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Greece Itinerary for Family of 5 -- Help needed please

Taking the fam to Greece (w/ a few days in Scandinavia) mid-June to mid-July for my son’s high school graduation. Would appreciate any advice you have. I have been pouring over books, these threads and reviewing the itineraries of others. We are hoping to book flights asap. Almost pondering a travel agent.

About us:
We are a family of 5 from Seattle and all of us have been to Europe. Kids are college aged: one boy, 2 girls. My husband and I studied abroad back in the day so we have both backpacked Europe. My daughter is there now on her Study Abroad in Scandinavia.

A few years ago we took a Rick Steve’s My-Way Tour to Italy (fantastic) when the girls graduated high school. Per request from this year’s graduate (the boy), this time around we seek a more leisurely trip with a minimum of 3 nights in most destinations. With some museums, yes, but more focus on just being there and enjoying the culture and ambience. His favorite memories of Italy were a magical night in the square in Venice, the Domus Area 3D in Rome, and the day we spent on the trail hiking the Cinca Terra (needed more time there). We are very casual travelers with simple tastes. We have a house in Hawaii and tend to live that lifestyle. The beach is important but is not our primary focus for this trip. We like to be on the move when it is cool and in the water when the afternoon heat hits. We would all prefer a pleasant glass of wine at a Taverna, rather than a fancy club with loud music. The kids will have had enough parties the week before we leave. We do have food sensitivities (gluten intolerant) which tends to complicate things. To keep costs down and make for easier gluten free living, we had originally pictured AirBnBs in 3-4 locations but that option is not looking as easy and inexpensive as it is in the US. We will perhaps need 2 hotel rooms to be closer to town. We’d like to have access to pools for “some” of this and be near the center of things so we can split up and regroup easily. How to make all of this come together? On Days 13 on, does it make sense to drive across from Athens to Corfu to fit in the Meteora area? I remember Meteora as being a real show-stopper years ago. However I was there in Spring so was not dealing with heat. Athens-Meteora-Corfu is 8 hrs on Google Maps. Is this realistic or biting off more than we can chew? Should we scrap that and just fly out of Athens?

So…
• Active. (With options to be NOT-active).
• Gluten-intolerant.
• Luggage – Backpacks only.
• Hotels or AirBnb with 5 beds: In the US our target nightly rate for 5 is $150’ish. Ideally with an element of charm or quirkiness. Thinking that rate is unrealistic for Greece.
• Dining: Small cute Tavernas.
• Car rental – Yes, when helpful.
• Interests: Culture, food, ambience, hiking, beaches/pools/snorkeling/museums/archeology (highlights only)
• Trying to minimize: Extreme heat, extreme humidity, extreme crowds, I know. It’s July. And no Rodeo Drive.

Here is the first draft of our plan.

Seattle–Gatwick –Athens -Crete

1 Crete -- Chania
2 Crete
3 Crete
4 Crete
5 Naxos -- Agios St. Georgios?
6 Naxos
7 Naxos – (Daytrip Ikaria or Santorini?)
8 Naxos
9 Naxos
10 Paros – Naoussa / Or Hydra?
11 Paros
12 Paros –
13 Athens - Acropolis at dusk
14 Athens - Museums
15 Athens or Napflio ?
16 Meteora - 2 Nts? Then Corfu? HOW?
17 Lv Greece. Fly Corfu to Stockholm?

(Or fly out of Athens?)
18 Stockholm
19 Stockholm
20 Copenhagen (Train)
21 Copenhagen
22 Return to Seattle

Thoughts? Also thoughts on finding accommodation for 5 that has a little bit of character or charm. We did love all of our hotels on our Rick Steve’s tour but have to budget a little more tightly on this trip.

Posted by
2781 posts

It seems to sort of fall apart around day 15. Nafplio warrants more than a day, and seems out of the way if you are headed to Corfu. Have you checked flights to Stockholm?
Is a one-way car rental Athens to Corfu a complicating factor?
I think just firm up that bit and you are good to go! I found Google Maps fairly accurate when driving in Greece (but not to these areas yet), and for accommodations, I always use Booking.com. good luck!

PS You might check flights out of Thessaloniki also. I think that might be less complicated than Corfu. Definitely look into this--Thessaloniki flights to Stockholm are nonstop. I think that or flying out of Athens is your best bet. If the latter, then I'd add a day to Crete.

Posted by
1945 posts

I can’t speak to the island parts of your trip.

I definitely vote for spending Night 15 in Athens and skipping Nafplio. I loved it but there’s no real point in adding the hours of driving just for one night. Get your car on the morning of Day 16 and drive on to Meteora. While it’s a bit of distance, it’s an easy drive. Then with 2 nights, you will have one full day for hiking/driving at Meteora. Which I truly loved. valadelphia is right that Thessaloniki would be an easier drive to fly out of, if the flights work out for you. If the flight is late enough in the afternoon, you might even be able to drive in the morning and not have to steal a night from somewhere else in order to be near the airport. Corfu would be harder than driving back to Athens and flying from there, in my opinion.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you for the quick reply! Yes -- it falls apart when we get to Athens. :) Maybe I subconciously do not want to spend long in Athens but we do want to see the Acropolis and maybe a museum. Napflio would be out of the way and that route would make it more like 11 hours that then requires a bit of a backtrack to Meteora but we'd be able to hit both. I don't know if that is worth it? Not even sure Corfu is worth it or if we should skip that or do that on another trip. And is one route more scenic than the other? Straight-shot to Meteora or the roundabout way south through Napflio and up? Flights out of Corfu to Stockholm are currently $40 on RyanAir (not that I'm a huge fan of RyanAir). I'll check on the rental car. Good point. Was thinking it would be easy to drop off the car in a different location but perhaps not Corfu. Haven't researched Thessaloniki so will go look into. Thank you!

Posted by
82 posts

Hello,

§150 /Night that's mean 135€
If you need 2 bedrooms, in high season this will considerably limit your choice

Regarding These islands, Crete, Naxos, Paros
the best choice is to rent a car (unless you want to stay all day in the same place and not visit the island)

In Naxos, Agios Georgios may be right for you if you want to be close to town and enjoy the beach at the same time. This is also where the majority of tourists go.
You can also look further south between Mikri Vigla Beach and Glifada Beach. It will be much quieter but there are fewer accommodation options and you will need a car.
Anyway you will need a car because there are plenty of places to see in Naxos

Regarding your daytrip from Naxos, I don't think you can go to Ikaria in a single day. There is no direct ferry connection to my knowledge and especially for a single day I do not see the point. (perhaps you confuse with Iraklia which is right next to Naxos?).

A daytrip to Santorini from Naxos is possible but you will have to find a ferry that leaves early in the morning and especially another one for the return to Naxos.
The Naxos-Santorini highspeed ferry ticket costs around 50€ per person (one way only)
Know that in summer, you will not be alone, there are up to 18,000 visitors a day who come to Santorini.
But if you leave Santorini early enough, you'll have the chance to avoid the crowds of cruise passengers and Instagrammers who all come together on 100 square meters to take the same photo of the sunset over the Aegean Sea.

In Paros if you prefer the "city" you can stay in Parikia or just above parikia on the side of Krios beach, there are some accommodations and in summer a small boat shuttle service that connects the beach to the port of Parikia.
Or Naoussa which is a pretty village with a fishing port and a lot of accommodation options. (It's generally considered better to go to Naoussa because it's more "chic". In France we say it's the little French Saint Tropez)
Other places are possible such as the village of Aliki in the South or in the South East all the coast going from the village of Drios to Chrissi Akti

If you have a car go to the villages of Lefkes and Prodomos

Know that from Paros you can make a daytrip to Antiparos, there are regular shuttles

But anyway, happy holidays ! You won't be disappointed by Greece

Posted by
6 posts

Sorry I should be speaking in Euros. Wasn't considering the conversion rate. I was trying to give an example as to what we'd typically spend here on an AirBnB with the kids (pre-pandemic before all those extra cleaning fees). We'd certainly be expecting to pay more traveling in Greece, especially if we will be needing two rooms - and am really trying to avoid the two-room situation if we can. I thought I should differentiate ourselves though from families that are able travel on much higher budgets. We'll need to rough it a bit longer with 3 grown kids in tow but hope we can still find something with charm. As long as we feed them and give them a good bed they are a pretty amiable bunch.

Your feedback is so helpful. (And I looked up Thessaloniki per the first response and think I may have been there years ago. Can't quite remember it but it seems to be a nice little city and we will look into it further.). Ikaria is a Blue Zone so is on my Bucket List. Thought I had read there was a ferry from Naxos. However, if Ikaria needs more than a day it should a different trip. Same for Santorini. Will save it for a shoulder season trip and try to focus our destinations a bit better.

I think I may have the wrong impression of the car rental scene there? I was thinking we would be renting a car on each island and have been worried about having to do that 4 separate times (Crete, Naxos, Paros and Athens). Is it completely common for people to just rent a car and take it to all the islands (like we do here in Seattle)? The ferry tickets aren't hard to get? Is parking at hotels and on the street easy enough? Or would we be paying for parking everywhere? More research needed here.

Posted by
82 posts

Hello,

An Airbnb or accommodation with a kitchen (or kitchenet) is the best solution for you. (compared to 2 rooms in a hotel)

I don't know how you're going to deal with the meals (sorry, this may be a bigger concern for the French than for the Americans!)
but that's 5 people to feed every day. If you go to restaurants, your food expenses will be significant.

As you stay several days in each island you can buy food and drink in the mini-markets (and for example for a few euros make your Greek salad yourself with a few tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, feta cheese) and have lunch in your accommodation .
Same thing for breakfast.
In these accommodations with kitchen there are often all the basic ingredients (sugar, salt, pepper, oil etc) sometimes even pasta, rice, wine, etc.. that previous tourists have left behind.

Being able to settle down with your family on your terrace, eating quietly what you want and when you want while looking at thesea will improve the atmosphere.

For ferry tickets you can look at the possibilities and routes on websites like ferryhopper.com or gtp.gr ( for this summer not all of them are published yet. In April you will have a better view of the possibilities)
These websites offer the possibility to book your tickets but I advise you to go directly through the websites of the ferry companies and when available take your tickets with webcheckin (you will have your electronic tickets directly by e-mail)
If you only have a reservation number, you will have to pick up your tickets at an office before taking the ferry. The offices of the companies are located in town or at the ports. They charge for the withdrawal of tickets (between 0.5€ and 1€ per ticket)

I don't know how it's going to be this summer, it seems that the Greeks are expecting as many (or even more) tourists than in 2019

So, you can book the trips you don't want to miss a little in advance (for example Crete-Naxos)
Concerning Naxos-Paros and Paros-Athens, in July you will have several connections per day,
It is not necessary to book weeks in advance. You can book 2 or 3 days before once on site. Especially since the ferry schedules can change at the last moment

Regarding car rental in the islands you will find rental agencies in each island (for July I strongly recommend that you book in advance). and I don't think you will find a rental agency that allows you to pick up the car in crete and return it to Athens.
If they accept you will pay additional insurance costs (for the ferry) and you will have to pay the ferry ticket for the car. In the end, it will cost you more.

Moreover, perhaps on the islands you will not necessarily need a car every day.

For parking, in Parikia (Paros) there are a few streets around the port with parking meters, in Naxos I don't remember.
When in a few rare places, parking is not free, you just have to move away a little to find free parking.

Posted by
2781 posts

I have not done a multi-island trip in Greece, but I would count on renting a car when you need it versus renting one and keeping it a long time. That way, you have the option for catamarans (passenger only boats) and don't have the hassle and cost of a car for all that time. In other countries, there are restrictions on taking a rental on ferries, but I don't know about Greece.
I hope Janet will chime in soon--she is full of useful info.
If you don't want several days in Athens, don't worry about it. You could easily just put more time in Crete, where it would definitely not go to waste.
Viamichelin is a good site for researching scenic routes.

Posted by
6 posts

Taking all the advice here (Thank you!!!) and this is our updated itinerary. Now dropping Napflio per TravelMom's advice and also Corfu due to the car rental situation. (Kinda sad about dropping Corfu). Rearranging the final days in Greece so we do not have to deal with a hotel in Athens twice. Thinking we fly Paros to Athens and get out to Meteora the the same day OR take the ferry and plan on an overnight somewhere outside of Athens along the route to Meteora.

How do we feel about the number of days in each location? Would you steal from one and add to another? Also still thinking about Thessaloniki vs Athens when it comes to the Meteora section of the trip and our departure. Are we doing right putting Athens after Meteora?

Seattle–Gatwick –Athens -Crete

1 Crete -- Chania
2 Crete
3 Crete
4 Crete
5 Naxos -- Agios St. Georgios
6 Naxos
7 Naxos

8 Naxos
9 Naxos
10 Naxos - Paros (Naoussa)
11 Paros
12 Paros
13 Fly Paros - Athens - Drive to Meteora
14 Meteora
15 Meteora to Athens
16 Athens
17 Athens
18 Athens
19 Fly Athens to Stockholm

20 Stockholm
21 Stockholm
22 Copenhagen (Train)
23 Copenhagen
24 Fly Home

Posted by
1801 posts

This looks really good to me.

We traveled to Greece in 2018 with young adult children. In Naxos we stayed at Kymata, renting the suite on rooftop for us for 3/4 of our nights. There were no well located air BnB s big enough for our party. This worked well except for night we had a regular room (suite was rented) and ended up with everyone in our room that evening. It is really important with a group to have a place to gather. We were able to order in and eat two nights on roof top deck which everyone enjoyed. And breakfast provided was wonderful.

In Athens, we rented an air Bnb. It was three bedrooms, sofa bed, 1.5 baths and access to roof top deck where we ate take out our last night. There are apartment choices large enough for your family in Athens.

Posted by
1945 posts

I agree this looks more doable and enjoyable. And if you fly out of Athens, then leaving it till last makes good sense. If you end up flying out of Thessaloniki, then of course you would want to rearrange.

I know what you mean about Corfu - I have it on my calendar for a full week (or close) next spring to go with Albania, Meteora again, and other stops in northern Greece I didn’t do last summer. It just doesn’t make any sense with everything else,you are trying to do. You will have a great time!

Posted by
2905 posts

GLad to see that Corfu was x'd off the list ... car-rental the least of it, the transportation to/from did not fit with anything elese on the list. A lot of N. Americans put Corfu on their Wish LIst just because they saw that BBC TV series, "THe DUrrells of Corfu" -- ignoring the fact that the Durrell experience was 85 years ago, in the heart of a world-wide depression, when tourism in GReece was almost nonexistent. PRe-trip research will disclose the changes -- that Corfu has been a British destination for 100+ years, and since the advent of plane travel has built up a huge number of "resorts" for UK holiday-makers that have filled up all the loveliest beaches ... and now the serene coastal edens of the Durrells are few and far between. I've known Brits who've found & enjoyed verdant hide-away homes, but that takes doing .. and a Corfu visitor who comes without prep can be surprised, and sometimes disappointed

All too often on these forums people express intense interest in places they haven't yet found on a map -- based often on a youtube video, a show, even a calendar pic. Famous example: many list Zakynthos as a Must-See ... all for a fave calendar shot of "Shipwreck beach" -- without checking what it's actually like today, and the unreality of a calendar "beauty shot."

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you again for the feedback! It really helps! Now that we have the overall framework of the trip we can start getting into the details Really you should have seen how many destinations I had on my "original" list. The list I posted here had been much edited! :) So many beautiful places to see! We'll make sure to do a thorough study of Corfu when the time comes! Thanks for that tip!

Posted by
1807 posts

I see a late morning ferry from Naxos to Santorini (1h 15m) and then you have to work your way to Fira. The last ferry departing Santorini is at 3:30p so you won’t be able to visit Oia and watch the sunset. You need to sleep in Santorini for two nights to see the best of it.

Posted by
2905 posts

ABOUT a SANTORINI DAY-trip
The day-excursion vessel MV ALexander -- a large & stable excursion vessel -- goes 1x per week from Naxos/Paros to Santorini -- http://www.cycladicruises.gr/en/routes-santorini leaves Naxos about 8 am, Paros (Piso Livadi port) 9 am, gets to Santorini port about 10:30? Its own bus meets the vessel -- there is a licensed guide on board -- and takes you up the steep switchback road to the top, and then to OIA. You'd have about 2 hours there... the guide will show u around or u can wander on your own. Then the bus brings you back to the Main town of FIRA... where u can wander, go to museum, find a lunch spot with a view etc. At a given time ? around 3:30- 4, you go to the parked bus & it takes y ou back down to the pier... SO ... all transport provided, plus guide. Its about 60€ per person -- up from€54 before pandemic. (similar Mykonos daytrip is abou t€50 but it has no licensed guide). I can hear the complaint now, too expensive.. but consider that 1-way economy Naxos-Santorini is over €20 now, and there is NO ferrt scheduling that would allow u to see anything in one day --PLUS you have no transport at all, when you'd get there... and with 5 adults (no, collegians are not Kids), you'd need 2 taxis, and you'd probably spend more than €60 per person AND have a hassle.

ABOUT LODGING COSTS
You're not going in low season (By time u get to CYclades it will be High Season) and you are 5 adults, and Greece is not the USA... where you expect to get a big room with 2 QUeen beds, power shower and a sliding door to the pool for a bit over $100 ... Greece has older, historic buildings where they've had to retrofit bathrooms into a bedroom thus making it smaller. But consider this -- once you get that cheap room that sleeps 4-5 next to the pool, you're in a Quality Court looking out at the Interstate ... and In greece, in the older smaller rooms, you have a flower-festooned balcony, looking now at a narrow cobblestone lane, and maybe out toward the sand and the Aegean. So adjust to the difference, and rejoice to be in Greece (anyone from Seattle who owns a 2nd place in Hawaii can manage to book 2 rooms for the family ... & the kids can sleep on sofabeds; they're getting a great trip free). At your travel period w your requirements, and short stays vs 1 week each, u will be lucky to house yr group for €200 per night... Also, the pent-up demand from 2 lost summers of pandemic is causing earlyl bookings Ive already seen the best-value places filling up. get busy.

ABOUT CARS
Yes you will have to rent separately for each island. If the US was divided into hundreds of islands, you'd have to do that in the US. GOod idea to put 2 people on Intl Drivnig licenses, and also on each rental agreement, so one person not stuck behind the wheel -- and if "illegal" person driving and there's a fender-bender, insurance doesnt cover.

TIPS on NAXOS/PAROS
When looking at airbnbs, look carefully at a map -- some places quoting great prices may be bargains because they're inconvenient -- not walkable to a beach & not on a bus route. Thus, with 1 car you're always having to coordinate trips back/forth, and having 5 people do same thing always is like herding cats. Location is key. free-standing viillas may look great, but in these 2 isles are usually inland (because beach territory was built up first with modest hotels & pensions in the 1960s-70s). You might look at "1 br studio units" available on Naxos beaches, and in Paros on Livadi beach on north fringe of Port town of Parikia. These have a BR & a main room, latter with 2-3 daybeds, kitchenette or kitichen nook, table/chairs and balcony or terrace. Booking.com offers numbers of these -- tho

Posted by
1204 posts

We traveled around Greece for a month as a family of 5 pre-pandemic. We also budget like you do, seeking an average of 150 dollars/night or less and have been pretty successful. We also travel with packs (Osprey 46's to be exact). And we tend to not like to linger. So I lean toward the side of seeing more, although not being uncomfortable to do it (I dont think).
On Crete we stayed in an Airbnb in old town that we loved. I think we spent 3 nights there, rented a car and went to several places in those three days. Really liked Chania and ending the days there and walking to dinner. Its very crowded with tourists in the old town, but a lot to see and do. We spent more time on Crete in general but 4 nights in Chania sounds good
On Naxos we stayed further out of the town center in an Airbnb next to Plaka beach. We wanted to be away from the tourist crowds (which is impossible relatively, but didnt want the town experience this time). Also rented a car. Didnt leave the island for 4 days (no day trips).
In Athens we stayed in an Airbnb in the Koukaki neighborhood and really liked that because it felt more residential which we liked and was less tourist-crowded than areas east and north of the acropolis (koukaki is more south), but we were at the Acropolis, and the other tourist areas with a 5-10 minute walk. 5 days in Naxos and then several more in Paros, which is similar to Naxos may be too much of the same thing imo. Especially if you are interested in other places like Meteora, or Nafplio, or Corfu. I would plot your days in Naxos and Paros and see if you want and/or need that many days in both. In Naxos, we spent one full day in town walking everywhere, one driving into the mountains to various sites (my favorite), one seeking cliff-jumping for my son - I also have two girls and a boy - and then mostly on a beach, and the 4th I dont remember. I had ideas of renting bikes and riding around part of the island, or renting a boat to some caves, but ultimately decided to put that day somewhere else in our trip.
Im really interested in Corfu as well. We traveled around the Peloponnese for 8 days prior to going to the islands and I loved it, and it made me want to see more of the northwestern part of Greece (and northern). So at the risk of putting a fly in the ointment, I could see doing Paros as a day trip from Naxos, and then spreading the Paros days somewhere else, like flying from Athens to Corfu, and then on to Sweden from there. Lastly Meteora would not be as hot as everywhere else you will visit, if you do decide to go there in whatever itinerary you land on.

Posted by
6 posts

Jessica -- We too are an Osprey Backpack family. :). 40s. (Hope we can make that work with beach towels). Our families sounds similar!

Well it ended up that our multiple incoming flights into Athens will make the connection for Crete pretty tight so rather than create a panic at the airport we have moved Athens and Meteora to the beginning of the trip. That way we will all just meet at the hotel near Plaka. I know lots here say to go to the islands fist but I think ithis will go more smoothly as we all converge in Greece.

Removed Paros (we will do that one on a future trip) in favor of 2 nights on Santorini (braving the crowds) and an extra day on Crete. Working with Fantasy Travel now and am pleased so far. With the input I have received here and in reading all the guidebooks I am getting very excited about our trip. The hotel locations selected by Fantasy Travel seem to be spot on but still working on a two of them to get them just right. (Its the two Crete hotels -- Chania and Heraklion. Chania makes us swoon and Heraklion is just 2 nights for the ferry departure and nearby sites).

Janet -- Yes, just like Italy, it turned out to be 2 rooms for a family of 5 in most cases (to be in the area we wanted to be) but we did get a suite here and a connecting room there so that helps.

Stacey -- I think I'll check out that hotel thread on Naxos to make sure we are where we want to be among the hotels at Agios Georgios.

TravelMom - I read across your very thorough Trip Report and printed it out so I can go through it with a highlighter!

So excited to see this trip take shape!

Posted by
2905 posts

Glad to hear that your plan is coalescing; at this point using an agency can pull the details together. And saving Paros for the next trip can make Santorini & Crete much more do-able. BTW, I have to insert a small tsk-tsk about your original posting -- you said familly of 5 but nothing else, so we naturally assumed you'd fly together and proposed island-first on that basis... if you'd said coming from differnt locations/flights we would have said, meet in Athens. I've done several trips with companions from assorted places and we've always met at our Athens Hotel. Good to remember on other forums -- helpers love specifics!

I've been a number of times to the 2 places where you're still working out lodgings, and have some thoughts:

HERAKLION -- Here it really helps to be near the ferry port, and lots of Heraklion isn't "quaint" -- if you've looked at photos its a vast concrete-block city. On 2 trips, We'd rented our car in CHania & dropped it in CHania (local agencies do this with no charge, or small one). On one trip, we found a parking spot, & next AM berore the ferry came we drove to pier and left car at a designated place. Another time, we just parked near hotel , left keys at desk w note to agency-driver, telling where to find it (!). On both those trips we used HOTEL KRONOS, which is right on the seafront (front rooms have fab view). Not the mad bargain you seek but modoerate rates & a good breakfast. Before dinner u can walk along the seafront to see the MASSIVE fortress, then hae a last-night meal of great Mezeds at HIppocampus... there's another good place on the triaffic circle at the end of Fortezza causeway.

CHANIA -- Old Town is a dilemma -- SO fascinating to stay in, but when it's hot & you need a swim after sightseeing, what to do?? One answer (and a budget-saver for families like yours) -- is to look at Nea CHora Beach -- just about a 15-minute walk west along the seafront from the Old Town West WAll... it's a decent beach, with tons of apt-hotels side by side along the sands. For your bunch, the best of both worlds. https://www.west-crete.com/chania-nea-chora.htm 2 Friends & I discovered it one hot afternoon, after Old Town SIghtseeing. Got there around 5, and local families were arriving, on scooters, dads & kids splashing & havinig fun. We found sunbeds, swam, enjoyed hanging out with Greeks so much that we got some seafood take-out at a cafe, ate on beach, I and never went out to fancy dinner that evening. There are many places with 2 BR or a BR & a LR w daybeds - https://www.booking.com/district/gr/chania-town/neahora.en-gb.html