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Alternative Greece

Seen the ancient ruins and explored the sundrenched beaches? There’s more to the country than the Greek classics

Alternative Greece
Greek village.

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Join in Corfu’s Easter Pot Smashing

Candlelit street processions, midnight fireworks and spit-roasted lamb are typical Greek Orthodox Easter traditions, but in Corfu things get a little more raucous, with locals smashing pots on Holy Saturday. Dozens of bands can be heard playing music throughout the town and residents celebrate the First Resurrection at Spianada Square by yelling, “Christ is risen!” and dropping huge ceramic clay pots and jars filled with water off their balconies to watch them explode on the street below.

Party like a local on Ikaria

This island is famed for its festivals (panigiria) held from May to September to celebrate local patron saints. Wine flows while revellers feast on goat and dance to live music. Interestingly, people here live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe, with one in three living into their 90s. Its reputation as a health destination dates back 25 centuries, when Greeks travelled there to soak in the hot springs near Therma. Researchers still don’t know why the locals live so long, but it’s proven they suffer less from serious diseases like cancer and dementia.

Cycle the Spetses’ Tweed Run

Put on a flat cap, dress up in tweed and join hundreds of other cyclists on vintage bikes for a ride through the island’s charming countryside, celebrating a bygone era. Tweed Runs have become an institution in London, New York and Tokyo, but the Greek equivalent boasts the most relaxing route, passing through picturesque villages and stopping off at local beauty spots for picnics eaten to a backdrop of live jazz.

Go skiing on Mount Parnassos

Parnassos is the biggest downhill ski resort in Greece and is open from December to May. It has 24 runs stretching over 20 miles. Beginners will find plenty of scenic ambling blue runs, while those looking for something more challenging can opt for tricky reds and off-piste (backcountry) skiing. With ski lifts at 7,414ft and some north-facing slopes, snow can be found on the peaks well into April. Sledging and hiking are popular too, but not everyone comes here for an adrenalin fix — the untamed mountainous landscape commands wonderful views from the Gulf of Corinth to the Gulf of Euboea.

The nearby village of Arachova, meanwhile, is charming; all narrow cobblestone streets that buzz with activity. Its close proximity to Athens means many locals head there for the weekend, and the lively tavernas, bars and restaurants are legendary. Popular local dishes include hilopites (small square-shaped pieces of pasta made of durum wheat), and formaéla, the traditional cheese of the region.

Take a dip in Pozar Thermal Baths

Greece is known for its archaeological sites and beaches, but it also has over 850 natural thermal springs. The best of these can be found in Loutraki — also known as Pozar — an area situated 68 miles from Thessaloniki and 25 miles from Edessa, the capital of Pella and birthplace of Alexander the Great. Today, it’s best known for the quality of its water and impressive hydrotherapy complex, complete with hot springs, natural pools and waterfalls.

Recommended for rheumatic, dermatological and respiratory conditions, the water temperature hovers around a steamy 37C all year. Plus, there are saunas and hammams as well as a variety of spa treatments from mud masks and salt scrubs to massages with volcanic rocks and yoga classes. Located at the foot of Kaimaktsalan mountain, the spa centre also has an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and boasts some stunning scenery.

Birdlife at Lake Kerkini.

Top 5 natural wonders

1. Stand on a volcano, Nisyros

The whole of Nisyros is a volcano, created, according to mythology, by Poseidon, who cut off part of Kos and threw it at the giant Polyvotis. While it hasn’t erupted since 1888, it remains quietly active, with Stefanos, one of the largest and best preserved hydrothermal craters in the world, still puffing sulphuric fumes from its many fumaroles — just like the breath of an angry defeated giant.

2. Explore Diros Caves, Peloponnese

Greece has more than 8,500 caves with beautiful and dramatic formations of stalactites and stalagmites formed millions of years ago. To explore one of the best, book a boat tour of Vlychada, the biggest cavern of the Diros complex stretching a mile into the rock.

3. Hike Samaria Gorge, Crete

Hike this stunning gorge in the White Mountains National Reserve from May to October for stunning views of ancient pine and cypress trees. Designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, it’s home to 450 species of plant, 200 types of bird and 32 species of mammal, including the Cretan wild goat, vulture, shrew and wildcat.

4. Bird watch, Lake Kerkini

Take a plava (flat-bottomed boat) from Mandraki, Kerkini’s harbour, for a guided tour of one of the most important wetlands in Europe and to spot over 300 species of bird. Watch spotted eagles soaring over flocks of pink flamingos and pelicans, and catch a glimpse of one of the rarest birds in Europe, the lesser white-fronted goose.