Whilst it is easy to automatically associate the Greek Islands with sandy beaches and shimmering seas, there are many towns and cities away from the coast, which offer a wealth of history, culture and entertainment and you will be spoilt for choice with the intensity of their beauty as well as their historic heritage and cultural ambiance.
Messaria, Santorini Greece
Messaria lies in an idyllic location close to the island’s centre and only 4 km from the capital Fira. It is surrounded by picturesque wine groves in the heart of the island’s wine growing region. Some describe it as the most scenic village on the whole island and its certainly the stuff that picture postcards are made of; in addition to the vineyards, the village is surrounded by traditional Greek white houses, flower gardens and narrow alleyways. Some of the villas are very grandiose designed in a neo-classical style. Well worth taking in is the opulent 19th century Argyros Mansion, which used to belong to George Argyros the local wine maker. In 1956 it was partly destroyed by the disastrous earthquake, which struck the island, but Argyros’ grandson recently restored the house to its former glory. Messaria is also home to some of the most wondrous churches on the Greek Islands; the church of Metamorfosis tou Sotiros translated as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Aghia Irini church were constructed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and the former actually has cathedral status.
The Valley of the Butterflies, Rhodes
Seven kilometers inland from the west coast surrounded by rolling hills and dense woodland lies stunning Petaloudhes known more commonly as Butterfly Valley. The area is made up of a massive canyon, which is split into two parts. The area is open every day from May through to September. Not only is the area covered by rare, colourful butterflies that specialists say are really moths, but it also offers some spectacular scenery, plenty of oriental sweet gum trees, which attract the butterflies, vanilla-scented storax trees, which are used in the manufacture of frankincense and plenty of easy hiking trails. The best time to visit if you want to see the butterflies is during July to mid-September; this is the time the insects cover every tree trunk, eating nothing and conserving water ready for the mating season, after which they die from starvation. Numbers of butterflies have declined in recent years because many tourists insist on clapping to see them fly – this exposes the insects’ red backs, which become weak. There is a quaint little taverna close to the car park and a tiny café next to a pond. The valley is filled with lovely little, wooden bridges criss-crossing over the stream that runs through the valley. There is also an 18th century monastery called Panaghis Kalopetra, which was constructed by Alexander Ypsilantis. This amazing man was the grandfather of two brothers who at the start of the Greek War of Independence hoped to become kings. Another monastery lies nearby and is known as the Monastery of Aghios Soulas. This monastery is the site of a famous festival held each 30th July. This interesting event consist of folk dancing, donkey races and singing and was described in depth by acclaimed author Lawrence Durrell in his book 'Reflections on a Marine Venus'.
Lassithi Plateau, Crete
This incredible plateau, which stands tall at 800 m above sea level, is one of the few places in the Mediterranean with permanent residents. The best time to visit if you want to take some panoramic photos is during the early morning or late afternoon. Not only is the scenery here particularly picturesque, but it is also home to the cave known as Dikteon Andron – the alleged birthplace of the god Zeus. You can enter the cave, but be prepared to walk down some very steep and slippery steps. There plateau is made up of many small villages steeped in tradition with lots of authentic Greek houses on small narrow streets. Farming is the main industry in this region and you will see plenty of livestock running free throughout the villages. The area is also famed for its windmills and there used to be 10,000 of them! Today many are in a tragic state of disrepair although some are simply wonderful made from old local stone with their wooden sails in tact. The windmills were built around the end of the 1800s to aid farmers in grinding grain to flour to feed the local island population. Many were still operating in the 1950s. Some of the windmills have been lovingly restored to enhance the areas beauty as a tourist attraction. The best examples lie on the road to the capital, Heraklion just before the village of Kera. There are 24 flour mills made of stone here but many are just ruins toady although three have been fully restored. The Kera Monastery also lies in this area and is home to some incredible frescoes.
Once a major sacred site almost as important as the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Delos is well worth a visit. It is made up of some incredible archeological ruins, which consist of the Roman Agora of the Competialists built around 150 BC and various sacred ways, one to the east of the Agora, which used to be the road where the procession to the sanctuary of Apollo walked during the holy Delian festival. The other sacred way leads to the Propylaea, which was once home to a huge white, marble gate made up of four Doric columns. The Sanctuary of Apollo, now in ruins and the House of the Naxians, built in the 7th- to 6th-century are also worth seeing. On the outside of the north wall there is a bronze palm tree commemorating the site where Leto gave birth, which was constructed on the site in 417 BC. There also used to be a huge statue of Apollo, the foot is in the British Museum today and the hand in the Delos Archaeological Museum. Other ruins on the site include the Sanctuary of the Bulls, which houses an old boat dedicated to Apollo and the Avenue of the Lions, which stretches for 164 ft. Only replicas of the lions stand today (the originals are in museums), but they are very impressive in their own right. The Sacred Lake is now dried up and the crater where it once lay is encircled by a stone wall, which gives an idea of its original size. To the north eat there is an area where the Delorian Games were held and to the south of this is the Archaeological Museum. One must see are the ornate floor mosaics with patterns of dolphins, birds, snakes, panthers, birds the god Dionysus.