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Greek holidays news and views

Greek island holidays conjure up idyllic images of blue domed churches set against a backdrop of pine coated hills, sunny skies and golden beaches. For many thousands, the Greek Islands conjure up images of quaint fishing ports, bustling street markets, fabulous beaches and crystal clear seas. Variety is the key to a Greek island holiday so take your pick of barely inhabited peaceful retreats to 24-hour beach parties.

Elafonisi beach Crete
More Blue Flags for Greek beaches

Greek island holidaymakers can look forward to even cleaner beaches this year. The country has increased the number of holiday beaches gaining Blue Flag quality status. It has added 33 beaches and three marinas to its award-winning resorts to take this year's total to 519. It ranks Greece second in the world, after Spain, for Blue Flag awards from the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature (EEPF). A total of 15 Greek marinas and a sustainable tourism boat also bagged a quality Blue Flag award for 2018. Last year Greece picked up Blue Flags for 486 Greek beaches and 12 marinas. The Blue Flag is a much-prized eco-label awarded by the independent, non-profit organisation Foundation for Environmental Education based in Copenhagen. The Blue Flag is awarded to beach resorts and marinas that pass stringent tests on water quality, environmental management, visitor safety and services. Most of Greece's Blue Flag awards, a total of 89, went to mainland beaches in Halkidiki. But islands picked up a clutch of awards too with an impressive 50 flags for the Ionian islands of Corfu (11), Kefalonia (13), Zante (18) and Lefkas (8). The favourite holiday island of Rhodes lifted 35 flags and resorts in Western Crete grabbed 34. Santorini can now fly Blue flags on nine of its beaches, but Mykonos could manage only a single flag for the beach at Kalafatis. It was a poor show too for Thassos in the northeast Aegean with a mere three Blue Flags and for the Sporades islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos with just three between all of them. Samos too only managed to qualify for two Blue Flags, but Lesvos notched up an impressive 12 quality awards. Across the world, the foundation has awarded the international eco-label to 3,687 beaches, 679 marinas and 55 sustainable tourism boats for 2014. As well as promoting clean beaches and seas, the Blue Flag programme aims to connect the public with their surroundings and to encourage them to learn more about their environment. Informing visitors about the site they are visiting is an essential part of the Blue Flag programme. As well as stringent criteria and regular spot checks on water quality, beaches that qualify must have safety measures must be in place at all times, to ensure the well being of the public and environment.

tui planes
Holiday bookings up for Greece

Early signs suggest Greece could be in for another bumper year for UK holiday visitors in 2018, despite Brexit and the stagnant pound. Figures released at the recent London World Travel market show early bookings up for Greek Island holidays with some travel companies reporting a double-digit rise on this year. Package tour operator Thomas Cook says early bookings for Greece next year are already up 12%. And Travel giant TUI has announced new investment plans for Greece that includes ten new four-and five-star hotels and expansion in cruise services. TUI said the increase the number of visitors to Greece this summer was up 10% to 2.5 million making Greece the second most important destination for the TUI Group after Spain. The news follows a spectacular year for Greek Island holidays in 2017 with significant rises in international arrivals for most islands and the figure could top 30 million by the year-end. Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said recently that the government had negotiated a rise in the number of inbound flights to Greek airports which are currently undergoing a major revamp after being sold off to a private consortium. Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) president Yiannis Retsos also noted that the UK bookings picture is an improvement on last year, confirming the strength and Greek tourism enterprises. The British accounted for 11.3% of all tourism arrivals last year. The vote for Brexit may well be hitting Britons' pay packets, and the exchange rate against the Euro is not in favour of UK holidaymakers, but the downturn is not hurting the holiday plans of UK families. The numbers of British tourists to Greece is expected to pass the 3 million mark this year, a double-digit rise on 2016, while early bird reservations for next year are already at record highs. Greek are benefitting from political troubles in other Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia as holidaymakers opt for more stable destinations. The tourism market is now huge for Greece, accounting for a fifth of the economy which has church by a quarter overall during the debt crisis. And business is helped by Greece slowly becoming an all-year-round destination as hotels and taverns stay open later and open earlier in the season. Athens, Santorini and Crete have become popular autumn destinations for holidaymakers from Germany, Britain, Italy and France. The National Geographic Traveler recently named Greece one of their Best Fall Trips of 2017 saying: "the best times to visit Greece are spring and fall because you'll find the best weather, blooming wildflowers and hotel availability." Travel website trivago also suggested autumn as the ideal time to visit the Greek islands when the sun is not quite so hot, but the water remains warm for swimming, prices are lower, and there are fewer tourists around.

Olympic airways tailfins
Health holiday season

As hotels shut down for the end of the tourist season, the industry is celebrating another healthy year for Greek island holidays. Arrivals so far this year have risen 9.9% according to the latest data from the Greek tourism organisation SET and the Bank of Greece. And most visitors have been flying in by air, with airports like Mykonos report a healthy 30% rise in holiday traffic so far this year and Kos not far behind with an 18.5% increase. Forecasters say more than 30 million will have visited Greece and the Greek Islands by the end of the year, notching up a new record. Revenue from tourism is also expected to break through the €14 billion barrier this year, assuming the last few months stay stable and despite visitors on average spending less on their holidays. Package holiday firms and airlines are already cashing in on the continued growth with offers of low fares for early bookings next year. They are helped by the high demand this year which saw many hotels fully booked and disappointment for some last-minute holiday shoppers who were searching for a cheap deal. The most sought-after Greek Island destinations like Mykonos and Santorini saw hotel occupancy rates soar over 90% in the high season and a subsequent hike in prices for anyone who had not booked ahead earlier in the year. Plans are also in place to promote Greek holidays even more strongly next year and extending the season beyond the traditional May to September period. The Discover Greece platform of Marketing Greece is highlighting some of the more remote islands and boosting demand for themed holidays linked to food, wine, and scuba diving. Greece is fast becoming an all year round destination as Athens, Santorini and Crete figure in favourite autumn destinations in a survey by hotel online search engine trivago. The survey showed that Greece remains a favourite destination for visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy and France with the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Crete and Rhodes all included in the top 10 list of foreign trippers. There has also been a pick-up in domestic demand with more Greeks heading for the beaches. The tourist numbers have helped boost Greece's ailing economy which looks like ending the year on a high with growth predictions of 2.4%, topping earlier forecasts. Package holiday operators are also looking to expand offers of Greek holidays next year in the wake of high demand this summer. Thomas Cook said demand rose 24% this season and plans are in the pipeline to add more hotels in Rhodes and Kos as well as expanding operations on other islands. Rivals TUI has also announced plans to extend the season with pilot programmes on Crete and Rhodes next year. TUI spokesman Thomas Ellerbeck said: "There is a new momentum in Greece. The Greek economy has a new foundation and we can make plans for the future." So, the 2017 season may be almost over but tourism is becoming big business in Greece and hopes will be high that even more holiday records can be set in 2018.

The Bay Golf Course Greece
Luxury golf breaks in Greece

Golf vacations have grown significantly in popularity over the past few years. It is now possible to take a golfing holiday to numerous countries in the world owing to the growth of the Internet and budget airlines. Nowadays most golfers book on the web for direct luxurious golf holidays and there is no shortage of great deals on offer for those prepared to shop around. For a great golfing experience you can take along your own golf equipment but that is not always possible. You don't have to take your whole set with you during your golfing holidays. Carrying a half-set with you is more straightforward, and that should be enough to enjoy your golfing break to the full. You may not have to purchase golf gear when you are there as many holiday golf resorts will rent equipment out or it may even be included in the package golf holiday deal. You may have other golfing buddies with you on tour and, every one of them will bring their own equipment thus it would be prudent to arrange for a large vehicle to tour around with during your trip. Tips for your golfing holidays As earlier mentioned, a player must know what to expect from a golfing vacation. You can surf the Internet looking for great golf holiday deals and many companies now advertise in golfing magazines. Furthermore, you can also approach the golf course hotels direct and make inquiries about golfing opportunities. First-hand testaments are the best if anybody wants dependable golfing trips. Prior to carrying out research, you should determine the budget, the period of the golfing vacation and the number of people who are to accompany you on holidays. Some golf courses require evidence of your handicap so carrying a certificate with you from your golfing club secretary may be a great idea. Also, make sure that the golf courses you are visiting are not closed off for maintenance purposes at the time you are planning the golfing vacation. In actual fact, it's a good idea to schedule a golfing tour to destinations that have other golf courses nearby so that in case of unanticipated dilemmas, you will still be able to have your golfing games. Choosing the best golf courses for your holiday A full golfing experience is a great way to relax, unwind and just enjoy the game. When deciding on the best golf courses, the number of alternatives is many, and you can set out for an enjoyable golf holiday to almost any destination in the world. Before selecting any golf resort, you must know the number of courses that the resort boasts of and if they are open to holidaymakers or not. Some golf courses are open to everyone only during specific periods of year or holidays thus; it is a beautiful idea to be in terms with this all well in advance. There are online companies now that offer luxurious golf vacations at resorts throughout Europe and beyond. Golfing holidays in Greece Golf holidays in Greece are growing more and more in popularity. Greece is known primarily as a beach holiday destination thanks to its beautiful sands, stunning scenery and sunny climate, But Greece is also the perfect place for a golf holiday break with many links courses giving glorious views over the sea. On the mainland, the west coast region of Messinia has hotel resort golf courses that are helping put Greece on the golf holiday map. The Westin Resort Costa Navarino, for example, hosts five-star facilities and two signature golf courses, one designed by German golfing great Bernhard Langer Golfers can enjoy views over the Ionian Sea at the par-72 Dunes Course as it winds its way through olive groves and along a small river. The nearby Bay course is a par 71 and imaginative layout tests the golfing skills of amateurs and pros alike while players can enjoy panoramic ocean and mountain views. Kalamata international airport is only 50km from the resort and there are direct flights from the UK every week throughout the year. For those who fancy playing a few rounds on the Greek islands, there are the Porto Elounda Golf and Spa Resort on the islands of Crete or the Corfu Golf & Country Club at the Palace Hotel in the Ropa Valley at Eermones. These are fantastic destinations for a luxury golf holiday in Greece.

Olympic airways tailfins
Bumper year for Greek holidays

Greece is enjoying a significant revival of holiday visitors with a forecast 26 million tourists arriving on Greek Island beaches this year. The Institute of Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) said in a report that numbers this year should be well up on the 24.8 million notched up in 2016. And that figure fails to include the sea cruise ship visitors who could help take the total well past the 28 million mark despite a worrying drop in cruise traffic in 2017 so far. Signs are pointing to a rise in cash revenues from tourism after a sluggish start this year, but even so, it would only take it back to 2015 levels. Cash-strapped holiday visitors have been hanging onto their cash recently given the poor performance of both the British pound and the dollar against the euro. Although visitors from the UK and the US remained flat from January to May, tourism arrivals from Germany and France jumped more than 20%. It took visitors in the first six months of the year to nearly 11 million, just beating last year's figures for the same period. Arrivals by plane and road touched 10.97 million according to the Greek Tourism Federation (SETE) against 10.11million last year. A record 3.2 million are forecast to arrive in Greece in August, the peak month in the holiday season with airline bookings from German leading the way. Top Greek destinations for holidaymakers so far this year are the popular islands of Crete, Rhodes, Zante, Corfu, Mykonos and Santorini. It is the luxury end of the market that appears to be enjoying the best tourist season ever with five-star rooms at high-end islands like Mykonos and Santorini at a premium. Occupancy rates at the top hotels are reported to be close to 100% for the rest of the season. Travel firms put booking for luxury hotels on Santorini, Rhodes and Corfu at 99% while Mykonos has only 3% of its top flight hotel rooms left. And these rooms don't come cheap in the scramble for places. A double room at a five-star hotel on Santorini will cost more than €8,000 a night while some hotels on Mykonos are charging more than €11,000 for an single night's stay. Airline seat bookings from Germany to Greece are up 11.7% followed by the UK with an 8.5% rise. It takes overall arrivals through airports up by 10.5% in the first half of the year. Many Greek Island airports are now run by German-Greek consortium Fraport after they were sold off last year to help repay some of the country's massive debts. A total of 14 regional airports are now managed by the consortium, and passenger arrivals were up 14.1% on last year by the end of July. By way of contrast, cruise ship passengers landing at Greek ports fell between January and July this year. Biggest hit were ports at Heraklion on Crete which reported a 39.4% drop in the cruise liner passengers and Rhodes, where arrivals in the main port fell 10.9% to just over 98,000. Even the popular cruise island of Santorini has seen a decline this year, but experts say Greece is not the problem. Cruise experts put it down to the political upheavals in Turkey which have resulted in companies taking Turkish destinations off their itineraries, with eastern Mediterranean Greek ports suffering as a result. And tourist spending patterns are a problem for Greece with arrivals keeping a tight grip on spending. Between January and May this year, the average spending by tourists fell 1.5% to €430. And with the Greek tourism season short in comparison with its competitors this means the Greek island holiday industry is losing out. A National Bank of Greece study put average tourist spending at less than €70 a day in Greece, 15% lower than competitor countries.

Greek Blue Flag Awards 2017
Greek beaches get Blue Flags

Greek beaches are back in the top rank after picking up 486 Blue Flag awards this year, up from 395 last year. The awards put Greece second behind Spain in the worldwide ranking for clean and safe holiday beaches as judged by the Foundation for Environmental Education. The non-profit organisation handed out prestigious blue flags to a total of 3,574 beaches, 662 marinas and 50 boats from 47participating countries. Greek beach resorts picked up 56 more Blue Flag awards compared to 2016 with most new flags going to resorts in Halkidiki on the Greek mainland and to the island of Crete and other Geek island holiday hotspots in the Cyclades. Among the Greek Islands, Crete tops the Blue Flag table this year with 112 beach awards followed by 68 in the south Aegean islands and 49 in the Ionian islands which include Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante. Crete is the biggest Greek Islands and was expected to garner most awards this year. The popular West Crete holiday regions of Chania and Rethymnon scooped 51 blue flags while Irakleon and Lasithi in the East took 61 awards. Among the other Greek holiday islands, Rhodes is way out in front with 25 Blue Flag beaches followed by Lesvos with 11, Kos with eight, Santorini with six and Paros with five. Most other Greek island beaches only picked up one to two Blue Flags, failing to make the grade not because the beaches are not clean but because they did not pass disabled access criteria. Indeed many islands failed to pick up a single Blue Flag despite having some of the cleanest beaches and waters in Greece. SmallerIslands such as Sifnos, Serifos, Amorgos, Astypalaia, Karpathos, Ikaria, Skyros and Alonissos have pristine beaches but do not have lifeguards on duty or easy access for wheelchairs. The Blue Flag awards scheme is operated by the non-profit Foundation for Environmental Education based in Copenhagen and celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Greek marinas granted Blue Flag status this year are located in Halkidiki (Porto Karras, Sani and Miraggio), in Attica (Lavrio, Agios Kosmas and Flisvos), Lefkas, Corfu (Gouves), Kos, Leros and the Cleopatra marina on the west coast at Aetolo-Acarnania. For a pdf map of the full list of Blue Flag awarded beaches in Greece click here or visit the official Greek site here.

Afionas beach Corfu
More book Greek holidays early

January has seen a surge in bookings for Greek Islands holidays according to the world's largest travel group TUI. Of course, January is always a busy time for travel companies as families open their travel brochures and think of where to go for their summer break. But Greece and the Greek Islands appears to feature heavily this year, especially with UK and German holidaymakers. TUI claims that January is now the busiest month of the year for holiday bookings in Europe with a big spike in interest on the first Saturday of the New Year. This year TUI, which owns Thomson and First Choice brands, reported more than 27,500 holiday bookings on January 7th alone with nearly one million expected to visit company stores or websites over the month. All-inclusive holidays are also gaining ground with Brits, according to TUI, where a survey of 2017 booking so far shows 53% opting for all-in hotel deals. Mediterranean beach holidays are always high on the list for British tourists with Corfu and Rhodes leading the way. Both islands are among those where Greek hotel owners are dropping prices in a bid to attract more out-of-season visitors. Cheaper hotel rooms are being offered on 20 popular island destinations in Greece as hotel owners try to bolster bookings from the British market with nightly hotel rates as low as €3.50 per person per night. These super-low rates apply to off-season bookings through UK tour operator members of the Association of British Travel Agents with the some of the lowest prices offered for holidays on popular resorts in Rhodes, Corfu and Crete. Other cheap Greek hotel rates include €4.50 a night on mainland Parga and €6 a night on Kos. Hotel rooms on the well-known Ionian islands such as Zante can be picked up for €7 while it is just €8 euros on neighbouring Lefkas. A night in a cheap hotel on Lesvos is just €9 euros with a similar price for the Cycladic islands of Paros and Naxos. You can book a hotel room for just €10 euros in Halkidiki and Evia and only €11.50 for Skiathos, Ios and Samos. Greek hotel owners are hoping to pull in tourists that are looking to avoid other problem Mediterranean regions that face terrorism issues, such as Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia. A similar strategy last autumn prompted a big rise in late bookings for Greek Island holidays, and hotel owners are hoping to boost early bird holiday visitors this spring. A survey by the Greek National Tourism Organisation) found the main reasons for choosing Greece as a late season holiday destination were lower prices, mild weather and quieter beaches. The trend to book summer holidays in early January continues in other European countries as well as in the UK. One of the reasons for this trend is that customers last year experienced booking bottlenecks last summer, especially for trips to Spain - still the top selling beach holiday destination in Europe.

lalaria beach skiathos
Greek bookings boost

The future still looks bright for Greek Island holidays with advance bookings for 2017 from the UK up a healthy 11% on last year. Latest tourism data shows similar rises across the board for early holiday bookings to resorts in Spain, Portugal and Cyprus. It appears that Greece is picking up some of the fallout in the drop in holiday bookings to Turkey, France and Tunisia in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Figures are based on short haul flight bookings only, but it still shows Greece among the front-runners for next season. The short haul holiday flight market is 14.6% up on early bookings for 2016 with Spain taking the giant share at nearly 48%. It is Turkey and France taking the biggest hit with flight bookings down 30% and 15% respectively. Market analysts say people are booking earlier than ever to get the holidays of their choice with a 13% year-on-year increase in passenger numbers. The rise in early bookings follows a record number of arrivals and revenue in the Greek Islands in 2015 and high expectations that 2016 will be even better. Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura says the tourism industry had overcome difficulties with the Greek economy and the refugee crisis. It is the latter that is believed to be behind a record number of holiday visitors to the Ionian Islands this year. The islands of Corfu, Zakynthos, Lefkas and Kefalonia recorded a 13.2% rise in holidaymakers from January to October. It has put the Ionian Islands top of the table for increased arrivals in 2016. Located to the west of mainland Greece, the Ionians have remained unaffected by the influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. According to latest figures, Corfu saw arrivals at airports go up 31.8% this year while Kefalonia saw a 37.7% increase and Zante jumped a whopping 51%. Greece has plans to attract more high-income tourists this year with a massive promotion of Greek island holiday destinations.

skiathos airport landing
Greek tourist visitors spend less

They have been arriving in larger numbers than ever, but Greek Island holidaymakers are a lot more stingy with their holiday cash. Latest figures show tourists in Greece kept a much tighter grip on their wallets this year. Hotel and taverna owners ended up working a lot harder for less money as visitors, mostly from the UK and Germany, feel the pinch of economic slowdown. Figures from the Bank of Greece show tourist spending down a whopping 9.3% in 2016 compared to the previous year. And things got worse as the holiday season wore on with a drop of more than 10% in September, the biggest monthly drop in a decade. The average spend of the holiday visitor to Greece this year was a measly €546. There are plenty of factors at play when trying to work out why tourists are playing tight with their holiday spending. For UK visitors the post-Brexit plunge in the value of the pound against the euro must be a factor. But tourism experts in Greece also point to the general 'atmosphere' in Greece where years of austerity have taken their toll. The migrant crisis and the political upheavals in neighbouring Turkey are also blamed for the fall. Many Greek hotel owners dropped prices this year to compensate for the loss of trade following the influx of refugees fleeing the wars in the Middle East. Political problems in Turkey saw budget holidaymakers turn to Greece this year looking more for a bargain holiday, not a free spending one. But it isn't the Brits who held onto their hard-earned cash this year. US tourists cut spending by more than 26%, and Germans kept 10% more in their wallets. British holidaymakers were, in fact, the least stingy of the lot but they still parted with 5.6% less this year. It's still a worrying time for the Geek tourism sector as spending actually went up in rival holiday destinations like Spain where average holiday spending of €1,005 is nearly double that of Greece.

zante nagavio shipwreck
Greek holidays and Brexit

Greek islands holiday visitors can expect to pay more for their holidays following the dramatic vote to leave the EU. Greek tourism officials are warning of 'unforeseeable consequences' for the tourism industry in the wake of the Brexit vote. An estimated 2.4 million UK tourists visited Greece in 2015 around 10% of the total visitor numbers making the UK the second biggest market after Germany. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) say summer this year will see little changes to their holiday But the huge drop in the value of the British Pound already threatens to make Greek holidays more expensive and worse is to come. Prolonged political uncertainty and a volatile exchange rate are expected to hit holiday sales all over Europe. Every year, Brits make more than 29 million visits to EU countries, 76% of the total trips abroad. Until the break with the EU is made official under Article 50 of the EU constitution travellers are still as free to move between the UK and the EU as they have been for many years. European Health Insurance cards remain valid and EU regulations such as Air Passenger Rights remain in place for now. Once the UK formally notifies the EU of its intention to leave under Article 50, the UK has two years to negotiate its relationship with Europe. Holiday travel matters that could then be affected include EU regulations on financial protection for package tours, compensation for flight delays,free health coverage through the European Health insurance, credit card and mobile phone charges. Another big impact on the cost of Greek holidays could be the ending of the open skies agreement across the EU that has prompted the growth of more routes to Greek island holiday destinations, particularly by low-cost airlines. ABTA has published a guide on how Brexit could affect holidays abroad generally. It says current UK passports will remain valid until the UK officially leaves the EU and can use the usual airport queue for EU nationals and use duty-free shops as before. Pre-booked package holidays should not be affected by changes in the value of the British Pound but holidayers will get less for their money if they use money exchanges and it will be more expensive to buy things like meals and drinks. The UK Treasury predicts that sterling would lose 12-15 % cent of its value on the Brexit vote. Longer term, the key rates against the euro is crucial but the fall in sterling against the dollar will also push up the price of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel, The weaker pound will almost certainly have an impact on the cost of flights in the short term. Anyone booking own trip to Greece may have to pay more for accommodation or a rental car, So Brexit is unlikely to have much of an impact on Greek Island holidays in the short term but it could mean Brits taking fewer holidays abroad in the longer term, particularly as the divorce from the EU will probably have a negative impact on jobs and prosperity at home.

Kokkari beach on Samons
Greek beaches among Europe's best

Four fabulous Greek Island beaches have made it into the top dozen beaches list for Europe, according to the website European Best Destinations. The site runs up a list of top European holiday beaches every year but this is the first time Greek beaches have snapped up a third of the places in 2016. And one place in the list has been handed to a whole island as the Ionian island of Zante takes a whole beach award for itself. The following Greek beaches are considered as among the dozen most beautiful beaches in Europe for 2016, according to the European Best Destinations. Kalamitsi Beach, Lefkas Also called Kavalikefta, Kalamitsi is one of the prettiest beaches on the Ionian island of Lefkas and found about 15 km south-west of the central town of Lefkada. Crystal waters and white sand make the beach ideal for swimming and sunbathing while rock formations close to the shore offer variety and give a wild aspect to the beach. Lefkas is known for its white sand beaches and small coves lined with picturesque fishing villages. Sailing and yachting are big on Lefkas and the modern marina in the town of Lefkada berths up to 620 vessels, With some lovely islands such as Meganissi nearby and with countless beach coves, many consider Lefkas a Greek Island paradise. Apela Beach, Karpathos Slightly off the usual tourist trail the island of Karpathos is found in the most south part of Dodecanese complex, between Crete and Rhodes. Karpathos is a mountainous island with the highest peak at Kali Limni reaching 1,214 metres. The island brims with fresh water springs, forests of pines, vineyards, olives and citrus groves. Pristine waters in the many rock caves are home to the endangered Mediterranean seal species ╬ťonachus monachus. It's quite a large island covering more than 300 square kilometres and with a 106-kilometre long coastline. But with only 6,500 inhabitants it's one of the less populated Greek islands: a place for peace and quiet. Kokkari Beach, Samos Kokkari is a former fishing harbour on Samos, which has grown into a major tourist centre. Samos sits in the north east Aegean, just off the coast of Turkey, a large mountainous island with a great variety of landscape. Despite the tourist influx of recent years, Kokkari preserves its traditional fishing village feel, with small houses and narrow lanes full of flowers. The beach lines on a small peninsula which climbs to the top of a hill with a small harbour on one side and a long pebble beach on the other. Backed by forested mountains Kokkari is one of the several coastal villages with nearby Platanakia and Staurinides connected by narrow lanes and or small paths. In fact, Samos is covered in hiking trails that lead all over the island to hidden pebble beaches, such as Tsamadou, Tsambou, and Lemonakia. Zakynthos Island Well, it's not often that a whole Greek island gets beach award but Zante has so any beaches of such varied character that the website seems unable to distinguish any of them. This green Ionian island is endowed with fertile valleys and a temperate climate where heavy winter rains ensure greenery is abundance throughout the hot summers. Sandy beaches lie in secluded coves on the island's southeastern shore while the west coast boasts rugged cliffs and deep caves. Other top European beaches that make the list are Stiniva Beach on Vis Island, Croatia; Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava in Spain; The Concha at San Sebastian in Spain; Berlanga Island in Portugal; Cala Acciarino on Lavezzi Island in Corsica; Armaçao de Pera Beach in the Algarve, Portugal; Santa Maria Dell' Isola in Calabria, Italy and beaches on the Ksamil Islands off Albania.

landing at corfu airport
Bumper year for Greek visitors

It's another record year for Greek Island holidays as official figures confirm expectations of more visitors than ever in 2015. Latest figures show holiday arrivals in Greece up 7.1% last year to hit an all-time high of 23.6 million. British holidaymakers helped push up the numbers with a 14.7% rise to almost 2.4 million. Greek holidays also proved more popular with US tourists where a favourable exchange rate with the euro helped push visitors up nearly 27% to top 750,000. German tourists were also back in force with a 14.3% rise to top 2.8 million. It all helped to offset the 59% slump in Russian tourists who were hit hard by a fall in the rouble and the collapse of several travel agencies. Visitors helped pump much-needed cash into the ailing economy last year with tourism takings estimated at €14.2 billion a hike of 6 percent on 2014. US holidaymakers were the biggest spenders with a 44.4% rise to a record €945.6 million while British holiday spending topped €2 billion, a 30.5 % increase on 2014. Final figures were helped by a surge in holiday visitors In December 2015 which saw a 12.2% increase in tourism revenues, even though tourism arrivals dropped 9.3% from the previous year. The Bank of Greece says tourism brought in a surplus of €12.17 billion last year, rising 7.5% on 2014 giving a welcome boost to the Greek economy. Early reports suggest the tourism year in Greece has got off to another good start this year. Islands troubled by an influx of refugees, such as Kos and Rhodes, have suffered a drop in Greek holiday bookings so far this year, but this has been more than offset by rises on other popular Greek islands such as Corfu and Santorini.

platanias beach crete
Surge in Greek Island holidays

Holiday companies are reporting another surge in bookings for Greek Island holidays this year. Some companies report a 5% rise in summer vacation bookings to Greece as tourists turn their backs on Mediterranean countries troubled by domestic problems. The Greek Islands appear to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of 'crisis' headlines in places like Tunisia, Egypt and now Turkey. January sales promotions helped spur a 2% overall rise in package holiday bookings compared to last year. Analysts also note a 15% year-on-year increase in summer 2016 short-haul bookings so far. Holiday companies report than once-growing destinations like Tunisia have been almost entirely wiped out while sales of holidays to Egypt are down 88% this year. Holidaymakers switching from once-popular resorts like Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt and Monastir in Tunisia is believed to be behind the rise in bookings to Greece. Spain, Portugal and Cyprus have also seen a sharp rise in early bird booking this year while the big losers are Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco. It's a similar story in German, the other big tourist customer for the Greek islands. Crete and Rhodes are the most popular islands for German tourists this year with bookings up 25% for Crete and 14% on Rhodes. It follows a season of decline in German tourist numbers in the wake of Greece's financial bailouts by the EU. German tourists too are turning their backs on Egypt and Turkey where bookings to the latter slumped 40% in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Istanbul. Egypt too has suffered a sharp decline in bookings with demand for Red Sea holidays continuing to plummet. Meanwhile, Greek Islands specialist Olympic Holidays has added a trio of less well-known Greek islands to its portfolio this year. The travel firm is offering holiday breaks on Ithaca, Milos and Tinos to its summer 2016 programme. The company admits the additional islands is unlikely to have a big effect on passenger numbers but showed the strength in depth of the travel company's knowledge of the Greek Islands Olympic Holidays Commercial Director Photis Lambrianides said: "The appeal of the small islands is incredible, but they are not going to make the difference of tens of thousands of passengers as the bed capacity is so small."

Scuba diving in the Greek Islands
Greek scuba diving parks

Greek island scuba diving holidaymakers will soon be able to explore more historic underwater marine sites. Greece plans to open a major official scuba diving underwater park this year off the Greek island of Evia. The diving park will include 26 shipwrecks in waters off the islands of Evia, Styria, Petalioi, and Akio. Opening up underwater diving parks in Greek waters has been high on the agenda since Greece relaxed its strict rules on scuba diving. Greek Culture Minister Aristides Baltas told local mayors that all the paperwork hurdles had been cleared to allow the project to proceed in 2016. It will mean that Greek holiday divers will be free to explore some of the most important wrecks on the ocean floor for the first time. It is hoped that the marine park will boost both national and local economies and create new jobs. Attica Prefect Rena Dourou said: "This is both a challenge and an opportunity: a challenge because our country can and must secure its reputation as a world diving destination." Scuba diving holidays look set to play a much bigger role in the Greek Island holiday market with the rapid growth in underwater archaeological theme parks. A number of dive sites have opened since the lifting of severe restrictions imposed to protect shipwrecks and historical artefacts from being plundered The Greek government is confident that relaxing regulations could boost the scuba diving industry in Greece and offer a chance to promote alternative tourism while still protecting important sites. Divers can now explore dozens of sites with special theme park areas designated to allow guided underwater exploration by tourists. They include marine parks located off the Peloponnese coast near the holiday area of Pylos, in the Bay of Navarino where a number of 19th-century shipwrecks are now open to scuba divers and the seabed in the North Sporades where an underwater museum park with ten shipwrecks is being developed. The scuba diving sites are not only of interest to those who enjoy underwater archaeology but those looking to enjoy the vibrant, teeming marine life of the Aegean.

mani waterfront
Holiday visitors top 20 million

Greek Island holiday visitors have topped the 20 million mark this year, according to the latest figures. Tourist arrivals to Greece in the nine months from January to September jumped more than 17% compared to the same period last year. It looks set to make 2015 another record year for Greek holiday tourism and puts the country on track to break through the 25 million mark by the end of the season. According to data from the Bank of Greece, more than 20.6 million tourists have visited Greek holiday resorts and beaches this year. And visiting tourists have had more holiday spending money than last year with income from tourism and travel up 4.7% to reach €12.57 million. UK holidaymakers, in particular, had lots of cash to spend with British tourists spending €1.75 million more than last year, a rise of more than 25%. European visitors overall were among the big spenders with receipts up 10.5% while spending by visitors from outside Europe dropped more than 5%. Increased tourism has come despite Greece's economic turmoil in recent years and the current refugee crisis appearing to have had little effect on those considering a Greek Island holiday. Other factors that may have helped to bolster confidence in the Greek holiday market this year have been the continuing troubles in Egypt and Turkey, two to Greece's biggest competitors for sunshine holidays. Other factors have been the good exchange rate with the euro and the lower prices for Greek holidays this year. Tourist arrivals from Germany have shown a sharp turnaround after a year in the doldrums with tourist cash spending by German holidaymakers also up 7.4%. Visitors from the USA have enjoyed some very cheap holiday deals his year thanks to the weakness of the euro against the dollar. The continued popularity of Greek Island holidays has been welcomed by the local tourist industry which has major plans to boost next year's numbers. Plans in the pipeline include extending the holiday season beyond the traditional May to September season, promoting more health and sports tourism and improving inter-island communications with the possible launch of inter-island seaplane services in 2016.

Cave Melissani
Four must see Ionian locations

The Ionian Islands in Greece are one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers and travellers in all of Europe. The vast array of towns and cultures, mixing the quaint with the boisterous, combined with a selection of stunning beaches and a wide range of activities to enjoy means that there is always somewhere that suits your tastes. Chocked full of incredible places to see and experience, we recommend you try to visit at least one of these incredible locations while visiting the Greek Ionian Islands. Navagio Bay, Zante The poster child for the Greek Islands, Navagio Bay, also known as Shipwreck Beach, is found in a rocky cove on the island's west coast. Impossible to reach by land, unless you skydive from atop its vibrant white cliffs, visitors can travel either via their own private boat or by locally operated water taxis to the bay. At Navagio Bay, you can sit back and take in the splendour of this beautiful piece of planet Earth. A perfect spot for swimming, snorkelling, relaxing, sunbathing and even partying if you visit at the right time, the striking nature of this place is guaranteed to leave a mark on your memory for years to come. Melissani Cave, Kefalonia There is nowhere in the world quite like Kefalonia's Melissani Cave. Found deep beneath the island's surface, it is accessible either via an ocean cave or a man-made tunnel; but we definitely recommend going in via the cave. Travelling by rowboat through jagged and enclosing rock walls, you will eventually come to a small underground lake. Light floods in from a large sinkhole opening from above, illuminating the amazing colours of the water. This combination of light and water has also allowed lush plant life to grow up the walls of the cave, creating the sense of some sort of ancient underground utopia. An unparalleled visual treat, it is impossible not to get swept up in the majesty of this natural Greek wonder. Marathonissi, Laganas Bay An island like no other, Marathonissi can be found in Lagana's bay off Zante's southern coast. A peaceful paradise only a short distance from the bustling town centre across the bay, Marathonissi boasts two beautiful beaches, clear waters and a real taste of Mediterranean paradise. The only issue, however, is that it is only accessible by private boat. The area is a protected turtle nesting ground, meaning that large ferries are not permitted, nor is any type of vessel allowed to drop anchor close by. Your best option is to hire out a small vessel that can be docked on the sandy shores of the island, something small and light, but with enough power to cross the deceptively large Lagana's bay. Paleokastritsa, Corfu A renowned Greek beauty spot, Paleokastritsa is a small village found on the western edge of Corfu. In essence it is a traditional piece of Greece built around the wild coastline of the island, apartments and houses weave between the rustic woodlands and sit on the side of soft flowing hills. Visitors to the village can experience the best of everything Greece has to offer, mixing the classic aspects of Greek culture with stunning landscapes. The fact that Paleokastritsa is also home to some beautiful Mediterranean coves and beaches doesn't hurt either. Words by Cliff Blaylock of Deep Blue Yachting.

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