Once the powerhouse centres of the Eurasian world, Greece and Turkey offer much more than the typical beach or island holiday. The Aegean’s gastronomy, architecture and culture are infused with salty sea air and the local way of life (and it’s no coincidence that Greece is home to some of the world’s oldest, and healthiest, people).
For travellers looking for an island-style elixir of health, rejuvenation and well-being, with culture, romance and nightlife in spades, head for these travel hotspots:
Discover age-old powerhouses of culture
If you’re jetting off on a dreamy Turkey beach break from South Africa, you are likely to fly directly into the capital, Istanbul. Don’t pass up the opportunity to explore one of the most diverse, culturally rich cities in the world. Add on two or three days before or after your stay on the coast to discover more of this cosmopolitan city; the only one in the world that crosses both Europe and Asia.
For cultural explorers and sea-seekers, add on a domestic flight to the coastal city of Bodrum. Visit the medieval fortress, Bodrum Castle, or take in a local performer’s show at the 4th-century amphitheatre. Feast on fresh figs or pomegranates (depending on the season) and freshly baked sesame simit (a type of bagel) at the food pazars (markets) or tuck into a meyhane, traditional Turkish taverna, to dine with locals. Bodrum is the gateway to Turkey’s more than 500 islands, so is the ideal base to board a cruise or gulet, a traditional Turkish sailing vessel.
In Greece, culture is packed tightly into the harbour town of Kos, part of the Dodecanese island chain in the southeastern Aegean Sea, just less than two kilometres from Turkey's coastline. The town is liberally scattered with Greek and Roman relics, including the ruins of an ancient city complex dating back to 366BC, a 15th-century medieval castle, and is also famous as the birthplace of Hippocrates, the ‘father’ of modern medicine.
Feast and dance the nights away
It’s little wonder that Dionysus, the god of wine, celebration and fun, was so popular with the fun-loving Greeks.
“For that iconic, Instagram-perfect, lively Greek holiday, the islands of Mykonos and Santorini simply must be on your itinerary,” recommends Teresa Richardson, managing director of the Travel Corporation South Africa. “Joining a cruise, such as Trafalgar’s Greek Island Hopper, is an effortless way to make the most of your precious time while enjoying all the fun of travelling with a group.”
In Mykonos, Richardson recommends you get lost in the maze of winding alleys, sip champagne in the Little Venice waterside area, relax on the beach and come nightfall, dance the night away in this playground of the rich and famous. In Santorini, while further south of the Aegean Sea, snap the perfect photo of the famous Santorini sunset, or selfie against the backdrop of the blue-domed, white-washed buildings clinging to the hillside while toasting the night to come. “In Santorini, you can also visit a local winery and learn about the art of winemaking in this region,” adds Richardson.
Kusadasi, a popular beach resort town on Turkey’s western Aegean coastline, is a vibrant destination for travellers looking for that perfect mix of beach bliss and cosmopolitan city. Dance the day and night away at one of Kusadasi's trendy beach clubs or, come dusk, take a seat at the Dejazar Wine Bar's rooftop terrace to watch the sunset over the marina. If living the life of leisure gets too much, book an easy day trip to the ancient city of Ephesus, the mystical Cave of Zeus or the otherworldly ‘cotton castle’ that is Pamukkale, with its hot springs and snow-white rock terraces overflowing with milky-blue coloured thermal water, rich in minerals.
“For that iconic, Instagram-perfect, lively Greek holiday, the islands of Mykonos and Santorini simply must be on your itinerary.” – Teresa Richardson, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation South Africa.
Dip into romance
One of the most romantic tales about the birth of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, fertility and beauty, has her arising from the foam (aphros) of the sea, near the island of Cyprus. There are more than a thousand islands sprinkled in the deep blue waters of the Aegean but, for a romantic getaway not short on luxury, we think the Greek Cyclades Islands would be Aphrodite's pick.
Centred around the now uninhabited sacred island of Delos (an important site in Greek mythology), the Cyclades (meaning circular islands), are home to some of the most beautiful and iconic beaches of Greece. While Mykonos and Santorini are the big names, escape to the less well known Paros for a more exclusive honeymoon. With soft sandy beaches, blue-domed whitewashed buildings and boat and sailing trips excursions, there are countless opportunities to do as little or as much as you please. Sneak in some extra romantic moments exploring the spectacular swimming coves on the north coast’s Kolimbithres beach. Come sunset, grab a table for two at one of the beachside restaurants for sundowners and feast on fresh seafood and the islands’ renowned white wine, made from the Assyrtiko or Monemvasia grape. Be sure to try fava, a puréed bean dip often topped with octopus, a signature product of the Cyclades Islands.
If the thought of the sparkling waters of Turkey’s stunning Turquoise Coast with a loved one – whether that includes starting the day with a refreshing dip or appreciating them from the comfort of the deck, sundowner in hand – makes your heart skip a beat, then a Turkish sailing trip or cruise is the ticket.
“If five-star luxury is your dream honeymoon or romantic break, then join a Ponant cruise, the world’s only French five-star luxury yacht-liner,” suggests Divan Viljoen, marketing campaign manager for Cruiseabout, a division of the Flight Centre Travel Group. “Ponant's Ancient Treasures of the Mediterranean itinerary whisks you off on an eight-day sailing experience, taking in some of the Aegean's most iconic cities, cultural sights and stunning beaches. You'll get to visit Paros, Mykonos, Kusadasi and Dikili while cruising in ultimate luxury on board the French yacht-inspired ship, offering a small-scale cruising experience with just 92 suites and staterooms.”
In ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia was said to be the food of the gods, bestowing immortality and lifelong power upon those lucky enough to taste its sweet, honey-like nectar. While we can’t promise that you’ll find any such elixir of immortality while travelling through the Aegean, what we do know is this: the salty sea air, a Mediterranean diet that’s fresh from the sea and land, and feasting on the beauty of the sparkling waters will send you home refreshed and renewed. And that, we think, is the real elixir and power of travel.
How to get there
Turkish Airlines operates daily direct flights from Johannesburg to Istanbul, five flights per week from Cape Town and four from Durban. There are one-stop flight options from South Africa to Athens.
From the major city hubs, travellers can board domestic flights to the coastline, and then use local ferries to connect with the islands. Browse and book flights on www.flightcentre.co.za or contact a travel expert for detailed routings.
When to go
July and August are peak tourist seasons in the Aegean Islands. The shoulder seasons of April to June and September to mid-October still have balmy warm weather but fewer crowds.
If you love it enough, why not emigrate?
Turkey, in particular, is an increasingly popular option for South Africans looking to relocate. If you invest in property in Greece, you could be eligible for the country’s ‘Golden Visa’. *
*For up to date visa and emigration requirements, please contact the relevant country’s embassy.