In the latest edition of our Insider Interview series, Elena from Travel Bloggers Greece gives us the scoop on her favourite things about Mainland Greece, and some of its islands, both big and small.
Originally from Russia, Elena has been based in Greece for the last couple of decades, and she regularly explores the country and beyond.
This travel enthusiast has a background in hotel management at leading Greek hotel chains and also runs social travel platform, Passion for Greece.
What do you think makes Greece so special?
The endless choices for all tastes, ages and budgets. I’ve lived in Greece for the past 25 years and there’s still so much to discover.
I don’t think a lifetime is enough to see all of Greece, to be honest. What makes Greece special? – The food, the climate, the people, the amazing natural beauty, the islands.
Greeks are kind people, and if you visit the islands and the villages you will absolutely understand what I mean.
Greeks have a passion for life, regardless of the hard times that they have been faced with because of the crisis – Greeks are very much family-oriented people.
Where would you advise our readers go to get the best feel for Greece if they only have a long weekend spare?
You can get a feel of Greece anywhere to be honest, even if you come to Athens and spent a few days here, the options are endless.
The Acropolis is a must-see, as is watching the sunset from The Temple of Poseidon, swimming in the Athenian Riviera, and taking a day trip to Delphi.
You can even island hop over three islands in one day with a cruise where you can visit Hydra (the island with no cars but only donkeys), Poros, and Aegina (where they grow the famous Greek pistachios, or visit the Temple of Aphaia).
Visitors coming to Athens can also go on a day trip to explore fantastic Greek wineries in Nemea, which is home to the Agiorgitiko grape variety (red). Nemea is one of the most historic wine regions in Greece.
If you wish to experience something out of this world then head towards Central Greece and visit Meteora – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to extraordinary rock formations, which are literally suspended in the air.
Here visitors will find the six operating monasteries which dominate the high natural pillars.
What Greek dishes do you find yourself recommending time and time again?
Anywhere you go in Greece you can find vegetarian dishes, as the Mediterranean diet is very healthy and incorporates a lot of vegetables and fruits. From rich salads, to dips like the fava, melitzanosalata (eggplant dip) or tzatziki (yogurt-garlic dip), an array of greens, beans, baked vegetables and stuffed vegetables.
For example, gemista orfana is a popular dish – stuffed capsicums and tomatoes made with rice and herbs, baked in the oven with potatoes.
Briam is another popular vegetable dish made with zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers baked in a rich tomato sauce.
And you should definitely try dolmadakia – stuffed vine leaves made with rice and herbs. Many restaurants make the meatless versions, which are called the orfana.
Or, opt for Spanakorizo – a rice dish made with spinach. If you want something indulgent, saganaki fried cheese is best enjoyed with freshly squeezed lemon.
You’ll notice that Greeks love fresh lemon and use it in many of their dishes. Boiled vegetables are another option, or boiled wild greens called horta, which are served with plenty of olive oil and lemon juice.
Don’t worry about finding the right food in Greece – there are plenty of options to please all palates.
Greece is primarily known for sun, sea and sand. But what else does it have to offer visitors?
It also offers snow! If you visit Greece in winter you’ll be amazed with the snow-covered mountain peaks. In fact, in Greece you can see the sea while skiing.
In the region of Pelion which is in Central Greece you can be near the beach at one moment and 30 minutes later skiing in the mountains. Greece has plenty of hidden gems that people absolutely don’t know about.
What has been your personal favourite moment in Greece?
That’s a hard one to pick to be totally honest, because over the years I have experienced many wonderful moments. I would say the genuine hospitality of the locals in the villages and on the islands – they always welcome you with open arms and make you feel as if you’re part of the family.
Anywhere I have been, it feels like you develop a certain bond with the place. Crete is definitely one of my favourite islands as the people are amazing!
How would you advise our readers to prepare for a trip to Greece?
Come to Greece with an open mind and let it do its wonders. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love Greece.
Yes, the Greeks are not perfect, but who is? You can call them disorganised at times but you are guaranteed to meet the best characters that will make you always want to return.
What unusual thing do you think would surprise first-time visitors to Greece the most?
Greeks are loud – they might speak to you as if they have known you forever. You will instantly become their friend. If you go to Crete, never refuse when offered a glass of raki, as it’s simply impolite. Otherwise I’m sure you’ll be fine.
Do you have any suggestions for activities or days out you’ve tried and loved in Greece?
If you love sailing, then you’ll definitely enjoy sailing in Greece – one of the top experiences. Also, hiking in Meteora, or join one of the Athens tours to learn more about the Mythology if you’re a fan of history and myths.
Watch a performance at Athens’ Odeon of Herodes Atticus in the summer months, visit a Greek winery and eat plenty of Greek food. Flamingo and bird watching on Lesvos was also a fantastic experience for me.
Is there anything you’re dying to do in Greece that you haven’t gotten around to yet?
I lived on Crete for a couple of months three summers in a row and never got to go to Balos Beach, that’s one of the places on my list. Also, to visit Thessaloniki, I have only been once when I was a kid. I am open to all experiences in Greece, except for sky diving!
Has Elena inspired you for your next trip to Greece? What can’t you wait to go and do?