Greek winery tour: Going over

In early July, a group of seven Montreal wine and food geeks, including me, travelled to Greece to visit six wineries in as many regions in seven days. The trip was arranged and paid for by the wineries concerned with assistance from the European Union and the Greek government; I offer all of them – especially the wineries – my warmest thanks. In the days and weeks to come, I’ll be posting reports on the estates visited and many wines tasted on Brett happens and on everything else here. As the hotels and restaurants, some of them far off the tourist track, were chosen by the winemaker in each region, they can be considered recommendations from locals in the know.

What to take
In the summer, the generally hot, dry weather and casual dress code in all but the fanciest establishments mean you don’t need to pack much. Comfortable walking shoes, sandals and some flip-flops for the beach are the only footwear required. You’ll also want a couple of pairs of shorts and a selection of t-shirts, preferably light coloured. Pants of some sort are a good idea if you’ll be spending time in the cool mountains. A sweater or hoodie is also welcome in the mountains or even on the islands on some of the windier evenings. Men might want to make the pants chinos or slacks and to pack a short-sleeved buttoned shirt if they plan to dine at tony restaurants. Women might consider packing a summer-weight dress or skirt for the same purpose. Sunglasses and a hat are virtually essential, as are a swimsuit and a quick-drying towel if you plan to spend time on a beach.

Buying a couple hundred euros before heading over will let you hit the ground running. If you run out of cash while there, ATMs that accept foreign credit and debit cards are found in many cities, towns and tourist spots; the exchange rate is good, the service charges are reasonable and the withdrawal limits imposed on Greeks in the wake of the euro crisis don’t apply to foreigners.

I don’t carry a mobile phone but everyone else in the group did and had no problems texting, instagraming and calling with theirs.

Flying there
Our non-stop flights between Montreal and Athens were on Air Transat. It’s nine hours going over and an hour longer coming back. Heading east, we were on an Airbus 323-300 with 2-4-2 abreast seating in economy class. Having long legs and hoping to catch some shuteye, I paid for an extra legroom seat – specifically 4H, an aisle seat next to the window seat in the first row behind the club class section. Unlike the four seats in the middle of the row, which faced a bulkhead wall, a half-length privacy curtain was all that separated the side seats from the club class seats in front of them. This meant I had enough room to stash my backsack under the club class seat and still stretch out. A strut under that seat did interfere with lateral movement, a minor impediment that didn’t apply to the window seat (4K), which had more forward legroom than most first class seats do and which, along with 4A on the opposite side of the aircraft, must be the top pick for those not travelling club. Other advantages of sitting in this row were the relatively little aisle traffic and being first in line for food and drink service.

Air Transit recently upgraded the interiors of their aircraft and the new economy class seats are comfortable enough. Seatback screens with USB and earphone ports are provided. The entertainment system is serviceable, though you won’t find any art films among the choices. The food – a selection of sandwiches – was forgettable and hard to unwrap (even the flight attendants complained about the wrapping).

Athens airport
Athens International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos” is a clean and modern facility constructed for the Olympics. It’s less of a shopping mall/food court than many North American airports and prices, even after you’ve gone through security screening, are reasonable (unlike at YUL, where 500 ml of Evian costs $5 and a pint of draft beer runs $13). Getting around is straightforward though necessitating quite a bit of walking, and there are some bottlenecks, most notably at passport control. Still, we were loading our suitcases onto our van within an hour of landing.

The airport is located east of Athens, and a high, steep hill, long ago stripped of its covering pine forest, separates it from the city. Though we didn’t use it, there is a subway station at the airport with a direct if pricey (€12) connection to downtown.