Is Greece the new Croatia?
Heading to Hellas for your summer break (despite the crisis)
Breathtaking mountains, verdant countryside, fairytale castles, and of course, world-famous beer...the Czech Republic has plenty to offer as a holiday destination. However, one key ingredient is missing: the sea. Forget following the herd to the Balkan coastline, and consider going on a Greek odyssey instead.
For many locals in the Czech Republic, 'Croatia' is synonymous with 'summer vacation'. However, as rising petrol costs and increased motorway tolls have made traveling to the Balkan coastline more costly, this is changing. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from the Czech Republic head for Greece for their annual dose of sun, sea, and sand, and they have not been deterred from doing so by the gloomy headlines, as a recent report in Mladá fronta Dnes confirms. GGiven the Hellenic nation's super friendly customer service, enviable cultural heritage, and of course, drop dead gorgeous beaches, it's easy to see the continuing attraction. The canny Greeks have been quick to tap into this emerging market: these days it's not unusual in certain resorts to stroll past a taverna and spot a menu outside offering řízek and řecký salát.
However, given Greece's economic woes, is now really a good time to go? In short, the answer is yes. While there may be protests in Athens, life on the islands continues largely unaffected. I recently returned from Corfu and can confirm that my trip was not marred by delays at the airport or any other disruption. In short, don't let the negative reports discourage you from taking advantage of some of the great deals on offer. There are some real bargains to be had, especially if you book last minute.
Expect to pay from 8000 CZK for a package deal which typically includes flights, accommodation, and transfers, unless you're prepared to brave a lengthy coach journey to save a few thousand crowns. Start by looking at the websites of the main travel agents - Čedok, Fischer, Alexandria, Exim Tours, Kovotour Plus, Inex and Neckerman - which all cover Greece. Typical offers available at the time of writing include 11 nights self catering in Kos for 9990 CZK (Čedok), 7 nights half board in Crete for 10,490 CZK (Fischer) and 11 nights self catering in Lefkada for 10,440 CZK (Inex). Hellenic travel specialists Electra Tours are also currently offering 7 nights in Corfu for 9990 CZK. While it doesn't cover every agency, website Zajezdy.cz is also worth checking out. July and August are high season, but if you are prepared to wait until September, prices will drop further, the sea will still be warm, and you'll share the sand with fewer tourists.
Once you're in the country, don't expect to find that prices in restaurants and bars have been slashed: the Greeks have to find a way to make up for that gaping fiscal deficit somehow. On my recent trip to Corfu, in the taverns near our resort a bottled beer was around 2.50 euro, a soft drink from 2 to 4 euro and a main course from 6 to 9 euro. If you opt for self-catering, remember that supermarkets near your resort will have elevated prices aimed at tourists and budget accordingly. Alternatively, you could fill your suitcase with groceries like a true Czech abroad, as long as you don't exceed the airline's weight limit: remember that these days your baggage allowance will most likely only be 15 kg.
Greek destinations popular with Czechs
How to choose where to head for? That of course depends what kind of break you're after. Do you need to balance basking in the sun with some culture? Do you want a lively resort or somewhere more laid back? Is all-inclusive a must? With a package deal, it's unlikely you're ever going to lose the crowds completely, but thanks to Google Earth, with some careful preplanning you can make sure that your peaceful holiday villa isn't in fact in the middle of a crowded resort. It's also worth finding out if the beach nearest to your hotel consists of pebbles or shingle, as for some only sand will do. You should also consider whether having access to a pool is essential, and how far you're prepared to walk to the nearest supermarket in blistering temperatures.
The majority of the destinations Czech travel agencies operate to - Rhodes, Corfu and Crete - are all already well-charted territory for many expats, especially Brits. However, there are others which will be less familiar. Thasos, covered by Čedok and Kovotour Plus, is one of Greece's greenest islands, boasting a lush forest interior as well as exquisite sandy beaches, and is a popular choice with families. Samos, located a few kilometers from the Turkish coast, is a low-key alternative to better-known islands, with plenty of hidden beaches and a mountainous interior the adventurous can explore when baking on the sand becomes a bore. Lefkada's west coast offers some of the most stunning and remote sandy beaches in the Mediterranean, but as most of the package holiday resorts are in the east, you'll need to be able to get there under your own steam by hiring a car or moped.
Sun-drenched and abundant, Greece's beaches are undoubtedly its main attraction. However, for those of you who don't plan to spend your entire break lazing near the ocean, there's plenty on offer to satisfy the cravings of culture vultures and adrenaline junkies alike. Even package holiday hotspots like Corfu, Kos and Rhodes have historic capitals where losing yourself in the winding streets and soaking up the varied architecture is a delight. Many resorts offer the chance to try marine sports such as deep-sea diving, windsurfing, or waterskiing if you can only unwind by being active.
Tips for making the most of your Greek odyssey despite the crisis
Make sure you get travel insurance. This usually is not included in the basic price quoted but most travel companies will offer a policy you can purchase: find out what it covers and remember to take your health card if you're an EU citizen.
Go with a travel agency rather than independently. If the worst happens, they're obliged to get you home.
Despite what you may have read in the Czech press recently, don't take pounds or US dollars. Just ensure you're equipped with plenty of euros cash in case ATMs or your credit card don't work. Even if Greece does revert to the drachma, there will have to be a period of transition where euros are still accepted, so don't panic!
If your Czech is limited, try asking if you can be paired with a rep who speaks English. Otherwise, English is widely spoken in areas catering to tourists, but any Greek you can manage will be warmly welcomed by your hosts.
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