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Greek lifestyle news and views

Greek holiday visitors will quickly notice two things about the Greek lifestyle. First is the sheer friendliness of the people. Greeks are most hospitable to strangers. They even have a word for it 'filoxenia' which translates roughly as 'love of strangers'. The second is the relaxed timekeeping. Greeks don't run their lives by the clock. Greeks will not be hurried and it is amazing how quickly you adopt an easygoing outlook on a Greek Island holiday.

Snow on beach
Greek Islands under snow

Just as you are planning your summer Greek Islands holiday, news comes in of massive snowfalls and plunging temperatures across the Aegean. Heavy snowfalls are reported across the whole of Greece, and even the islands are suffering from the cold snap. Ferries to the Sporades islands were halted briefly while islands like Lesvos and Chios struggled to care for thousands of refugees huddled in summer tents. Icy conditions have led to many school closures and frozen water pipes as thermometers plunged to -16°C in western Macedonia. Even the most southerly island of Crete can't escape the icy blast with overnight temperatures in Chania dropping to -14°C and thick snowfalls making roads impassable. Local authorities and police are doing their best to clear roads, and direct traffic but even major highways have been blocked by heavy snow. The cold snap has affected many parts of Europe. Italy has been forced to close airports and cancel ferries. In Turkey, the Bosporus was closed to shipping, and heavy snows have hit Istanbul. Eastern Europe faced the worst conditions with deaths reported in Poland and Bulgaria while Russia has suffered the coldest winter in 120 years. It is not unheard of for the Greek Islands to suffer from winter snowstorms but it is rare to see snowfalls on this scale. The island of Evia experienced more than 50 centimetres of snow with many roads blocked and mountain passes closed. Gale force winds have also lashed many island coastlines with harbours hit by massive waves. Power lines have also been hit, and there are reports of blackouts on islands from Crete in the south to Lesvos in the north. But the Sporades islands of Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Evian seem to have suffered the heaviest snowfalls. Although many islands in Greece are now promoting themselves as all-year-round holiday destinations, they will never enjoy the blame weather of rival resorts in the Bahamas. You can seem more Costas Andreou photos of snow in the Greek Islands on his Facebook page here.

Kos refugees
Refugee impact on Greek Islands

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.

Skopelos taverna
Tax shock for Greek Islands

Abolishing tax relief on the Greek islands appears to have backfired with VAT revenues from tourism dropping by 40% in just five months, according to some reports. Holiday visitors to the Greek Islands used to enjoy lower prices thanks to low VAT rates for many businesses, notably hotels and restaurants. The low VAT rate was allowed in order to compensate for the extra costs of shipping in goods such as food, drinks and other consumables out to the islands. But the Greek government abolished the relief on Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Corfu, Zante and Kefalonia in June last year and have recently rolled out the VAT rise across another dozen Greek islands. VAT relief was abolished to raise more cash to help pay off Greece's international debts. But latest figures show holiday island VAT revenues dropping 40% in five months and analysts warn it will get even worse. Government finance officials blame island traders for the shortfall in VAT revenues and attribute the drop to deliberate tax evasion as Greeks turn to a cash only economy and fail to issue receipts. Greek island holidaymakers are unknowingly colluding with the tax evasion by opting for cut-price hotel deals and cheaper meals in restaurants. Some say the situation was made worse after steep fines for evasion were scrapped at the same time that the VAT relief was cut. Greek officials speak of a disorganised tax monitoring mechanism on the islands and of widespread tax avoidance. Mykonos appears to be the worst for tax evasion, with VAT revenues 62% lower than expected this year. But it's much the same on the other popular tourist destinations of Santorini, Paros, Rhodes, Kos and Zante which all have shortfalls of around 40%. The trend is particularly worrying for Greece in the wake of the British Brexit vote. The big fall in the value of sterling is expected to trigger a drop in tourist arrivals and a further drop in revenues. The effects of Brexit may not be felt this year as many have already booked their Greek Island holidays but European holidays for 2017 are almost certain to be more expensive.

Agios Athanasios island for sale
Greek Islands to go on sale

Behind the recent sell-off of state-run Greek airports to private consortia are plans to dispose of up to 500 Greek Islands, according to press reports. Some commentators are claiming that Greece now has plans to sell more than 70,000 state-owned properties in efforts to boost state coffers. Included in the list of assets that could go under the hammer are major tourism draws like some of the more remote Greek islands, beaches, ports, marinas, spas, hotels and campsites. The asset disposal is being organised by the newly created Hellenic Holdings and Property Company (EESP), which is responsible for facilitating the sale of state property and public corporations. If the sell-off of state-owned assets is successful, it could bring in as much as €6 billion by 2018 and relieve pressure on the struggling Greek economy. But it could also mean holidaymakers to Greece finding themselves bathing on a private German-owned beach instead of a public Greek beach, or mooring their boat in an Italian-owned marina. Full details of real estate sell-off will not be known for several months but few believe it will not be substantial. The left-wing Greek government is under immense pressure to pay off its creditors even while remains dependent on international debt relief bailouts. The EESP is drawing up a list of state-owned beaches, islands, boutique hotels, golf courses, Olympic venues and historic properties in order to raise money and the organisation is under immense pressure to offload as much as possible. It comes in the wake of the recent agreement with the IMF and Europe to release an extra €10.3 billion in bailout loans in exchange for further reforms aimed at boosting the country's economy. Ownership of more than 70,000 pieces of state-owned property is expected to be transferred to the EESP as part of which is turning out to be the biggest privatisation programme in the whole of Europe. Greeks have reacted with understandable anger at the plans which many argue is another attack on their country by international creditors in moves that keep Greece anchored to the Eurozone. Government opposition parties claim the proposed asset sale effectively mortgages the country's assets for generations without any guarantee of dealing with Greece's €320 billion debt. After first opposing the sale of the country's two main ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki the left-wing government finally approved a takeover bid by the Chinese shipping giant Cosco. German transport giant Fraport has also won rights to operate 14 Greek island airports including those on popular tourist destinations such as Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu. It remains to be seen how many more of the country's assets will go under the hammer especially the most lucrative assets of all - those which bring in millions of tourists each year for their Greek Island holidays.

Healthy eating at Ikaria taverna
Greek Islands get VAT hike

Greek island holidays look set to get more expensive this year, on some of the islands anyway. The Greek government has scrapped a VAT rate discount enjoyed by several Greek holiday islands while at the same time raising the overall tax rate by 1% to 24%, one of the highest in Europe. Greek islands that have lost their VAT rate discounts this month are Syros, Thassos, Andros, Tinos, Karpathos, Milos, Skyros, Alonnisos, Kea, Antiparos and Sifnos. These islands have enjoyed a lower tax rate than mainland Greece to compensate both for the high cost of food imports and to help the islands boost holiday tourism rates with lower prices in shops and tavernas. Now they must pay the same 24% rate as the rest of Greece on a broad range of goods and services that will affect supermarkets, petrol station, gift shops, clothes boutiques and tavernas. These are not the only Greek islands have escaped VAT rises. Similar discounts were lost on the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Rhodes and Skiathos in October last year. Even more remote Greek islands can expect the same treatment next year and be forced to revert to the nationwide rates of 6, 13 and 24% that applies to the rest of Greece. It is all part of the demands by the EU and the IMF for Greece to get its finances in shape after billions of euros in bailouts. The Greek VAT rate was once the lowest in the European Union at 19% but now will join countries with highest VAT rates such as Denmark, Croatia, Sweden, Finland´s and Hungary. For holiday visits to the Greek islands this year it will almost certainly mean higher prices in shops and tavernas, as well as higher fares on Greek island ferries and higher petrol costs for those using hire cars. Drivers will be hit harder with a special tax on fuel of around five cents per litre for petrol and eight cents a litre for diesel. The VAT rise is forecast to generate between €400m and €500m to help plug a gap in the 2017-18 budget and help avoid a potential VAT increase in domestic electricity, water and in private education. The Greek Confederation of Commerce argues that the sixth VAT hike in as many years will depress sales by 3%, increase levels of tax evasion and hurt businesses already struggling to survive the government's austerity measures. Economists said the tax increase would depress sales initially, but the policy was necessary to shore up the economy in the longer term. In any event, expect to pay more on your Greek islands holiday this year as the government still struggles to reshape the Greek economy.

Bikini Beach by Marinos E- Tsagkarakis
Some sorry sights of Greece

Tourism promotions of Greek Island holidays will naturally feature the most beautiful sights. Pristine seas and golden beaches are the mainstays of holiday posters and videos No wonder then that many visitors are left bewildered at the reality of lovely Greek beaches marred by crass tourist development. Ugly signs for beach bars and tavernas spoil many a Greek view as locals have turned belly-up to mass tourism. And it's not just private businesses who seem intent on plastering their crass logos on every tree. Very often the local government itself is guilty of erecting ugly wire fencing, pouring concrete everywhere and lining streets with overflowing dustbins. Now Greek photographer Marinos E. Tsagkarakis is highlighting some of the dire effects of mass tourism on his home country. His photo series 'Paradise Inn' picks out just a few of the architectural eyesores that are blighting areas of Greek natural beauty. He says: "These effects are reflected in the constructed landscape mostly through the unregulated and shoddy architecture, the kitsch and folklore decoration." Some Greek islands are worse than others of course, with many of the smaller islands escaping the worst of the blight. Islands such as Kos and Corfu, of course, are notorious for the ugly spread of neon. But smaller islands are slowly succumbing to the creep of advertising. Government interference is howled down in the name of over-regulation. But sometimes we need rules to stall the spread of shoddy commercial development. And tourist visitors can help by giving these places a wide berth despite offers of happy hours boozing and cheap takeaways. Of course, there are some who maintain the bargain basement tourists are just a bad, with little respect or concern for the local culture. They just want cheap booze and a good time. Perhaps the drop into downmarket kitsch is inevitable. If so, then discerning travellers may need to look elsewhere and leave the Greeks to their fluorescent fixtures.

deep blue yacht
Visit the Greek Islands in Autumn

As the summer sun sets on the rustic hillsides of the Greece for the last time this year, many disheartened visitors will be boarding jets and heading home, to work and to wait until the summer season returns next year. However, if you can't wait that long, or you didn't manage to find the time this summer, fear not! There are plenty of reasons why you should visit the Greek Islands this autumn. 1. The Greek Islands are lot Quieter By October, Greece sees a roughly 66% decrease in the number of visiting tourists compared to August; and it will only get quieter from this point onwards. With the school holidays over, many families don't have the time to get to a Greek Island during the autumn. While they miss out, it is the perfect opportunity for those put off by big crowds to head out and enjoy a more authentic Greek holiday experience. No need to wait in lines, negotiate your way through busy streets or get up early to get a good seat by the pool. It's calmer; it's quieter, and it's all yours. 2. It's Still Warm Enough for a Greek Holiday It may not be nudging towards 40°C anymore, but the Greek Islands are still hanging in the mid-20s a comfortable and pleasurable temperature, especially for those who are struggling in severely hot weather. While the thermostat may be slowly dropping, the gorgeous Mediterranean sun is unhindered by clouds and the beaches are still glittering sandy paradises just waiting to be enjoyed. Even better, those who enjoy watersports will be pleased to learn that the water is warmest in early autumn, as the sea temperature takes longer to warm up and then cool down that the air temperature. 3. It's Much Cheaper This Time of Year As mentioned before, there are a lot fewer people visiting Greece in the autumn months. Now, fewer people mean less competition, and less competition means you get to best deals. Flights, accommodation, food, you name it, everything is cheaper in the off-peak seasons. Autumn then, is the perfect time to visit Greece for less. 4. It's Always Beautiful in Greece It doesn't matter if it's summer, autumn, winter or spring, the landscape of Greece is always one of great vibrancy and beauty. The sprawling hillsides are still classic and rustic, the villages are still quaint and sleepy, the Med is still bright and glittering and, of course, the beaches are still white and picturesque. What's more, if you are coming for the hiking or archeology, you'll find the views even more enjoyable when you don't have to struggle in the midsummer heat. 5. It's Easier to Immerse Yourself In True Greek Culture In the summer high season, authentic Greek culture can be drowned out in the most popular areas, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of foreign visitors. However, once the crowds vacate the country, you're left with a purely Greek experience. Residents involved in the tourist industry go back to their normal lives, tavernas once filled with Englishmen are now home to the locals. During this period in the Greek calendar, you become a foreign individual exploring a different corner of the world, rather than one of the millions visiting for the sun and surf. That isn't to say it is impossible to experience Greek culture in the summer months, but in autumn you don't have to go far to get a real sense of the country. Cliff Blaylock of Deep Blue Yachting discusses why a visit to Greece this autumn isn't such a bad idea.

greek stamps diving
Greek diving features on stamps

Visitors to the Greek Islands can enjoy a new issue of postage stamps that celebrate some of the country's main tourism highlights. The Hellenic Post (ELTA) has issued two commemorative series of stamps inspired by land and sea. One set of stamps features the popular tourist pastime of scuba diving while the other celebrates some of its volcano islands, popular targets for day trip boats. The set called 'Diving Tourism' features colourful scenes of shipwrecks and underwater finds including a recent find of amphorae full of wine from the Classical era found off the Sporades islands. Another features the world renowned 1st century Antikythera shipwreck. The vessel, which dates from 70-60BC, was first identified by Greek sponge divers more than 100 years ago. Four giant marble horses were discovered on the wreck, near the southwestern Aegean island of Antikythera, and are thought to be part of a complex of statues that once made up a warrior in a chariot In total, divers salvaged 36 marble statues of mythological heroes and gods, a life-sized bronze statue and scores of luxury items. its greatest treasure is the remains of an ancient geared 'computer' that was believed to have once been used to calculate the positions of astronomical objects. The recent lifting of restrictions on scuba diving has brought about a boom indiving in Greek waters. Diving is now allowed in all Greek seas, except where specific prohibitions apply and there are plenty of ancient wrecks to explore in the coastal waters of many Greek islands. Clear water, teeming marine life, impressive caves and ancient shipwrecks now attract thousands of scuba divers to Greek waters annually. Many Greek island scuba dive centres now offer diving lessons and yacht-based diving tours. The second set of postage stamps, titled 'Volcanoes of Greece', features vividly colourful images of island volcanoes, including those of the Cycladic islands of Milos, Nisyros and Santorini. Santorini, also called Fira, is one of the most popular holiday island in Greece and was created by a massive volcanic eruption hundreds of years ago. The offshore islets of Santorini are still active and the fumes that rise offshore gives the island some of the most spectacular sunsets in the Mediterranean. Cruise ships bring in visitors by the thousand to take in the island's romantic sunset skies and to enjoy Santorini's vibrant club scene in clifftop villages around the caldera.

balos crete
Greek heritage campaign call

Greek holiday visitors are urged to sign up to a campaign to protect and preserve the country's natural beauty. The World Wildlife Fund warns that the financial setbacks in the Greek economy could have a major impact on Greece's natural heritage. Not only are cutbacks affecting organisations that protect the country's natural wildlife and habitats but changes in the law also now make it easier to sell off Greece's natural heritage for profit. WWF Greece has launched a #SaveGreekNature initiative to raise crowdfunding cash to stem the tide of destruction. Campaigners are calling for lovers of Greece and the Greek Islands to take a stand to help save rivers, mountains, forests and beaches from developers. A crowdfunding campaign to raise cash to save the countryside has been set up on the website indiegogo.com with the backing of the WWF. The site warns: "Right now, nature protection laws are under attack. Their dismantling is helping to sell off Greece's natural heritage to make a quick profit." Organisers warn that large stretches of unspoilt beach and coastline will come under threat over the next few years. "The stakes are high and now is the time we can really make a difference! Your support will give WWF Greece the means to fight for Greece's future," says the site. The campaign already claims a number of successful initiatives such as stopping laws that could have effectively allowed developers to turn long stretches of empty Greek coastline and beaches into large-scale tourist developments. Campaigners also joined a broad coalition to stop legislation to remove protection from forests burnt by wildfires that could have paved the way for environmentally destructive appropriation of forest land. They warn: "Many more threats will be coming our way in the next few months, but your support can give us the power to deal with them." Lovers of Greece are urged to join the campaign with a cash donation. In return, they get a limited edition book Greece's heritage from Nature by Giorgos Catsadorakis, a campaign badge and an action postcard. Donors also get regular updates on what the campaign is accomplishing and the satisfaction of playing a crucial role in helping save the natural environment of Greece and the Greek Islands.

Kos to Bodrum ferry
Tax-free Turkey tempts shoppers

Many Greek holidaymakers heading for the Dodecanese islands like to include a shopping trip to Turkey in their Greek Island holiday. Now they could be in for even bigger bargains as Turkey plans to create tax-free shopping zones along the coast in a bid to attract more tourists. Holiday visitors to Greek islands in the Dodecanese like Rhodes, Kos and Samos may soon be able to pick up some tax-free bargains at popular Turkish day-trip destinations if plans go ahead to create zero tax zones for tourist shoppers. Turkey's Economy Minister, Nihat Zeybekci, said Turkey is examining the possibility of creating tax-free tourist zones to attract more holiday visitors to its shores. Plans include the creation of a zero tax regime for Turkish marinas, hotels, shopping markets and restaurants in key tourist areas along the Mediterranean coastline. And the focus looks set to be on Turkish coastal resorts close to the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kos, Chios and Samos, already popular with day trip visitors. Among the resorts outlined in the plans are Çeşme, near the Greek Island of Chios, Didim across the straits from Samos, Bodrum facing the island of Kos, Marmaris the favourite day trip destination for Rhodes and for other Turkish tourist areas in west Antalya. Holidaymakers visiting or staying in these areas will not be charged tax on tourism-related products such as goods and services, hotel accommodation and products bought at shopping centres and markets. It's a bold move by Turkey where tourist numbers have failed to match the record numbers pouring into the Greek Islands yet again this year. Mr Zeybekci said the duty-free areas could make a major contribution to the competitiveness of Turkey's tourist resorts in the Mediterranean and the Aegean. Not only will tourist tax-free zones attract more shoppers and visitors they could also prompt private investors to pump more cash into tourist-related attractions. Holiday visitors to many islands in the Dodecanese already find offers of daily boat trips to Turkey and shopping trips that make for popular excursions. The main harbour at Kos, for example, is packed with boats offering all-day visits to see the sights at the Turkish resort of Bodrum, only 30 minutes away by boat. The huge Turkish resort of Marmaris is a popular target of day trip boats from Rhodes and thousands make the trip each year. Tax free shopping trips could make Turkey more popular, not only as a day trip destination for holidaymakers in the Greek Islands, but also help to boost the country's own tourism prospects with lower prices for food and goods along with cheaper holiday offers next summer.

agistri island
Agistri to launch its own coin

The tiny Greek holiday island of Agistri has come up with its own answer to strict currency controls - it is about to issue its own coins. The move was triggered when the island's only ATM machine ran out of cash and locals were forced to take a ferry to Athens to withdraw their weekly cash allowance. According to the latest Greek census, Agistri only has 1,142 inhabitants and since capital controls were introduced last June it has become harder and harder to obtain cash. With the island's only ATM repeatedly running out of cash, the islanders say the only option is to launch their own island currency to keep the local economy going, The mayor Agistri has agreed to allow the island to pilot a new monetary system, similar to the digital 'bitcoin,' so that island traders can pay each other in cash and keep the island economy from seizing up completely . The small size and convenient location of Agistri, in the Saronic Gulf to the south of Athens, makes the island a perfect candidate for a pilot program for the launch of the Nautiluscoin. Hopes are high that over the coming weeks the citizens of Agistri will be able to use the Nautiluscoin on a daily basis. Lee Gibson-Grant, founder of UK-based digital currency consultancy Coinstructors, has been given the go-ahead to test technology that could not only act as parallel island currency o the euro but could also enable tourists to book hotels and other services at a discount. Many of the small businesses on Agistri are tourist related and they have been harder hit than most by strict cash controls introduced by the government to prevent a run on its banks. Although cash controls have been eased in recent weeks it still leaves rural pockets of Greece and small islands like Agistri, struggling for ready cash. If successful, there is no reason why it the digital currency couldn't be used in other rural areas of Greece where access to cash machines is a problem for residents and tourists. Agistri is a small, pine covered island close to the Greek capital of Athens and, with an area of about 13 sq. km, it is one of the smallest in the Saronic group. Although a quiet backwater, free of cars and with little in the way of nightlife it is still a popular retreat for weekending Athenians and day-trip tourists. The few island hotels, tavernas and bars are mainly found in the three main settlements of Skala, Milos and Limenaria. Milos is where most people live, but Skala is the main tourist centre. A very hilly island, Agistri has groves of citrus and olive but most of it is cloaked in dense pine forest. Most beaches are pebble and shingle with the best of the sand at Skala and Halkiada.

Kos refugees
Greece under fire over refugees

Greece has come in for strong criticism of 'shameful' conditions for refugees landing in the Greek Islands after fleeing war zones in the Middle East. Holiday visitors to the islands of Kos, Lesvos and Chios are unlikely to come across refugees first hand while on holiday in the island but it is no estimated that around 50,000 have made the sea journey from Turkey to Greece in July. On a visit to the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios and Kos, the UNs High Commissioner for European Refugees (UNHCR) Vincent Cochetel called the situation "chaotic". News agencies reported that the commissioner had never seen a situation like this in his 30-year affiliation with the UN and described the treatment of refugees "shameful". "In terms of water, in terms of sanitation, in terms of food assistance, it's totally inadequate. On most of the islands, there is no reception capacity, people are not sleeping under any form of roof," he said. And he added "It's total chaos on the islands. After a couple of days, they are transferred to Athens and there is nothing waiting for them." To be fair, the Greek Islands have been swamped with sailing boats carrying refugees across the Aegean. In 2014, the total number entering Greece for the whole year was 43,500. By June more than 68,000 refugees and migrants had entered the country and the 50,000 in July has taken the number well over the 100,000 mark with no sign of any let-up in the influx. Earlier this month the Greek government held a crisis meeting on the refugee problem. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras commented: "Greece is in a crisis within a crisis." It is estimated that more than two million refugees old be making their way across Turkey to reach Greece, with 85% of them from war-torn regions such as Syria. Kos, Lesvos and Chios are the main targets for boats carrying refugees into Greece and all three islands have struggled to find accommodation for them until they can be transferred to Athens. Many have been housed in derelict hotels without food, water to sanitation. Reports from Lesvos say fighting has broken out over food deliveries to a refugee settlement where 2,500 people are living. On the holiday island of Kos scores of refugees landing on small boats are escorted daily to the police station to get permits allowing them to stay in Greece for up to six months, process that takes 10-15 days. Wealthier ones rent apartments, but those without money either sleep rough or stay in an abandoned hotel, which has been transformed into a refugee camp before being transferred to the mainland. These three islands are not the only ones experiencing a refugee problem. Samos and Leros are also struggling to cope with numbers. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the migration crisis in Greece and other countries is a European problem and should be dealt as such with more financial aid and more countries willing to accept their fair share of refugees. Officials in both Brussels and Athens warn that Greece is in need of financial support to handle the refugee arrivals and estimate that 130,500 have entered the country iso far this year. The UK is one of only three European countries, along with Austria and Hungary, that refuses to take part in a scheme aimed at sharing out up to 40,000 asylum seekers arriving in Greece and Italy.

Greek Island Beach
Greek holiday heatwave strikes

Holiday visitors to the Greek Islands have been warned to stay cool this week as temperatures soar all over the Aegean. Even locals have been told to stay out of the sun as weather experts report thermometers rising above the 40°C mark on the mainland with no sign of an end to the heatwave. Temperatures have already topped 35°C this week in the country's two largest cities of Athens and Thessaloniki while other areas, including the Greek Islands have seen the mercury rise above the 38° mark. It has been so hot in some mainland cities that many local councils have opened the doors of air-conditioned spaces to the general public. It is much the same on the Greek Islands, although temperatures are a little lower at 35°C to 37°C, still hot enough for authorities to advise visitors not to stay out in the sun during the hottest part of the day. Weather forecasters warn there will be no let-up in the heat until the weekend but predict that temperatures may still only fall a degree or two while humidity will remain high in the weak winds. Advice to visitors includes drinking plenty of water, staying in the shade between noon and 3 pm and not to go walking without taking proper precautions. Of course, holidaymakers expect hot and sunny weather in Greece; that is why they head out to Greek Island beaches in their thousands each year and August is notorious for long, hot sunny spells. A similar heatwave sent temperatures soaring last year with temperatures topping 40°C in the shade in central Macedonia, Thessaly and large parts of the Peloponnese. But the holiday islands were also affected with the southern islands of Crete and Rhodes suffering the highest daytime temperatures and the Greek General Secretariat for Civil Protection issuing warnings to holidaymakers to take extra care. Holidaymakers again advised this year to wear light and comfortable clothes, hats and sunglasses and to eat light meals with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables. Health experts taking cool showers as frequently as possible and to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of cool water but not icy-cold and to avoid alcoholic, carbonated or caffeinated drinks during the hottest part of the day. Although the worst may be over by the weekend, weather forecasters warn that rising humidity will make the atmosphere feel uncomfortable, especially at night, as winds stay weak with a lack of fresh sea breezes that normally sweep the islands at this time of year.

stroggilo johnny depp island
Johnny Depp buys Greek island

US movie star Johnny Depp is the latest in a long list of celebrities reported to have bought himself a Greek island. The Hollywood star is said to have snapped up an uninhabited Greek islet in the Dodecanese for a reported €4.2 million. The 54-acre (22 hectares) islet of Stroggilo is in the north Dodecanese near the popular Greek holiday islands of Patmos, Leros and Lipsi Stroggilo is in the Arki group of islets that lie to the north-east of Patmos that includes the islets of Arki and Marathi, favourite haunts of the yachting set. Stroggilo island has three sandy beaches and a sheltered boat anchorage. It is uninhabited but has a ruined house and a ground water well. It's an ideal getaway Greek islands for someone who loves sailing. The closest island to Stroggilo is Marathi, just 50 meters away at the nearest point, and wish has a long sandy beach and three tavernas. Marathi is a popular day trip islet and boats call in daily during the summer season to offload holidaymakers onto the sandy beach. Stroggilo has been on the market with Private Islands Online for some time and Johnny Depp is thought to have used property consultants Proto Enterprises to handle the deal. The Proto organisation is the real estate consulting firm for several celebrities including Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. The consulting firm acted on behalf of Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who recently expressed interest in buying the Greek island of Gaia (Sofia) located in the Echinades island complex in the Ionian, near Kefalonia. A spokesman for Proto confirmed that many celebrities have expressed interest in purchasing land in Greece in the wake of all the recent media attention. Many have had holidays in Greece and fallen for the sunshine, beaches, clear water and famous local hospitality. Johnny Depp is currently in Australia filming yet another sequel to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise but is expected to visit Stroggilo later this month. Regarded as one of the world's biggest movie stars, his films have grossed over £4.8 billion (€6.8b)worldwide. The most commercially successful films are the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which have grossed £1.9 billion worldwide (€2.7 billion). In 2012, Johnny Depp featured in the Guinness World Records as the highest-paid actor in the world with earnings of £48 million (€68m).

lesvos sikiminias
Refugee numbers cause concern

The influx on refugees into Greek Islands that lie off the Turkish coast is causing authorities increasing concern Refugees from war-torn Syria and other migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been arriving daily on boats that are barely seaworthy. Greek Island authorities in the north Aegean and Dodecanese are now warning that the situation is getting out of control as police and medics try to cope with the increasing numbers of migrants. Tourists on Greek Island holidays are unlikely to be aware of the problem as refugees are held in refugee centres or at police or coast guard stations. The grateful refugees are mostly families that have fled terror and are generally peaceable and polite and present no behaviour problems to the Greek authorities Those who cannot be accommodated in shelters have been forced to camp out on beaches or fields while waiting for documents to be processed and boats to take them to the mainland. Islands that lie along the Turkish coast are worst affected. Around 4000 arrive each day on the island of Lesvos where they are escorted to migrant camps in Moria and Kata Tepe. The island mayor, Spyros Galinos, admits they are unable to cope with the numbers and warns that fights have started to break out between groups of frustrated refugees. On Leros, which get around 100 a day, migrants suffer from poor hygiene conditions. It is supposed to take two to three days to process their papers before transfer to Athens but staff shortages mean they often stay on the island for much longer. A shortage of coast guard boats means many migrants are now transferred to Athens on commercial ferries. On the tiny island of Symi, near Rhodes, more than 4,000 migrants have arrived in the past six months and many have been housed in buildings around the port. Mayor of Symi, Eleftherios Papakalodoukas, fears that some tourists are now leaving the island early because of the refugee problem. But other tourists are helping local to give humanitarian aid to the arrivals. British actor Douglas Booth visited Lesvos recently to meet the migrants. He said: "The people I met have endured terrible suffering, loss, heartbreak and fear. They look to Europe for protection. They look to Europe for safety. Yet they are too often met by prejudice, ill-will, hostility, intolerance and anger." The Greek Island of Kos has hit back at an article in the British Daily Mail newspaper that claimed an influx of refugees has turned the holiday island into a 'disgusting hellhole' Kos islanders attacked the article's 'racist and provocative' style and blamed the newspaper for discrediting the popular holiday island as a tourist destination. They admitted that dealing with growing numbers of refugees was a big problem but locals insist that holidaymakers are unlikely to even be aware of their presence unless they deliberately seek them out. Anyone thinking of cancelling a package holiday to Greece should probably think again. A holiday operator is only legally obliged to refund your money if the Foreign Office issues an official warning against travel to a destination and the issue of refugees in the Greek Islands is not even mentioned on the FO website. Tourists worried about travelling to a Greek Island with refugee problems could steer clear of islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Islands to the west of Greece in the Ionian, such as Corfu, Kefalonia and Zante; to the south in the Cyclades, such as Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos and Paros report no refugee boats arriving on their shores.

sofia gaia ionian
Greek Island home for Brad

Hollywood celebrity superstars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are reported to be in negotiations to buy their own private Greek Island. Celebrity magazines say the couple are bidding to buy the remote island of Sofia, also called Gaia, located in the Ionian Sea between the holiday island of Kefalonia and the Greek mainland. The 43-acre island is uninhabited but is understood to have planning permission for six villas, four in the centre of the island and two on the northern tip. The tiny Ionian island is on the market for just over £3 million ($6.5 million), a bargain when you consider that a three-bedroomed home in a smart district of Los Angeles would cost around the same. US OK! magazine reports: "Angie fell in love with it. It will need development, but at that price they'll have no problem building the vacation home of their dreams". Reports say the couple, who have six children, Maddox, 13, Pax, 11, Zahara, 10, Shiloh, nine, and twins Knox and Vivienne, six, recently put their New Orleans home on the market for £4.25 million ($6.5 million) The Ionian island is part of the Echinades chain located near Ithaka and Kefalonia. According to Greek mythology, the Echinades were nymphs who were turned into islands after refusing to worship the river god Achelous. Sofia is just one of the islands on sale on the Private Islands Online website which lists islands up for sale across the world. The Greek islands have attracted a long list of A-list celebrities who often spend their summer holidays cruising the Aegean or who have summer homes there. Star Tom Hanks has kept a holiday home on the island of Antiparos with his Greek wife Rita Wilson for many years while the former Rhodes' beachfront mansion of former Pink Floyd band member David Gilmour was sold for around €1 million last year Actor Russell Crowe became a fan after visiting Mykonos, tweeting: "I cannot understand how I lived 49 years on this planet and had never visited the Greek islands" while Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford often holidays on Syros in the Cyclades. Rumours were rife last year that American movie heavyweight Bruce Willis had bought a luxury villa home on Corfu after a holiday there with his wife Emma Hemming and their daughter. Other top name celebrities spotted on Greek Island beaches in recent years include Cristiano Ronaldo on Crete, Madonna on Ithaca and Leonardo DiCaprio on Paros. Greek island holidays are also popular with stars like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jeremy Irons, Naomi Campbell, Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

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