The economic situation in Greece has been unavoidable news for weeks, and it appears to have had a knock on effect on tourism, with the country’s tourism board revealing late bookings – which usually account for a fifth of reservations – are down by 30%.
Greece has always been a draw for British tourists, with about two million visits from us annually, and for good reason. We go to experience the stunning landscapes, rich history and glorious cuisine on offer, not to mention the hospitality, and as the economy there struggles, it perhaps matters now more than ever that our passion for the country doesn't wane.
Louise Hodges, spokesperson for Travelzoo.com, told Stylist.co.uk: “British tourists have a long-standing affection for the beautiful Greek islands with their welcoming culture, incredible food and natural beauty and many people here want to support Greece in her hour of need and keep tourism buoyant and flowing in to the country.
“Confidence in travel to Greece is returning now that they look set to stay in the Eurozone – however the past couple of weeks did have an impact on bookings and so prices are beginning to fall as hotels realise they still have availability for summer 2015."
Travel companies have been discounting to fill vacancies, with Ryanair launching a Keep Greece Flying campaign and some reports citing package holidays dipping as low as £180 for a week’s three-star accommodation with flights. Meanwhile, the average price of a return flight has been quoted as £181 per person, compared to £335 this time last year.
Inspired by travel experts and our own experiences of the country, we’ve put together a hit list of must-visits if you’re considering Greece as your last-minute getaway this summer.
Known and loved for its old world charm and picturesque fishing villages, Crete is described by Lonely Planet as “in many respects the culmination of the Greek experience”. It’s the largest Greek island and for most, its natural beauty and rich history can’t be matched.
Travelzoo’s deal experts have sourced a deal costing £499 per person – a saving of 39%. Louise told Stylist.co.uk: “This is worth snapping up because it’s in the secluded bay of Elounda – known as ‘the secret holiday hideout of the most elite members of the jet-set crowd’ according to Luxury Travel Magazine. The 5-star Royal Marmin Bay & Art Hotel is brand new and the deal includes seven nights in a sea-view room with flights and all meals included. Five-star living at a bargain price!” For more information, visit Travelzoo.com.
Chris Laugsch, from boutique hotel and rentals website Welcome Beyond, recommends trying areas a little off the tourist path, such as Sifnos, loved for its cuisine and peaceful atmosphere. It can be reached from Piraeus, the main port in Athens. “Greece is a wonderful place and there are still some barely-discovered little islands,” Chris told Stylist. “Sifnos is a good example. It’s a small island, popular with artists and intellectuals who value the traditional lifestyle, the delicious food and the beautiful landscape.”
19th century Psacharopoulos House is surrounded by said incredible scenery and is a five-minute walk from Artemonas, a traditional village protected by Greek law, or a slightly longer walk to the bars and restaurants of Apollonia, while beaches are a short car journey away. The house can accommodate between four and eight people, and prices begin at €240 (approximately £167) per night. Visit welcomebeyond.com for more information.
The experts tell us it's worth looking at the higher-end properties offering all-inclusive options as there are bargains to be had, such as the 5-star Aldemar Olympian resort in Skafidia. The area is about 35 minutes from the UNESCO site of Olympia, where you can explore the unique sporting history in the midst of mountains, beaches and coastline.
There are currently summer travel dates available for a week-long package in the luxury resort, including flights, all meals, drinks and snacks, as well as transfers, at £499 per person, up to 50% cheaper than the usual price for summer dates. Visit Travelzoo.com for more information.
Served by direct flights, this island boasts over 60 stretches of sand - including secret beaches only reached by boat. There are hiking trails for the more active traveller, and speedboat hire to ports such as Tsougrias and Arkos for lunch at a taverna.
The boutique Kivo Art & Gourmet Hotel (00 30 24270 22407; kivohotel.com) is owned by a Skiathos local happy to share his knowledge, and boasts a lovely pool, sun deck and sea views. There’s also a free shuttle bus to nearby Mikros Vasilias beach, where the hotel has a private area and food-and-drink service.
Seven nights B&B in a sea-view room, with flights departing 18 September from Gatwick and car hire included is £485 per person, based on two sharing, with Thomson (thomson.co.uk). There’s limited availability on the same deal departing Gatwick in mid-August, costing £730 per person – a discount of £261 per person.
SANTORINI & MYKONOS
Long loved for their luxury feel, Santorini and Mykonos are in the Cyclades group of islands, and now could be the best opportunity to visit. Louise from Travelzoo told us: "Thompson are offering huge savings on flights to exquisite Santorini, famous for its white cliff-side buildings with blue-domed roofs and to Mykonos – often referred to as the island of hedonism. Flights as low as £86 return are on the market flying to these destinations from Bristol, or £140 return from Gatwick.
"The same flights for next summer are currently listing at up to £600 per person, so this is the time to book and make big savings."
Travel expert Louise recommends Thira town on Santorini, which is built on the rim of a volcano that's been flooded by the Aegean. "The whitewashed buildings spill over the edge of the black volcanic cliffs," she said. "There are some great boutique hotels and villas built into the side of the cliff offering impressive views.
"You can walk down the winding path from town to the harbour for a sailing boat trip out to the small islands in the middle of the crater, where you can walk in a barren, steaming landscape or swim into a bay where the water is much warmer thanks to the heat of the volcano. Then take the cable car back up to town from the port and sit on the terrace of one of the bars to enjoy stunning sunsets."
If saving on a flight, why not go luxe with accommodation? For something a little different and rather special, experts from hotel website Mr & Mrs Smith recommend 1780's mansion The Tsitouras Collection, with an incredible family-owned collection of antiques in each room, from £325 a night. On Mykonos, the Grace Mykonos is super stylish, with rooms from £312 a night with a bottle of Champagne on arrival.
This picturesque island is considered to be a nice balance between the party-hard reputations of Kos et al and the quieter, family-friendly islands, with a good spread of bars and restaurants and more rural spots, and - of course - requisite beautiful scenery and amazing beaches.
Rather than opting for a hotel, Dorman Villas have three villas on the island, sleeping between nine and 15 people. Prices start from £1085 a week. Visit dormanvillas.com.
- To really get away from it all, try somewhere like Antipaxos, says our insider, Louise. "Antipaxos has one of the most beautiful golden beaches in Greece. You can only get to the island by boat from Paxos and there are no roads on the island – stunning." Sounds like bliss, right?
- If you're worried about taking cash with you, as per advice from the Foreign Office following reports of ATMs running out of money, read this piece for a good overview of the situation
- Booking a city break doesn't mean you can't take trips out of the hustle and bustle. Louise recommends Agistri, which is easily reachable from Athens. "It's a gorgeous island with secluded coves, winding roads and amazing seafood – the prawn saganaki is really lovely. It’s tiny, so you get a real sense of island life."
- Visit the tourist board's website for general information and travel advice
Words: Amy Swales