- Margarita Akritidou
A land of incredible natural beauty, fascinating history, and colorful folklore, Greece arguably has something for everyone. From quaint coastal towns to alpine mountain villages and multicultural Macedonian cities, here’s a selection of ten must visit, off-the-beaten-path destinations where you will discover a different side of this remarkable country.
Few cities reflect Greece’s rich and diverse history as well as Nafplio, one of the country’s most elegant and romantic destinations. Located in the heart of the historic Argolis region on the Peloponnese peninsula, Nafplio has deep cultural roots in Ancient Greece and the Venetian period of the 15th and 17th centuries. It flourished as modern Greece’s first capital in the early 1800s. The city boasts gorgeous neoclassical mansions, beautiful Venetian architecture and scenic alleys. Its landscape is composed by two Venetian castles, Palamidi and Acronafplia, built on two successive hills. Not to be missed, the small fortress of Bourtzi in the Argolic gulf, a short ferry ride from the city, offers unique views over Nafplio and an ideal setting for romantic getaways.
The quaint town of Parga is the most popular summer destination in Epirus, in western Greece. Built amphitheatrically on the slopes of Pezovolos hill and surrounded by lavish greenery and beautiful blue sea, the town has a laid-back island feel to it. Amongst Parga’s highlights, visitors can enjoy its charming and colorful waterfront houses and stone-paved squares, and visit the ruins of an old Venetian castle atop the hill. Nearby Valtos and Lichnos beaches, connected to the port of Parga by boat, are among Greece’s finest.
With a population of roughly 12,000 people, the small town of Kalambaka is located in central Greece. It is built on the foot of the most spectacular Meteora pinnacles, a complex of abrupt rock formations that host one of Greece’s biggest and most important group of monasteries and UNESCO World Heritage site. Kalambaka has a rich history dating back to ancient Greece and especially the Byzantine era, with plenty of beautiful Orthodox churches and chapels. You can stroll down the narrow cobblestone streets of the town’s picturesque old quarter, Sopotos, much of which is built under the shadow of the rocks, and enjoy beautiful Macedonian traditional architecture.
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Northern Greece’s hidden gem, the photogenic city of Kastoria is built on a narrow strip of land amidst the still waters of beautiful Lake Orestiada, giving the impression of a floating island. The city flourished during the 19th century as a fur trade and manufacturing center, and many of its traders’ luxurious mansions and traditional houses can be admired in the old quarters of Doltso and Apozari, along with 72 beautiful churches that are a testament to Kastoria’s rich Byzantine past. The lovely promenade around the lake is perhaps one of Greece’s most scenic walks, offering spectacular views of Kastoria and its surrounding mountains.
Widely popular among winter sport enthusiasts and nature lovers, Karpenisi is a small town situated in a remote and sparsely populated area of central Greece that is called the country’s ‘Little Switzerland.’ The town’s reputation owes much to the unspoiled natural beauty of its surrounding mountains, alpine forests, and whitewater rivers, which make it an ideal destination for true escapism. For its size, Karpenisi offers a decent choice of traditional lodgings, bakeries, and restaurants, and boasts a wide variety of local delicacies, such as its famous leek sausages and internationally awarded prosciutto, crafted from a porcine breed native to the area.
Situated at an altitude of 1,200 meters in the very heart of the majestic mountain range of Pindos in Epirus, Metsovo is undoubtedly one of Greece’s more picturesque towns. The city was home to some of the country’s most skilled stonemasons who used the region’s rich natural resources to build gorgeous mansions, monasteries, fountains, and cobbled streets and squares, most of which remain untouched by time. Nearby mountain peaks, slopes and pristine forests offer an arresting sight to visitors, who can enjoy scenic hikes in the surrounding area. Despite the rapid increase in tourism in recent years, Metsovo still preserves its traditional character, perfectly combining the past with the present by offering a multitude of cultural and sport activities all year round.
The old city of Veria is situated in northern Greece, between the slopes of Mount Vermio and the shores of Aliakmon river. Entrenched in deep-rooted history dating back to ancient Macedonia, Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire, Veria offers a wealth of cultural experiences. From superb Byzantine churches and remarkable monuments, such as Apostle Paul’s Podium, to historical Macedonian and Ottoman architecture and winding stone-paved streets and squares, there’s plenty to explore. Perhaps one of the city’s most intriguing features is its well-preserved old Jewish quarter and synagogue, remnant of Veria’s prosperous Jewish community resident until the 1940s. Veria serves as a convenient base to explore the picturesque monasteries and mountain villages scattered around in the area, and visit the famous archaeological site of Aeges, ancient Macedonia’s first capital.
Located in Thrace, on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Xanthi is known as ‘the city with a thousand colors’ for its vivid, multicultural atmosphere. The city owes much of its fame and fortune to its formerly bustling tobacco industry and its renowned traditional carnival, which is held every February or March. Xanthi’s old town is said to be an open museum, exhibiting a fascinating fusion of architectural traditions that reflect the religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity of the peoples that lived and prospered in the city. Much like its architecture, Xanthi’s culinary traditions represent an intriguing cosmopolitan mix, typical of the region.
The picturesque coastal town of Galaxidi is located on the northern shores of the Corinthian gulf, in central Greece. A former wealthy and busy port, Galaxidi has managed to preserve much of the previous glory of its nautical history, exhibited in the town’s compact Nautical Museum. This town is now known as a famous yachting destination. Its waterfront and colorful streets are decorated with lovely two-story traditional buildings, cozy cafés, and Greek tavernas. One of the town’s most popular cultural events is alevromoutzouroma, held on the first day of Lent, or Clean Monday. The custom commands that participants blacken their faces with coal and throw colored flour at each other, creating a wonderfully colorful buzz.
The lovely town of Agios Nikolaos is situated on stunning Mirabelo Bay, on the northeastern shore of Crete. The town was named after the ninth century Byzantine chapel of Saint Nicolas and was built as a service port for eastern Crete due to its excellent location. Facing the sea on three sides, the town has several waterfronts, each packed with cafés, shops, and restaurants that offer a rich selection of shopping and dining. Its most extraordinary feature is the photogenic lagoon of Voulismeni, a deep body of water that is connected to the sea by a narrow inlet, which, according to legend, is bottomless. From Agios Nikolaos, travelers can visit the infamous ‘leper island’ of Spinalonga, place of quarantine of lepers until 1957, which was featured in Victoria Hislop’s historical novel The Island.