What a wonderful season to visit Greece – in early spring, just as the land wakes up from its winter sleep. The landscape is lush and vibrant with fresh green, and the trees in fragrant blossom, also in the city streets.
Clean Monday is the day that Greeks start to think that Spring is finally here, or very soon to come. This simple holiday is exactly what it sounds like – a day of simplicity and spiritual cleansing. The holiday signals the end of carnival and all its glorious excess of grilled meats and cheeses and plenty of wine.
Gastronomy – Clean Monday Table and the Orthodox Lenten Diet
Of course, there is still wine, but perhaps a little less than during carnival. In the place of meat, there are seafoods – not fish, as fish have blood. There are shellfish, shrimp, mussels and other bivalves, calamari and octopus, and so forth. Also, always, taramosalata – a zingy and tasty spread of tarama (fish roe), bread, and oil, whipped to a creamy white fluff – sort of like a rustic brandade. Olives are also on the table, and a special bread called ‘lagana’ – a fluffy, flat round of bread covered with sesame seeds. For dessert – always – there is lots of sesame halva.
In keeping with the fresh spirit of the holiday, families spend time outdoors and it is the custom to fly kites on Clean Monday. In fact, in the days preceding the holiday, the streets are filled with kite sellers.
Throughout lent – the 40 days which precede Easter Sunday, devout Orthodox people fast – no meat, no eggs, no dairy products. It is a period of general abstinence. There will be lots of tahini – a spread of pureed sesame seeds, and halvah.
Olives, seafoods, and taramasalata will also be making a frequent appearance, along with beans and salads. Lenten food is delicious and even those who are not fasting for religious reasons enjoy this seasonal eating as a cultural ritual.
A Spring Awakening
The Ancient World is never far from modern life in Greece, with Christian customs embracing elements of Ancient Greek life. Carnival is a perfect example – tied to the Christian calendar and the predecessor to Lent, it has its roots actually in a Dionysian festival.
Dionysian rites concerned the cycle of death and rebirth, central to the somber period of Christian Lent, culminating in the sorrow of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, followed by the joy of Christ’s resurrection on Easter.
Nature is the perfect stage for this yearly contemplation of rebirth, as the landscape once again comes alive with vivid color.
Some Wonderful Destinations to Enjoy Greece in Early Spring
This is a really good time of year to enjoy the cities of Greece both large and small – it is not too hot yet to enjoy exploring a city on foot, and the streets are filled with the scent of the bitter orange trees in bloom. Here are some of our favorite options:
If you come early enough for Carnival, you will be in for a treat. Patra’s Carnival festivities, including a great parade with floats and people in fabulous costumes, are famous all over Greece.
If you stay late enough for Easter, then you can enjoy it at Greece’s largest church – Agia Andrea. Charming Patra, an important harbor city, also has a medieval fortress, 192 steps will bring you there, offering you the opportunity to pause and admire the stunning views on your way. Patra is in the heart of fine destinations for day trips, such as historic Missolonghi, reached via the stunning Rio-Antirio bridge, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges, crossing the Corinth canal in style.
This is also the gateway to the sites and beauties of the Peloponnese, such as the world renowned archaeological site of Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games.
Athens in springtime is spectacular. The air around the temple of Zeus is filled with the sweet scent of fresh chamomile blossoms, and in fact everything is in bloom. Most of the other visitors haven’t arrived yet, so you can visit the Parthenon without crowds, and follow that with some splendid museum time at the Acropolis Museum or the National Gallery. For the intrepid, an early season swim at the beaches of the Athens Riviera is by no means out of the question.
And the capital now has many exciting fine dining options, with several Michelin starred options. Sensational boutique accommodations round out the perfect escape of culture and pleasure.
A low-key urban destination and the prime choice of vacationing Greeks, this enchanting Venetian port city is marvelous in spring, with tiny stone alleys swathed in bougainvillea and jasmine. Enjoy the central garden and a coffee at the historic Cafe “Kipos” – on the register of the historic cafes of Europe.
Then one can perhaps stop at the central market, built in the shape of a cross, and see the fishmonger’s wares, picking up some olives and cheeses for snacking on a stroll through the little alleys of the old town, the historic buildings awash in sienna and deep pinks, behind the port. At sunset, the Egyptian lighthouse that overlooks the port is a dramatic destination and perfect for viewing this historic harbor front from across the water.
For exquisite fresh seafood, there are always the family tavernas directly over the water in Nea Chora to the west of the central harbor. World famous beaches and the epic Samaria Gorge are a short drive away.
Have you ever been to Greece for an early Spring get-away?