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Agricultural tourism and other gems to experience in Greece?

Hello

I'm traveling with my friend to Athens next month

Specifically on

September 25th
Returning from Athens on
October 5th

We are interested participating in “Agricultural Tourism” for a couple of days or however much you recommend?
We are open to renting a car and driving to get to our destinations if we must. If you suggest this option can you recommend a car company we should use
I think I read in one of your books to rent from a US company and if this is your recommendation which one?

Other interests aside from seeing the Ruins in Athens include

• touring olive & {feta?} cheese factories.
• Meeting Greek people
• Eating GREAT Greek food
• Drinking great Greek wine
• Delfi is of interest and mystical experiences if offered?
• Seeing some of the islands if we can get there and back.
• Shopping for Greek souvenirs

I really struggle to plan vacations in fact I struggle with it so much I often just don't go.
I'm hopeful for some great suggestions from you with which I can build a plan.

A hearty thank you
In advance,
Melanie

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Forwarding from the trip tips we wrote when we got back:
DRIVING: You’ll read online that driving in Greece is a white-knuckle experience and that Greece has a very high accident rate. This almost caused us to rely on buses instead, but in the end we were glad we chose to rent a car because this allowed us to go at our own pace and save a lot of time. Buses were going to be almost as expensive and would have used up a ton more of our valuable vacation time. Greek drivers were a little bit crazy (everyone is constantly passing each other, and it’s not uncommon to see people passing multiple cars around a blind curve) but it felt manageable, as my husband is a pretty confident driver. His assessment is that if you are fairly confident/comfortable with driving, driving in Greece feels manageable and even enjoyable, but if you are a more nervous/worried driver, this might make you struggle more and perhaps cause an accident, so perhaps driving isn’t the best fit. If you do drive, the main thing to know is to stay way over to the right (straddling the shoulder) to allow people to pass and to leave a gap in front so that passers can swerve back into the lane if needed. Saw signs warning of speed enforcement via video. Keep change on hand for tolls; big bridges (like one between Delphi and Olympia) can be a big toll (~$15). Choose a car with a large enough trunk for your luggage if you plan to make stops between hotels/cities (though smaller cars are generally better for narrow roads/streets). Get your International Driver’s Permit from local AAA office or risk a big fine. Parking was free and generally easy to find outside of Athens and central Nafplio. Most rental cars are stick shift. Diesel cars may be cheaper to operate. Picking up a rental car in one city and dropping off in another is prohibitively expensive. Make sure the pick-up and drop-off locations are convenient in huge Athens. Unlike the chain rental agencies in the US that allow you to drop off a car any time, our rental from Piraeus was very flustered when we arrived earlier than expected/asked if we could meet them early. Be sure to learn about the insurance that comes with the rental and determine if you need to purchase separate coverage (sometimes free through credit card, though requires declining rental car company’s insurance). Before departure, watch YouTube videos of what it’s like to drive in Greece and read up on Greece’s road signs. To avoid break-ins at night, open the luggage cover in the hatchback (to show that it’s empty) and try to look like a local by covering rental car decals and leaving a local newspaper (NOT tour books, etc) in view.

NAVIGATING: T-mobile phone with Google Maps GPS worked fine for us while driving. Briefly lost signal a few times, but never to the point of causing problems. Never had to use paper map, never got lost. If choosing this method, research route ahead of time (Google Maps may offer you multiple routes, but some may take you on difficult mountain roads/through the crazy center of Athens). Also be sure you know all the alternate spellings of your destinations (e.g. Nafplio/Nauplion/Nafplion, Mycenae/Mykines, Corinth/Korinthos, Delphi/Delfoi). Do at your own risk, as I’ve heard others post about GPS’ leading them astray. If using separate GPS unit, you may have to purchase its international maps at an extra cost. GPS through car rental company is extra and sometimes a significant cost (more than just buying a GPS unit, depending on length of car rental). We were comfortable going the speed limit, so the travel times listed on Google Maps were fairly accurate within 10-20 min for long drives. There was adequate English on road signs.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Athens has a metro, but otherwise public transportation isn’t quite as easy as places like Europe or France, where you can hop on a cheap high-speed train to get between main tourist cities. Car and bus are your main options for moving around the mainland.

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FOOD

  • Popular dishes to try: moussaka, stifado, pastitsio, stuffed tomatoes/peppers, baklava, pastry pies (cheese hand pies, spanakopita), loukoumades, dolmades, saganaki, keftedes, pasta/meat cooked in a clay pot (giouvetsi), fried zucchini balls, octopus/calamari, lamb, horta, Greek yogurt with honey and fruit, olives, Greek salad, eggplant, tzatziki with pita, spicy cheese spread (“cheese salad” or “tirokafteri” on menus), and frappe (coffee drink). Gyros/souvlaki are your go-to for cheap eats. If you need a break from Greek, Italian seems to also be plentiful. If you order cheese (common appetizer), don’t expect it will come with something to spread it on. Popular drinks = ouzo and raki.
  • Greek coffee is made from finely ground coffee beans boiled in water, not strained afterwards. If you ask for “Greek coffee”, what you get can range from a normal-sized cup with lots of grounds at the bottom to a very concentrated and gritty espresso-sized cup.
  • Not uncommon to receive complementary shots, olives, bread, or dessert. Some may give you bread without asking and charge you for it.
  • Finding a restaurant that has live traditional bouzouki music can be fun.
  • If remembering what you ate is an important part of your travel memories, remember to take pics of the menu before ordering. Not always easy to track down online afterwards.
  • Have a method for identifying good restaurants, either by scoping out before trip or having cell data/tripadvisor.com available during trip. Though Europe has great food, you can’t expect to go into any random restaurant and be blown away. We made this mistake in France, just choosing restaurants at random and ended up just eating ok food. Going places with high reviews makes all the difference. Sometimes the places with highest reviews aren’t the ones with the perfect ambiance, so unless you have tons of time to research places with both, may need a few days where you just choose the place with the fun “I’m in Greece!” atmosphere (e.g. right on waterfront with the Greek music playing and candles on the table) at the expense of having the best food.
  • Water isn’t always potable, particularly on the islands. Check locally. Expect to pay for bottled water in some but not all restaurants. Buy 6-packs of large water bottles from the corner markets to keep in hotel room (most economical).
  • People generally dine late (restaurants start to liven up closer to 9:00) and linger for a long time.
  • I’ve heard mixed reports about tipping. Most common is that service charge is generally included in the price of the meal, but can round bill up or leave a few euro on the table for a good meal.
  • We had no problem bringing < 100 ml bottles of Olive Oil and honey home in our carry-on (in our quart-sized liquids ziplock). We had no problem bringing vacuum-packed olives, or spices, olive-wood products through customs.
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  • Getting to islands: boat takes longer than we expected from Athens (e.g. 8 hrs to Santorini). Flying to furthest island, then making your way back to Athens on ferries = good option. Depending on time of day, flight can be super cheap ($50) or expensive ($200) plus extra charges for lots of luggage – IMHO, worth it to not lose a whole day in transport. Would have preferred to do islands last to decompress before heading home, but was warned that ferries/flights can get cancelled, causing risk of missing flight back to US, so followed suggestion to do islands first/end in Athens. We tacked on flight to islands at the end of our US-to-Greece travel day, getting it all over with at once. We chose a flight scheduled to depart for islands a few hours after landing in Athens and paid more for the flexible ticket in case our flight from US was cancelled/delayed.
  • Ferries: Easy to move within an island group, not so easy to try to move between island groups. Blue Star ferries are the huge, reliable, comfortable ferries that are minimally affected by weather – trade-off is that they’re slower. There are a variety of higher-speed ferries, but trade-off is that they can’t handle weather in the same way. This can = seasickness, rough ride, cancelled trips, etc. We were happy with our choice to use Blue Star. Cheapest “economy” seats = scrambling to find any open deck or café seat, lose your seat if you want to wander. Not recommended for long haul back to Athens, which can get pretty crowded, but worked well for a short hop between islands. A few dollars more = “airplane seats”, which = a cushy airplane-style seat reserved just for you, better for long trips. We chose seats in Lounge 1, which we’d heard was quieter. Food available for purchase on board. Time of year/flexibility of your itinerary determines how important it is to get Blue Star tickets in advance. Can purchase them on Blue Star website and pick them up at port for small fee (50 cents/ticket?). Connections are more limited off-season. It’s not uncommon for boats to arrive to your departure point a little late.
  • Souvenirs: we brought home olivewood products (very common souvenir), gyro spices, art, vacuum-packed olives, and olive oil that was small enough to be taken on our carry-on.
  • Meeting people: We generally found the people to be very friendly, particularly as we got out into smaller towns. In Athens, we sat at talked with a coffee shop owner for like 1.5 hours. In Arachova (on the way to Delphi), the local butcher came out and talked with us for quite a bit. Hard to suggest how to plan for this happening, but if you are warm and social and make some attempt to greet people in Greek, you'll probably get to have some nice conversations.
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Handpicked greece.com offers a series of vacations helping with the olive harvest in Crete and elsewhere - a bit late for this year but sounds really interesting. There are a number if companies in Athens that offer foodie tours, they are your best bet and a lot seem to do other tours in Athens which might be of interest.