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By Chris Leadbeater, Travel Writer for the Telegraph

Featured in the Telegraph on 17 March 2023. Copy by Chris Leadbeater, holiday suggestions recommended by the Sunvil team.

Few European destinations are more recognisable than Greece – particularly in the white heat of summer, when the Mediterranean sun smiles on the land of Zeus, Poseidon and Aphrodite. Its rays bounce of the honeyed pillars of the Parthenon, skip across the surface of the Aegean, wrap around the windmills of Mykonos, and dance on the seafront in Crete, Rhodes, Skiathos and Kos. 

It is a picture both familiar and inviting, and we enjoy it in large numbers on a regular basis, with some three million Britons visiting Greece each year. But what of the less familiar side of Greece – the Greece beyond the sands of Shipwreck Beach on Zakynthos, beyond the view of the waves from Santorini’s epic cliff-tops? 

Few people would claim that our travel familiarity breeds contempt – and in a country that ranks as the 11th biggest in western Europe, there is a Greece that stands aloof from postcards and social-media feeds. And this may be the year in which to discover it.

The 10 “lesser lights” suggested here are not wholly unknown, of course. But they are definitely under-appreciated, under-visited and, in some cases, significantly off the beaten track. Equally, they come with all those special traits that tend to define a Greek holiday – the moody mountain range, the waterside taverna, the path through the pine forest, the unfussy hotel with the sunlit terrace, the little cove where the tide tiptoes to the shore.

In fact, the only thing these 10 places may lack is other tourists in large numbers.

Familiarity? It’s hugely overrated.

Epirus: Gorge yourself in the north-west

Epirus, in the far north-western corner of Greece, has crept into the travelling consciousness in the past decade. This is partly because tour operators have learnt to make more of the convenient positioning of Preveza Airport, the arrival point for Lefkada, which actually sits on the mainland; and partly because Parga, an endlessly pretty former fishing village, 40 miles to the north, offers sunshine escapes of excellent value.

But the wider region often goes unexplored – which is a shame, as there is a great deal to see. Syvota, a further 15 miles up the coast, is a lovely small town where tavernas adorn the waterfront and Gallikos Molos Beach winks at the Ionian Sea.

Ioannina, the regional capital, offers just the right amount of urban interruption, its old town fortifications remembering Byzantine and Ottoman rulers past. Most striking of all is Vikos Gorge, cutting a 20-mile dash through the Pindus Mountains at a scale – almost a mile deep in places, up to a mile and a half wide in others – that the Grand Canyon would appreciate.

A seven night stay at Anthilia Cottages cost from £949pp (two sharing), including a self-catering two-bedroom cottage and transfers through Sunvil (020 8568 4499).

Inland Epirus is one of Europe’s prime areas of outstanding natural beauty. With mountains, lakes, gorges, preserved stone villages and a unique flora and fauna it is one of Greece’s best-kept secrets. For those with a car, it is a 2–3-hour drive from your resort area by the sea to the Zagoria national park. Sunvil can prebook a small mountain village hotel either for a few nights during your main holiday (from £45 per person per night B&B at Dias Guesthouse) or for your second week (from £408 pp including car). Prices are based on 2023 costs.

Vikos Gorge Vikos Gorge

Trails and tails of the Pelion

The all but symmetrical “N-shape” of the Pagasetic Gulf is partially created by the Pelion, which stretches north-west to south-east as an outer barrier, separating this sheltered bay from the open Aegean. In truth, the 50-mile-long hook of land is as much a mountain as a peninsula, coming to a head where its highest summit, Pourianos Stavros, worries the sky at 5,328ft (1,624m). 

Home to 24 villages of varying altitude but scant difference in size, it is a place for summer strolling and literary echoes – its tree-lined slopes crop up in the works of Shakespeare and Herman Melville, as well as in the annals of Greek mythology.

A seven night stay at the Santikos Mansion costs from £959pp (two sharing), including bed and breakfast accommodation and car hire through Sunvil (020 8568 4499). In the heart of one of Pelion’s most attractive mountain villages, just a minute or two’s walk from the main square, this traditional Pelion mansion dates from the 19th century and has been sensitively restored. It offers a restful stay full of traditional charm and character to those wishing to experience a very different side of Greece.

View of the Pagasetic Gulf View of the Pagasetic Gulf

Into the darkness in Kalavryta

It is a tribute to the colossal size of the Peloponnese that a drive from Areopoli, almost at its southern tip, to Diakopto, on its north coast, is a matter of 170 miles and four hours. Head for this end of the peninsula and you are in different but similar territory. This is another province, Achaea – although the Panachaiko mountains still crowd the horizon.

Diakopto is the start of something wonderful; the antique rack railway, crafted by Italian engineers between 1885 and 1895, rises 2,461ft (750m) over the course of 14 miles and traces the Vouraikos Gorge on its way to Kalavryta.

The upper terminus is a town cast in permanent shadow as of December 1943 – when German soldiers murdered 693 of its residents in one morning of inhumanity. But it tells its tale bravely. A memorial marks the tragedy. And there are happier sights, too.

The Agia Lavra monastery, destroyed by the invaders, has since been reconstructed – and not without a sense of déjà vu. Tenth century in origin, it has been burned down four times (in 1585, 1715 and 1826, as well as 1943). Each time it has risen from the ashes, a jewel on the top of Mount Aroania. 

Kalavrtya can be combined with Mystras or Evros on a tailor-made fly drive through Sunvil (020 8568 4499).

Vouraikos Gorge Vouraikos Gorge

Mani miles in the southern Peloponnese

The Peloponnese is enormous. At 8,320 square miles, it accounts for roughly 16 per cent of the entire Greek landmass (50,949 square miles), Ionian and Aegean islands included. 

Little wonder, then, that some parts of it are better known than others. There is certainly an air of the undiscovered to the Mani Peninsula – the middle of the three “fingers” that dangle down from the landmass here, gesturing vaguely towards Kythira and Crete.

Indeed, until relatively recently, the beaten track was a wholly unknown concept on this mountainous promontory. The road south from Kalamata to Areopoli is a modern innovation – providing easy access to villages which could once be reached only by boat.

In some ways, Areopoli is an emblem of the region. Despite being one of the Mani Peninsula’s bigger towns, it boasts a population of little more than 1,000 – while its port, Limeni, barely grazes the shallows of the Messenian Gulf. In other ways, even this meagre head count seems out of kilter with a place where the Caves of Diros – dripping with stalactites at the water’s edge – are much more representative in their solitude and silence.

A seven night stay at the Kyrimai Hotel cost from £1,395pp (two sharing), including bed and breakfast accommodation and car hire through Sunvil (020 8568 4499). You could not get more 'away from it all' than a stay at the Kyrimai. At just about the far southern tip of Mani, this intimate and remote small luxury hotel has style and comfort in spades, and all in the most atmospheric surroundings.

Gerolimenas Gerolimenas

Delve into the lost magic of Mystras

The Peloponnese is awash with A-list slivers of Greek heritage: the remnants of ancient Corinth and Olympia; the astonishing amphitheatre at Epidavros.

However, it has relative secrets too and Mystras is one of them. Stuck to a lower slope of Mount Taygetus, in the south-east of the great peninsula, it wears its story in monasteries and churches, staunch walls and fractured fortifications – each of them clinging doggedly to a mighty gradient.

Unlike its fellow historic landmarks, however, Mystras is not ancient. Founded in the mid-13th century, it rose to be a significant Ottoman citadel – although its importance did not endure long enough to avoid later confusion.

Abandoned in the 19th century, it became mislabelled as the ghost of Sparta – the definitively ancient Greek city whose own, less substantial, ruins lie about four miles to the east. In truth, even in the busiest months you will rarely have to share either of these sites with crowds of other visitors, but this absence of tourists is of no relevance to the beauty of an area where many have wandered over centuries.

Mystras can be combined with Kalavrtya or Evros on a tailor-made fly drive through Sunvil (020 8568 4499).

Mystras Mystras

In the pink in Central Macedonia

Had you visited the area a little under a century ago, you would not have seen much; just a swathe of marshland, fed by the currents of the River Strymonas, so riddled with mosquitoes that it had a malaria problem.

But everything changed in 1932, with the construction of the dam. True, this means that, despite its name, Lake Kerkini – which sits 60 miles north of Thessaloniki, in Central Macedonia – is actually a reservoir but its semi-artificiality is of no concern to the many migratory birds that use it as a deluxe hotel on their seasonal journeys between northern Europe and Africa.

Depending on the time of year, you will spot pelicans, cormorants, shrikes and flamingos – particularly flamingos, which cover the water in patches; floating islands of pink. Perhaps they are as enchanted by the scenery as any human visitor.

The ridgeline of the Belasica mountains, above, denotes the point where Greece collides with both North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

A seven night stay at the charming Liotopi Hotel costs from £989pp (two sharing), including half board accommodation and car hire through Sunvil (020 8568 4499). Set in a lush garden just 50m from the sea, opposite the small fishing harbour, you are only a minute’s walk from the start of Olymbiada’s long sandy beach and just under an hour drive from Central Macedonia.

Flamingos on Lake Kerkini Flamingos on Lake Kerkini

Head east into Evros

If there is an area of the Greek landscape particularly neglected by holidaymakers, it is the eastern fringes, where the mainland concludes its journey to the border with Turkey.

This – further east than Thessaloniki, than Halkidiki, than Mount Athos – is Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, and ultimately, the sub-region of Evros, where Alexandroupolis hugs the shoreline as the last major Greek city.

So low is the area’s tourism profile that “discoveries” abound at almost every corner: the ruins of Amphipolis, where Athens and Sparta fought a battle in 422 BC; Kavala, as important a port now as when the Roman road Via Egnatia first passed through it; Xanthi, a small city at the foot of the Rhodope Mountains, which sings of Byzantine and Ottoman times; Didymoteicho, whose still-sturdy 6th-century walls encapsulate the city’s frontier position – the border is just three miles away.

Evros can be combined with Kalavrtya or Mystras on a tailor-made fly drive through Sunvil (020 8568 4499).

There are ancient relics around every corner in Evros There are ancient relics around every corner in Evros

See the end of the world on Patmos

It is not its lack of fame that makes Patmos a niche holiday destination, but its relative inaccessibility. You cannot fly to the most northerly Dodecanese island, and any journey there from the UK demands a ferry (usually from Kos, via Kalimnos and Leros).

But it is a trip worth making, all the same. If the name Patmos is familiar, it is because it is the end of the world. Or, at least, a vantage point on it. It was here, in the first century AD, that St John supposedly wrote the Bible’s firry climax, the Book of Revelation.

How much stock you place in the authenticity of the sanctuary where he purportedly put pen to parchment (now part of a small church) will depend on your religious convictions.

But if the “Cave of the Apocalypse” doesn’t move you, the surrounding scenery will. Patmos rises to a summit in its hilltop capital Chora, and slips down to the water at Skala, a tiny port which – in its sheltered shallows and seafront tavernas – is as lovely as any in Greece. 

A seven-night holiday at the three-star Skala Hotel costs from £955 per person (including ferries), through Sunvil (020 8568 4499). The well-established Skala Hotel enjoys an excellent location close to the centre of Skala and only 50m back from the harbourfront.

Skala Hotel Skala Hotel
The Sunvil Family

By The Sunvil Family

24th March 2023



The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

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