Category Archives: Travel

Gap Year Gaps: Island Hopping in Greece

A year can be a long time – just because you’re working or volunteering abroad doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to a vacation. In a new feature, Gap Year Gaps will explore the best ways to break up your gap year with some extracurricular travel.

Gap years are all about cramming in as many once-in-a-lifetime experiences as you can into a twelve-month period. So whether you’re working in an orphanage in Romania or learning Italian in Milan, you’ve still plenty of time to get out there and explore the wider world. To that end, we’re taking a look at exploring the vast archipelago that constitutes the Greek islands this week.

Whether package holidays are your thing, or you prefer just to hop on a plane and fend for yourself once you reach your destination, the Greek islands cater to travellers of all tastes. While certain islands have gained an undeserved reputation for partying and excess in recent years, the Greek islands as a whole have way more to offer than just cheap booze and musty clubs. Here are a couple of reputation-defying vacation ideas:

Rhodes

History buffs looking at holidays to Greek islands inevitably hit upon Rhodes as a destination, given its wealth of ancient ruins and artefact-laden museums. The fabled Colossus of Rhodes might be long gone (though talk persists of it being rebuilt), but there are plenty of incredible historical sites to visit – such as the acropolis of Lindos, an ancient coastal citadel dating from 300 BC that changed hands between the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottoman Empire. Beyond the World Heritage delights of Rhodes City, intrepid hikers will find that the island is filled with unspoilt terrain, with rugged ravines and hidden beaches that demand exploration.

Santorini

The volcanic island of Santorini is about as far away as you can get from the clubs and general hubbub of cities like Faliraki and Malia. The island’s several villages are all built around the caldera of a volcano, yielding incredible views, while the rest of the island is relatively untouched, so you don’t have to travel far to find spots of unspoilt Mediterranean beauty – such as the island’s black, white and red beaches. If you’re interested in avoiding the tourists, avoid the villages of Fira and Ia during the summer, as cruise liners dock here daily and offload their cargo. However, once the sun sets (or peak season ends) and the tourists depart, Fira and Io remain charming hillside towns with excellent local food and a laid-back attitude.

Crete Package HolidaysThe largest of the Greek islands, Crete is easily the most diverse, both in terms of landscape and in terms of attractions. Outside of the big cities, Crete is a walker’s paradise, with highlights such as Samaria Gorge (Europe’s largest), the ruins of ancient Knossos, and Europe’s only palm tree forest on the east coast of the island. Given the island’s popularity, coupled in with substantial transport infrastructure for an island of its size, last-minute cheap Crete holidays are fairly easy to find all year round. Though be warned: Crete is host to around 25 per cent of Greece’s entire tourist trade, so avoid the north coast of the island and its monolithic hotels and cocktail hours if you prefer the pastoral and historical.

Uncharted: Japan’s Hinterland and Snow Monkeys

Uncharted: a new series dedicated to exploring the hidden gems of the globe. We’ll help you find secret destinations that elude the majority of travellers. Today’s entry takes us to the remote countryside of Japan to meet an amazing relative.

Japan is becoming a very popular destination for people on gap years. Thanks to the boom in cheap Asia flights, huge numbers of plucky travellers come here to work on volunteer projects or to learn Japanese. If you have a week off from your course or project, you should definitely consider heading into Japan’s hinterland. With a wide variety of climates and geographical features you’ll discover some amazing uncharted locations, fantastic views and, if you look in the rights place, the amazing Snow Monkeys of Japan.

Into The Mist

Japan AirfaresJapan is a huge country with a wide range of climates and rugged geographical features. Indeed, over 70% of Japan’s area is unsuitable for agriculture or inhabitation. This has resulted in densely populated cities, and a sparsely populated countryside. If you take the train from the cities and into the hinterland you will discover an amazing world of dramatic scenery and panoramic views. Mountains, mist, tiny towns and encounters with friendly locals will be your reward if you choose to explore these remote destinations. One particular area to check out is the Central Highlands, which is home to the Japanese Alps; hiking up some of these stunning mountains will literally take your breath away.

If you do head into a remote area make sure you have a guidebook, a camera, some good hiking boots and a bit of the local language – great hikes and conversations in broken Japanese await you if you leave the cities and choose to wander into the countryside.

A Warm Bath On A Cold Day

Japanaese MonkeysCheap airfares have made getting to Asia relatively easy. However, you wouldn’t want to come all this way without seeing some spectacular wildlife, and if you head into the Japanese countryside you’ll have the chance to see something very special. Japanese Macaques are the northernmost living primates (apart from humans of course) and must survive winters which get as cold as -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit). Not only are they hardy, these animals are incredibly clever. So smart that they found a solution for their frosty habitat: a nice warm bath. In Snow Monkey Park, which is located in the Nagano prefecture, you’ll be able to see them as they bathe in thermal spas. By huddling in these locations the monkeys can survive the cold hard winters; it’s not all torment though as you’ll see the monkeys splashing and playing in the warm waters. Snowball fights have yet to break out amongst the primates though, if we understand Darwin correctly, it’s only a matter of time.

Such an amazing site would normally be tracked out by thousands of visitors per day. However, the thermal pools can only be accessed by a two kilometre path. This trail in combination with the park’s remote destination, mean you’re likely to be one of only a few visitors to the site.

Unchartered Japan

So if you are in Japan on a volunteer project, a course or just there to sightsee, be sure to get out to some of its more remote areas. There are literally thousands of tiny unheard of destinations which will prove to be rewarding for their views, people and food. Make sure you don’t miss out on the Snow Monkeys, and be sure to let us know if you see them throwing snowballs.