A trip to Greece in the coming weeks may feel like an intrusion -- a sojourn into a land of private grief and public fury.
Sitting on the beach in Corfu or sipping wine at a tavern in Athens as the Greeks play out their very public crisis is likely to make any foreign visitor feel a bit guilty, a bit helpless and, perhaps, unwelcome.
That's not what the Greeks want, of course. It's not what they want at all.
Tourism has long sustained Greece, and despite -- or perhaps because of -- its problems, the nation had an astounding year in 2011. A record 16.5 million tourists visited last year, and revenues rose by 10 percent to 10.5 billion euros. Industry officials attributed the success to political turmoil in rival destinations like Tunisia and Egypt, but it's likely that dramatically lower fares were a major factor.
This year, however, things aren't so sunny. Tourist receipts for the first quarter tumbled by 15.1 percent, the Bank of Greece said, while Greek airport arrivals fell 5.1 percent in the first five months of the year. Meanwhile, online hotel prices in Greece show an 8 percent decline this month compared to June 2011, according to Trivago.gr, with rates in Athens down by 22 percent over last year. Overall hotel rates in Greece now average just 100 euros for a twin room, considerably lower than most other European nations.
While this is bad news for Greece, it's good news for anyone looking to travel to the country.
The prices have gone down everywhere, said Emmanuel Christodoulakis of the Greek National Tourism Organization. You can find so many specials on the hotels and restaurants. There is much more affordable tourism in Greece right now.
Travel agents in the UK and Germany -- which together represent a large percentage of Greece's visitors -- have offered steep discounts to help kick-start slumping demand as the economic crisis hits travel spending across Europe. London-based Olympic Holidays, for example, reduced its rates by up to 25 percent for peak season travel in an attempt to get Brits out on the Greek Isles.
With prices at all-time lows, here's a look at some of the best beaches in Greece where you can help out the Greek economy and get a bargain at the same time:
Best Beach for Luxury: Costa Navarino
Voidokilia Beach (wikimedia commons)
Sure, Greece's economy is in the pits, but that's all the more reason you should get your gluteus maximus to this sun-soaked Mediterranean mecca. Messenia, the westernmost finger of the Peloponnese peninsula, has long been overlooked by travelers who traditionally prefer the Greek islands. One spot hopes to change that. Costa Novarino is a quickly emerging destination that boasts world-class resorts amid lush olive groves with views of the storied waters of the Ionian Sea. With two signature golf courses, revitalizing spas, and 90 percent of the land reserved for natural and cultivated greenery, there is no place better to soak up the sun and splendors of Greece.
Best Beach Escape To Escape From Athens: Vouliagmeni Beach
Vouliagmeni Beach (creative commons/Ed.Ward)
Just 12 miles south of the capital is the Athenian Riviera's best beach: Vouliagmeni. The place to see and be seen for Athens' urbanites, this beach, run by EOT, Greece's National Tourist Organization, offers changing cabins, self-service restaurants, loungers, tennis courts, volleyball pitches, playgrounds and canoes -- pretty much anything you might need to enjoy a day at the beach. Though there's a considerable fee to get on the sand, and it can get packed on the weekends, once you're outside of Athens, you're unlikely to complain.
Best Beach for Romance: Arillas Beach, Corfu
Arillas Beach, Corfu (creative commons/Jennifurr-Jinx)
Arillas beach has a certain quietude that's hard to find in many of the other beaches on this list. Quaint, local-run taverns and low-key resorts give this hamlet a small-town charm, free from the commercialization found elsewhere on the island. Located in the far northwest corner of Corfu, the 2-kilometer-long beach is ideal for an afternoon stroll as the sun plots its slow dive into the Ionian Sea. Indeed, many visitors flock to Arillas each evening just to catch the magical sunset. Encased in rolling green hills on one side and crystal waters on the other, Arillas exudes a calmness that many find irresistible.
Best Beach for Nightlife: Paradise Beach, Mykonos
Paradise Beach, Mykonos (creative commons/Aaron_S)
Mykonos has a way of fluidly combining Greece's jaw-dropping beauty with nonstop partying -- and the noise reaches its apex at Paradise Beach, where the night is just as important as the day. Tourists young and old gather in mass each evening to let loose and sober up the next morning on the golden sand to the buzz of jet skis. For as much action as there is above the sea, Paradise Beach also boasts a lively crowd below the surface that often gets overlooked.
Best Beach For Adventure: Red Beach, Santorini
Red Beach, Santorini (creative commons/Klearchos Kapoutsis)
Envision sitting on brick red sand that's locked against azure Aegean waters by an imposing red-rock cliff. If it's unusual you're after, Red Beach on Santorini is, perhaps, the most intriguing beach in Greece. Other beaches on the island are similarly enticing with their black or white sand, but Red Beach gets extra points for flair. A word of caution: the sand itself is quite painful to sit on. Rest in one of the ample loungers, however, and you'll be just fine.
Best Beach For Relaxing: Elafonisi Beach, Crete
Elafonisi Beach, Crete (creative commons/sez9)
The colors of Elafonisi are the same you might find in your baby's room: pearl white, milky blue, and power pink. Indeed, this small islet, connected to the rest of Crete by a shallow reef that's crossable when the sea is calm, is like a landscape painted with cotton candy. When pink sand squishes between your toes and baby blue water laps over your shins, it's hard not to go gaga over this untouched haven.