Pauline Collins opened a lot of people’s eyes to the unique magic of Greece when she fell in love with island life in Shirley Valentine. It must be down to the simple appeal of bright blue sea, scorching sun, lively tavernas, ever-flowing retsina, wandering goats and the strains of Zorba the Greek, all set in a landscape that in many areas has hardly changed since Aristotle was alive.
What makes villas on the Greek islands and mainland different from more mainstream areas is that they are mostly one-off houses, often on the edge of small villages or even out in the wilds, rather than the large scale developments and complexes found elsewhere. The positive side of this is that it’s easy to find an interesting house that puts you in touch with local life and the whole Greek experience. The downside is that you probably won’t get the swimming pools, tennis courts and golf courses taken for granted in other big tourist destinations. Orlando it ain’t!
It’s the simplicity of a Greek holiday that appeals to many people – millions of them every summer. But the nice thing is that away from the tourist hotspots the crowds are mostly spread fairly thin, and don’t come in cars to clog the often narrow roads, so you seldom feel the pressure of people. If your chosen beach is too crowded, there’s usually another one round the corner.
Getting there can be more complicated than with other destinations, though easyJet is making things easier with flights from Gatwick to Athens, Corfu and Heraklion (Crete), and from Luton to Athens, while germanwings flies from Stansted to Thessaloniki. To reach most of the islands that have airports, you'll need to find a flight-only deal from a charter airline, or get a ferry from the mainland. Once you’ve reached the airport you could well have a longish road journey to your villa. Taxis are the easiest solution, and are quite cheap, but when you’re enquiring about a villa, ask the owner or agent the best way to reach it – often coach travel can be arranged as part of the deal. Or of course you can pick up a hire car at the airport, although prices are higher than somewhere like Spain.
If it’s one of the smaller islands you’re heading for, you’ll be in for the Greek ferry experience. These have improved a lot in recent years, with frequent, reasonably priced services – many by fast hydrofoils – but you need to get timetable details in advance if you don’t want to risk possible long waits. Again, the villa owner is your best source of information.
There are so many different islands and mainland areas that you really need to carry out your own research to find the ideal destination. Many people head automatically for an island, but the Greek mainland can be just as beautiful and unspoilt. If you want to do more than just sit on beaches and in tavernas, the Peloponnese – the area south west of Athens, to the south of the Corinth canal – is particularly beautiful and historic, containing the ancient city of Sparta (itself a bit of a let down) and ancient sites like Mycenae, Olympia, Epidavros and Mystras.
The islands vary a lot. If sandy beaches are a must, Skiathos has around 60 of them, along with lively nightlife. Corfu is one of the most beautiful Greek islands and also has good beaches and interesting villages. Crete has lots of villa accommodation, especially on the favoured north coast around resorts like Chania and Georgioupoulis, and more tourist facilities than the smaller islands, but really the best bet is to find a villa you like the look of, find out if you like what the area has to offer, and book!