As the cradle of western civilization Greece has probably done the most for western culture. Today's Greece is packed with museums, monuments and archaeological sites. With so much history it is no wonder that Greek museums are among the best in the world. Most islands have annual festivals where they stage parades, concerts, plays and pageants that almost always include dance displays, feasting and drinking.
Holiday visitors to the Greek Islands may spot officials snooping around apartment complexes, tavernas and even beaches this year. There is no need for holidaymakers to worry but hotel and taverna owners, and even those charging for beach umbrellas, should be rather more nervous The snoopers are most likely government inspectors trying to track down on tax avoidance and police checking on labour law violations. Tax and labour squads have stepped up inspections across the Greek islands this year after reports that more than half Greek tourism businesses were found to be flouting the law in the first three months of the year. Popular tourist islands from Kos to Kefalonia are being targeted as the Greek government cracks down on tax avoidance. It used to be normal practice for Greeks to avoid paying taxes whenever they possibly could. Receipts for meals and drinks, even rooms for rent, were rarely offered or asked for as islanders relied on a cash-only economy. But since the country went into debt, surviving only on regular bailouts from the EU and IMF, things have changed dramatically. Avoiding VAT can trigger fines of up to €500 each and serious offenders can have businesses shut down for 48-hours. Greek Labour Ministry warned: "SEPE has focused on the tourism industry earlier than any other year with the collaboration of tax squads and tourism police. The recent tax crackdown saw more than half of 4,800 tourism-related businesses inspected in the first three months to be dodging tax or in violation of employment laws. Lost revenue is estimated at €21.8 million, more than double that unearthed in first three months in 2017. On-the-spot checks onf cafes and tavernas, rooms to let, car hire agencies and even beach umbrella rentals have been stepped up sharply with tax officials and tourism police taking on extra staff to carry out the unannounced inspections. The Greek labour inspectorate (SEPE) launched 982 investigations of tourist related enterprises in May alone and imposed 325 fines amounting to €1.14 million and opened cases on 43 cases of breaches in employment law. Noe the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) has called for even tighter checks on illegal accommodation. They claim members who comply with the law are being undercut by Greek hotel owners offering short-term home rentals. Meanwhile, rental prices of luxury apartments and villas in Greece's top tourist destinations continue to soar. An increase in tourist arrivals on popular islands like Santorini and Mykonos has pushed up demand for high-end accommodation. The demand for leasehold property is particularly high with a survey of Mediterranean destinations finding the Greek islands are the top choice for those wanting to rent a holiday home in the Med. The average weekly rent of a three-room luxury villa on Mykonos this year went up &euro1,000 to €11,500, according to an Aegean Properties report. Other islands reporting soaring rents of 50% or more are Santorini, Paros, Rhodes and Skiathos. Other islands with marked red rises this year are Crete, Kefalonia, Corfu and Zakynthos. Some are cashing in on the demand with innovative holiday rentals. One holiday rental owner on Lefkas is offering accommodation in a yacht, parked bed the pool in a holiday complex. He is charging visitors around €200 per night to stay 'aboard' the yacht which is parked on a hill at Apolpaina, next to a swimming pool. The yacht has two bedrooms, kitchen, dining area, two bathrooms and shower with 'a panoramic sea and city view'.
Tourism officials in Greece are astounded at claims that the sequel to the popular movie Mamma Mia is to be filmed not in Greece but Croatia. Rumours have surfaced that the tiny island of Vis, on Croatia's Dalmatian Coast, is preparing for film crews to arrive later this year to start shooting. Much of the original Mamma Mia was filmed on the Greek holiday islands of Skopelos, Skiathos and the nearby mainland Pelion coast. Talk of losing the sequel to Croatia has sparked fury at the Greek Ministry of Tourism for allegedly losing millions of euros through the loss of production locations. Movie makers Universal have neither confirmed nor denied the rumours but Greek media has been full of stories of the loss of the sequel. The filming of the original gave a major boost to the tourism economy in Greece and Skopelos still trades on its link to the movie and the marriage scenes in the tiny white chapel of Agios Ioannis. Critics claim infamous Greek red tape and the lack of facilities in Greece for foreign movie makers is behind the move to Croatia. Greek ministry officials claim they have never even been approached by Universal but the government is still being blamed for the lack of incentives to movie companies to film in Greece and the red tape hurdles that companies face if they try. Many in the Greek media have urged the government to make the country more attractive to foreign filmmakers and point to huge benefits for the tourism industry and for employment on the islands. Most notorious has been the apocryphal story of Hollywood director Oliver Stone being left waiting 45 minutes outside a Greek minister's office over the filming of his blockbuster Alexander before he tired of waiting and left. It was eventually filmed in Malta and Morocco. Rumours are also rife that Warner Bros is not even considering Greece for location shots in its forthcoming movie the Odyssey. Insiders say Malta is the favoured spot as it is generous with facilities and tax benefits for visiting pie production units and film crews. Released in 2008, the romantic comedy musical Mamma Mia was then the UK's highest grossing film ever. The tranquil and beautiful Kastani beach is one of the best on Skopelos and featured strongly in the movie as did the tiny chapel of Agios Ioannis, located in the remote north-east of the island. Tourists can stand on the spot where Meryl Streep sang 'The winner takes it all' before running up the steps to the church but they will find them very steep.
Expect to find it easier to hold your wedding on one of the Greek islands soon. A deal agreed by holiday giant TUI UK and the website BookYourWeddingDay should make it relatively straightforward to exchange vows on the Greek island of your choice. The most popular destinations for weddings in Greece are the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Skiathos, Corfu. The deal should make it quicker and easier to arrange a Greek wedding and help couples negotiate their way through the relatively tricky procedures. If all goes well, it should trigger an increase in Greek Islands weddings over the lifetime of the three-year deal. The Greek Islands are proving a big draw for young couples looking for the most romantic setting to stage their wedding celebration. Specialist staff from BookYourWeddingDay are training TUI UK holiday representatives so that everything will be ready for this summer's tourist season. Expect to see adverts by both companies promoting the venture over the spring and summer. Up until now, Greek Island wedding packages have been the preserve of businesses at the luxury travel end of the market. Many are based on the islands themselves and offer complete wedding packages with all the trimmings. Others spread the net wider and offer weddings in exotic locations all over the world. Tripadvisor recently published its top ten wedding resorts in Greece, based on reviews by website visitors. The top was Tragaki beach on Corfu, followed by Megalohori on Santorini and Agios Nikolaos on Mykonos. Other favourite destinations were Lindos, Kallithea and Kiotari on Rhodes. Getting married in Greece is not always a straightforward affair. Couples can face difficulties with the stringent requirements for personal documents. If you do fancy a Greek island wedding you will need a full birth certificate and in relevant cases adoption certificates, divorce certificate and even death certificates if a previous spouse has died. Document need to be legalised for use abroad through the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and translated into Greek by a recognised translator authorised and certified by the Greek Embassy in London. Many couples like the idea of getting married in a Greek Orthodox Church or chapel, but this may require even more paperwork.
The small but popular Corfu beach resort of Kassiopi looks set to undergo a multi-million euro facelift. A deal to develop a massive hotel complex looks likely following the sell-off of a huge plot of public land to private developers for a reported €23 million. The land deal paves the way for developers NHC Capital to begin a €77 million investment in luxury hotels and tourist facilities on undeveloped land. The Greek government put 121 acres of hilltop land on the market as part of plans to pay off massive debts and overseas loans. The property runs along 725 metres of coastline to the south-west of the resort and just north of the bay at Agios Stefanos. Much of the land is close the Rothschild estate, a favourite holiday haunt of Prince Charles. The new holiday complex is likely to be an up-market development of a luxury hotel, exclusive holiday villas and leisure facilities that will probably include a marina. The land is currently undeveloped, mostly forest with wetland areas, a small lake called Vromolimni with the islet of Psilos Ena offshore and lies about 40m from Corfu's International Airport. The land has been sold by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), a body set up specially to dispose of state -owned land to developers. The Greek holiday resort of Kassiopi has long been popular with British holidaymakers, It's dominated downmarket tavernas, clubs and karaoke bars with a few surviving traditional tavernas. It boasts four pebble beaches spread across three small bays dotted around the headland although none are particularly good and better beaches can be found south at Avlaki. Kassiopi is a favourite port of call for round-island boat trips, and there are plenty of tavernas and cafes around the harbour which is overlooked by a small castle. The sale was approved on the last day of 2016 with NCH Capital the only bidder in the tender process, and the company has now secured a 99-year lease on the land. The sale is one of several being negotiated by HRADF in a privatisation scheme that began in the early 1990s in ambitious plans to reduce Greece's public debts. A portfolio of state-owned Greek assets is thought to be worth €50 million and include marine ports and airports as well as public utilities, railways and banks. Land sales currently in the pipeline include beachfront plots at Afandou on Rhodes and the old Athens airport at Hellinikon. HRADF was set up to oversee public/private partnerships and fast track planning and licensing to accelerate development. Greek planning regulations have been overhauled to 'shift from a relative and defensive planning culture to a proactive and enabling one' according to the government. Expect to see plenty more Greek state-owned assets go under the hammer.
Some Greek Islands are still suffering a drop in tourism because of the refugee crisis despite little evidence of any real problems for holidaymakers. Islands lying in the north Aegean and along the Turkish coast have suffered a fall in tourist visitors this year while islands to the west Greece, in the Ionian in particular, have enjoyed a tourism boom. Sunseekers appear to have headed west to avoid those refugees who arrived from Turkey over the winter months and still held in camps and other centres. Lurid tales of beggars and violent protest have filled the British media, especially the low-end tabloid press which has always delighted in the sort of exaggeration that sells more newspapers. Yet, on recent visits to Leros and Kos I was unable to find any evidence of contact between refugees and tourists yet these islands are among those who have suffered biggest fall in visitor numbers this year. Greece was prepared for another record-breaking holiday season this year and tourism has been the one bright spot in the country's economic crisis. The influx of refugees from Turkey certainly caused problems and, at one time, man islands such as Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Kos looked like they might be overwhelmed by number as more than 500,000 made the perilous journey by boat. Their stop on the islands was only short term as most made their way into Europe and into countries (unlike Britain) prepared to lend a hand with the humanitarian crisis. But this didn't stop the British press playing on the inherent British dislike of foreigners and the disproportionate fear of immigrants among British holidaymakers. The once healthy tourist trade in the eastern Aegean has collapsed as a result with many hotels only half full. Many of the rooms are taken up with aid workers, translators and other international agencies. Since the EU struck a deal with Turkey to curb the flow of refugees the problems have virtually disappeared. On a recent visit to Leros the only refugees I saw were those housed in a local hospital while their papers were processed. Many were young children, some separated from their families, who had seen their villages in Syria destroyed by forces from all sides of the war. It was hard to see how they could be a threat to anyone, least of all the few holidaymakers enjoying the Leros island beaches. It was a similar story of Kos where there appeared to be absolutely no sign of social problems from refugees or anyone else. The biggest impact of the refugee crisis on Kos has been to empty the hotels. It was certainly no problem finding rooms in Kos Town in July at what would normally the busiest time of the year. It's a different story in the west of Greece where hotels on Ionian islands such as Corfu and Kefalonia are bursting at the seams. Corfu alone expects around 1.5 visitors this year with bookings already up 10% on last year's record levels. The continued popularity of islands not affected by the influx of refugees may well help Greece match last year's record of 23.6 million arrivals but it seems such a shame that some islands have been hit so hard by bad publicity, particularly when that publicity appears not to be grounded in fact.
Leros island holidaymakers have been dancing in the street since the arrival of the Hoppet sailing ship. They were joined by local people and Syrian refugees on the harbour at the main port of Lakki for a display of traditional Greek dance. The Hoppet is a wooden-hulled sailboat that is sailing the Greek islands as part of a three-year artist project called 'Meeting the Odyssey'. The 22-metre sailing ship has two masts, eight sails and ten cabins that sleep up to 20 people. On board are actors and entertainers from all over Europe, who stage social and artistic events as they sail to various islands. It is all part of a social and artistic programme that launched in the Baltic Sea in 2014 and arrived in Leros this month where the theatrical crew has been organising workshops and performances. The street dancing was their final event before sailing off to the island of Lesvos where it will dock for a week. The Hoppet will then sail on to visit Lavrio, Elefsina, Ikaria and Skyros and Ikaria as part of its Greek island hopping tour. Among the harbour-side crowd at Lakki on Leros were child refugees from Syria and Afghanistan who are being held in a local hospital until they are reunited with their families. The 'Meeting the Odyssey' project is the result of a collaboration between various art and theatre organisations from several European countries. More than 350 artists have joined in the performances of 'Meeting the Odyssey' as it has sailed around various countries in the Baltic and Mediterranean and around 20,000 have watched the performances at 25 ports of call around Europe. The Greek islands are part of the last tour for the project. Greece was chosen in tribute to its cultural heritage and to show solidarity with Greece during its economic crisis. A spokesman said: "We wanted to do something that would unite Europeans instead of dividing us. With a ship filled with theatre, we wanted to enhance intercultural dialogue and overcome prejudices." "We are very proud to begin the Greek Island tour in Leros in the Dodecanese, a small island known for its traditional music and dance activities."
Your rental car in Greece could be a few years older thanks to a recent decision to extend the life of hire cars. Under previous laws, Greek car rental outfits were legally obliged to renew any vehicle more than nine years old. An update to the regulations means that car rental firms can hang on to hire cars for 12 years before renewing them. The move has not met with approval from the Greek Car Rental Companies Association (STEEA) which wants cars replaced every seven years. The claim that high mileage and rough use on Greek roads takes its toll on hire cars, especially those rented by tourists. Visitors to Greece might be surprised to learn that their hire car should not be more than nine years old. Many Greek car hire firms regularly flout the regulations and hang onto rental cars as long as the possibly can, a practice readily admitted by STEEA. The Association warns that new rules will lead to even more violations and older hire cars on Greek island roads. And it comes at a time when the Greek government is trying to upgrade tourism generally and attract more affluent visitors. Many holiday visitors prefer to book ahead by hiring a Greek holiday car online. That's fine for visitors on since island holidays, but those who enjoy island hopping may be hampered by restrictions on taking hire cars on ferries. There are car rental firms that will allow you to take a car to another island, but the practice is not encouraged, and some even ban it outright. You can understand their position when they sometimes have to retrieve cars from distant islands, especially out of season when ferries can be delayed by bad weather. Booking your car hire in Greece has other advantages too. Greek car hire firms are much more prepared to haggle over the price. There are some great car hire deals to be found, especially out of season, and you can also rent for a day or two, then maybe a day to two later in your holiday to help cut the costs of hiring for a whole week. Whichever method you choose for Greek car hire remember that you must be at least 21 years old, although the age may vary by car category, and to have held a license for at least a year. Drivers under 25 may have to pay a young driver surcharge, and some firms won't lend you a hire car if you are over 70. When driving in Greece always carry your driving licence, proof of insurance, some ID such as your passport, and your car hire papers or proof of car ownership. Hefty on-the-spot fines can also be issued for failing to carry a warning triangle, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. Motorcyclists, scooter riders and their passengers must all wear crash helmets. Although locals never seem to bother on some Greek islands, don't assume that the laws will not be enforced for tourists. Also, never drink and drive. There are police spot checks of hire cars, and fines can be hefty. Also, remember that seat belts are compulsory and children under ten years old must sit in the back of a hire car in Greece.
Greece has dropped its threat to take legal action for the return of the Parthenon marbles. Greek Culture Minister Aristides Baltas said tactics would switch to a 'diplomatic' campaign to recover the statues and marble friezes from the British Museum. It's a significant shift for the Geek government that had pledged to force Britain to return the marble snatched from the Acropolis in Athens by amateur archaeologist Lord Elgin in 1803. The government has dismissed the high-profile legal team headed by Amal Alamuddin, wife of US film star George Clooney. The minister said the legal battle for the return of the marbles had been axed because: "we risk losing the case". Greece has repeatedly called on the British Museum to return the 2,500-year-old marble sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon. The decision to drop legal action triggered a row in the Greek parliament with opposition leaders attacking the stand-down as unacceptable. The move comes as the UN General Assembly rules that the Parthenon Marbles should rightfully be returned to Greece. A total of 74 countries backed Greece's call for the return of cultural property as part of ongoing efforts to protect the world's cultural heritage. The text of the UN decision cites Greece's role as a "cradle of knowledge and culture". The UN resolution also condemned the destruction of cultural heritage in areas of armed conflict, including occupied territories. Greek cultural officials were furious when the British Museum refused to take part in talks over the future of the Parthenon Marbles earlier this year. Museum's director Sir Richard Lambert rejected a United Nations' offer to chair talks over the possible return of the Marbles to Athens. In a letter to UNESCO officials, the director said the museum's the trustees had 'decided respectfully to decline this request'. Greeks were also outraged at a decision by the British Museum to ship one of the Parthenon Marbles to an exhibition in Russia last winter. The secret shipment came after the British Museum claimed that the main reason that the sculptures could not be returned to Greece was because they were too fragile to be moved. the British Museum has also argued that Greece did not have an acceptable museum in which to display such valuable treasures. But Greece claims the multi-million-euro Acropolis Museum opened in 2009 is a perfect place to display the marbles with an exhibition area of around 14,000 square metres.
Waters around the Greek Islands have long been noted for ancient underwater shipwrecks. The recent relaxation of restrictions on scuba diving has also meant that amateur divers can explore some of the most fascinating finds in the Mediterranean. Now scuba diving archaeologists have discovered a total of 22 shipwrecks near the Fourni archipelago that many experts are now rating as one of the top discoveries of 2015. The ancient wrecks were discovered during a joint Greek-American expedition in the Fourni archipelago, a group of 13 tiny islands found between the islands of Samos, Patmos and Ikaria. Fourni was once in the centre of a several major sea ship routes that linked the Aegean to the Levant. Ancient ships sailing between the Greek mainland and Asia Minor often stopped off at Fourni, which had deep water anchorages. The first underwater archaeological expedition to the area has unearthed an astounding number of wrecks. More than half of the wrecks date to the Late Roman Period, 300-600 A.D. but range from the Greek Archaic to the Classical periods between 600 and 1,200 years earlier while some date from the 16th century. Even more astonishing is the range of cargo that was unearthed during the expedition including examples of rare amphorae from Egypt and the Black Sea. The shipments show that long distance trade between the Black Sea, the Aegean, Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt was far greater than first thought. Artefacts raised from each wreck site will go for scientific analysis before going on display in museums across Greece. Archaeologists are confident of finding even more wrecks in the area as they have so far surveyed only about five per cent of the Fourni coastline. The expedition plans to return to Fourni next year to continue the survey.
Greek holidays are not just sea, sand and sun it appears. More holiday visitors than ever are flocking to museums and historic sites across Greece and the Greek Islands. Latest figures from the Greek Culture Ministry show more visitors than ever taking a tour of historical sites such as the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the recently reopened Akrotiri site on Santorini. Officials put the rise down to extended opening hours, lower admission prices and more sites being opened to the public this year. The National Archaeological Museum in Athens notched up 27,510 visitors in June this year compared to 22,991 in June last year while the Acropolis Museum, one of the most popular in the world with more than one million visitors in 2013, welcomes 156,722 visitors in June compared to 137,411 last year. On the island of Santorini, the archaeological site of Akrotiri pulled in 40,213 visitors in June, against 35,600 in the same month last year. New sites that have opened up to the public for the first time such this year include the Archaeological Museum of Agios Kirykos on Ikaria and the Casa Romana on Kos. Extended opening hours from 8 am to 8 pm at more than 50 museums and sites in the Greek Islands have also helped push up the visitor numbers. Festival events and concerts both on the mainland and the Greek Islands are reporting heavy demand for tickets at more than 140 advertised events across scores of archaeological sites and museums. Visitor figures are likely to soar even further at sites across Greece when they stay open to welcome the full moon on August 29 with admission to all sites free of charge. The news on visitor numbers some as the Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourist Agencies (HATTA) launches a scheme to promote Greece heavily as an all-year-round tourist attraction. The tourist organisation has launched its 'DODEKA' action plan to promote tourist destinations in Greece for 12 months of the year, with an attraction for every month. It invites holidaymakers to come to Greece and enjoy everything from Olympic sports and street festivals to sailing the Greek seas and walking the mountain trails of the 12 mythological gods of Mt Olympus. Athens, Thessaloniki, Naxos, Aegina, Delos, Ancient Olympia, Dodona and Pella all feature in the action plan which also includes some less travelled destinations. Religious tourism is also featured strongly in the DODEKA programme along with street festivals, cultural highlights and foodie attractions.
Another Greek August, another Greek full moon and scores of archaeological sites, museums and other tourist attractions will stay open late. Visitors to Greece and the Greek islands can witness historic sites while bathed in the light of a full August moon in an event that has become a major date in the Geek tourism calendar. This year's moonlight event is on August 29th when a total of 140 sites will stay open to late-night visitors including the Temple of Olympian Zeus, in Athens, and the sacred island of Delos, near Mykonos. Unfortunately, the historic Acropolis in Athens, the highlight of the event in former years, will be closed from 8 pm this year as it is undergoing restoration work and a midnight event has been ruled out for safety reasons. But the Acropolis Museum will celebrate the full moon with an outdoor event called 'Tango Acropolis' held in the museum's courtyard where dancers and musicians will stage performances inspired by the tango with the public invited to join in the dancing. Other major mainland historic sites will be opening their doors to the public free of charge, including Cape Sounion close to Athens, the Cave of Theopetra at Meteora, and the castle town of Mystras on the Peloponnese peninsula. It is the fifth consecutive year that Greek sites have been thrown open to the public for the August full moon and many events have been lined up to make the most of the opportunity including musical shows, theatrical performances and moonlit guided tours. Among the many sites participating on the Greek islands this year are the Ireon archaeological site on Samos; the Thermi prehistoric settlement on Lesvos; the Nikolaides Mansion on Patmos; the Rodos Archaeological Museum on Rhodes; the Paros Archaeological Museum the Akrotiri archaeological site on Santorini; Knossos Palace and Aptera sites on Crete and the Archaeological Museum of Thassos. Last year a total of 110 sites joined in with free August full moon events so this year's 140 shows just how fast this is growing in popularity every year, giving even more holiday visitors the opportunity to enjoy the full harvest moon at some of the most important heritage sites of ancient Greece. Holiday visitors can not only enjoy the performances but can also soak up the romantic atmosphere while walking the ancient sights on a warm August night and the full moon in all its glory.
Greek holiday beach parties are famous all over the world, but their days may be numbered. According to Greek reports, the government's Finance Ministry has informed local authorities in the Greek islands that noisy, all-night beach parties are now illegal. Loud music, beach parties and other all-night revelries are banned from Greece's beaches and public places and local police told to stop any events from being organised. The news will come as a blow to many of the more popular Greek island holiday destinations where all-night beach parties have become a major attraction. Islands such as Mykonos, Santorini, Crete and Ios are renowned for the beach party scene where ad hoc events don't usually kick off until midnight and holidaymakers often party until dawn. The new law was voted through the Greek parliament in last May as part of a government crackdown on tax dodgers. Greek island beach parties are usually unlicensed, uncontrolled and open to all – that has always been part of their attraction. According to the new law, the use of public beaches is permitted only for beach bar businesses such as tavernas, boat trips and watersports. The authorities do admit that actually putting this law into practice may prove difficult as he monitoring all the Greek island beaches is practically impossible. But police and local authorities have been ordered by the Greek Ministry of Finance to prevent them happening and to collect evidence against any wrong-doers whenever possible with a view to prosecution. It may mean that party-goers themselves may be moved on by police and equipment such as music players and speakers confiscated. Music on Greek beaches is still allowed, but according to the new regulations, the noise level must be no higher than 50 decibels and any beach lighting must be 'low-level'. If island authorities act on the law it could prove devastating for Greek beach clubs that have thrived on the beach party scene. On beaches like Mylopotas on Ios, all-night parties attract thousands of youngsters throughout the holiday season. Partygoers usually don't start arriving until 11 pm and loudspeakers belt out the music with bars going wild until 4-5 am and often even past daybreak. The main Greek party islands are Mykonos, Ios, Corfu, Rhodes, Kos and Paros. In the high summer season, party beaches can get very crowded with youngsters eager to have fun. All-night outdoor clubbing, bar-hopping and beach parties draw thousands throughout the summer. Paradise beach on Mykonos hosts 24 -hours parties almost every night with guest DJs while Rhodes, Kos, and Corfu boast party beach hotspots such as Faliraki on Rhodes, Kavos on Corfu and Kardamena on Kos.
Room owners in the Greek Islands have been warned to register their holiday lets or face a stiff fine as the Greek government tightens up on tax evasion. The initiative has been launched by the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), as it tries to fight back against the rising rate of black market tourism accommodation in Greece. SETE's president Andreas Andreadis has announced that a special company has been formed to carry out checks on short tourism accommodation and post the data to the Greek tax authorities. Any regular visitor to the Greek Islands will know that rooms or 'domatia' in the local lingo are always available at bargain prices. Room owners will often gather at ports when ferries are due to dock and try to entice arrivals to book a bed for a few nights. Many will carry photographs of their rooms and offer cheap rates to tourists as they disembark from the ferries. Many visitors find the practice a colourful addition to their Greek island holiday. But tax officials and tourism organisations are concerned that some owners have not registered their rooms and escape paying VAT on holiday accommodation. Experts claim that around 40% of the holiday accommodation on offer across Greece is through 'domatia' where local people hire out rooms or small apartments to holiday visitors. Figures from the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels estimate that the annual tax revenue lost from illegal letting of rooms could be costing the country €2 billion each year. Recent Greek legislation requires hotel and room owners to display a special sticker in all rooms let out as tourism accommodation as proof of legitimate operation. Room owners who don't comply can face a fine of €1,000 rising to €50,000 in some cases. Tax evasion has always been a huge problem in Greece but, with the country reeling under its heavy international debt burden, officials say it has to stop. Hotels on popular islands such as Mykonos and Santorini already pay only half the VAT rate as the government tries to promote tourism, the only sector of the Greek economy showing much sign of life these days. Dozens of islands have been protected against the full VAT rate of 25% that applies for the rest of Greece in order to offset the high cost of transporting goods and to boost tourism development. Cheaper room rates and lower food prices are certainly paying off so far as millions more tourists flock to the Greek Islands for their summer beach holidays. A target of 25 million international tourist arrivals in Greece in 2015 is thought to be possible, according to SETE, following the publication of the latest statistics from the country's main airports. According to latest figures Greece's biggest airports recorded more than 810,000 international arrivals by the end of March, up 180,000 or 29% on the first quarter of 2014. Airports at Athens and Thessaloniki made the most impressive starts to the year with a 29.5% increase in visitor numbers through Athens while Thessaloniki Airport posted a 22.3% rise. SETE says it is still too soon to draw firm conclusions but it's a very positive start to the Greek holiday summer season following last year's record number of holiday visitors.
Greek culture officials are furious after the British Museum refused to take part in talks over the future of the Parthenon Marbles. It comes after the museum's director Sir Richard Lambert rejected a United Nations' offer to chair talks over the possible return of the Marbles to Athens. In a letter to UNESCO officials the director said the museum's the trustees had 'decided respectfully to decline this request'. And British Culture Minister Ed Vaizey also wrote to UNESCO to rule out any possibility of talks. The letter said: "The fact remains that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the laws pertaining at the time and the Trustees of the British Museum have had clear legal title to the sculptures since 1816." Greece has been called for the return of the 2,500-year-old marbles to the Parthenon for more than 30 years, but so far without success. They have been under dispute since they were illegally removed and taken out of Greece by the Earl of Elgin in 1803 and later installed in the British Museum. Sir Richard Lambert has instead offered talks on proposed loans to the Acropolis Museum, highlighting previous joint ventures between the museums. He said: "We would invite our colleagues in Greek museums to continue to work with us and to explore new ways of enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon." But the Greek response has left little room for compromise. Greek Deputy Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis accused Britain of repeatedly downgrading the 'international issue' into a mere 'problem between museums'. He added: "The negativity of the British is overwhelming, along with their lack of respect for the role of the mediators." Things haven't been helped by news that the British Museum is again planning to loan parts of the Parthenon Marbles to museums across the world as early as July this year. The fragility of the marbles and fear of damage being caused by transport to Greece has previously been an excuse for failing to return the sculptures to Greece. There were angry scenes in Athens last year when a statue of the river god Ilissos was secretly shipped to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in Russia. Former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras dubbed the decision to 'loan' a sculpture to the State Hermitage Museum to celebrate its 250th anniversary is an 'affront' to the Greek people. He said at the time that the 'Parthenon and its sculptures have been looted. The value of the sculptures is priceless.' Greece's campaign for their return won the support of lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, recently married to actor George Clooney, who has held meetings with ministers over possible legal action. Greece had already threatened international legal action to have the treasures returned but was advised to await the the outcome of possible talks between UNESCO and Britain on the dispute after the UNESCO offered to act as a mediator. It remains to be seen if the future home of the Parthenon Marbles will be decided in an international court. The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles Eddie O'Hara described the UK government's decision as 'deeply disappointing' adding that the offer of a loan would be considered by the Greeks as little more than an insult.
Thousands of holidaymakers will be making their way to the Greek Islands to enjoy the traditional Easter celebrations that are famed throughout the world. Holiday website firms like Trivago are reporting a surge in visitor numbers booking Easter holiday breaks to Greece this year , especially from the British and the Italians. Many Europeans vote Greece their top holiday destination for Easter including Poles, Spanish and Austrians according to the holiday website. Although the Italian capital of Rome tops the list of Easter holiday destinations, the Greek Islands still rank high in the top ten with the island of Corfu the main choice for visitors. Prices of hotel rooms tend to rise with demand of course and Corfu is no exception. A Trivago survey found the price of hotel rooms over Easter shoot up an average 22% to €127 euros compared to just &ero;104 last year. But these kinds of price rises are not widespread and there is a wide variation in prices across the Greek islands. Even the capital city of Athens has seen only a moderate rise in hotel room prices this year – up just 12% on last year to €90. Easter celebrations form a big part of Greek Island culture and nowhere are traditional customs kept more alive than on the islands where it is a time of year to not only celebrate the Christian religion but also to welcome the spring. Each of the island groups has its own special way of celebrating Easter. While some have spectacular displays and street parties, others are more relaxed. The Ionian island of Corfu is especially noted for its traditional Easter customs some of which are not found anywhere else including the smashing of clay jugs. Easter on Corfu is a major holiday with parades of the relics of the island's patron saint Agios Spiridon. On Zakynthos, the islanders join a Good Friday procession that goes around Zante town with the crucified Christ and at the church of Agios Nicolaos white doves are released on the first stroke of the bells announcing the Resurrection. In nearby Lefkas, Good Friday processions gather in the central square for performances by local orchestras. On Mykonos, in the Cyclades, the women will whitewash their houses and make bread in the shape of people. On Good Friday the islanders carry a mock-up of Christ's coffin through the streets and Holy Saturday Easter is celebrated in the small Paleokastro monastery. On the island of Santorini locals make a huge wooden cross and decorate it with flowers. On the Saturday after Easter everyone goes home from church with a red-coloured egg and eat a traditional soup with lamb called 'sgardoumia'. On Sunday, many villages hold a 'People's Court' where a human effigy made of rags is condemned to death, hanged and burned by the local, a little like our own Guy Fawkes. On Sifnos islanders make traditional bread rolls in the shape of 'Easter birds' and decorate them with red eggs before a feast of Easter roast lamb with dill and red wine. On the island of Crete, alongside the widespread custom of baking bread, the men will make a wooden effigy of Judas and parade it around the streets. On Holy Saturday, locals set the dummy on fire and set off fireworks. Easter is celebrate in some style in the Dodecanese islands. In the north the island of Patmos is where St John wrote the Book of Revelation and on Palm Sunday heavily decorated churches offer festive meals as well as religious services. On Kalymnos processions from ten parishes meet in the central square and compete for the best decorations while on Easter Sunday noisy fireworks erupt from the two hills that rise behind the port. Easter celebrations across the Greek Island are unique and holiday visitors will find themselves calle don to join in the celebrations no matter where they are.
Greek culture lovers get more time to tour museums and archaeological sites this year as the decision is made to stay open longer. A total of 46 major museums and sites will stay open 12 hours daily from April 1st this year to meet the growing demand from tourist visitors. The museums and sites that will stay open longer will be selected according to their popularity based on visitor figures. The selected museums will open from 8am to 8pm to allow visitors plenty of time to tour the historic sites and the bigger state-run museums. The move follows the success of a decision by the previous Greek government to extend the opening hours at 33 museums and historic sites across Greece and the Greek Islands last year. Popular sites like the recently reopened Archaeological Site of Akrotiri, on Santorini, saw revenue from receipts double with a similar rise in ticket sales at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion on Crete, the White Tower at Thessaloniki and the Acropolis of Ialyssos on Rhodes. Museums in Athens also saw receipts rise substantially with the Byzantine and Christian Museum recording a 69% rise in revenues, the National Archaeological Museum up 24%, and ticket sales to historic Athens' city centre sites such as the Acropolis up 17%. Overall, there was a recorded 24% rise in visitors at the major sites in the 2014 period January to September 2014, according to official figures. Data collected from the centres showed a total of 8,947,790 visitors in the first nine months of 2014 compared to 7,242,322 in 2013 with revenues from the same period up 16.73% to around €5.6 million. The latest decision also comes on top of a pledge by Greek tourism officials to set a target of 25 million holiday visitors to Greece and the Greek Islands in 2015. The Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) is confident it can hit the 25 million mark and set yet another record for Greek holiday visitor numbers. SETE was told that airline seat capacity to Greek airports this year has already risen by one million compared to 2014. With a new government now in office and fears of a Greek exit from the European Union averted for the moment, tourist leaders hope that bookings for Greek Island holidays will take off. Easter celebrations start on April 5 this year, a date which traditionally marks the start of the holiday season in Greece and Easter is is expected to bring a major influx of tourists to Greece.