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LAAID-BACK GREECE; Drifting around in a motorboat or enjoying a beach to yourself.. you won't want to leave this idyllic coast.

Byline: WILL PAYNE

As my girlfriend and I drove down the long, winding road to the seaside town Sivota we didn't know what to expect.

We needn't have worried, though... it is utterly idyllic, set in a pretty cove on the coast of mainland Greece with beaches stretching for miles.

The main town is centred round an attractive harbour with shops and at least a dozen restaurants serving traditional Greek and Italian food.

While sitting outside on the seafront enjoying a beer you can gaze across to Corfu, about 20 miles off the coast.

Elaine and I stayed in the selfcontained Magnolia Apartments about 10 minutes' walk from town and five minutes from the nearest beach, which had a little taverna serving cheap but great food.

The apartment was one of four in a small block set in beautiful gardens. Ours had a large bedroom with its own balcony, a bathroom, a kitchen and a lounge area with a large veranda off it.

FRIENDLY

The friendly Greek couple who own the property were there to greet us. They lived on site and were happy to help with any queries or problems we had.

On our second day, after meeting our rep to find out about the excursions available, we spent the day on the town's small pebble beach and swimming in the Med.

In the evening we ate at Tavern Stavros on the harbour. It was reasonably priced at around PS8 per main course.

The next day we were up early for our first excursion, a sailing trip over to the snorkelling sites around the islands Paxos and Anti Paxos. The trip cost PS85for two people.

After about an hour at sea on our small yacht we neared beautiful Paxos. We sailed up the coast, passing two small villages, before mooring up at the breathtaking harbour town of Gaios.

Wandering round the winding cobbled streets of Gaios was like stepping back in time.

We had lunch at Biros taverna on the harbour, where a main course costs around PS8, before jumping back on the boat. Half an hour later we glimpsed how the considerably richer other half live as we passed Donatella Versace's impressive cliff-top mansion.

While we didn't have a multi-million pound palace to live in, we felt pretty spoilt surrounded by the deep turquoise seas of Anti-Paxos.

We pulled into a small bay and couldn't wait to jump in to snorkel with the brightly-coloured fish and explore the caves around the shore-line.

After 45 minutes in the water we got back on the boat and started our journey back to Sivota, beer in hand, before ending our day with fresh fish and a few glasses of wine at Ionion Taverna for around PS30.

The following day was my favourite of the holiday. We hired a small motor boat for PS40 and spent six hours pottering around, exploring the area's islands and beaches. The boat was easy to handle so despite my lack of sailing experience it was the most relaxing experience, going at our own pace surrounded by beautiful scenery, stopping where and when we wanted.

If we saw a beach we liked we'd simply drop anchor and swim ashore. For an hour or two we had our own private stretch of sand with no one else in sight. W to a tiny little b and sat down to set we made harbour and b boat. Up until traditional, if i When we got hungry we motored up beach-front restaurant, moored up for a quick meal. As the sun started e the short journey back to the begrudgingly gave back our little that point we had enjoyed a pretty incredibly pleasurable, beach holiday.

But the next why visiting th more than a tr t morning we set off by car to see he Greek mainland can offer even rip to one of the islands.

After four hours driving through delightful countryside we arrived at one of the most aweinspiring places we have ever visited. Meteora is a town surrounded by sheer, sandstone cliffs, jutting hundreds of feet into the air. Perched on top of the cliffs - in what look like impossible positions - are six fully-functioning monasteries. For a couple of euros a time you can go into the holy sites and admire incredible views.

We spent a few hours touring the monasteries, each more incredible than the last, then set off to the ski resort of Metsovo. Until I arrived in this small town I had no idea you could ski in Greece. And while there wasn't any snow when we were there, the pretty high street and pine buildings looked just as beautiful as anywhere in Austria, France or Italy. We had lunch and a hot chocolate at Hotel Galaxy looking out over the slopes then drove to our final destination of the day. We made our way back out of the mountain range before working our way north and back up into a different set of mountains towards the tiny little village of Mikro Papingo.

By the time we reached the village it was dark and, in hindsight, we had probably taken on too much driving - but it felt worth it when we saw the incredible beauty around us.

All the buildings were built out of local stone and it looked as though it had remained completely unchanged for centuries.

We had booked a room at Dias Guest House, a friendly little pension for PS43 a night, through our Sunvil rep.

After settling into our cosy bedroom we went down to the bar for a kebab and a few glasses of red wine for around PS21.

We sat outside chatting to a couple of other guests until the heavens opened and we witnessed the most incredible thunderstorm. Forks of lightning lit up the mountains surrounding us on all sides. That didn't stop us enjoying a few more drinks - we just moved on to the porch and sat out watching the storm.

The next morning we woke with heavy heads and started the drive down from the mountains, back to the coast.

We spent the next couple of days relaxing around the town and while the weather wasn't as good as it had been, there was still enough to keep as entertained. Typically, the beautiful sunshine returned the morning we flew home, but nothing could spoil our memories of an amazing trip.

I've been on several island holidays in Greece and have loved every one. But I preferred Sivota because we had the best of both worlds.

We enjoyed spectacular beaches then went up into the mountains to enjoy some of the most rugged and impressive scenery I have ever witnessed.

Forget those islands... next time I go to Greece, I'll be sticking to the mainland again.

TRAVEL FILE

WHEN TO GO

In summer, from June to September, it's dry and hot. There is some rain in the spring and autumn months, but it is still mild most of the time.

DO TRY

Hire a little motor boat to explore the tiny islands dotted around the coast. You can uncover a beach where there's not a soul around or just drop anchor and sunbathe while floating out at sea.

GETTING AROUND

A hire car is the best way to see the area. There are also a number of organised trips, or catch the bus.

BOOK IT

Sunvil Holidays offers seven nights selfcatering at the Magnolia Apartments from PS612pp based on two sharing a onebedroom apartment, including return flights from Gatwick (there is a PS39 supplement for Manchester departures) and transfers. Book before February 28 and save up to PS125 (per apartment) for travel before July 14 and after August 25, excluding departures on May 26. www.sunvil.co.uk or 020 8758 4758.

Get inspired at mirror.co.uk/travel Get inspired at mirror.co.uk/travel

CAPTION(S):

Will stayed at Magnolia Apartments

Monasteries perched hund feet up on Me sandstone cli are dreds of eteora's ffs

The pretty harbour town of Sivota

Hire a motor boat like Will and Elaine (right) and you can have a beach all to yourself

Picture: ALAMY
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Feb 17, 2013
Words:1357
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