Where are you going to be for Passover? If the answer is Crete, Rhodes or southern Greece, you get the maximum points! A family vacation demands original thinking and precise planning. Time is short and the demands, particularly from the younger members of the family, are many. This year, or so it seems from the calendar and the offers by the travel agents, the most worthwhile choice is one of these three Greek possibilities. Passover falls in the last week of April. The weather is already warmer and the idea of a dip in the sea doesn't make one shiver. Also, the sites that during the summer months will exact high prices are still very friendly.
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The deals that are being offered now to Israeli travelers in Greece are to two main destinations: Rhodes and Crete. To these it is worth adding a suggestion for a vacation in the Peloponnese, in southern Greece, which can be reached quickly, easily and cheaply from Athens.
All of the flights to Crete (about an hour and a half from Ben-Gurion International Airport) land at Heraklion. The advantage and the disadvantage of Crete as opposed to other islands are in its size. It is a kind of long, narrow rectangle, with the distance between its eastern end and its western end being about 250 kilometers. Heraklion is located in the central part of the northern coast, and it is worth deciding whether you want your visit to be to the east of it or to the west of it. It is difficult, particularly during a short vacation, to manage to see both.
The deal: Vacation packages including flights and three nights are now being offered for $350 per person.
Near the city: In any case it is not a good idea to lodge in the cities themselves. The best possibilities, if you are looking for an urban environment, are the areas of Heraklion, near which the most fascinating historical and archaeological sites are located, or that of the prettier and more pleasant city of Chania in the western part of the island, where it is possible to swim at some of the loveliest beaches in the Mediterranean. The most reasonable possibility if you go through the vacation packages being offered to Israelis at present is the area of Aghios Nikolaos in the eastern part of the island, which used to be a small fishing village and is now a large tourism site where the crowded night-life atmosphere is less suited for a family vacation.
Splendid isolation: Isolation is a very relative concept when it comes to a family vacation. It is hard to find it in a vacation package that includes lodging in a 700-room hotel, but Crete is very large and it is quite easy to find isolated beaches and sites. From Aghios Nikolaos it is worth driving north along Mirabello Bay to Elounda. In its environs it is possible to visit a number of interesting sites such as the sunken port of Olous or the island of Spinalonga, where in the 16th century a Venetian fortress was built and which at the beginning of the 20th century served as a leper colony. From Chania it is worth driving west toward the area of the beautiful Falasarna Beach, or south to the Paleohora Beach.
Luxury: The advantages of renting a private home for a family vacation are clear. This is usually not cheap, but it is very convenient and allows savings on visits to restaurants. In the area of Elounda there is a vacation village where villas with rather splendid amenities may be rented - including a private swimming pool for each house, a view of the bay, fully equipped kitchens, televisions and DVDs and other treats. Try the Elounda Golf Villas. Information at a site that specializes in villa rentals: www.villa-rentals.com. The price until mid-May is $2,400 a week for a villa with room for eight people.
Worthwhile site: Knossos, five kilometers from Heraklion, was the capital of Minoan Crete. If only to gaze at the fresco of the dolphin at the site it is worth going to Crete.
One outing: the Dikteon Cave and the Lssithi Valley. Myth has it that Zeus was born here, but even if you are not interested in Greek mythology, the landscape and the visit to the cool cave surrounded by lush greenery justify the effort of the climb.
Flights arrive here near the city of Rhodes at the northern tip of the island. The island is about 80 kilometers in length, but the roads do not always allow for easy driving from end to end. Here, too, a choice is necessary. Most of the vacation packages are concentrated in the north, in the area of the city of Rhodes. Although the city itself is fairly interesting, the adjacent vacation sites have given the island a bad name. They are very commercialized, in large structures and not always near the prettiest beaches. Southern Rhodes is far prettier and it is worth touring there in a rental car, where the vacation sites are more scattered, smaller and quieter. The eastern shore is preferable to the western, and the combination of all of these factors leads to the town of Lindos.
The deal: Available at the Internet sites and the travel agencies are vacations during Passover for $340 per person. The package is offered to families of two adults and two children. Most of the packages are around the city of Rhodes.
Near the city: Many hotels are located on the Ixia beach, four kilometers to the west of the center of the city of Rhodes. This location makes it possible to spend time in the city itself, although the pleasures of the beach in this area are lesser. In the city of Lindos, 50 kilometers to the south, it is possible to stay in hotels, pensions and rented rooms looking out over the small harbor. The old houses are painted and well-renovated and have courtyards paved in black and white pebbles, in traditional patterns. Lindos does not offer many urban attractions apart from innumerable souvenir shops and quite a few restaurants, tavernas and cafes. The beaches in the city itself and its environs are fabulous.
Splendid isolation: Going south from Lindos it is easy to avoid the crowds. The villages and beaches of Pefki, two kilometers south of the city, and Lardos, six kilometers from Lindos, make it possible to spend time in a Greek village that has not undergone a total metamorphosis. Seasoned walkers and devotees of solitude will continue all the way to Prassonissi, the southernmost point on the island at the tip of a tongue of sandy land with bays on either side. Here, beside a small lighthouse, is the Lighthouse Taverna, with simple, inexpensive rooms. The nearby beaches and the tavernas in the area offer a lot of serenity and good food.
Luxury: The Atrium Palace Hotel, six kilometers from Lindos and 45 kilometers from Rhodes, is currently considered the most deluxe possibility on the island. This is a new resort and spa, where some of the rooms are scattered in private villas, 250 meters from the Kalathos beach. A double room (until the end of April) costs only 82 euros a night. During high season, the price is twice that. A small suite for four costs 168 euros and a large suite for four costs 300 euros a night. Information at the site: http://www.atrium.gr.
Worthwhile site: The bay of Agios Pavlos (Saint Paul) south of Lindos provides an excellent swimming beach, a beautiful view of the city's ancient fortress and the possibility of witnessing the wedding ceremonies that are held here nonstop.
One outing: to the monasteries inland in the mountainous areas of the island where tourist do not usually go. For example, the Moni Thari monastery from the ninth century, which overlooks the entire area and has a good winery and interesting frescoes.
Arcadia, central Peloponnese
The new network of roads makes it possible to reach the central Peloponnese from Athens in less than three hours. A vacation in this part of Greece ensures escape from the madding crowd and is mainly in a mountainous region, which in the season is entirely in bloom. From here it is possible to get to beaches that are not too far away, south of Argos, or to the west of Olympia in the area of Pergos, but the warmest recommendation is to keep to the paths in the mountains and blossoming orchards.
The deal: A flight to Athens costs about $300. From there it is worth renting a car; it is also possible to travel by bus as far as Tripolis.
Near the city: Tripolis is a major crossroads in the center of the Peloponnese. This is not an especially touristy city and it doesn't feature any particularly attractive sites, but it provides all the urban pleasures like restaurants, cinemas, bars and clubs.
Splendid isolation: This is the right place for lovers of isolation. The mountain villages to the north and west of Tripolis provide it aplenty. The road that goes from Tripolis to Olympia is one of the most beautiful in Greece, especially in spring. In the villages of Dimitsana, Karkalo and others, which are built at an altitude of 1,000 meters, thousands of apple and cherry trees are at the height of their blossoming - a breathtaking sight.
Luxury: The Grecotel Lakopetra, in the northwest corner of the Peloponnese, offers a family vacation resort with very pampering amenities. The best rooms are the isolated bungalows that overlook the sea. Another possibility in the same chain is the Grecotel Olympia Oasis. Information at http://grecotel.gr.
Worthwhile site: The archaeological site of Olympus is covered in this season in the delightful pink blossoms of the Mediterranean redbud.
One outing: A few dozen kilometers south is the town of Mistras, which offers a huge variety of ancient sites and interesting possibilities for eating and drinking.