SYDNEY (Reuters) - Greece is struggling under a mountain of debt, violent street protests erupt in the capital Athens, and world financial markets fear Greece will exit the euro zone.
But Greece is still a great place to visit - just head to its idyllic islands. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors explore Paros and Santorini.
4 p.m. - Fly from Athens to Paros, a short 30-minute flight. After settling in, stroll down to the road that hugs the main port of Parikia and walk along the seawall, where you will be joined by not only tourists but local families who routinely end their day watching the sunset over the Mediterranean.
The port road hugs the sea and is littered with tavernas offering relaxing lounges and cool sunset drinks, but keep strolling until you reach the 13th century Venetian castle which overlooks the port. Parts of the castle are made from the ancient temple that once stood in the same spot.
5 p.m. - You will reach Parikia’s most popular beach, Livadia, after a short walk. It’s a great place for your first swim in the Mediterranean and if you want a drink before heading back into the centre of the port for dinner.
7 p.m. - Now that darkness has fallen it’s time for some shopping. Just wander through the maze of streets that bisect Parikia’s old village. By day the heat is stifling as the sea breeze, like the pirates of old, gets lost, but by night it’s cool and exciting. Shopping here is cheaper than Athens and Santorini, and the shops offer boutique, locally made items.
8 p.m. - Shopping can make you hungry. Many of the seaside tavernas serve chargrilled octopus and fish caught in the waters that lap Parikia. For something more upmarket, head to Central Market Street, for the whitewashed and vine-covered courtyard restaurant Levantis. Levantis serves modern Mediterranean dishes, such as oven baked lamb rolled in vine leaves with fresh herbs and feta, fava bean puree and mint sauce.
For the romantics, try Franca Scala wine bar and restaurant on Palea Agora, a little to the north of Levantis.
10 p.m. - After dinner it’s a short stroll to Pebbles jazzbar overlooking the port, a funky little bar with live music until late in the night. There’s also the Pirate Bar at the foot of Franca Scala for jazz, blues and classical music.
7 a.m. - Start the day with a swim and a classic Greek breakfast of Greek coffee, yoghurt and fruit. Be careful not to stir your coffee just before drinking as you’ll stir up the sediment and be picking it from your teeth.
9 a.m. - Paros offers numerous beaches, easily reached by bus or hire car. The Paros Tennis Club is just south of Parikia or you can go wakeboarding, kite surfing or scuba diving through Paros Watersports.
But if all that is still too strenuous, jump on the Agios Georgios for a day of sailing around Paros and nearby islands, snorkelling, swimming in sea caves and a BBQ. The boat leaves from the small fishing village of Piso Livadi, 19 km southeast of Parikia, at 9.30 a.m. and returns at 6.30 p.m.
12 p.m. - The port of Antiparos is tiny. You can watch the boats come in and fishermen hang octopus in the sun for drying, and then head across the road to Anargyros Restaurant and Hotel with its blue tables and plastic covered table clothes, and eat that very same octopus for lunch.
3 p.m. - You can either catch the afternoon fast ferry to Santorini or the next day’s ferry.
5 p.m. - Sailing into Santorini is magical. From a distance, the island’s whitewashed buildings, which cling to steep cliffs around the caldera, look like a snow-capped mountain.
This volcanic island erupted in 1650 BC and partially sank into the sea, leaving a giant central lagoon. The eruption was one of the largest in recorded history and wiped out the island’s population at the height of the Minoan civilization.
If you land at the main port of Fira you will be picked up by hotel bus or taxi for the steep drive to the top of the caldera. If you land at Oia on the northern end, there’s also the option of a donkey ride up the cobbled-stoned path.
6 p.m. - Santorini is all about the view at sunset, so if you arrive on Saturday afternoon, simply take a seat on your hotel veranda or pool and wait for the sun to sink.
8 p.m. - The whitewashed buildings that stretch along the cliffs are actually a series of villages from Fira in the south, past Firostefani, Imerovigli to Oia in the north. Fira and Imerovigli are connected by a winding path which you can walk along to pick which restaurant you think has the best view for dinner - and there are hundreds to choose from.
Near Imerovigli village is Blue Note, perched up high with an outdoor section, or at Firosteafni try Akteon taverna with traditional Greek food. The seafood in Santorini is so fresh one taverna puts a sign on the octopus hanging in its window: “Please Do Not Touch Octopus. Its Real And Will Be Eaten!!!”
7 a.m. - Rise early for breakfast and if you don’t mind heights try the goat track walk out to a knuckle of rock that sticks out from Imerovigli. If not, then head along the caldera path for some shopping and an Espresso Freddo, a refreshing iced coffee. If you leave it too late the sun starts to bake the caldera and this walk becomes an endurance trek.
9 a.m. - For the rest of the day, rent a car for an easy drive around Santorini’s black volcanic soil beaches such as Vlichada and Preivolos and wineries such as Santo or Boutari.
12 p.m. - Lunch at Dimitris Taverna on the edge of Ammousi Bay on the northern tip is a must. You’ll need to park up the road and walk down to the bay at the base of a towering cliff. The restaurant tables are so close to the water you’ll be splashed by waves.
3 p.m. - Another option is the schooner yacht Bella Aurora or the brigatine Thalassa which set sail every day at 3.00 pm for a cruise around Santorini which ends just off Ammousi Bay, watching the sun sizzle below the Mediterranean. (Reporting by Michael Perry; editing by Elaine Lies)