Greece //

Sports and outdoor pursuits

The Greek seashore offers endless scope for watersports, from waterskiing and parasailing to yachting and windsurfing. On land, the greatest attraction lies in hiking, through what is one of Europe’s more impressive mountain terrains. Winter also sees possibilities for skiing at a number of underrated centres. As for spectator sports, the twin Greek obsessions are football (soccer) and basketball, with volleyball a close third.

Watersports

Windsurfing is very popular around Greece: the country’s bays and coves are ideal for beginners, with a few spectacularly windy spots for experts. Board rental rates are reasonable and instruction is generally also available. Waterski boats spend most of their time towing people around on bananas or other inflatables, though you usually can waterski or wakeboard as well, while parasailing (parapént in Greek) is also on offer at all the big resorts. Jet skis can be rented in many resorts, too, for a fifteen-minute burst of fuel-guzzling thrills.

A combination of steady winds, appealing seascapes and numerous natural harbours has long made Greece a tremendous place for sailing. All sorts of bareboat and flotilla yacht trips are on offer (see Sailing and watersports), while dinghies, small cats and motor boats can be rented at many resorts. For yachting, spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons; meltémi winds can make for nauseous sailing in July and August when you’ll also find far higher prices and crowded moorings. The Cyclades suffer particularly badly from the meltémi, and are also relatively short on facilities: better choices are to explore the Sporades from Skiáthos; to set out from Athens for the Argo-Saronic islands and north Peloponnese coast; or to sail around Corfu and the Ionians, though here winds can be very light.

Because of the potential for pilfering submerged antiquities, scuba diving is still restricted, though relaxation of the controls has led to a proliferation of dive centres across the mainland, Dodecanese, Ionians, Cyclades and Crete. There’s not a huge amount of aquatic life surviving around Greece’s over-fished shores, but you do get wonderfully clear water, while the rocky coast offers plenty of caves and hidden nooks to explore.

In the Peloponnese, central mainland and Epirus, there’s much potential for rafting and kayaking.

Skiing

Skiing is a comparative newcomer to Greece, beginning on Mount Parnassós in the 1950s. With global warming, snow conditions are unpredictable at the southernmost resorts, and runs remain generally short. However, there are now eighteen ski centres scattered about the mountains, and what they may lack in professionalism is often made up for by an easy-going, unpretentious après-ski scene. The season generally lasts from the beginning of January to the beginning of April, with a few extra weeks possible at either end, depending on snow conditions. No foreign package operators currently feature Greece among their offerings – it’s very much a local, weekender scene.

The most developed of the resorts is Kelária-Fterólakkas on Parnassós, the legendary mountain near Delphi, though high winds often close the lifts. Other major ski centres include Vórras (Mount Kaïmaktsalán), near Édhessa; Veloúhi (Mount Tymfristós), near Karpeníssi in central Greece; Helmós, near Kalávryta on the Peloponnese; and Vérmion, near Náoussa in Macedonia.

Walking and cycling

If you have the time and stamina, walking is probably the single best way to see the remote backcountry, with plenty of options from gentle strolls to long-distance mountain paths. This guide includes some of the more accessible mountain hikes, as well as suggestions for more casual walking on the mainland and islands; there are also plenty of companies offering walking holidays. In addition, you may want to acquire a countrywide or regional hiking guidebook and some detailed maps.

Cycling is less popular with Greeks, but in an increasing number of resorts you can hire mountain bikes, and many of the rental places lead organized rides, which again vary from easy explorations of the countryside to serious rides up proper mountains. Summer heat can be fierce, but spring and autumn offer great riding and walking conditions. Again, there are specialist companies offering cycling breaks in Greece.

Football and basketball

Football (soccer) is far and away the most popular sport in Greece – both in terms of participating and watching, its status strengthened still further by Greece’s unexpected emergence as Euro 2004 champions. The most important teams are Panathanaïkós (http://www.pao.gr) and AEK (aekfc.gr) of Athens, Olympiakós of Pireás (olympiacos.org) and PAOK of Thessaloníki (paokfc.gr). Matches – usually Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons – take place between September and May, and tickets are generally not too hard to come by at prices far lower than in the UK.

The national basketball team is one of Europe’s strongest, while at club level, many of the football teams maintain basketball squads – Panathanaïkós are the most consistently successful.

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