Monday, 19 January 2009

10 reasons to visit Greece or Croatia

Greece and Croatia are two countries with endless coastlines and plenty to do beyond the beach. Now they are also offering seriously smart places to stay. Our comprehensive guide will help you make the most of them this summer.

and Croatia might seem unlikely bedfellows in a travel feature, but their selling points as summer holiday destinations have much in common. The big draw in both countries is an endless, multi-faceted coastline - not least a multitude of islands (some 6,000 in the case of Greece, 1,200 for Croatia). Some are ideal for laid-back, stay-put holidays, others beg to be explored on island-hopping itineraries by ferry or yacht. Both countries also offer enticing diversions away from the beach (which is particularly important in Croatia's case, since its beaches are generally not great) - from superb ancient sites to elegant Venetian ports.

Moreover, the two Mediterranean destinations are undergoing a rapid rise in accommodation standards. Seriously smart five-star hotels and trendy boutique pads were rarities in Greece a decade ago, but are becoming fairly commonplace.

Meanwhile, Croatia is transforming its tourism from the mass market (which it was in the 1980s, before the Balkan wars put what was then Yugoslavia off limits to holidaymakers) to the more upmarket. Not for nothing has Croatia's Dalmatian coast been dubbed "the new Riviera", and its Istria peninsula "the new Tuscany".



Providing you avoid the city in the peak summer months, when many shops and restaurants are closed and it's often unpleasantly hot, Athens makes a tempting stopover on the way to the Greek islands. In the past few years, Greece's capital has undergone a remarkable makeover, largely thanks to the catalyst of the Olympic Games. As well as a new international airport, a much extended metro and a new tram system, the city is less polluted and the centre has become much more pedestrian friendly - you can now walk right round the Acropolis and Agora on traffic-free streets. Many hotels were freshened up for the Olympics, and there are new designer hotels.

Mainland fly-drives

Despite the mainland's plethora of classical sites and stunning scenery, tour operators generally give cursory details about fly-drive options.

Most of its tailor-made fly-drive business is to the Peloponnese. It recommends staying in the cobbled village of Dhimitsana and exploring the verdant Arcadia region, rather than belting along the coastal highway to Olympia. Sunvil also offers the mountainous Epirus region (excellent walking and stunning old villages in Zagori), and central and northern Greece. Accommodation is mostly in characterful two- or three-star hotels. Combining a stay in a beach resort with a tour is encouraged.


With the tragic deaths of two children from carbon monoxide poisoning in one of its hotels in October, Corfu has come in for a lot of bad press. Yet the Ionian island is likely to be in great demand this year, thanks to new flights with British Airways from May.

The scheduled services will suit one segment of the island's clientele to a T. While the far south is Club 18-30 territory, the mountainous north-east coast has become such a favoured destination for upmarket villa holidays it has been nicknamed Kensington-on-Sea. Many villas have quiet, private locations, stunning views across the narrow straits to Albania, and are in walking distance of a sheltered (normally pebbly) cove or beach. The island is the top seller for the villa specialists Meon Villas and CV Travel.


This Cycladic island will be a possible long-weekend destination this summer, thanks to new twice-weekly British Airways flights from Gatwick (see ''Getting there''. A magnet for party-till-dawn types, including lots of celebrities, Mykonos is Greece's most glamorous island.

There are plenty of boutique hotels to choose from, such as the Mykonos Theoxenia.


This former leper colony, just off Crete's north-east coast, was the setting for The Island, last summer's best-selling novel by Victoria Hislop.

You can visit the tiny and uninhabited islet while staying on the mainland opposite at the clifftop Blue Palace. One of Crete's newest luxury hotels (there's a fancy spa, and many rooms have private infinity pools), it is emblematic of the island's shift to upmarket holidays - a clutch of other five-star properties is down the road at Elounda.



To get to Istria cheaply, travel articles used to recommend flying with no-frills airlines to Trieste in Italy, or even to Ljubljana in Slovenia. Such roundabout methods are no longer necessary, thanks to Ryanair's thrice-weekly flights from Stansted to Pula (on the tip of the Istria peninsula), which started last October, and, also new last year, EasyJet's seasonal flights to Rijeka (on the Kvarner Gulf, but an easy drive to Istria) - see ''Getting there'' for more details.

Tourism is booming in Istria's interior which, with its wooded, fertile and undulating countryside punctuated by medieval hilltop towns, has been dubbed "the new Tuscany". Villas and agroturizam (farm holiday) projects are cropping up everywhere, and the cuisine (hearty central European fare mixed with Italian influences) can be excellent - truffles are a speciality, and local wines can be very drinkable.

The coast, though mass-market in places, is a draw, too. Pula has one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in existence and Rovinj is a delightful old Venetian port with far more of an Italian than a Balkan air (the Hotel Villa Angelo d'Oro - once a bishop's palace, is highly recommended).

1 comment:

  1. At either of these destinations a stay in a villa is a must!

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