The Ionian Islands and Greece's High Rank in the Tourist World
By Christopher Xenopoulos Janus
Greece is among the most favorite destination for sophisticated travelers world wide and this has been the case for many years.
For the year 2004 Greece expects more than 15 million visitors from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France, the United States and other countries. More than a million of these tourists will go to Athens for the Olympic Games. 500,000 are expected to be spectators who will be accomodated in hotels, cruises nad rented apartments. 300,000 visitors will be hosted by relatives and friends. Some 6,500 are members of the Olympic families.
For the overall promotion of tourism in Greece the Ministry of Development is advancing a comparatively new angle titled: Sports and Tourism. The Olympic Games this year offers a unique opportunity to develop future tourism through sports. This sports tourism is related to the exploitation of the facilities already built for the Olympic Games and these facilities include 325 basketball courts, 479 volley courts, 753 water sports centers, 225 fitness and health centers, 158 gyms, 660 tennis courts and 172 mini-golf courses. The Greek Ministry of Development estimates that this new sports-tourism program will over the years increase the number of tourists to Greece by more than 5%. By the year 2010 Greece may have as many as 20,000,000 tourists each year.
Interesting as these tourism statistics may be, the important question that presents itself is: why Greece over the centuries has been foremost among destinations chosen by sophisticated tourists? Though part of the answer may be obvious, sometimes it is a great pleasure to talk about the obvious and in this case bask in the glory of the obvious.
Greece's antiquities have, of course, been a prime attraction for tourists and the Acropolis in Athens is among the foremost attractions of the world.
Then there is Greece's gentle climate and it's unique light. Tourists returning from Greece say that the unique light of Greece lets you see things clearer and in depth, but it also induces you to look and examine yourself. It is known that psychiatrists send their patients to Greece for this self examination!
And no where in the world do you find such enthusiasm for visitors. For in Greece Greeks welcome visitors almost as part of a joyful religion. I've heard visitors returning from Greece say they felt more at home in Greece than in their own country!
Scholars from all over the world go to Greece just to be where Plato lived and read and discuss his dialogues in Socratic fashion. The art of conversation still exists in Greece and you are inspired to talk and think seriously, say tourists.
Some years ago there was a society established in the United States called Random Acts of Kindness. In records Random Acts of Kindness all over the world. In one of it's latest reports it noted Greece among the leaders of the world in random acts of kindness. In Greece when you ask a person for directions to go somewhere, they don't tell you how to get there. They go with you and won't accept a tip for doing so.
Of course, with the surge of tourism and especially the influx of other nationalities some of these qualities in the Greek culture are challenged, but not enough so to influence the attraction of Greece as a foremost place to visit.
And on a more practical matter, Greece is still a relatively inexpensive place to visit, especially out of Athens. Restaurant prices are low and tickets for various forms of entertainment, such as concerts, dances and the theatre are less than half what you would pay in the United States.
I'm always asked by friends planning a trip to Greece just where to go and this year I'm recommending, among Greece's 1,000 islands, the Ionian Islands and they seem also to be among this year's foremost tourist choice, according to the Green National Tourist Organization.
Following is a little guide to the Ionian Islands:
CORFU: Corfu, the wooded Isle of the Phaenicians, Odysseus' last stop on his long journey home to Ithaca, is best known of the Ionian Islands.
It owes it sophistication and charm to the meshing of the different civilizations that have occupied the island and to the natural beauty with which it is so abundantly endowed.
On this cosmopolitan island, you'll be able to combine relaxation with good times and a full nightlife, for Corfu is an international tourist center which can satisfy the demands of the most difficult visitor.
PAXI: Paxi is the smallest of the six main Ionian islands.When you step ashore at Galos, the island's little port, you'll find an exquisite miniature world just waiting to be discovered. One of the attractions of this island is its size, it is so tiny (10km. Long and 4km. Wide) that you can easily walk from one side to the other. At the same time, it is so thick with grapevines and olive trees that the whole place is one big garden. Along its eastern coast, just a stone's throw away, are the smaller islands of Panagia, Agios Nikolaus, Mongonissi and Kalsonissi.
During your stay on Paxi, you will find wonderful beaches and translucent waters, for swimming, snorkeling and fishing.
LEFKADA: To get to Lefkada, you don't need to take a boat, instead you go by car or bus, quickly crossing over the narrow channel separating the coast of Altoloakamania and the island.
It was said that upon a time Lefkada was united with the mainland Greecee. Some say the Leiegers, the first inhabitants, transformed it into an island; others maintain that the Corinthians dug a trench acroos the Isthmus.
CEPHALONIA: The largest island of the Ionian, Cephlonia is a land of contrasts. Just for starters don't miss the view from the castle at Assos. On your left, spread out beneath your feet, lies the Enchanting turquoise bay of Myrtos, renowned for its afternoon sun and soft white sand. Or you might swim in the crystal water of Poros. You can also go up to Mt. Enos (1,628 meters above sea level). It slopes are covered with cedar-like fir trees that grow no where else in the world. On other parts of the island you'll find the groves filled with olive or orange trees and hillsides studded with grapevines, breathtaking golden beaches and deep coves, rugged rocky shores or visit famous caves.
ITHACA: Throughout the ages Ithaca has been known as the home of Odysseus. For years Homer's hero wandered before he finally returned to his island kingdom. Though he visited beautiful, exotic, far flung islands, Ithaca never left his mind for a moment.
And even today, once you've been to Ithaca, it's difficult to forget this small, mountainous island with it's captivating coves that conjure up some earthly paradise.
ZAKINTHOS: (Incidentally, the home of family). Zakinthos the southernmost of the Ionian Islands, owes it name to the son of Dardanos, king of Troy, who according to myth built the first city here. It is also mentioned in "The Iliad." All who came to this island fell under its spell. The Venetians baptized it "the flower of the Orient". Others gave it just as evocative names like "earthly paradise" and "Perfumed Island" while Dionysios Solomos, the father of modern Greek poetry and a native son, wrote Zakinthos could make one forget the Elysian fields."
About Christopher Xenopoulos Janus