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Greek Island Hopping

To Save Money and to Meet the Greeks, Do It Off Season!

Temple of Athena in Rhodes, Greece
Temple of Athena in Rhodes, Greece.

Try the Greek Islands during the off season. You’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture when the crowds are gone and prices have dropped off dramatically.

We started our journey at Easter on Corfu where the celebration in Corfu town attracts visitors from all over the country. Unique local traditions include a pot-dropping ceremony in which thousands of pots are dropped from balconies to the stone streets to cover the sound of the morning slaughter of the lambs for the Easter meal (and to scare non-Christians out of the city). Late in the evening of Holy Saturday, families gather in the park, their candles a flickering sea of light. A purple cross, high atop the Old Fortress, illuminates the night. In a solemn march, the bishop and his procession reach the bandstand at the stroke of midnight. At the words, “Christos Anesti,” Christ has risen, the lights on the cross turn white. Fireworks explode above the fortress, and people embrace in joy.

The Rough Guide to the Ionian Islands provides excellent leads on cheap places to stay. For transportation information, including bus and ferry timetables, look for a copy of The Corfiot (the island’s English language monthly) at the magazine shop behind the Liston.

International ferries from the Minoan and Strinzis Lines stop at Corfu at least twice daily en route to Patras. A deck class ticket (pullman seats, or spread out your sleeping bag on an interior deck) costs $60 for the eight-hour journey, best done as an overnight trip (departure at 11:30 p.m.).

Once on board, buy a bus ticket to Athens. After a scenic four-hour journey through the rugged mountains of the Peloponnesian peninsula, capped off with a short lunch stop, the ferry’s bus will deposit you near Olympic stadium. Hop the metro to the port of Piraeus and either buy a ticket for Rhodes in the metro station, or wander down the waterfront and try your luck with a travel agent. A deck class ticket costs $200 for the 11-hour ride.

Your ferry ticket permits you to get off and on at any stop before Rhodes, the world’s best-preserved medieval city. Bubbling Italian fountains lie not far from a temple to Aphrodite, mosques and minarets adjoin the Palace of the Grand Master, and an imposing crusader fortress separates ancient Rhodes from the new city.

Pensions offer reasonable off-season rates for a double with bath. We chose the Sunlight Pension, with a rooftop garden. After three days of exploring the city on foot, we took the KTEL bus out to the archeological site at Lindos, 51 kilometers away.

Because of infrequent ferry service to Santorini during the off-season, we used Olympic Airlines for the 45-minute trip. If we had stayed on Rhodes for three more days, we could have hopped a ferry.

Several hostels provide cheap lodging on Santorini in season, but none were open when we arrived. Instead, we stayed in Kamari at Esperides with breakfast and a big balcony.

A volcano tour—with a guided boat trip and a climb to the cones of the active portion of one of the world’s largest volcanoes—capped off our week in Santorini.

KTEL bus service links all of the major villages and archeological sites on Santorini through the main station in Fira. Using the buses—never more than a few dollars from point to point—we explored the entire island.

Our 9-hour return to Piraeus was on comfortable deck class seating. If we had had the time, we could have hopped to Ios or Naxos, or jumped off at Paros to head to the northern Aegean. But by the end of our journey—May 1, the start of the tourist season in Greece—the first plane loads of package tourists arrived on Corfu. Until fall, the door closed on the inexpensive quiet season.

You may be interested in "Ferrying Around the Greek Islands on a Budget" for more information and photos.

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Ferrying Around the Greek Islands on a Budget
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