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The Light of Greece

What is the famous "Greek light" and how can you be sure to see it?

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Marble column with bull head

Marble column with an adorned bull head.

Dear Guide, I'm traveling to Greece in the fall. Will I still be able to see the famous "Light of Greece"?

Falling behind modern attractions such as nude beaches, hot party islands, and other temptations, it's easy to forget that one of the "tourist attractions" of Greece over the past few centuries was simply its amazing light.

In reality, every area has its own quality of light. We get used to it, so it doesn't seem particularly special. In Italy, the light is mellow and golden. In California, there is sometimes a lemony sunset and a Greek-like brilliance that is said to have inspired the plein air school of painting.

But in the past, when a traveler from gloomy Northern Europe struck Greece, the vibrant sunlight hit with an almost physical force. It probably is a physical force: our brains are much more sensitive to light than we realize, and scientists have discovered that even the backs of our knees inexplicably have a primitive form of light sensor.

While some travelers marvel at Greek light throughout the islands and mainland, for me, it's at its most remarkable in the Cycladic Islands. The island of Delos, sacred as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo (who is, after all, the God of Light) is where the experience of Greek Light is strongest. There the Greek Light doesn't reflect off of whitewashed buildings but off of the vast sunbleached marble remains of this remarkable island city. These ancient Greek streets were filled with temples and trading confederacies. For a time, Delos was the financial and spiritual heart of the Aegean. Here, the light doesn't seem to fall onto the top of Mount Kynthos, the highest point of the island, but seems to emanate from it.

What makes Greek light in general seem so special? The combination of small masses of land dotted against the Aegean Sea, high island vantage points and steep cliffs which lets the observer perceive the light falling from the sun while more light simultaneously reflects back up off the sea, the neutral browness of the landscape, especially in summer, and the sparkling white of the simple Cycladic houses. It's magic, and it's not to be found in any guide book or monitor screen: it must be seen to be believed.

While "Greek Light" shines on all over Greece every day of the year, it's at its undeniable peak during summer. Fall mutes it slightly but any clear day will give you at least a taste of this special gift to travelers to Greece.

Delos is easily reached by boat from Mykonos, its much more worldly sister island. Boats leave from the Venetia port area daily except Mondays, when the island is closed to visitors. It is also a popular stop on Greek yachting vacations.

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