The Parthenon © Nathan Hughes Hamilton
The Olympic Games were spawned in ancient Greece, along with democracy and the fundamentals of philosophy, science and mathematics. The Greek civilisation is renowned for contributing many of the cultural building blocks that western civilisation is founded on.
Modern Greece is better known as a great holiday destination, rather than a centre of learning and culture. Today the country attracts visitors by the thousands by offering simple pleasures: delicious food and wine at reasonable prices; beautiful beaches and plentiful sunshine; quaint villages; a seemingly endless lacework of coastline; and little islands full of scenic surprises and ancient sites.
The country exudes traditional charm, particularly on its ever-popular islands, which cling to their traditional architecture and way of life despite being often over-run with tourists. Black-clad women still deliver vegetables to island tavernas on panniered donkeys, while bronzed, weather-beaten fishermen sit in the sun, drink thick coffee, and play dominoes or backgammon. The tourist infrastructure has intruded in many respects, but the timeless aspect of whitewashed buildings clustered on hillsides around narrow pebbled alleys has been retained. The myriad islands in the Aegean Sea are easily accessible from Piraeus, the historic harbour of Greece's mainland capital, Athens, by ferry or hydrofoil, offering a unique chance for 'island-hopping'. Many of the larger islands also have airports with connections to Athens or seasonally with major European cities.
On the mainland, the city of Athens in the south is sprawling, overcrowded and polluted but nevertheless enthrals visitors, while Thessaloniki in the north is vibrant and modern with a Byzantine flavour. Athens is dominated by its major landmark, the Parthenon, but the remains of other wonders of the ancient Greek classical world are to be found mainly on the Peloponnese Peninsula, south of Corinth, which is the gateway to a veritable treasure trove of history.
Greece and Greeks welcome with open arms the thousands of visitors that flock to admire their national assets every year - no one leaves without having been warmed, both by the sun and the hospitality.