The Parthenon
The Parthenon © Nathan Hughes Hamilton

Ancient Greece developed many of the Western world's cultural building blocks, as the Olympic Games, democracy, mathematics and philosophy all began there. Today the country is known as a great holiday destination rather than a centre of culture and learning, and attracts visitors by the thousands. Most of them come for the simple pleasures of its delicious food, wine, beautiful beaches, sunshine and quaint villages, with beach lovers in particular relishing the seemingly endless lacework of coastline and small islands stocked with ancient sites and scenic surprises.

Greece exudes traditional charm, especially on its ever-popular islands, which cling to their traditional ways despite the influx of tourists. Black-clad women still deliver vegetables to island tavernas on panniered donkeys, while bronzed, weather-beaten fishermen sit in the sun, drink thick coffee and play dominoes or backgammon. The tourist infrastructure has intruded in many respects, but the timeless aspect of whitewashed buildings clustered on hillsides has been retained. The myriad islands in the Aegean Sea are easily accessible from Piraeus, Athens' historic harbour, and many of the larger ones have airports with connections to Athens or major European cities.

On the mainland, the capital Athens is sprawling, polluted and overcrowded, but nevertheless enthralls visitors. It's dominated by its major landmark, the Parthenon, though the remains of other Classical Greek wonders are found mainly on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Thessaloniki lies in the north and is modern and vibrant with a Byzantine flavour.

Visitors are sure to love this ancient and sun-filled country.