Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of sketchandtravel.com and bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as a guest Tom Savvides, expert on Greece and co-owner of National Travel Service Inc located in Livingston, New Jersey.
Thanks Tom for accepting our invitation to be interviewed.
Can you tell our readers something about yourself and your expertise pertaining to Greece and the Greek Islands?
I am a co-owner of National Travel Service, Inc. Our agency was started by my family in 1969 specifically to assist the Greek community in the NY/NJ area with their travel needs. Since that time we have evolved into a full-service travel agency specializing in travel to Greece. I personally lead an annual food and wine tour to Greece and have traveled there since I was a child.
Could you give our readers an idea as to what differentiates five of the most popular of the Greek islands from one another from point of view of topography, climate, and anything else you consider different?
The 5 most popular islands in terms of the number of tourists visiting annually are:
In my opinion Santorini is the most unique and beautiful of all the Greek Islands.
It is unique due to the fact that it is literally the tip of an ancient volcano whose explosion in 1500 BC was arguably the largest in history.
The archaeological site of Akrotiri is considered by experts to be the lost city of Atlantis.
The views and sunsets are the absolute best!
Mykonos is known mostly for its wild nightlife, beautiful beaches and fine jewellery shops, specifically gold. The island of Delos is close to Mykonos and is the location of a significant archaeological site.
Crete is the largest Greek island and offers everything from cosmopolitan cities, ancient ruins, beautiful beaches as well as the longest gorge in Europe.
Rhodes is very similar to Crete in terms of the diversity of sites & activities and climate although it is a much smaller island.
Corfu is located in the Ioanian Sea far from all the other islands we have mentioned. It is a popular island for visitors from the UK. It has a diverse climate and terrain offering everything from beautiful sandy beaches to pine forests.
Why would you consider Greece a good choice for a romantic getaway or wedding and honeymoon destination, and if you had to choose your 5 favourite Greek Islands, which ones would they be and why?
This is an easy question. The unrivalled beauty of the Greeks Islands is what makes them a romantic destination. As I mentioned before the warm beaches and romantic sunsets are the best. The Greeks are masters at making people feel relaxed and comfortable which are all prerequisites for romance.
My favourite Greek Islands would be Santorini for its sheer beauty and amazing cuisine, Crete for its diversity, wealth of activities and delicious wines and food, Mykonos for its fantastic nightlife and gorgeous beaches, Chios and Andros because they are not such popular islands for tourists and for all the warm and wonderful people I’ve met from these islands.
What is the best time to visit Greece from the point of view of weather, costs, and crowds? As a follow up, how do costs vary from one season to another?
Personally my favourite time to visit Greece is in mid to late September. The weather is not as hot as in the peak travel months of July and August, airfares and hotel rates are slightly cheaper and the crowds have thinned out somewhat by that time. Clearly the best time to travel to the islands would be in the peak months of June to September specifically because of the weather. Most of the islands are fairly quiet in the off- season except for local residents. It is true that you could save considerably on airfare and especially your accommodations in the off -season but, the islands are not the place to be when it’s cold and rainy.
Please keep in mind that Greece is now part of the European Union and therefore uses the Euro for its currency. As you know the US Dollar is very week versus the Euro, which means that Greece is no longer considered an inexpensive travel destination. This in turn has had an adverse effect on tourism to Greece the past few years. It does not mean you won’t get your money’s worth only that the prices are more on par with those in Italy and Spain which were typically more expensive destinations than Greece.
If you had to choose 5 unequalled, exotic and unique areas such as parks, beaches etc in any of the Greek Islands or in Athens to celebrate a wedding, which ones would you choose from the point of view of popularity and beauty?
* I love Orizontas Restaurant in Athens. It sits on top of Lycabettus Hill and offers the best view of Athens as well as fantastic sunsets. You actually take a tram through the hillside to reach it.
* The St. George Lycabettus Hotel in Athens is an excellent choice for the same reasons as well as their courteous staff, wonderful cuisine and a beautiful roof top pool and bar.
* Santorini has several areas to consider. The Dana Villas hotel in the town of Fira offers a fantastic honeymoon suite and a wonderful pool area that hangs off a cliff over the sea, which is a breathtaking location for a ceremony or reception. They even have their own wedding coordinator.
* The town of Oia is world famous for its romantic sunsets and the small cove of Ammoudi Beach, which is located below the cliffs of Oia is another unique destination that’s off the beaten path with fantastic sea views.
I really need to mention a few places on the mainland of Greece in the Peleponese region. Although not a big tourist area it offers many interesting historical sites, beautiful beaches, unspoiled villages, terrific wine regions and fun cities as well.
* The city of Nafplion, the first capital of modern Greece, is a lovely port city with a fascinating history. Above the city sits the Nafplia Palace Hotel. It has a private split-level building for receptions. It is built on the side of the hill overlooking the harbour. Three sides of the building are glass which allows beautiful panoramic views. They have an excellent restaurant and wine steward. The beach town of Tolo is just outside of Nafplion and is a great alternative to staying within the city.
How far in advance should a couple prepare themselves for a honeymoon or romantic getaway in Greece?
If you are traveling during the height of the tourist season I would suggest planning your honeymoon at least 6- 8 months in advance. This way you can secure the best airfare and accommodations at the hotels of your choice. If you are traveling in the off- season you could plan a honeymoon literally within a month or so of your departure date.
What advice would you have for destination brides who plan to bring along a wedding party to Greece? It’s a growing trend for destination weddings to now have a fairly sizeable wedding party sometimes about 50′ so it would be great to get their tips on group airline discounts, hotel blocks.
The one thing you need to keep in mind when considering Greece for a destination wedding is the size of the hotels. If you brought 50 guests to Santorini in the height of the tourist season it would be unlikely that you would find a single hotel that would accommodate all of your guests. The Greek islands are known for their small, intimate and family run hotels not for their big resorts. Don’t get me wrong there are several large resort type hotels on several of the islands however they are quite expensive and usually have less charm. Whether you’re planning a wedding for 10 or 50 you must do it way in advance.
As far as the airfare goes you would need only 10 passengers traveling on the same flights in order to qualify for a group discount. This would also need to be done well in advance if you’re looking for a discounted airfare in the high season.
How does one go about checking on the reliability of a hotel or resort in Greece when it pertains to service, food, etc?
One way would be to book your trip through an experienced travel agent like myself who has either personally been to the hotel or resort they are recommending or has sent clients there already and has received positive feedback. You can also go
on-line as I do occasionally. There are several sites that offer unbiased reviews from travelers that have stayed at the resort you are interested in. One site that I use quite often is TRIPADVISOR.COM. I still think the best way to be sure of what you’re getting is to book through an agent that is considered an expert in the particular destination you are traveling to.
What should people know about planning a wedding in Greece as far as legal requirements are concerned?
The details are far too many to summarize. It is best to go directly to the web site for the U.S. Embassy Athens Greece Consular Services at US EMBASSY for details. One should never rely on advice from anyone other than an official representative of the Greek or U.S. Embassy. It would be very difficult for anyone without a direct working knowledge of these requirements to be constantly informed and up to date of any and all changes.
How safe is travel to Greece?
In terms of terrorist acts, which everyone seems to be concerned with these days, Greece has just made it through the Olympics, which is the largest international event in the world, without any incidents. Their airport is the newest and most high tech in terms of security in the world today.
In terms of safety within Athens or on the islands it is not necessary to take any extra precautions when out and about. Like any place you will ever go to there are good and bad parts of town. A little common sense goes a long way in avoiding any problems.
One’s personal safety should not be a deterrent from planning a trip to Greece.
Is there anything else you would wish to add as it pertains to romantic and wedding destinations in Greece?
There are many unique and beautiful Greek Islands, however, some of the smaller more remote islands may not be suitable for a destination wedding or even a honeymoon. They are not geared towards tourism and may not offer the type of amenities one may require for this very special occasion. There are many islands that do offer everything you would desire and you should seek the advise of a travel expert to help you choose the perfect location.
Thanks Tom for accepting our invitation to be interviewed.