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Region D - Attica, Euboea and Central Greece

From Sounion to the Euboean Gulf and from Delphi to Nafpaktos

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Attica, rich in history and tradition, and home to half the country's population, has both the problems and advantages of a megalopolitan area. Here are the country's capital, Athens, and its busiest port, Piraeus. Here you'll find urban sprawl and bucolic pasturelands, pine - clad mountains and blighted industrial ones, ancient sites galore, beautiful beaches, an inexhaustible choice of restaurants and nightclubs and the perfect spot for an isolated picnic. Euboea, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel, is one of Greece's largest islands and packed with an amazing variety of landscapes.

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From Sounion to Athens

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Whatever time or season you go to Sounio, the scenery never fails to impress and delight. Waves may be thrashing against the rocks below or it may be a flat calm; dawn has its enthusiasts and visitors throng the site all day, but perhaps the hour that best suits the place is sunset, when the old columns take on a violet hue and a quietness settles in. Then you can just sit on rock and ruminate about the past and the future and feel the real presence of Sounion and all who've been drawn to this enchanted spot before.

The few columns that have remained starting plus those that have restored are sufficient to evoke the splendour of the 5th century B.C. Doric temple. But maybe the stark, unpainted ruin is more appropriate to the setting than the original would have been?

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From Dafni to the Isthmus of Corinth

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Now we find ourselves cutting across Athens to get on to the avenue that leads to the national road to Corinth. An obligatory stop is Dafni to visit the monastery, whose 11th century church is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture the country has to offer. It was first founded in the 6th century on the site of an ancient sanctuary to Apollo, remnants of which you can see incorporated into the buildings. The mosaics are unsurpassed. Next to the monastery are the rather gaudy trappings of the GNTO's Wine Festival, for some lighter entertainment.

The next stop is Eleusis, or Elefsina in moderns Greek. This site of the ancient Mysteries is surrounded by smoke - belching factories, the port lapped by oil slick, a shame that a place of such major importance from Mycenean to Roman times should be so degraded. Still, the site and its museum are well worth a visit. The birthplace of Aeschylus, this was where Demeter and especially her daughter Persephone were worshipped. To get full benefit, take a good guidebook with you.

The drive down the national road is no longer the delight to the senses that it once was. The northern shores of the Saronic Gulf have been encumbered with factories, shipyards and refineries at several points; gone are the fishing boats and pine forests.

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On the shores of Fthiotis and Northern Euboea

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From Eretria you can explore all of southern and eastern Euboea; there are wonderful beaches around Karystos, Styra and Marmari as well as in the vicinity of kymi, not to mention a Venetian castle, a few ancient sites and unspoiled villages to whet your appetite.

You can equally head northwest for Halkida (Chalkis), the bustling capital of the island, and from there either continue on to the northern part of the island or rejoin the national road.

If you decide for the mainland, you can always change your mind and return to northern Euboea by ferry from Arkitsa or Glyfa. So, back on the national road, which after we've crossed Boiotia brings us back to the sea again, this time it's the Northern Euroboean Gulf. The sign for Malessina and Theologos marks our first contact with it; then the rood begins to follow the coast at Skala tis Atalantis and Livanates.

Here the coastline begins to change personality. Gentle, cultivated hills and valleys give way to steep, wooded mountains; the shoreline contracts. We're heading towards the famous pass at Thermopylai. Hotels, cafes and restaurants proliferate, too, their customers attracted by the lovely scenery and pleasant bathing.

We pass Arkitsa. From here you can pop over to Aidipsos, a long - established health spa - resort where steaming sulphurous waters bubble into the sea. A spectacular new road now joins Aidipsos with the pretty villages of Rovies and Limni down the west coast.

Or you might choose to view the northern coast from Agiokambos, where you can catch a ferry for Glyfa on the mainland, to Pefki ("Pine"), which as the name implies is surrounded by trees. In fact, most of this part of the island is densely wooded, some of it even lush.

But let's continue our tour of the mainland. Agios Konstantinos is next. This is where you can catch the ferries and Flying Dolphins to the Sporades, or you might choose to stay put.

"Agios" and it's next door neighbour, Kammena Vourla, are popular for family holidays. The beaches are calm and there are plenty of entertainment possibilities along the waterfront. Kammena Vourla's fame began as a result of its mineral waters; long a favourite holiday spot with Greeks, it now attracts tourists of all nationalities. Try the beach at Agios Serafeim, further up the coast. Now we come to Thermopylai, where the statue of Leonidas reminds us of how 300 Spartans fought desperately to hold the pass against the Persians. In Greek the main means "Hot Gates", indicating that here too hot springs provide treatment for all sorts of ailments. Pressing on, we arrive at Stylida with its small port and extended olive groves.

Just before it to the west lies Lamia, capital of Fthiotis, a lively but undistinguished market town with a 14th century Frankish castle. The mountains in this region are well worth investigating, however, for a glimpse of what Greece is like without tourist development.

 

From the northeast Coast of Attica to Eretria

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The northeast coast of Attica has none of the industrial pollution encountered earlier, but it has witnessd rapid residential development over the part thirty years as Greeks grew more prosperous and rushed to build summer homes. The result is a series of lively coastal settlements, abounding in taverns, nightlife and cafes, conveniently placed near an attractive stretch of beach. The ones further to the north are set among pine woods, and an added attraction at several points is the presence of antiquities.

At Porto Rafti, misleadingly signposted "Limin Mesogaias", the port is always filled with pleasure boats and the road to the beach filled with cars. One of the islets in the superb natural harbour boasts a colossal seated Roman statue, popularly known as the Raftis (tailor). At Vravrona, a bit inland, is a ruined sanctuary of Artemis, where Iphigenia was also worshipped, and a charming museum, know for its unusual collection of children's toys.

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From Delfi to Nafpaktos

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By taking mountain roads, you could in fact reach Delphi from this point, but the quicker, more direct route is through thedes, Livadeia and Arachova. Arachova, a picturesque village on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos, is know for its weavings, food and robust red wine. Delphi, of course, is the site of  the famous oracle, once considered the navel of the world, and one of its most important archaeological areas.

Every day, every year thousands come to marvel at the sights. Even if there were no ruins, the physical setting would be worth a detour. Rising above the oracle are the spectacular Phaidriades Petres (Shining Rocks), steep cliffs cleft by ravines and overlooking an immense sea of olive trees, whose softness sweetens the wild, romantic scenery above.

Among the ruins are the Temple of Apollo and the Treasuries of the city - states that line the Secred Way up to the temple of Athena and the graceful, circular Tholos below it, and the Theatre and Stadium above.

Be sure to save ample time for poking round the site, and don't forget the Museum, which is stocked with wonderful exhibits. The most famous are the Charioteer, two archaic kouroi, the Sphinx of Naxos, a 6th century.

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