Greece has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently but that hasn’t deterred seasoned adventurer Simon Reeve, who’s made it the focus of his new BBC2 series. We asked whether he’d recommend booking your next holiday there – and the answer was an emphatic “Oh goodness, yes!”
So why Greece?
I’m a huge fan of Greece: the landscape, the beaches, the food, the way of life. It’s a much more interesting country than people realise – we just think of it as having ancient history and being a place for beach holidays.
Are you a regular visitor?
Yes, I’ve been there on holiday any number of times. My wife speaks Greek and is a bit besotted with it, so she drags me there endlessly and I love it.
Simon’s holiday snaps; exploring the island of Pserimos
It’s been in the news a lot because of the economic crisis, the migrant crisis… Would your advice be to go there nonetheless?
Oh goodness, yes! Absolutely, definitely. Whatever your viewpoint on the situation – whether you think: “Oh look, I can get a cheap holiday there”. Yes, you can. Or whether you think: “Oh, I’m worried about whether I’ll be able to get money out of the cashpoint”. Yes, I’m sure you will. The Greeks are incredibly hospitable. This is just a moment of crisis in the history of a land that dates back thousands of years.
What do you like about their way of life?
That goes to the heart of what we love about Greece and Greeks – and also contributes to the [economic] situation that they’re in. Greeks really do live for the moment. They’re a very proud and passionate people who are keen to enjoy life, to spend time with friends and family. They’re not wage-slaves. I find that incredibly appealing because I’m not great at that. I’m more of a long-term planner – that northern European mentality – and that can be a bit boring.
So if you had to choose between being born in Germany or Greece?
Greece any day. It’s a way of life that is appealing, intoxicating. It’s a country that I’ve often thought about living in. I’m a very proud Brit but I could happily live in Greece.
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So where would you recommend?
The Vikos mountains up in the forested, mountainous north are absolutely stunning. They look like the Canadian Rockies in the sunshine. One of the great natural sights of Europe is up there: the Vikos Gorge, which is the deepest gorge in the world. It is a truly spectacular sight – incredibly rewarding for anybody who treks to the edge to look out from the limestone cliffs 1,000ft above the river below.
Hiking to the Vikos Gorge
I was blown away by Crete. A lot of people just stick to the resorts on the coast but go up into the mountains as well and learn a bit about Crete’s history – how valiantly they fought against the Germans during the Second World War – and meet some of the larger-than-life characters.
And for those who just want to enjoy those stunning beaches?
It’s easy to forget there are thousands of Greek islands and tourists only head to a few. If you want to get a bit more of an authentic experience, go to an island with an airport and then head to a neighbouring one by boat. If it hasn’t got an airport on, it’s not going to be quite as rammed with foreign folk like yourself.
Is it easy to island-hop?
One of the great travel pleasures is island-hopping in Greece. It’s pretty cheap – you can just get a ferry from island to island – and it feels like you’re exploring a very distant, ancient land, which in many ways you are.
Do you have a favourite?
Personally, I’m a massive fan of Symi, which is just off the coast of Rhodes. I’ve taken my family to stay in remote a shepherd’s hut there but we generally stay in one of the family-run hotels in the small town near the harbour, and then get a taxi-boat to one of the beaches.
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What’s the best time of year to go?
Easter is a great time to go to Greece because they have enormous celebrations. Easter is bigger than Christmas there. Spring is glorious too because the wild flowers come out. If you’re going to the islands and you’re not tied to school holidays, later in the year is great – even in October the sea is quite warm because it heats up during the summer.
I love spinach pie – spanakopita – with a giant tub of yoghurt and garlic. It’s comfort food for me. And you can get extraordinarily cheap fruit that really tastes of fruit.
And tipple of choice?
Yes, they’re keen on that! The best alcohol I had in Greece was in a monastery on the Mount Athos peninsula, which is the spiritual home for the Greek Orthodox Church. Mount Athos is home to 20 ancient monasteries that date back more than a thousand years.
We met a breakaway group of monks who squat in one of them. They took us to see one of the few temptations that they’re allowed: their distillery where they brew up ouzo and raki – stuff that puts hairs on your chest and aerates your nasal passages. It was real firewater but went down very nicely.
Greece with Simon Reeve begins on Sunday 7th February on BBC2 at 8pm
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