For the Bulgarians, going on a summer holiday in Greece has for long stopped being exotic. Everyone does it: the lovers of luxurious experiences, the adventure enthusiasts, the families preferring a quiet vacation, the camping aficionados, the water sports fans. Each of them has his or her reason to choose Greece, and all of these reasons are valid.
Only 190-kilometre drive separate Sofia from Kulata, the most popular border crossing with Greece. The country is blessed with Mediterranean climate. The summer is hot, sunny and dry, and it is more than guaranteed that the weather will not suddenly turn bad for several days in a row during your vacation – the average number of sunny days in the country is 250. As a result of concurrence of geographical and historical circumstances, Greece has a coastline of 13,676 km – incomparably more than Bulgaria's 354-kilometre Black Sea coast. On such territory, the opportunities to enjoy the sea are countless: long sand beaches, picturesque bays with cliffs falling into the sea, secluded coves accessible only by boat, and islands so numerous to justify a whole month of sailing with your own or rented yacht. The country has as well enough marines for the ones who prefer to travel and have their holiday on the sea, and the local camping sites are well organised and with everything needed for a care-free vacation.
The Greek sea is crystal clear. The country ranks third in the list of international organisation for clean water Blue Flag, with 429 certified beaches and 9 marinas, after Spain and France. For comparison, Bulgaria has 10 beaches and a marina with a Blue Flag certificate. But who needs international certificates when it is enough to take a look of the water of the Greek sea and to see its crystal transparency and the schools of fish gliding in the deep blue.
Greek sea is generous to people. Here fresh fish and seafood, caught the same morning and cooked simply yet deliciously, are not something exotic, but a part of everyday life. The fact that you can enjoy them in some small restaurant by the sea, while watching the one-of-a-kind red and pink sunsets of Greece only makes the things better.
The life rhythm in Greece inspires the visitor to relax and to forget about the worries of the everyday. Here no-one is in a hurry, neither forces the others to hurry, and the noisiest thing around are the animated groups of friends and relatives talking vividly in the taverns.
Greece's different regions offer a different type of summer experiences.
The Aegean coastline is the most popular with Bulgarians for holidaying for a single reason – it is close. Besides the Kulata, the border crossing points at Gotse Delchev, Zlatograd, Makaza, Ivaylovgrad and Svilengrad ease travelling from each point of Bulgaria. The flow is so big that in many places in this part of Greece service is in Bulgarian.
Chalkidiki Peninsula, with a total length of coast of about 500 km and three picturesque "fingers" – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos, – understandably is the Bulgarian favourite for holidays. Here you have everything: lively resorts (Kassandra), the quiet calm of small villages and beautiful bays (Sithonia), culture and historical heritage (Athos and its monastic republic allowing only male visitors).
Sithonia is the most remarkable of Chalkidiki's three fingers: mountainous and green, it abounds with sheltered coves with crystal water, and the tranquility is genuine. The options for stay are many, but Trikorfo Beach Resort (www.trikorfobeach.gr) stands out with its combination of calm among a green park and proximity to the sea. Everything in Trikorfo is made to help you relax completely. The resort consists of villas that provide you with personal space and maximum of freedom. The 250-metre beach is covered with golden sand. From it are seen marvellous vistas to the bay between Sithonia and Kassandra, and in case you grow tired with them, there are options for water sports.
Thasos is the closest and easiest to visit island in the Aegean Sea, and the abundance of beautiful beaches at the feet of its forested mountain is reason enough to take the ferry. But there is more in the Aegean. Samothrace is small, remote and relatively unpopular among tourists. The reason is its lack of large sandy beaches, but if you don't mind to swim on a pebbled beach under dramatic mountains, it is a wonderful destination for everyone who wants to have his holiday as far as possible from the crowds. The ruins of the famed ancient sanctuary of the Samothracian Gods is a bonus.
Lemnos is another wonderful option. The second largest island in Greece is not distinguished for its relief. Its advantage are the 30-plus sandy beaches and the strong Meltemi wind that makes Lemnos an excellent place for water sports. Located in the Keros Bay, Surf Club Keros (www.surfclubkeros.com) is a great way to combine your passion for windsurf and kite surf, without leaving the sea or sacrificing your comfort. The Keros Bay offers three spots – superflat, small chop and waves, good for beginners, intermediate or advanced lovers of water sports. Surf Club Keros offers accommodation in luxury safari tents, located on a hill over the bay, or in luxurious studios about 2 km from the beach; guests with more restricted budged can opt for the comfortable mini tents.
The Ionian Sea caresses mainland Greece's western coast, and in it you will discover several islands with their own character, which are an excellent option for cultural tourism combined with an abundance of top-class beaches.
Corfu is the most popular, because of its size, its many sights and its past linked with personalities like writer and environmentalist Gerald Durrell and the empress of Austria-Hungary, Sisi. The island is lined with beaches: the eastern ones are more slant and are covered in fine sand, while the western ones are a sequence of bays among steep, picturesque cliffs and deep blue sea.
On the island of Lefkada you will discover Porto Katsiki, a beach of white pebbles, guarded by grey, impenetrable cliffs. In Kefalonia, if you rent a boat, you will enter the Melissani cave: a mystical landscape of sunlights playing over the turquoise waters of a lake in the hard embrace of rock. Don't miss Zakynthos, with its incredibly photogenic shipwreck beach: a line of sand under a steep cliff, where still stands a ship that sank in 1980.
To what extent summer vacation is the right time to head to more distant islands is a question of personal preference. Its positive is that you will see some of the most beautiful places on earth. The negative, that thousands of people from all over the world will be doing exactly the same. Mykonos is probably the most typical example, but its neighbour in the Cycladic archipelago, Santorini, definitely deserves both the long trip and its popularity.
Santorini is a volcanic island with dramatic geography and one of the most recognisable landscapes of Greece: a mosaic of white houses and blue-domed churches high above a sapphire sea, which turn pink during the Ia's famous sunset. Santorini's volcanic nature, however, has gifted the island with a collection of extreme beaches that deserve to be tried – there are few other places in the world where you can swim in a beach covered completely with red or black sand.
The options in Greece to spend you summer vacation at are hundreds. Whatever your choice, one is certain: a holiday here is like no-where else.