Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Escape Winter in the Greek Islands

You need escape from mid-winter insanity. You need a well-deserved trip to the Greek Isles.

Call it what you want—“winter blues,” “cabin fever,” “post-Holiday let-down,” “vitamin D deficiency,” or “seasonal affective disorder”—if you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line and you do not suffer near-terminal sadness from the middle of January until the day you see the first crocus sprout through the snow, there is something seriously wrong with you. The sun sets in the middle of the afternoon; the icicles grow longer than ZZ Top’s beard; and the kids are so sick of their snowsuits they are plotting to set them on fire. Even the dog is sick and tired of wearing his overcoat. You need serious relief. You need a sundrenched island surrounded by calm seas so blue you can see the edge of eternity on the horizon. To bust out of your doldrums and recover your true self, you need centuries-old charm, five-star accommodations, and world-class service. You need a Greek Island…or two, or three.

Anybody can jet off to Florida, and the cheapskates drive themselves down to Arizona, just a hop, skip, and jump down the I-55. Both “snowbird” destinations are affordable and snow-free; but, really, where is the romance, the adventure, the charm? Phoenix does not overlook the world’s most important archaeological sites. Tampa is not the home of a submerged volcano thought to be the origin of the Atlantis myth. Odysseus himself never felt homesick for Biloxi. Plan now to winter in the Greek Islands. If you cannot quite swing the full January to Memorial Day arrangement, a one-of-a-kind spring break would work.

You cannot afford to stay home.
Keep this next little factoid all to yourself: Transporting a family of four from Chicago to Phoenix and back in a late-model motorhome will cost you a tidy $4100; taking the same family from Chicago to Greece will cost only about $3300. Your $800 savings will pay for five nights’ five-star lodging at a deluxe villa in Kefalonia. Or simply compare $60 per night to park your motorhome in Apache Junction, Arizona, versus surrounding yourself and your posse in Greek luxury for approximately $85 per night. Remember that your spring break falls in the very slowest period of the Greek Islands’ off-season, so that owners take deep discounts on their hotel rates. The neighbors and PTA moms do not need to know. You might frame the comparison a little differently: how much was last month’s heating bill, and how much did you pay for new snow tires last fall?

Winter in the Greek Isles.
Yes, “winter” is a verb, an action, and decisive and decidedly heroic act. Triumph over snow-drifts and wind chill, wintering in the Greek Isles. Greece’s Mediterranean Coast stretches more than 8700 miles, mostly undeveloped and unspoiled. Just off the magnificent Greek coastline, more than 1400 Greek islands dot the Mediterranean; 227 of them are inhabited. All of them are eminently winterable. A few of them are just simply perfect. Go for the Greek Island trifecta: Start in Crete, continue to Santorini, and then settle down for a long winter’s retreat in Kefalonia.

Study classics in Crete.
The perfect place for your island culture initiation, Crete is the biggest, most populated, and most visited among the Greek Islands. January temperatures average in the low sixties—sweater weather for the locals, but downright tropical for upper-Midwesterners who have remained locked in their deep-freezes since Halloween. The local tourism board unashamedly boasts Crete has “everything” to offer—breathtaking mountain landscapes, gorgeous white sand beaches and enticing coves, plus ruins and an archaeological dig at Knossos, seat of the Minoan civilization. Crete serves-up better-than-excellent food, and it rocks the night with the hottest clubs anywhere on the Islands. On Crete, you can find the full array of lodgings. Choose among post-modern super-hotels, modest eight-to-ten unit villas, or bed-and-breakfasts so adorable you never will want to leave.

Sun and surf in Santorini.
The Greeks themselves holiday in the Santorini—ample testimony to the island’s charm and allure. Better still, the locals claim Santorini has “by far the best wine tasting anywhere in Greece”…must be something in the air. The island was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in world history, and the submerged volcano still taunts the island from just off the breathtaking black-pebbled beaches. Kamari is the center of beach life on Santorini, and fine hotels, beguiling shops, and upscale clubs line its beachfront. At the beach, you can take snorkel or scuba lessons, developing new aquatic skills while studying ancient history and geography.

Carefree Kefalonia Calls!
You go to Kefalonia simply to luxuriate in the casual comfort of island life. You swim and sun all day, feast and dance all night. Get up the next day and do it all over again. You choose Kefalonia for this idyll, because it offers the most attractive, hospitable, affordable lodgings anywhere on the Islands. Family-owned bed-and-breakfasts, apartment-style accommodations, and villas abound, all of them extremely well-maintained and perfectly family-friendly. You also go to Kefalonia because it has the very finest beaches anywhere on Greece’s Mediterranean coast with waters so clear the ancient Greek poets described them as “wond’rous to behold, too miraculous to describe.”

Plan your escape to the Greek Islands now. You can make all of the arrangements online. Think of your winter escape to the Greek Islands as “extreme home schooling,” using that notion as your rationale for staying extra long. When the kids study “anachronism” in literature class, they can take-in their autographed photographs of Odysseus and Aeneis, reciting arma virumque cano.

Photo credits: Cindy clearing a path by Mike Babcock/flickr; Greek Temple Ruins by phault/flickr; Parasol and deckchairs by Alexis O'Connor/flickr;

Francesca Santelli is a travel agent who suggests, a site for everything from cyprus holidays in Paphos to Canary Islands package holidays to tenerife.

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