It may already be two months into the traditional tourist season but Greece is looking to catch up on whatever revenue tourism can still bring to a year that has been stifled by the COVID-19 counter measures.
On Monday, 15 June, the country will re-open its borders to tourists from 29 countries, including Australia with the resumption of flights to Athens to Thessaloniki.
There is one proviso though for those who want to travel from Australia, if they want to go to Greece they need to provide reasons for travel in writing before they receive official permission to go. And for now tourism will not get you on a flight. Australian citizens and residents can only leave on compassionate grounds or for essential work.
Jaqui Preketes of Touchdown Tours said the Qatar flight that brought people to Greece from Australia last week was made up of people returning to Greece on a one-way ticket or were given permission to travel to be with family affected by the death of a close relative.
“Firstly, you need to apply for a Request To Travel from the Department of Immigration. You will also need to provide documentation in support of your application. It will then take at least 24 hours to have your application approved (or refused) by the Department of Immigration,” said Ms Preketes.
The department then notifies Australian Border Force that it has given permission for the person to travel. Only when that permission is granted should one go ahead and buy their ticket.
Without that permission a traveller cannot check in and may face a no-show penalty of over US$700, warned Ms Preketes.
She added that there were conflicting rules being imposed by airlines and government regulations which were also causing confusion.
Greece pulled off a major coup in the way the nation handled the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact it coped far better than many super-resourced and well-funded nations. A nation of 11 million has been confronted by just 3,049 cases of COVID-19 and 182 deaths.
And in its handling of the pandemic the country conveys an aura of confidence that visitors to the country will be safe from COVID-19.
It is a perception that is very important when one considers that surveys have uncovered a fear of international travel – one survey found 70 percent of American respondents said they were afraid to board and aeroplane.
To try and prise the grip of fear of travel, the Greeks have offered a range of incentives besides its beaches, vibrant night life and holiday atmosphere. The government has reduced transport taxes to make it cheaper to fly to Greece.
Greek officials will also carry out random testing and it will enforce a strict hygiene measures in hotels and restaurants.
Another option is to encourage visitors to avoid the crush of the popular tourist magnets of places like Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes and to explore the many other attractions that Greece has to offer. And in avoiding the big numbers, you also reduce the health risks posed by big crowds.
While Santorini and Mykonos are the stars of the popular Cyclades island group, Folegandros offers an offbeat alternative. It is a short boat ride from Milos or Santorini or 11 hours by ferry from Athens or four hours on a high-speed boat.
A quieter alternative to Rhodes is Symi island which is just an hour away by boat. The island is rich in history as it has history of habitation since prehistoric times. Once the centre of the world’s sponge trade, it boasts beautiful architecture. You can also visit the 15th Century Monastery of Taxiarchis Mihail Panormitis. The taxiarchis’ icon is said to have miraculous powers.
Its culinary claim to fame is the “symiako garidaki”, a local shrimp dish that may be enjoyed at any island tavern.
If contemplation and serenity in COVID churned world is what you seek then Patmos may be what you should look for. The island’s Cave of the Apocalypse is where St John is said to have received the visions that inspired the Book of Revelation. The cave, World Heritage site, is close to the 11tch Century Monastery of St John the Theologian. The island is a natural magnet of artists and thinkers.
Then there are the islands that are close to the mainland such as Agistri which is just an hour by ferry from Athens and boasts clear waters, lush vegetation. Particularly Aponisos islet. Also close by, just 15 minute ferry ride is the island of Aegina with its more sophisticated attractions.
Kythira lying close to the south eastern tip of the Peloponnese is a unique island offering a wilderness of pine forests, waterfalls, caves that will occupy the hiker in you. There are also archaeological sites worth a visit as well as the island’s Venetian fortress. The island offers a quiet relaxed atmosphere that is not devoid of the glendi of the local festivals (panigiria). Kythira can be reached by ferry from Athens or Laconia. It is also close to the historic Peloponnesean town of Monemvasia famous its medieval fortress.
The Greek mainland is often overlooked by mass tourism in favour of the islands. A mistake that may now be rectified.
Kavala one of the mainland’s best kept secrets. the Macedonian town 1.5 hours by road from Thessaloniki and six hours from Athens. It, offers plenty: from historic Ottoman era architecture of the Old Town, to its proximity to the ancient Macedonian capital of Philippi. Kavala offers sandy beaches and great cuisine. It is also close to Thassos island with its wildlife and wonderful swimming places.
South west of Thessaloniki lies the city of Volos – the City of the Argonauts. Volos lies at the foothills of the Mount Pelion the fabled summer playground of Olympian gods. If you like to mix mountain and sea then Mount Pelion is for you. Mt Pelion offers the best of both worlds. Just over two hours from Thessaloniki and four hours from Athens, you can lose yourself in its beaches, forests and mountain trails.
Villages like Portaria and Markinitsa provide lavish hotels and quaint traditional stone house settings. The village of Tsagkarada lies veiled under the shadow of a massive sycamore tree.
PARGA AND THE EPIRUS RIVIERA
On the north western side of the mainland is the Epirus Riviera – four hours by road from Athens or Thessaloniki. An hour’s drive from Ioannina, the provincial capital that boasts the nearest airport. Parga is the jewel of that Riviera with superb views of the Ionian sea, unspoilt beaches and quality restaurants and shops.
The little island of Panagia lies across the town with its picturesque castle setting.
Half an hour from Parga is Sivota with its pink sand beaches and secret coves that draw in celebrities and the well heeled. Pissina Beach is popular with divers because of its clear turquoise waters opposite Agios Nikolaos.
Of course these are just a few of the attractions that tourists can spread out to enjoy. With good fortune and careful managements Australians may yet have a chance to go.
READ MORE: Museums in Greece reopening from 15 June