Spend this spring discovering some ancient treasures
Narrow lanes lined with whitewashed houses, boutique shops and the turquoise waters of the South Aegean coupled with a dramatic volcanic hillside backdrop have made the seaside town of Bodrum popular as an upmarket resort for glamorous Istanbulites and Euro sun-seekers.
Do/see By day, visit the ruins of the Mausoleum, the final resting place of Mausolus who ruled ancient Halicarnassos from 376-353BC. There’s an excellent view from the battlements of the sprawling Castle of St Peter, which was built by the Knights of St John from 1437 to 1522 and houses the fascinating Museum of Underwater Archeology.
Eat/drink Numerous cafés, bars and restaurants line the seaside promenade – they’re touristy, of course, but you can people-watch and admire the traditional wooden gulet sailing boats in the marina. Bodrum’s nightlife is famously hedonistic: dance at least one night away under the stars in Bodrum – and Europe’s – biggest nightclub, Halikarnas.
Stay There are dozens of comfy pansiyons (B&Bs), many of which have shady private gardens; avoid the town centre if you like peace at night. Family-run Hotel Güleç is a short walk from the beach and nightlife and has simple, clean rooms.
Further afield Bodrum Express Lines run one-day boat excursions to Marmaris, Cleopatra Island and Datca.
Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is a major modern city and port, but the historic Old Town (Kaleiçi) is protected and many of the crumbling Ottoman homes have been carefully restored as pansyions, boutique hotels, restaurants, galleries or shops.
Do/see Sit outside a bar in the ancient Roman harbour and enjoy a traditional Turkish aperitif as the sun sets, buy souvenirs in the bazaar or be scrubbed clean at 600-year-old Sefa Turkish bath. Ride the tram to the end of the line and spend an hour in the superb Antalya Museum, where archaeological exhibits include fossils, statues, Ottoman costumes and elaborate carpets.
Eat/drink You’ll find heavenly kebabs at Topçu Kebap 1885 on Kazım Özalp Cad 21 outside Kaleiçi. The Art Café and Meyhane on Hesapçi Sok, the main shopping street in Kaleiçi, opened in April 2011 in a restored Ottoman building and serves fresh grilled fish and bar snacks with a soundtrack of live music to Antalya University students and international tourists.
Stay Located on a peaceful side street in Old Antalya, the White Garden Pansiyon is a haven from the midday heat and has been tastefully furnished in traditional Turkish style.
Further afield Drive, join a tour or take a taxi to cool down on a hot afternoon at spectacular Düden Waterfalls, 12km away, or spend a day exploring the impressive (though unrestored) ruined city of Termessos, almost 40km inland from the city.
Olive groves, sandy beaches, warm sea and pretty fishing villages: it’s no wonder the northernmost Ionian island has become one of the best-loved holiday spots in Europe. The island is so beautiful it was a location for Bond flick For Your Eyes Only; it’s also where Gerald Durrell penned My Family and Other Animals and where Homer set his Odyssey. In high season it can get busy with tourists; stay in the island’s lush centre away from Corfu Town to get away from the all-inclusive package holiday resorts.
Do/see Walk around the UNESCO-listed Corfu Old Town, spend an hour or so in the archaeological museum looking at relics including a 2,500-year-old pediment featuring the Gorgon Medusa. For adrenaline-fuelled fun, Aqualand Corfu is one of Europe’s largest waterparks; those with a head for heights should try the giant slides, but there are also Jacuzzis, family rafting and kids’ play pools. With 200km of coastline, there’s no shortage of beaches; you’ll find the best ones on the north of the island.
Eat/drink Family-run restaurant Boukari Beach is about 25km south of Corfu Town on the east of the island near a fishing village, and specialises in deliciously fresh seafood. Etrusco, in the inland village of Kato Korakia, is the place to go for a treat: it serves traditional Greek fare with a twist.
Stay The grand and traditional Cavalieri Hotel in the centre of the Venetian old town dates to the 17th century and has a lovely rooftop restaurant. Avoid the crowds by self-catering at Villa de Loulia, which sleeps nine, has a private pool and is located in a village at the northern tip of the island.
Further afield Take a day trip by boat to Albania, explore the ancient ruins in Butrint and wander round the town of Saranda; it’s best to go on an organised tour such as the one offered by Ionian Cruises, which includes transfers and lunch.
The largest of the Dodecanse islands in the Aegean, Rhodes, near the Turkish coast, is known for its breezy-cool sunny summers and ruggedly beautiful landscape. It’s one of the most popular of the Greek islands among holidaymakers and has a network of decent restaurants and museums as well as a wide selection of hotels.
Do/see Rhodes Town is at the north of the island, 16km from the airport. The old town is possibly Europe’s best-preserved walled medieval city and is the place for a romantic meander. It’s also where you’ll find the imposing Palace of the Old Grand Masters, a fortress built by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in the 14th century and their administrative centre. The antiques, statues and mosaics inside are stunning and the museum explaining the tumultuous history of the island is excellent. For a swim in Rhodes Town, try Elli Beach or walk along the coast to the clear waters at Ixia beach, 5km to the south-west.
Eat/drink Rustico is a friendly, busy tavern serving Greek fare in the Old Town; for a splurge, the Alexis4Seasons isn’t budget but serves perfectly fresh fish and seafood, including lobster and oysters.
Stay Spirit of the Knights is a family-run ‘eco-friendly’ boutique hotel in a building originally built by the Crusaders in the historic old town. Each of the six luxury suites has a different theme and has been decorated with individually selected pieces from the region, such as hand-carved wood furniture and Turkish carpets. For special occasions, the hotel can be booked for one family/friends group.
Further afield Lindos, 50km southeast of Rhodes, is the island’s second city and has pretty cobblestoned, pedestrianised roads. The climb up to the Acropolis is steep, but you can cool off afterwards with a dip in the sea.
‘For the moment, let them enjoy a calm sea, a fresh breeze and each other…for Jason, there are other adventures,’ says Zeus as Jason and the Argonauts prepare to sail from Volos. Now an important city on the northern shores of the Pagasitikos Gulf, it’s a quirky destination and a great place to see real Greek city life. It’s also the base for trips out to the Sporades islands and Evia.
Do/see The displays of gold jewellery, pottery, glassware, coins and more at the archaeological museum date from the prehistoric era to the classical period and, though the collection is small, it’s a fascinating place to visit. The museum is housed in a gorgeous neoclassical building (it had a refurb for the 2004 Olympics) and is as eye-catching as the treasures it contains. Afterwards, stroll back to the centre along the pedestrianised Argonafton avenue on the seafront, where there’s a model of the Argo, the ship on which Jason set sail.
Eat/drink Volos is known for its excellent fish restaurants: stroll along the seafront and choose one that you like the look of. Indulge in the local aperitif, with a selection of mezze before dinner.
Stay Accommodation ranges from new-build business hotels to family-run B&Bs. Located by the sea, modern Xenia Volou Domotel has 79 rooms, Wi-Fi and a swanky rooftop bar with sea views. Protessilaos Hotel in Nea Anchialos, 17km south-west of Volos, is a family-run hotel near to the beach and restaurants.
Further afield Drive or take a taxi and walk around the cobblestone lanes of the hillside village of Portaria near Mount Pelion, 13km away. Or spend a night or two island-hopping: three of the Sporades islands are accessible from Volos. Skopelos, Skiathos, and Alonissos are surrounded by picture-postcard deep blue sea, covered in pine forest with pristine beaches.