Athens

Athens is a curious blend of east and west, and first and third worlds; its raucous street vendors and colourful markets are reminiscent of Turkish bazaars while crumbling neoclassical mansions hark back to the city's brief heyday as the 'Paris of the Mediterranean'. The Acropolis, crowned by the Parthenon, stands sentinel over Athens and is visible from almost everywhere in the city. Pericles set about transforming the Acropolis into a city of temples after being informed by the Delphic oracle in 510 BC that it should become a province of the gods. The city was a showcase of colossal buildings, lavishly coloured and gilded, and of gargantuan statues, some of bronze, others of marble plated with gold and encrusted with precious stones. Now in ruins, the cool grandeur of the bare marble is still breathtaking. Beside the Parthenon, which is unsurpassed in its grace and harmony, is the Erechtheion, immediately recognisable for its much-photographed Caryatids, the six maidens who take the place of columns. The Ancient Theatre of Dionysos, where every Athenian citizen took their turn in the chorus of Greek tragedies, is on the southern slope of the Acropolis.

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Peloponnese

The Peloponnese, Greece's southern peninsula, is rich in history and scenically diverse. Packed into its north-eastern corner are the ancient sites of Epidaurus, Corinth and Mycenae, all easily reached from Nafplio. The ghostly, capacious Byzantine city of Mystras clambers up the slopes of Mt Ta getos, its winding paths and stairways leading to deserted palaces and fresco-adorned churches. Further south, you can explore the Mani, a region of bleak mountains and barren landscapes broken only by austere and imposing stone towers, mostly abandoned but still standing sentinel over the region. Other attractions in the region include ancient Olympia, the beautiful medieval town of Monemvasia and the thrilling Diakofto-Kalavryta rack-and-pinion railway, which rollercoasts its way through the deep Voura´kos Gorge.

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Mykonos

Mykonos is the most popular of all Greek islands. It has the most sophisticated nightlife. Low-lying Mykonos has some superb beaches. The town is an enchanting warren of chic boutiques and chimerical houses with brightly painted balconies draped in bougainvillea and clematis; it's too perfect for some tastes.

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Rhodes

Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands and its town is the largest inhabited medieval settlement in Europe. The Avenue of the Knights is lined with magnificent medieval buildings, the most impressive of which is the Palace of the Grand Masters, restored, but never used, as a holiday home for Mussolini. The imposing Acropolis of Lindos shares its rocky outcrop with a Crusader castle above winding streets with whitewashed, elaborately decorated houses.

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Crete

Crete is Greece's largest island which plays host to a quarter of all its visitors. The undeveloped west coast, the rugged mountainous interior and the villages of the Lassithi plateau are worth a visit. Crete was the centre of the Minoan culture, Europe's first advanced civilisation, which flourished from 2800 to 1450 BC. The palace of Knossos, just outside Crete's largest city, Iraklio, is the most magnificent of Crete's Minoan sites. The other large towns, Hania and Rethymno, are packed with beautiful Venetian buildings. Paleohora, on the south-west coast, was discovered by hippies in the 1960s and from then on its days as a quiet fishing village were numbered, but it remains a relaxing place favoured by backpackers. Many travellers spend a day trekking though the 18km-long Samaria gorge to get to Agia Roumeli on the south-west coast. Further along the south coast, which is too precipitous to support large settlements, are the villages of Loutro and Hora Sfakion, linked by boat. The climate on the south coast is so mild that swimming is possible from April to November.

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Santorini

Santorini (also known as Thira) is regarded by many as the most spectacular of the Greek islands. Thousands of tourists come every year to gape at the sea-filled caldera, a vestige of what was probably the world's largest volcanic eruption, ever. Despite the crowds who visit in summer, Santorini's weirdness, apparent in its black-sand beaches and mighty cliffs, holds a distinct allure.

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