.
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