I've been camping solo in Greece for the last ten years, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I enjoy solitary time to get in touch with myself and the ancient spirits of Greece while exploring the countryside and archaeological sites. Camping is the cheapest andthe most delightful way to see the country. It's affordable. It's comfortable. It's safe. You don't even need a car. All of the campsites are easily reached by local transportation, either by bus, train or ferry. The Greek National Tourist Organization (EOT) and many private operators offer a wide range of camping experiences on mainland Greece as well as on the islands. Here are some of my favorites.
On Greece's southern peninsula, the site of ancient Sparta – modern day Sparti – is the en route connecting point to the ghost city of Mystra, one of the most important Greek cities of the Byzantine era. Buses run back and forth to Mystra every 90 minutes from the main depot in Sparti. The driver will let you off at Castle View Camping on the way back, or it's a half-hour walk.
Castle View has a swimming pool, bar and convenience store on the campsite and tent spaces shaded by trees. I usually had the swimming pool to myself, but that does not mean I spent every minute alone – it was no problem striking up a conversation if I felt like it, as happened one day when it rained. I took shelter in the cabana where there was a bar and waited out the storm in the company of a fellow camper.
It's a ten-minute walk from the campsite to Nea Mystra, a picturesque village of quaint stone houses and twisted lanes. I like to buy some kaloudi (a traditional sweetmeat) to enjoy while strolling back streets colored by bougainvillea spilling over stone walls.
I allow a full morning to explore the site of Mystra (5EUR). Pathways to the monasteries and palace are steep. I wear shoes with non-slip soles, and I take water with me as it is hot by mid-morning. Appropriate clothing is required for entering the monasteries – no shorts or halter tops.
Delphi is always one of the first places I visit when I'm in Greece, just as the ancient Greeks went there to seek the oracle's advice before embarking on any new venture. The three-hour bus trip from Athens to Delphi is always pleasant.
I ask the driver to let me off at Camping Apollon. The campsite is a ten-minute hike from Apollo's temple, the museum sites and Delphi town. Here I luxuriate in a cerulean blue swimming pool while enjoying the dizzy heights of Mt Parnassos. There are tent pitches, caravan spaces, and bamboo awnings for those who want to sleep outdoors.
The coast resort of Platamonos is about 400 km (248 miles) north of Athens by train or bus. The train station is closest to Camping Platamon located in a treed area by the sea, a ten-minute walk from the town.
Situated near mythical Mt Olympus, Platamonos has been settled since ancient times. It's a tidy town with many small hotels, pensions, tavernas and a long stretch of pebble beach facing the Aegean Sea.
Nearby, the impressive Castle of Platamonos was built by Crusaders after the end of the 4th Crusade (1204-1222). Unlike other castles in Eastern and central Greece, it was not destroyed during wars with Turkey, and it is open for viewing 8am to noon Tuesday to Friday and to 3pm on weekends. Local buses provide access to the archaeological sites of Dion and Pynda as well as to hiking (and skiing) trails on Mt Olympus.
From Platamonos it's about two hours by train or bus to Thessaloniki, then it's a one-hour bus ride to Camping Asprovalta, one of the largest and best campsites in Northern Greece. Shaded by giant sycamores and plane trees, Camping Asprovalta has full facilities and a clean pebble beach with canopies for shade. There's a bus stop right in front of the campsite, and good tavernas across the highway, or within walking distance in town.
The first time I camped there was in June and the birdsong at that time was amazing. Every morning I wakened to the shrill melodic singing of an unusual little brown bird that lived in the tree in my campsite. It sang constantly from dawn until after dark, and its friends called back and forth in the same melodious chatter.
Another time I returned to Camping Asprovalta in July and found it crowded with elaborate caravans equipped with everything from TV's to microwaves. The singing birds were gone and only cicadas trilled in the plane trees.
Local buses provide service to the coastal cities of Kavala and Alexandroupolis. You can camp at Kavala, and from here you can take a ferry to nearby Thassos Island (3EUR). Boats leave every two hours. Disembark at Ormo Prinos.
Once you have visited the emerald island of Thassos, the jewel of the North Aegean, it's easy to understand the allure of this mountainous island of pine forests, golden beaches and lovely villages.
The ferry harbor at Ormo Prinos is 1 km from the award winning EOT (Greek National Tourist Organization) Campsite at Prinos Beach. Trees and juniper hedges surround each of its 300 spaces. The campsite provides the service of an on-duty nurse, and all amenities including a well-stocked supermarket. The beach is right in front, and the sea is clear and warm. Paddle boats, para-sailing and wind-surfing are popular, and rentals are available.
You can take a scenic bus trip around the island, stop at the pretty village of Aliki for a bite to eat in one of several stone houses turned into fish tavernas along its sandy crescent beach. The main town, Limenas, is about 15 km from Prinos Beach. The town stands on the site of the ancient city of Thassos. The houses, with enclosed wooden balconies and slate roofs, are authentic examples of local folk architecture.
You can visit the ancient town site or climb to the acropolis castle and take in breathtaking views of the harbor and coastline edged with sapphire coves. Later, after the hike, it's pleasant to sit in the shade at one of the seaside tavernas around the old harbor of Liminari. Also, for a change of scene, boat trips around the island are available from Liminari for about 20EUR.
The 6-hour ferry ride from Piraeus (port of Athens) to Naxos is about 15EUR. Abandonment comes to mind when I think of Naxos: At the harbor entrance is The Portara, the remains of an ancient temple. Around the island you see many abandoned sculptures, and villages (one with a curse). And when I'm camped on the white sand beaches, mythical stories come to mind: Thesseus deserted Ariadne here when she ran off with the maenads (wild women).
Naxos town (Chora) is built around an old Venetian castle. There is a Venetian influence to the old houses with their ornate doors and flower-filled window boxes. Tiny cobbled lanes wind under arched porticoes. Naxos has plenty of night life, discos, tavernas, coffee shops and bars. There is frequent bus or taxi service to all villages and daily excursions to various places of interest around the island.
Aghios Georgios campsite, the closest to the town, is convenient for shopping and sightseeing. The beach here is shallow and calm.
Many beaches and villages are easy to reach by local bus. At Milanes and Apollonas there are giant kouros statues in situ at the marble quarries. Scattered over the island are medieval and Venetian castles, abandoned villages, and remnants of one of the secret schools where Greek children were taught their history and language during the occupation of the Ottoman Turks.
On a second visit, I stayed at Camping Maragas, 7 km from Naxos town. It is crowded with partying campers mid-summer; however late-night revelry is prohibited at all campgrounds, and it's worth a visit to Maragas Camping just to spoil yourself on a deserted beach. I rose early every morning and walked along the shore, which stretches in a long crescent of golden sand. I felt like a castaway on a tropical isle. From the campsite there is regular bus service into town. In the evening you can walk to nearby Aghia Anna – my favorite taverna.
I discovered the Ionian Islands off the west coast of Greece two years ago and returned again last summer. The island of Kefalonia was my first stop after a nine-hour trip by bus and ferry from Athens (26EUR). Kefalonia has been recently made popular as the location for the film Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia boasts enchanting bays with sandy beaches and attractive towns. Most of the buildings are post 1953 as an earthquake devastated the island that year.
A wide esplanade runs along the whole port of Argostoli where yachts from various parts of the Mediterranean, fishing kaikis, and many cruise boats are moored. There are beautiful new hotels and pensions along the port. It's a picturesque little town, clean, colorful and friendly.
Argostoli Camping is located near the Fenari, which is a replica of an old Venetian light house. The campground is well-maintained and has all amenities during the peak season from July to September. It's about a half-hour walk from town (or take a taxi, about 5EUR) along paved paths lined with flowering oleanders and shade trees. There are several tavernas nearby. One of my favorites is the O Milos at the Katavouthres, where an underground channel emerges near an old mill wheel.
Options for day trips to neighboring villages and islands are plentiful. A little ferry runs across Argostoli Bay to the town of Lixouri every hour from the port (north of the main dock – 2EUR one-way). About a 45-minute walk along the shore is the beautiful red sand Lepada Beach, an excellent place to swim. Boats take visitors to various beaches and on snorkeling excursions.
Fiskardo, the island's northern most harbor, was once the haunt of a pirate, Robert Guichard. From here you can take a quick ferry ride across to Ithaka, (home of Odysseus – the hero of Homer's Odyssey), or alternatively, to the mountainous, densely vegetated island of Lefkada.
On Lefkada, the little resort town of Vassiliki is a center for windsurfing in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of colorful sails skim over the bay all day. Just behind the windsurfing beach, ten minutes from town, Vassiliki Beach Camping is certainly among the best campsites I've visited in Greece. Besides swimming and windsurfing you can go horse-back riding in the hills.
From Lefkada you can get back to the mainland, and . . . more great campgrounds. The list just goes on and on.
Packing: I take a small tent. A self-inflatable air mattress rolls up into a small bundle that fits nicely into your backpack. A light sleeping-bag is all that is necessary as most evenings are warm. Campfires are not permitted, so I take along a camp lantern. I also take a small clothes line and pegs, a minimum of utensils, a walkman, my favorite tapes, reading material and cross-word puzzle books.
Costs: Rates vary at campsites, but a budget (as of 2001) of 10 EUR (C$14; US$9) per day should be ample for one person and their own small tent. My daily cost for campsite, food, sightseeing, and the occasional splurge averaged 16 EUR (C$22; US$14).
In Greece, most EOT Campsites have bus stops nearby for the convenience
of travelers who use public transportation. Fares average less than 1 EUR.
On the islands, the private campsites usually send a mini-bus to the port
to pickup campers. Most island campsites have access to the local bus service.
Reckon on budgeting approximately 15-30 EUR per 8-hour journey by train or bus, depending on class and speed of service.
Laundry: All campsites have laundry facilities (for hand washing). Laundered items dry quickly in the sun. There are well-maintained toilets and shower rooms at each site. These are generally well-lit, but at night you might need a flashlight if you are camped farther away.
Weather: Can be damp and cool in the early season (April/May), especially by the sea. Sometimes windy in the afternoon (the meltemi wind). Midsummer is very hot, but most campsites are well shaded.
Meals: Greek campsites (EOT and private) usually have a taverna and convenience store on the site. There aren't always camp tables or BBQ pits. If you want to cook, you can buy a portable camp burner if you don't mind carrying the extra weight. I prefer to get my hot meals once a day at nearby tavernas. It makes a pleasant evening out to sit and watch the sunset while sipping a glass of Boutari and eating a delicious lamb souvlaki.
Socializing: If there are picnic tables handy (not always) plan special solo dinner-party nights. Set up the candles, crack open a bottle of retsina, put on the music and . . . it never fails to attract the curiosity of fellow campers. Learn a few words of Greek. And don't be afraid to strike up a conversation. There's always someone who wants to try out their English.
Some people make reservations; I never bother.