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Travel in the Greek islands can seem a marathon, given the number of islands and fascinating sights. Many visitors stay on one island but, with regular ferries and flights, there really is no need. There are seven island groups each with its own character – no two islands are the same but groups tend to share attributes, from the classic style of the Cyclades to the Venetian echoes of the Ionian; the Crusader castles of Rhodes to the green of Thassos.

Arrivals at Kos airport are down
More visitors at Greek airports

Greek airports welcomed thousands more holiday visitors last year according to latest figures. International arrivals at airports in Greece and the Greek Islands in 2015 jumped nearly six percent to 15.5 million. When arrivals by sea and overland are factored in it looks likely that Greek tourism will notch up another record year in 2015 with more than 25 million holiday visitors. Figures from the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) showed Athens as the most popular holiday destination with a huge 22.6% rise in arrivals between January and December 2015. Air arrivals across Greece, excluding Athens, were up around 77,000 compared to 2014 and airports in the Greek Islands also saw a rise in passenger numbers through passport control. The Cyclades islands and the Ionian saw the biggest increase in arrivals by air last year – up 15% and nearly 8% respectively. Islands in the Dodecanese and airports on Crete saw a small drop of around 4% but, with overall tourist figures up it is likely that more tourists arrived by ferry. Tourism development in the Greek islands was top of the agenda at a recent meeting in Athens between Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and the Secretary General for the Aegean, Ioannis Giannelis. The South Aegean region plans a major promotion next year with the island of Rhodes at the forefront of a campaign to attract more holiday visitors. The promotion plans to make the most of social networking and the Internet as well to tap into new tourism options. Many islands are also looking to extend the tourist season from the traditional May to September with schemes to ensure hotels, tavernas and attractions stay open longer.

Plane lands at Corfu
Greek holiday airport sell-off

Greece has finally leased out its main state-run regional airports to a private German-Greek consortium after months of negotiations. Airports on the holiday islands of Mykonos, Kos, Santorini, Kefalonia, Samos, Corfu, Rhodes, Skiathos, Zante and Chania on Crete are included in the €1.23 billion deal. Although welcomed by the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), the deal has its critics. Regional governors on the Ionian islands launched an online referendum on privatising the island airports. When the deal was first announced, Ionian Islands Prefect Theodoros Galiatsatos warned that the deal would have a severe impact the Ionian economy. The Ionian islands are an important tourist gateway to Greece with the popular holiday hotspots of Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante among them. They fear a big hike in landing fees that will put off low-cost airlines and charter companies with a knock-on effect for holiday package deals. Under the 40-year agreement, ownership of the airports will remain with the Greek government, but the consortium will be free to run them as they think fit. The offer consists of an upfront payment of €1.23 billion and an annual inflation-adjusted payment of €23 million. The 14 Greek regional airports in the deal served some 22 million passengers in 2014 and are expected to handle 23 million passengers by the end of this year. The German-Greek consortium is expected to spend more than €300 million on upgrading the airports by 2020 and create around 1,500 new jobs. Selling off state-run assets will help swell Greece's depleted coffers as it struggles to pay off international loans. Other projects in the privatisation pipeline include the Greek railways, postal services, telecommunications and a stake in Athens International Airport.

skiathos airport
Greek holidays weather storms

Greek holidays are on the rise despite the country's economic turmoil, the refugee crisis and increased tax rates on tourist goods and services. Latest figures show an 8% rise in tourist spending in the first six months of 2015 and yet another rise in visitor numbers as more tourists then ever book holidays in Greece and the Greek Islands. According to data released by the Bank of Greece this week, a total of 7.56 million visitors arrived on Greek holidays in the six months to June, up 20.8% on the visitor numbers for the same period last year. Holiday arrivals from the UK are up 18% on last year as tourists shrugged off negative newspaper articles on the struggling economy and the problems of tackling huge numbers of refugees from war-torn regions of the Middle East. Tourists from Germany are also back, with a 23% increase on last year while visitors from the United Stated are up a whopping 42%, although this is on relatively low baseline compared to the UK and Germany. British tourists are thought to have spent €678 million so far this year, up 30% on last year while the German tourists spent €653 million, a rise of 18%. Overall, tourism receipts to June grew 8% on last year to €4.1 billion. Greek holiday cash not only helps Greece balance the books, but it also contributes massively to the country's employment levels, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE). Figures show that the level of paid employment offered by the Greek tourism industry in 2014 rose 23%, a year that saw record numbers taking Greek Islands holidays. Jobs in the restaurant, bar and cafe sector rose 39% last year while jobs at campsites jumped 30%, hotel work went up 15% and travel agencies report jobs up by 12%. During July 2014, Greece's tourism industry is calculated to have generated more than 137,00 jobs. In the summer months, tourism related jobs account for one-third of the paid employment in the private sector. And it's not just seasonal cheap labour that is helping to keep the Greek economy afloat. In 2014, a total of €3.8 billion was paid out in salaries, an increase of some €500 million on 2013, while the average monthly salary in the hotel sector topped €1,000. The direct contribution of tourism to Greece's GDP in 2014 was €17 billion, about 9.3% of the country's wealth, while indirect revenues take that figure to well over 16%. The figures are welcome news for Greece's tourism industry which forecast a slump in holidays over uncertainty at how badly affected visitor numbers would be by the economic troubles, the closure of the country's banks and the imposition of capital controls after the government announced a referendum on its membership of the European Union. It was found that there was practically no impact on tourist satisfaction in Greece, which remained at very high levels despite the problems. Greek hotels received a very high guest satisfaction rating of 85.6% in July, despite the uncertainty about capital controls, according to data released by In SETE. The overall satisfaction rating for Greek hotels in the first six months of 2015 was 84.3%. Overall satisfaction of Greek hotel guests is higher than rival destinations while ratings on the value for money, location, service and food stayed steady or both Greece and rival destinations such as Spain and Turkey. The Greek Tourism Confederation is now confident the country has weathered the worst. It estimates that arrivals for 2015 will remain strong to the end of the year, reaching 25 million and bring in some €14 billion in receipts.

greek ferry superfast
Greek ferry trips cost more

Greek island hopping for holidaymakers in Greece just got more expensive thanks to a sharp rise in VAT imposed by the cash-hungry Greek government. The price of ferry tickets in Greece has jumped 10% overnight after the Greek government raised VAT rates on many good and services from 13% to 23%. Greek holiday passengers booking a ferry from the Athens' port of Piraeus to the island of Paros in the Cyclades, for instance, will now pay €36.50 instead of the €33.50 price before the VAT hike. Many holidaymakers prefer ferry hopping around the Greek islands to booking the usual package tour trips. Regular ferry sailings, plenty of overnight accommodation, a choice of local tavernas and the freedom to roam hold great appeal on a Greek island holidays. Although room and food prices have remained relatively low, the price of ferry tickets in Greece has been a problem, even before the VAT hike. Ferry ticket prices have included extra charges for port fees plus a 3% surcharge towards financing routes to remote destinations. The latest VAT hike will make many routes much more expensive. Ferry tickets from Athens to Chania, on Crete, for a family of four, for example, will cost and extra €36 as the price goes up fro €297 to €313 after the VAT increase. Ferry companies are forecasting a drop in passenger numbers of 20-30% as a direct result of the rise in fares this year and expect to carry up to three million fewer passengers. According to the Greek Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research) tourism accounted for 65%of ferry passengers traffic in 2014 with 8.7 million choosing the island hopping option on their holidays in Greece with 5.2 million Greek holidaymakers catching the ferry and 3.4 million passengers from abroad. But holiday visitors to the Greek islands can expect to see even more price rises next year. The Greek government has voted to end the special low VAT rates on the islands, originally intended to offset the cost of importing goods Many islands enjoyed a 30% discount on VAT for goods and services which have helped promote the islands as a cheap summer holiday destination. The low VAT rates will end in July next year when islands must pay the full VAT rates although more remote islands will enjoy the tax discount until January 2017. The move has been widely condemned by many in the tourism industry who warn that the numbers of holiday visitors will suffer and that Greece will lose out on vital overseas revenue. Greece was hoping to attract a record 25 million holiday visitors this year with the prospect of cheap holidays but the recent poor publicity over the country's finances coupled with the latest price rises will make meeting that target a major challenge.

kos seaplanes waterway hellenic
Seaplanes grounded until 2016

Holiday visitors hoping to Greek Island hop on one of the new inter-islands seaplane services look like they will have to wait a while longer. Hellenic Seaplanes intended to launch Greek Island seaplane services this year, but the economic crisis in Greece has helped to put the plans on hold. The company now says that seaplanes are unlikely to operate between the Greek islands until February 2016 at the earliest. It's not the first time the seaplane plans have suffered a setback. In 2011, the Greek Civil Aviation Authority approved 50 sites where seaplanes could land and take and companies were lining up to operate seaplane flights. Licences for waterways were granted in 2013 for several of the Ionian islands and by 2014 the popular holiday island of Corfu looked set to get the first Greek island seaplane services. But problems emerged in early 2015 when Hellenic Seaplanes admitted that although planes could take off from Corfu they had nowhere to land as other islands failed to develop waterway landing sites. The Greek economic crisis has also taken its toll as investment plans have been curbed. Companies that had announced plans to develop island waterways, invest in aviation management and promote booking services have put plans on hold until the economic outlook becomes clearer. Now Hellenic Seaplanes says the first test flights of seaplanes in Greece are not expected to take off until February 2016. The latest operational plan for 2016 includes a network of 112 waterways, ten of which will be regional, with each waterway capable of servicing two to three seaplanes. The cost of a ticket for a 30-minute seaplane flight is expected to be €30 to 75 euros per passenger and the seaplanes will have a seating capacity of up to 19 passengers. The delay is another disappointment both for holidaymakers, hoping to avoid long-distance ferry journeys with a fast seaplane flight, and for the more remote islands that have been hoping to boost tourist visitors Greek energy company NRG, which recently decided to invest in the seaplane market with the creation of three waterways on the North Aegean islands of Chios, Psara and Oinousses are optimistic about the future of seaplane services in Greece. A spokesman said: "We are confident that Greece, in the coming years, will have a huge potential in attracting global tourism and we intend to be a part of the effort that will help the country's tourism development". But it remains to be seen how long it will take to get seaplane services into the air. The whole project has been something of an embarrassment for the Greek authorities so far, especially after announcing earlier this yeat that the development of a waterways network is a project of national importance. The Greek government has been keen to push ahead with seaplane services and wanted to cash in on the 2015 tourist season by opening up at least 100 seaplane routes this year. It's not the first time that attempts to set up a seaplane network in the Greek Islands has run into administrative buffers. A similar scheme in 2008 ended with private companies pulling out, blaming the Greek government for excessive bureaucratic red tape.

Tourists fly in on cheap flight deals
Greek night flights on hold

Holidaymakers planning flights in and out of Greek Island airports this summer may find problems in booking flights at night. Many Greek island airports across the country are facing serious problems as government cash dries up for vital maintenance work, it has been reported. According to Greek newspaper Ethnos, some tourists have already faced delays as night-time navigational aids at some Greek Island airports wait for their regular service checks while other island airports face a deterioration of runway surfaces. Reports claim there have already been several delays to night flights and a number of schedule changes in services to the airport of Mytilene on Lesvos. They say the reason for the delays is that maintenance of night flying navigational equipment has fallen behind schedule resulting in the cancellation of some night flights to the island. Airports at popular holiday islands like Skiathos and Santorini recently got a one-month extension for the annual inspection of their night flight navigational aids, but this is about to come to an end. It may mean that night flights to these islands may be cancelled until airport navigational equipment has been passed by hard-pressed inspectors. This isn't great news for tourist visitors at the start of the main holiday season for the Greek Islands in a year when airports in Greece are reporting record numbers of passengers. Issues with navigational radio aid systems have resulted in several airports curtailing their night flying schedules. Greek air traffic controllers say flights without navigation aids are permitted in daylight hours and for half an hour after sunset but not later. Problems have also been reported at Mykonos airport where runway repairs have not been carried out for more than two years. Officials claim that ad hoc repairs to the aircraft runway have been carried out multiple times while they wait for a major overhaul. The latest issues arise after many Greek airports report a huge rise in visitor numbers this year. Athens International Airport has announced its best season ever, with more than six million passengers in the first five months of the year, up nearly 24% on last year. According to figures total of 1.65 million passengers passed through its gates in May alone, up 22% on the same period last year, with domestic travellers notching up a 20% rise while international travellers saw a 28% increase. At the same time, the number of flights in Athens increased 17% to 61,950 in the first five months of 2015 compared to the same period last year. In May, flights increased almost 14% with domestic traffic up by more than 9%. This has been the best year for Athens airport since it first opened. The poorest figures were recorded in 2002 and 2013 with just 4 million passengers each of the years. Airports at Chania, on Crete, Mykonos and Santorini have also reported increases in passenger traffic this year with passenger numbers up 94%, 46% and 38% respectively. Travel giant TUI, which includes Thomson and First Choice holidays, has given a boost to long-term prospects of Greek tourism with stated aims of flying in 10% more tourists to Greece in 2015 compared to last year. TUI says it is aiming to extend Greece's tourism season from 180 days to 210 this year adding that 'Greece remains an authentic destination and a strategic priority for TUI'.

Hellenic Seaplanes
No seaplanes in 2015

Hopes have faded for plans to get seaplanes flying tourist services between Greek Islands during the 2015 summer holiday season. Lack of a proper waterway network has left seaplane company Hellenic Seaplanes with plenty of aircraft but nowhere for them to land. Despite plans to open up to 100 seaplane routes across Greece and the Greek Islands this year, the company now admits that Corfu island has the only port with a registered waterway. Hellenic Seaplanes announced the setback in a meeting in Athens with Athens with Alternate Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Communications for Greece, Christos Spirtzis. Hellenic president Nikolas Charalambous said: "If all goes well, from 2016 Greeks can fly almost everywhere in the country via seaplanes." Although around 40 islands have applied for a waterway license to begin operating seaplane services none is likely to be operational until the end of the year. Seaplanes can only take off and land at licensed waterways and only the port at Corfu Town has managed to get a license so far. Planes can take off from there, but they have nowhere to go. It's already taken several years to get this project off the ground and the waterway license granted to Corfu Town harbour looked set to pave the way for up to100 seaplane routes between the Greek islands. The seaplane services are not only meant to improve transport facilities for islanders but were also expected to open up many islands to more tourism. Smaller islands without regular ferry services were expected to benefit most with regular flights bringing in many more holiday visitors over the summer season. The Greek government has bent over backwards to speed up licensing procedures and hoped to get dozens of flights taking off this summer to cash in on the current boom in Greek Islands holidays. The minister said the development of a waterways network is a project of national importance. "Seaplanes can give islands a boost, create new jobs and make it easier to connect the mainland with destinations that face difficulties in transportation," he added. Tests on takeoff and landing at special waterways built got underway as long ago as July last year with the government suggesting that seaplane services would be aimed directly at tourists. But Greek island ports were slow to respond to the scheme, despite cash incentives to get started with building waterway networks to allow the seaplanes to operate. Applications for waterways were submitted at several ports and harbours in the Greek islands and on the Greek mainland including ports at Heraklion and Rethymnon on Crete, the mainland ports of Volos, Patras and Lavrio, and on the islands of Corfu, Skyros and Zante. The is not the first time that attempt to establish a seaplane network to link the Greek Islands has run into problems. A similar project was launched more than 10 years ago and a pilot program begun in the Ionian Sea. Bur seaplane companies pulled out in 2008 blaming the Greek government for excessive bureaucratic red tape and the rejection of a plea to fly seaplanes to the mainland port of Piraeus, at Athens

Kefalonia airport sign
Greek airports sell-off

Plans to sell more than a dozen Greek island holiday airports have been put on hold by the new left-wing Greek government. Greece had agreed a €1.2 billion deal with German airport operator Fraport to run 14 regional airports, including those on popular Greek holiday islands like Corfu, Crete and Rhodes. The airport deal as part of the previous government's privatisation program and was aimed at building up the cash-strapped Greek economy. Fraport along with the Copelouzos Greek energy group was to be granted a 40-year lease to run regional airports in popular Greek island destinations. But the newly elected Syriza party insists the deal has not been sealed. State minister Alekos Flabouraris said for "It will be halted and we will review it." "For us, airports are not a package to be sold, like the others did. Some of them can be run by the municipality, others by private individuals, we'll see," he added. State-run airports affected by the move include those on Crete, Corfu, Zante, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Kos, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini, Samos and Lesvos. Also part of the deal were options on smaller islands and on several mainland airports including Thessaloniki, which serves the Halkidiki holiday area, and Preveza, the main airport for holidaymakers heading to Lefkas island in the Ionian Sea. Holiday visitors to Greece have long been frustrated by delays, queues and lack of facilities at many airports on the Greek islands. The sell-off was being handled by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) which is also in charge of the privatisation of many Greek island ferry ports. The aim was to increase income, create jobs and boost island economies as well as upgrading airports to provide better facilities and a faster tourist throughput. But the major package holiday firms were worried that it might lead to higher airport charges and a hike in fares to tourist passengers as rising costs would sooner or later be passed on to holiday customers. On Crete, the proposed sale triggered protest demonstrations at the loss of the profitable airport at Chania which opponents claimed would benefit corporate companies at the expense of local people. Under the terms of the deal, the German-led consortium was to be given under two years to upgrade and renovate existing airports and four years to develop new buildings and other extensions. With tourist arrivals last year expected to have reached as record 21.5 million many consider an upgrade of Greek island airports is long overdue. But others consider this a bad time to be selling off valuable state assets despite the government being short of cash. The former Greek government had been under pressure to sell after falling behind on its privatisation schedule that has promised €22 billion of sales by 2013 but had only delivered €5 billion last year towards paying off a €240bn bailout from Europe and world banks. Fraport has promised to invest &euro300 million in improvements to the Greek island airports over the first four years of the deal. But the new Greek government has insisted it will now review all the privatisation contracts that were signed by the outgoing administration. It appears that holiday visitors to the Greek Islands have some time to wait before seeing any improvements to their travel experience as they make their way through hot, overcrowded airports. It looks like usual long queues, baggage delays and lack of seating in Greek airports are set to be with us for some time to come.

skiathos airport landing
Skiathos holiday upset

A British couple hoping for a memorable holiday in Skiathos returned to the UK with nothing but bad memories and a bill for a sea-view apartment they never even got to stay in. Skiathos is popular island which seems to appeal particularly to the British holidaymaker. Miles of golden sand, almost sixty beaches in total, and shallow bays have made it an ideal place for families and couples wanting a relaxing break. Ken and Dorothy Marlow from Sunderland, were all set to enjoy the delights of this island having spent weeks planning their perfect getaway, leafing through the beautiful pictures in Thomas Cook's glossy brochures. Eventually they decided on 14 nights at the Belvedere Hotel, a popular choice on the island. Having made their decision, they were disappointed to be told by tour operator Thomas Cook that the hotel was fully booked up. The sales rep then offered the couple a bungalow for an additional £580, explaining that they would have to pay a premium as the building would be under-occupied. Having read the brochure from cover to cover, Mr Marlow was confident that Belvedere was the place they wanted to be, so agreed to pay the additional charge. The couple agreed that it would be nice to have somewhere larger to 'spread out', and decided the experience would be well worth the extra cash. In total the holiday which started off around £1,118 came to just under £2,000. On arrival at the Belvedere Hotel & Bungalows at Achladies, Mr and Mrs Marlow were shocked to discover that not only were the Bungalows now not available, there were double rooms in abundance and they were duly marched into the hotel instead. "This, of course, was what we had wanted all along" commented Mr Marlow, "but a holiday that should have cost £1,118 cost me, somehow, £1,696.86, meaning I was overcharged by £578.86." Following the couple's return to England, they immediately contacted a representative at Thomas Cook to get a refund for the Bungalow they never got to stay in. Assuming this would be a routine procedure, Mr Marlow happily waited on the phone, before being told that a refund wouldn't be possible. Despite Thomas Cook agreeing that the brochure was misleading, they refused to refund the cost of an apartment which the couple didn't really want, and were never able to even stay in. This is when the Marlow's contacted their local paper. In our opinion this is always a good step for disgruntled travellers. Even the largest of companies will have a PR team who are determined to uphold a positive image of their company. Once the media starts snapping at ankles, those with a legitimate grievance are often quickly appeased. This is what finally happened with the Marlows, especially when the Daily Mail online ran the story in full within it's dedicated travel section. Thomas Cook suddenly seemed incredibly keen to help, and not only refunded the Marlows, but rounded up the refund to £700.00. It seems a shame that often companies only react to requests for refunds, when customers contact a media outlet or an ombudsman. Thomas Cook commented that that the difference between what Mr Marlow was charged and what he should have been charged had been fully refunded, and had occurred due to a data problem between themselves and the Belvedere Hotel & Bungalows at Achladies. Whatever a 'data problem' actually is, it seems to be a growing problem, with numerous holidaymakers complaining of additional charges, and a disparity between what appears in the brochure and what actually exists in reality. We recommend reading comments from likeminded travellers on the web. A quick search on Google Images can give one a much more accurate picture of a hotel or apartment. Savvy travellers with good IT skills may be able to avoid disappointment with a little bit of online detective work. However, it is arguable whether this would have helped the Marlows in this case.

greek ferry fire norman atlantic
Greek ferry fire

At least 12 are thought to have died and hundreds of passengers rescued from a burning Greek ferry sailing from Greece to Italy. Rescue workers say nearly 40 passengers remain unaccounted for, but it is unclear whether that is due to inaccurate manifest lists. Two Albanian seamen who took part in the rescue operation on a tugboat are thought to be among the dead. Rescue helicopters worked through the night to lift more than 420 passengers to safety while Italian and Greek Navy ships joined in to aid the evacuation of the burning vessel . A total of 478 passengers and crew members were on board the boat, operated by Greek ferry company ANEK Lines, which caught fire west of the Greek holiday island of Corfu, while sailing the Adriatic Sea from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy. The Italian-flagged ferry boat 'Norman Atlantic' was operating as a temporary replacement for the normal ANEK Lines ferry which is currently undergoing annual maintenance. Rescue operations have been hampered by poor weather, rough seas and high winds. Rescue helicopters have worked through the night lifting passengers off the burning ferry and transferring them to nearby vessels. Greek and Italian helicopters made repeated trips to the boat to airlift passengers from countries that include Britain, Greece, Germany, Italy, Austria, Turkey, France and the Netherlands to safety. At least seven merchant ships, in the area at the time of the fire breaking out on Sunday morning, have joined the rescue effort and have surrounded the stricken vessel to form a barrier against the high winds. Greek Maritime Minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, said the very bad weather, with winds of up to 55 miles per hour, has hindered the rescue operations. He said: "We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one will be left helpless in this tough situation. It is one of the most complicated rescue operations that we have ever done." Attempts to tow the boat to safety have failed but the fire is now thought to be under control. Greek and Italian Navy ships have arrived to help in the coordinated rescue effort while fire tugs are spraying the burning ferry with seawater to help extinguish the blaze. Eye witnesses report that passengers were unable to reach lifeboats because the decks where they were stored were too hot to walk on and shoes melted on the deck surface. Passengers huddled on decks, away from the fire and fumes, but suffered cold winds and freezing temperatures as they waited to be rescued The first rescue ship carrying 49 people evacuated from the ferry arrived at the Italian port of Bari early today while 100 people were taken off the ferry during the night, according to reports from the Italian coastguard. Meanwhile an investigation has already begun into how the vessel caught fire. The Norman Atlantic has a capacity of carrying around 220 vehicles and many of those on board are thought to be lorry drivers. According to initial reports the blaze broke out in the exterior garage of the vessel at around 6am on Sunday. Italian news reports say the fire broke out on the ferry's vehicle deck before spreading. Some passengers managed to board life rafts but the rough seas prevented many more from evacuating the ship. The chief executive of the Italian Visentini group that owns the vessel said the ferry had passed a recent technical inspection and the boat was in "full working order", according to reports from the Italian news agency Ansa.

ios port
Yachting guide to Ios

Santorini has always been on people's wish-lists for a place to visit if you happen to be charting in the Cyclades, but the local authorities have now made Ios a definite little bit of heaven to visit. However, the pilot and nautical books do not do the place justice. When we sailed into Ios after a very bumpy, cold and wet crossing from Kos, it was a lovely surprise. In fact, so much so that our three-day stay has brought us back to Ios for our third summer. Ios has a way of getting into people's hearts and brought a big increase in repeat visitors of the floating type. I suspect we see even more now that visa restrictions have been tightened for sailing in Turkey. So it's now a case of getting the word out that Ios is a safe, beautiful place to visit. The town quay has been updated to include proper lazy lines (fixed mooring lines) to the shore so the need for anchoring on the main quay has now been removed – a good job as a massive heavy chain across the harbour was just the place to catch most anchors. The quay now also has both power and water accessed via an electronic key system. The system is reliable, the water is drinkable and because the instructions on the meter are in multiple languages, they do take some working out – but stand around looking puzzled for long enough and a local with come and help. The keys are available from all the local restaurants in the immediate port area – a very clever move as it means you can still pick up a key late at night, with a nice cold beer to go with it. The only real negative is that the town quay suffers from a lot of water movement when the ferries come in and out. This can be up to nine times a day in peak season. The water movement can be up to two metres and so you need to ensure planks are lifted and, where possible, to pull the boat far further off the quay than normal. If not, you risk hull damage. It's not dangerous – more of an inconvenience that catches people out. Wireless Internet is also available for purchase locally. Simply see what wi-fi you can pick up, and then look around for the name of the business. But restaurants all have free wi-fi and are happy for the boat people to have the codes if you buy a coffee or something. The town quay is clean and tidy with good rubbish collection and the water in the visitors' quay area is clean and well cared for . Early in the morning one of the local municipality staff is out with a net removing plastic bottles and cans . If you have a large bag of rubbish, there are two trash compactors for disposal – one behind the police station and the other just past the mini roundabout leading away from the harbour. The fees for a night vary depending on time of year and the size of the boat. On arrival to Ios you must report to the marine police, remembering to take your boat documents and cruising logs. As this is Ios, and the police are extremely friendly. In the past we have all been a little lazy on getting formalities done on the smaller Greek islands but our recent travels show the authorities checking up a little more. My advice is get checked in and out of Ios – its easy and painless and keeps you on the right side of the law. As with all town quays in Greece, emptying grey or black water tanks is illegal. If you did decide to empty your tanks you are likely to be reported and fined as any discharge hangs about. Anyway, with such clean water in the port that its nice to keep it this way. There is a basic public toilet – an excellent place to empty portable black waste tanks. The toilet is opposite the health centre car park. To find it, head towards the ferry terminal, then head towards the nice-looking beach and you'll come across it. Ios port also has a supermarket right on the quay so there is no need to carry the bottles of wine too far! The supermarket has an excellent fresh meat counter, a good selection of frozen fish and the bags of ice for your gin and tonics. The port area also has a lovely little bakery that in the summer months is pretty much open 24 hours, so early morning fresh bread is easily accessible. As we found, Ios is great for provisioning. For those who want to take a quick swim a lovely beach is in walking distance with some nice bars and restaurants. It's a great stretch of beach if you have kids on board to tire out before dinner. Sandy and clean, you can off-load the kids or guests for an hour while you sort out the boat or have a sneaky five-minute break. Having settled into the port area, it's very easy to stay put. Indeed, after a hard days sailing a lot of visitors simply fall into a local restaurant and then enjoy an evening on the yachts. Even in the middle of summer with more than 20 visiting charters it never seems rowdy or noisy. But to stay in the port is to miss out! Chora is a short, if steep, walk up the hill, or buses run all day and late into the nights and go everywhere. The the village has a reputation as the party place and clubbing kicks off at about 11pm and rarely stops before dawn. But there is another grown up side of Chora. There are some lovely little bars, cafe and small restaurants that serve excellent food and drink, many of which welcome yachties. In addition the narrow streets are crammed with little shops, so if you need gifts to take home this is a very good place to go. Some of the shops are open till 2am. Over the hill from Chora is Mylopotas Beach. Now, Ios has lots of excellent beaches, but Mylopotas is my favourite. It is golden, beautiful and has great watersports, coffee shops and places to eat. Mylopotas is also a great place to anchor the boats in all but windy meltemi conditions. Stay well away from the buoy lines and also be aware of frequent speedboats with skiers and tube rides going past. You can comfortably anchor in five metres of water on sandy bottomed areas. There are some rocks but keeping a good lookout will avoid problems. The watersports companies provide transfers to shore if you want to do watersports or diving. Finally moped, quad-bike and car hire is easy if you want to explore further. Ios is also an excellent place to leave your yacht and take a day trip to Santorini. You can also arrange for fuel to be delivered to the quay, cooking gas is available in the port and there is a small yacht chandler/DIY shop in walking distance. At least two laundry firms collect from the boats so soaking wet and salt-ridden clothes turned round in a matter of hours. A good sail repair guy works on the island over the summer months and the work is of an excellent standard. For major repairs, parts can be sent from Athens – normally taking two days to arrive. The main thing about Ios is that everyone is very helpful. Simply ask for what you need and, if the person you ask does not know, they will normally phone or point you to someone who can help. Finishing on a few points of safety: be aware the ferries come in and out through the entrance very quickly, and will not get out of the way of yachts, even those under sail. The swell from the ferries can be very dramatic and can creep up on you. At the entrance there is a lighthouse to assist with night arrivals. Do not cut the corner when entering, or you may fall foul of shallow hazards. It is illegal to anchor anywhere inside the approach to the port area and this is clearly marked on the charts. Inside the harbour, anchor with care if you want to avoid getting tangled up. The harbour depth is 4.5 metres so, if bringing in a vessel over 20 metres its best to contact the port police who will advise you where you can moor. The port area is bumpy in strong south west winds and many of anchorages around the island become untenable in south winds. If you decide to visit Ios please call by and say hello to us! We are on the old-fashioned, black hull, gaff-rigged ketch that can be seen in the harbour or moored off Mylopotas Beach – complete with the husky dog called Deifer and two very bossy cats called Dice and Biscuit – all rescue animals from our travels. You will be most welcome aboard S/Y Crystal Stream and if we can help you fall in love with Ios, the way we have, please just ask. Fair winds and safe passage.

corfu airport
Greek island airports sold

More than a dozen Greek Island airports are set to be sold off in a move aimed at filling the Greek government's cash-strapped coffers. Airports on some of the most popular holiday islands are about to be privatised in a deal that will give private investors a 40-year lease to run the airports. No doubt to the annoyance of the many Greeks, who blame Germany for its six years of recession and tough austerity measures, the tender for the airports has been won by Frankfurt-based airport operator Fraport with help from the Greek industrial group Copelouzos. The consortium will pay €1.2bn for three mainland and 11 Greek island airports that together handle around 19 million passengers per year. They include airports on Crete, Corfu, Zante, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Kos, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini, Samos and Lesvos. There are added options on smaller islands and on several mainland airports including Thessaloniki, which serves the Halkidiki holiday area, and Preveza, the main airport for holidaymakers travelling to Lefkas in the Ionian. The sale was handled by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), the organisation that is responsible for the sell-off of not only Greece's regional airports but many Greek ferry ports as well. Until now, all Greek regional airports have been state-owned and supervised by the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority (YPA). Better facilities promised at Greek island airports Supporters of the privatisation plan forecast that all the airports can increase their income, create more jobs and support the local economies by possible better usage of their infrastructure as well as other commercial activities. According to HRADF, the sale will result in upgrading any airports to provide better and faster tourist facilities and so enhance Greece's profile as a world-class tourist destination. Critics argue it will lead to higher fares to tourist passengers as privatised airports hike landing fees and cargo handling charges, costs that will sooner or later be passed on to customers. In Chania, protest demonstration have been held by local people angry at the sell-off of such a profitable airport, a move they claim will only benefit the interests of corporate companies and not the local community. Some of the airports, such as those at Chania on Crete, currently have a with heavy military presence and usage but only the civil areas will be privatised. Under the terms of the deals, the German/Greek consortium will have 20 months to upgrade and renovate existing facilities while new works and extensions must be completed within four years. Holiday visitors expected to top 20 million With tourist arrivals in 2014 tourist arrivals expected to top last year's record of 18 million by a significant and with tourists are forecast to spend €13.5bn, many Greeks consider this a bad time to be selling off valuable state assets But the Greek government has been under pressure to sell, having fallen badly behind on a privatisation schedule that promised €22bn of sales by 2013, but has only delivered €5bn so far towards paying off the €240bn bailout by the IMF. At least holiday passengers should benefit from better facilities at many of the island airports. Fraport has promised to invest €300m in improvements to the airports in the next four years. Fraport is one of the largest airport management companies in Germany with 11 airports ion its books including one of the largest in Europe at Frankfurt. Also pouring cash into the tourist market recently has been the Greek-owned Aegean Airlines, which recently announced a €300m investment in seven new A320s and the addition of 14 new international routes into Greece.

hellenic seaplanes otter2
Corfu gets first seaplanes

The popular holiday island of Corfu looks set to get Greek island seaplane services flying again after a deal was signed to open the first water airport in Greece. The move follows clearance by Greek environmental officials on the impact of a water airport to the south-west of the main harbour in Corfu Town. The agreement should pave the way for up to 100 seaplane services to Greek islands across the Aegean, providing tourist visitors with quick and easy access to popular holiday resorts as well as to many of the more remote Greek islands. The private company Hellenic Seaplanes has plans to operate scheduled flights from Athens to all Greek islands, coastal ports and lakes where the current transportation system is inadequate or problematic. The company says scheduled inter-island routes will be established based on demand generated from the local communities and from company partners. The approval for the creation of the first water airport in Greece on the island of Corfu was signed by Greek Environment Minister Giannis Maniatis following a meeting with officials from the Corfu Port Authority and senior executives of Hellenic Seaplanes. Approval has been granted for the creation of a new water airport to the south-west of the existing port of Corfu with buildings, a floating pier and permission for up to 10 flights per day. A nearby desalination unit may have to be rebuilt at the port's eastern entrance to help make way for the new seaplane port. Greek Environment Minister Giannis Maniatis said: "With this approval, we are giving the green light to create water airports across the country, having now configured all the required processes." "The support of the investment initiative and the formation of another development landscape in the country will substantially contribute to the upgrading of the tourist product and the creation of new jobs." Greek seaplanes take 10 years to get off the ground It has certainly been a long time getting inter-island seaplane services off the ground in Greece. The first Greek seaplane service was launched by Canadian-backed company AirSea Lines way back in 2004 with seaplanes flying out of the holiday resort of Gouvia. The Greek company used two de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft to run seaplane services from the marina at Gouvia, Corfu to the nearby islands of Paxi and to Ithaka, off the coast of Kefalonia. In 2007 AirSea Lines tried to expand its network into the Aegean but was forced to use the smaller port of Lavrio rather than its preferred location of Piraeus, near Athens, after finding insufficient infrastructure at Piraeus for seaplane operations. But the airline ceased operations the following year in 2008, citing Greek bureaucratic and infrastructure hurdles and unworkable regulations by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry. The problems could have been overcome but for Greek government red tape that held up negotiations for months. Among the problems cited was the demand that only Greek pilots be allowed to fly the planes. Ironically, it was the collapse of the Greek economy and a possible exit from Europe that helped pave the way for the revival of seaplane services as the government set about clearing red tape and bureaucracy that threatened to stifle entrepreneurial companies. Red tape cleared for seaplane flights Hellenic Seaplanes was set up in 2013, with headquarters in Athens, following the passing of the bill in the Greek parliament that set the legal framework for water aerodrome and seaplane operations in Greece, relaxed regulations and cleared much of the red tape that had dogged the original plans of AirSea Lines. Hellenic Seaplanes now plans to operate around 100 scheduled flights between Greek islands and coastal ports by the end of 2015. As well as scheduled seaplane services, the company also plans sightseeing tours over the Greek Islands as well as a variety of excursion packages. It also hopes to launch charter flights and private fire flights for tourist and business groups and for government, corporate, institutional, scientific, medivac, search and rescue, sports teams, advertising and other promotional services. The latest plans should prove a big boost to tourism in the Greek islands. Many of the more remote islands should get a significant tourist boost as they become much easier to reach, especially islands with poor ferry connections. Corfu and the Ionian islands provide an excellent platform to launch operations as, although islands like Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante are close to each other, ferry connections between them and many of the smaller offshire islands such as Ithaka, Paxos and Meganissi are relatively poor.

landing at corfu airport
Greek airports could do better

Greek holiday chiefs have called for big improvements to airports across the Greek Islands in a bid to boost tourism even further in the years ahead. This summer season has seen a 13% rise in recorded international flights to Greece and its islands compared to the same January to October period in 2013, along with a 1% rise in domestic flights. And the aviation sector contributes an estimated €5.7 billion to the Greek economy every year with €3.3 billion coming directly from airlines, airports, air traffic control and ground handling. The significant role that airports play in the Greek tourism chain was spelt out at a recent conference held by the Hellenic Association of Airline Representatives (SAAE) in Thessaloniki. But SAAE president, Dinos Frantzeskakis told delegates that much more could be done to strengthen the aviation sector which provides up to 100,000 jobs as well as bringing major benefits to the Greek economy. He added that improvements must be made to facilities and passenger services, especially in the busiest Greek Island airports such as Chania and Heraklion on Crete and in busy holiday airports like Santorini and Mykonos. Too few winter flights to Greece And he called on the government to impose "more competitive" charges at Athens International Airport in order to attract more airlines during the winter months when tourist passenger numbers decline sharply. "Low cost companies and long haul airlines do not fly to Athens in the winter, which means that we cannot have competitive city breaks. This hurts the months that we want to extend the tourism season," he told delegates. He also attacked the 'spatosimo' air passenger tax that has been imposed on international and domestic passengers departing from all Greek airports which had not been reduced despite promises made earlier this year by the Greek government. It looks like another record year for Greek Island holidays in 2014 with visitor numbers looking set to top the 21 million mark this year with the giant share of arrivals by air. Airport arrival figures show that visitors to Greece in October this year topped 1.2 million, a 23% rise on last year making an overall 15% increase on figures for the ten months from January to October 2014. And 2014 is the third year in a row that Greece has set new records for international visitors despite a sharp drop n Russian visitors earlier this year following the collapse of several east European package tour operators. Airports good for Greek jobs Greek airports are already benefiting from low ground handling charges, a vital element when airlines choose an airport as a hub where aircraft can be parked and maintained. Some 3,000 workers are employed in ground handling services in Greece but this number doubles in the high summer holiday season when airports get far busier. During peak season, usually from late March to late October, employees in this ground handling activity at Greek airports amount for some 6,000 jobs, often on Greek islands where finding work is not easy,. The cost of ground handling at airports in Greece is about a third of handling costs at most major European airports, making Greece an attractive proposition for low cost airlines. There are currently 118 airlines operating in Greece of which 73 have sales offices in the country. The main aims of the association, are to advance and develop airline industry in parallel with tourism development in Greece as a whole. The growth in the beach holiday market over the past three years has been vital for the Greek economy, bringing in billions of euros in foreign cash at a time when Greece is struggling to repay international debts with tourism now accounting for 16% of the country's GDP. The president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) Andreas Andreadis has said it is 'imperative' to improve the prospects for tourism in the Greek Islands even more. He has urged the Greek government to "further shield the sector, boost investment, improve quality, support small and medium tourism enterprises, and improve competitiveness and sustainability of the Greek tourism." With airlines and airports playing such a major role it could well improve the prospect for even higher levels of tourism if airport taxes and costs can be lifted further.

Greek island ferry bad weather
Greek ferry hopping

High winds and big waves make boarding this Greek ferry a scary operation. Thousands of holiday visitors drive their cars onto Greek Island ferries over the summer holiday months but an island hopping trip in the car out of season can be a different proposition entirely. Getting a car on board a ferry when the wind is blowing and the waters are choppy can turn out to be a tricky business, as this video shot on the island of Alonissos shows. Nothing is too much trouble for the ferry crew of the Apollo Hellas as they give the drivers as much help as possible, but with the ferry boat riding high as the waves hit the harbour walls it is a small miracle that the drivers get aboard without being catapulted into the sea. This film footage was shot in October when strong winds made hitting the boarding plank a hit and miss affair and drivers were forced to time their power run up the ramp at exactly the right moment. High waves were really rocking the boat several feet above the harbour wall and leaving its boarding planks dangling in mid-air on each wave crest. It was up to the drivers to punch their pedals at the exact moment that the ramps lay flat on the harbour wall – just a few seconds to get aboard safely. Too soon and they risked ploughing into the raised ramps, too late and the car could have been flung into the air and into the raging sea. Scary to watch, even more scary to attempt. Thankfully, they all got aboard safely but it gives a new meaning to island hopping on a Greek ferry. This one is the Apollo Hellas is operated by Hellenic Seaways. It can carry 1,500 passengers and 98 cars and runs on the ferry route year round from Alonissos to the mainland port of Volos calling at the popular Greek holiday islands of Skopelos and Skiathos on the way. Can I take a holiday rental car on a Greek Island ferry? This is a question often asked by holidaymakers and the answer, unfortunately, is not very often. Many car rental agencies in Greece, especially those that operate on smaller islands, do not allow customers to take their hire cars for a ride on a Greek ferry. Cars can get 'stranded' on other islands in bad weather or, if they are involved in an accident on another island, recovery can be a very expensive operation. Also, there is the increased danger of damage on a ferry as holiday car hire visitors try to manoeuvre vehicles in the small deck area aboard or indeed if someone else bumps into them. In practice, island visitors will often rent a car and drive it aboard a Greek ferry anyway without telling the car rental agency of their plans. That is fine if nothing goes wrong, but it can prove a very expensive trip if things don't go to plan and the car gets damaged or stolen on the 'wrong' island and insurance companies refuse to pay out. Given the huge availability of car hire on most Greek islands, most holidaymakers will choose rent a vehicle for a few days on one island, hop on a ferry as a foot passenger and hire another car of motorcycle when they get to their destination. On small islands like Alonissos, most of the resorts are within walking distance of the port, have a bus service or are reached by taxi anyway. If you do hire a car in Greece, take nor that driving can be more stressful than at home. Roads in the Greek Islands are not always the best and streets through villages can be very narrow and confusingly complicated. Signs are often absent, small or even just plain wrong. Many roads have few lights and with narrow lanes, steep bends and sharp drops, driving at night can be a real challenge. Greek drivers too are not the most courteous and holiday drivers should expect nothing but contempt and a few sharp 'toots' on the horn. That said, if you want experience the real back roads of Greece, especially on larger islands, then hiring a car is almost essential. But whatever you do, don't try to board a ferry in high winds and choppy seas. The video was filmed by Dimitris Papavasileiou. Article based on a story published by Keep Talking Greece

google greece street view
Google tours Greek sights

Streetview video glimpse of the best of Greece. Holidaymakers who fancy a quick tour of the top Greek attractions can take a 90 second virtual tour with the release of a Google street-view video. The video has appeared on the company's YouTube channel and showcases many of the top sights in Greece and the Greek Islands in a high speed journey around the mainland and across the sea to some of the most popular Greek holiday islands. The Google street-view video tour starts from the Acropolis in Athens and heads off at high speed to allow viewers to glimpse a few of the mainland sights that include views of Thessaloniki and the remarkable cliffs of Meteora before speeding away to the Greek Islands. Don't expect a sedate cruise of the sights though. Fast and furious views include drives through Chania in western Crete at breakneck speed as well as fleeting glimpses of some of top attractions on the islands of Corfu, Rhodes and Paros. The street-view tour also plays to the sound of a modern , loud and drum-thumping Greek pop song that will probably have most viewers clicking as quickly as possible on the YouTube mute control button. Glimpses are all anyone can hope for in a 90 second YouTube video, no more than a brief taster of what is on offer for those considering a holiday visit to Greece or the Greek Islands. But potential holiday visitors now have a good selections on satellite and photo images of Greece thanks to Google's map coverage of the country and its islands. Most of the major tourist centres on the larger Greek islands now have street level coverage from Google streetmap but many of the smaller islands, naturally, have yet to get a visit from the company's camera vans. This is a pity from a tourist perspective as all the more popular centres are already well known while a street level glimpse, even a virtual one, of less traveled islands could encourage many more visitors. Although resorts like Kefalos on Kos get good street view coverage, nearby islands like Kalymnos, Leros, Patmos and Lipsi get no street views at all. A pity, as such small islands are not only more beautiful but would be easier to cover given the few roads and short distances involved. Nevertheless, it has to be conceded that Goggle map coverage of the Greek Islands in now pretty good, even though low resolution satellite images are still the only ones available on some of the more remote islands. Satellite maps and visitor photos do give potential holidaymakers a pretty good idea of what to expect on a Greek Island holiday and, given the importance of tourism to the Greek economy where it accounts for around 16% of GDP, it is a little surprising that the Greek government doesn't to more to fund and facilitate better Goggle street-view coverage of the more remote island spots.

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