A great part of the tourist world thinks of Greece like a theme park. With summer as its main theme, they think that it closes down with the first drops of rain in October, to be opened again just in time for the first heat waves in late May. Well guess again my friends, the place is on and buzzing with good vibes – and in some cases even better than the summer ones- during the November-to-April ‘off’ season. And there are very good reasons for that.
First of all it’s the weather. We may call it “winter” but it usually comes with many breaks of sunny, around 20 degrees Celsius, days; don’t tell anybody – we do so to make it easier for us to get indoors, and have some work done. Cause, as you would agree if you came here during the “off” season, we should be outside, sipping coffee and beer with friends at an outdoor café somewhere near the office.
We do have places up in the mountains or in the North of the country, where it gets cold and snowy, but most of the country never gets bothered by real “let’s stock-up on food and tv-series and wait for the bloody winter to pass” weather. The sun is never absent for more than a week.
Once every few years it might snow for a few hours, up to a maximum of 3 days and it is the number-one topic in the news. If the amount of snow is enough to cover an Italian loafer, schools close down and everybody nags about the weather or goes snow-fighting and building snowmen. Small ones. Friends from northern countries generally make fun of us whenever we bitch about the cold, usually around a café’s heater, probably set up… outside the place! But we don’t really mind…
So… it probably will not be really cold, unless you are up in the mountains, where you could go skiing, after less than a two-hour drive from Athens, without any fear of being cut off by the snow or bad weather in any case.
Then there is the misconception that all the places that come in mind with the “Sea -Sun – Sightseeing” stereotype around Greece close down, and everybody hurries to the last boat away from them, deserting them for 9 months. Nope. The inhabitants are there. Surely the giant hotels might close down in the off season, along with tourist-trap taverns and bars when the swarms of tourists go away. But the locals stay there and return to their more quiet and relaxed life rhythms.
For a visitor that means that he might have to take swimming out of the schedule but on the other hand he might get a better service wherever he goes, as the people have more time for him. It also means that he might get to live more real-life experiences like eating in taverns preferred by locals, since the touristy ones are closed, sipping his coffee with the local elders in a real traditional “cafeneion” and having the most picturesque routes and iconic village roads almost to himself, to enjoy them on his own pace. And that’s invaluable in a country that during the high season is visited by 15 million people!
Imagine that during the off-season you can visit any archeological site or museum and get in without the queues that 15 million people generate – it saves so much time! And then combine that with the fact that although it might be sunny you can stay and wander around in your favorite archeological site for as long as you want, instead of being exhausted – by the 45 degrees Celsius of a typical August day – in less than 30 minutes. Oh, make it 15 minutes if you come from the frozen North…
Greek “winter” allows you to walk around in every big city enjoying the real cafés, the bars, and of course the famous Greek nightlife that is still on and simply moves from the beach places to the downtown ones. Or just go shopping in any big town center, as in the off season there are periods of extended sales, while everything you can shop in New York, Paris or Milan is available.
The money you have saved on “winter-priced” tickets and accomodation would be the perfect shopping alibi, rivaled only by the low prices due to the economic crisis. Or, if you don’t like shopping, you could spent them on little trips around Athens: to Delphi, Nafplio, Kalavrita, Meteora… each one a destination with a unique and surprisingly different aspect of the country, and instead of swimming enjoy trekking, mountain-climbing, white-water rafting, kayaking, horseback-riding, or biking through the very mountains and gorges whose breathtaking beauty gave birth to Greek mythology.