Greece by Land Rover
For a warm welcome, even warmer weather and amazing routes to drive, Greece takes some beating – especially if you heed Sam Watson’s wise words
Greece is a fascinating place to visit in your Land Rover. Most overlanders arrive there by one of three means:
1. Via Turkey from the east. The best border crossing is into Kastanies, although the Kipi crossing to the south is also popular.
2. Via Italy from the west, on the ferry into the bustling port of Igoumenitsa.
3. Via Albania, Macedonia or Bulgaria from the north, though these are less common (and less comfortable) options.
The method needing most preparation will be that ferry journey across the Ionian Sea from Italy.
There are many ferry operators, all much of a muchness. I tend to use Anek Lines’ sailing from Ancona, and book an open-deck ticket. This allows me to park the Land Rover on deck, put the roof tent up and sleep there (no cabin needed, making this 24-hour crossing much cheaper). Showers are readily available.
I’ve also used Agoudimos Lines from Brindisi (enabling travellers to have a good look at Italy on the way south, including Rome and Naples).
The crossings run by Agoudimos and Minoan Lines take about 12 hours, depending on whether or not they call at Corfu on the way. Some of the ferry companies’ booking websites verge on the unintelligible. Agoudimos Lines have better customer relations – I always deal with Eleni, the bookings clerk in Athens (firstname.lastname@example.org) when arranging sailings east from Italy. I recommend you do the same.
Travelling by Greek and Italian ferries, by the way, can be very frustrating – queueing at the port is non-existent, offices never open on time (more than an hour late isn’t unheard of), tickets are seldom given for anything other than the day of travel… and so it goes on. Be patient – they do things differently in the Med.
Greece is a member of the EU, and so paperwork and other faffing about is minimal. Ask your insurer for a Green Card – many will do this without charge. You’ll need this, passport, driving licence and V5.
When crossing by ferry from Italy, as with any internal EU border, there’s no checking of passports or documents. If you’re entering from Turkey or any of the Balkan states to the north, there’s more formality.
Greeks drive on the right (well, mostly…) and tend to be erratic and exuberant in their driving styles. As
a result, the accident rate is almost unbelievably horrendous: road traffic accident fatalities in 2007 were three times that of the UK (based on per head of population). As with any driving abroad, go gentle. Give way. Smile – even at idiots.
Sharp curves are only seldom marked with black-and-white warning chevrons, a flash of lights means ‘I’m coming through’ (bit different from the UK, then) and speed limits may seem arbitrary – but do not treat them as such.
Because of the advancing cost of living, large 4x4s are rare on Greek roads; and Land Rovers, though thin on the ground, are much admired. Off-roading is popular, however, and it’s easy to hunt out interesting tracks in rural areas and vanish off into the boondocks for a few days.
Wild camping is technically illegal, though I’ve never known any problems stemming from it, as long as one is careful – brush fires can be started all too easily.
Greece isn’t a particularly large country but it is mountainous: what look like nice, straight roads on maps can turn out to be mad rats’ nests of endless hairpins and acute curves twisting up and down hillsides and valleys. Where in Italy or France you might rattle off 300 miles in a day, in Greece you may struggle to cover 120 miles in the same time.
Don’t underestimate this factor. Yes, there are motorways but, even when they’re marked on maps, they’re not always complete. It’s wise to get hold of two or three different maps of the same area to confirm what roads
do and don’t exist. Greece is well-mapped – the AA road atlas is reasonable but the widely available Rama and Nakas series, sold all over the country, are cheap and well worth getting.
Get used to the Greek script and the way it can be transliterated into English – you may see signs to Kalamata, Kalambata, Kalampata and Kalamnata – all the same place!
So, what to see? There are three main destinations – the islands, the popular mainland areas and the less well-known mainland areas.
The islands present a multitude of possibilities, with hundreds spread out over hundreds of miles – large, small, developed, unspoiled, mountainous, leafy, sandy, rocky… for Land Rover owners, Kefalonia and parts of Crete offer the best possibilities for losing yourself, far from the summer crowds.
The mainland has several distinct geographical regions: the north (Thessaly through to Thrace); the centre (Attica); and the Peloponnese, which is very nearly a huge island. The centre is the most populated, while the Peloponnese is perhaps the most touristy (and the windiest, if you’re camping!).
The ancient sites such as Delphi (ancient oracle) Olympia (site of the original Olympic games), Mycenae (fortress of King Agamemnon), Epidauros (huge amphitheatre) and Cape Sounion (Temple of Poseidon) are all worth seeing.
Athens itself is an amazing place – the Acropolis and the Parthenon for the historians, the huge flea markets of Monastiraki for the bargain hunters, and so on. The only decent campsite in the city itself is at N 38º 00.566’ E 23º 40.353’ at Peristeri on the Corinth road. It’s very hard to
spot and gets very busy – ring ahead on 210-5814113. Driving in Athens is even more bonkers than elsewhere in Greece – keep your wits about you.
Less obvious places to visit include the rock-pinnacle monasteries of Meteora (maybe the most spectacular site in Greece, not far inland from the Igoumenitsa ferry port), the fortress of Methoni (on the southern tip of the Peloponnese) and the poignant memorial to the 300 Spartans who fell in glorious battle against overwhelming Persian attackers (the recent Hollywood epic, 300, commemorates this) at the Pass of Thermopylae.
For all these places, and dozens more, Greece is well-served by campsites, all detailed in the Camp in Greece guide (campingreece.gr), which is excellent. These sites are mostly very overlander-friendly,
and 4x4s and roof tents fit right in (though be prepared for some interest from locals…).
Greece has what is, to my mind, Europe’s second-best campsite, Pellouki, near Olympia at the coastal village of Kourouta (the best one, I reckon, is Camping Markadia in Alvito, Portugal).
Access to the more remote parts of Greece is achievable, especially with a 4x4. As discussed, wild camping as such is frowned upon, but low-profile, low-impact travellers will have no problems in this regard, and indeed many will tell you it’s the only way to see the best parts of Greece: find a white (unclassified) road on a map, and follow it into the mountains.
Many of these roads are quite well-known among the 4x4 fraternity (and even among the more adventurous of the motorhome brigade). The downside to this is that they soon become overcrowded.
This can lead to their becoming little oases of overlanders – one such almost-community is near the village of Gliki (N 39º 19.661’ E 20º 36.992’). Because it’s not far inland, many overlanders make for it as soon as they arrive off the ferry.
Follow the signs to the river Acheron and you’ll eventually see a motley collection of trail bikes, tents, 4x4s and campervans on the banks of the river, with a few cafés and bars supporting them. Gliki is a great place to unwind when you arrive in Greece, and to find out from other overlanders where the best places to go are.
Greeks are welcoming and always ready to make friends. Food and drink are well worth getting to know and local seafood in small fishing villages is simply fantastic. My favourite is in the tiny village of Douneika, near Kourouta – the Taverna Kokovios on the main street will give you a choice of whatever happens to be bubbling in any one of half-a-dozen pots, served up in whatever mixture and quantity you want. This is typical of hundreds of little village eateries.
Greece is fantastic for independent travel with a Land Rover. Trundle along a quiet road, eat in the village taverna and camp at one of the glorious little beaches or forest clearings you’ll find (many of which can only be reached by 4x4).
What more could you want?
The full story can be found in the June 2009 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.
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