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National Geographic publishes in 20 languages around the world. Who better to point you to the best places to see in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five must–see destinations.

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In October 1998, when Greece launched its edition of National Geographic—called National Geographic Ellada—no one expected such tremendous success. “We printed about 140,000 copies of the first issue,” says editor Maria Atmatzidou, “and we completely sold out.”

Perhaps that success is the result of a focused effort at the onset to attract Greek readers by balancing local material with articles from the English-language edition. “We avoid publishing articles that don’t interest our readers and concentrate on those that draw their attention by producing short supplemental articles with a Greek flavor,” says the former research editor.

In the last year and a half, Atmatzidou and her staff of seven have introduced two new sections with a local flair. Evrygonios presents scientific and historic subjects. Another segment, Patridognosia, is similar to the ZipUSA feature in the English-language edition. “Every month we promote a different place in Greece,” says the editor, “but not as a travel destination. We show what life is like for the people and how they relate to their own place.

“As part of a united Europe, Greeks are looking beyond their own borders to define their position on an international scale, a challenge made more pressing as they prepare to welcome the return home of the Olympic Games in 2004,” says Atmatzidou.

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If you can’t make it to the Olympic Games, the editor invites you to experience her five favorite destinations in “a country full of colors, brightness, beauty, and joy.”

1. Hania
If I ever left Athens to live somewhere else in Greece, it would be here. Hania is on the island of Crete in southern Greece and is one of the most beautiful towns in the country. The influences of Roman, Turkish, Venetian, and Arab invaders are present in the architecture of such striking buildings as Turkish mosques. The old port is the most romantic part of the city. Here in 1913 the Greek flag was raised to mark unification with Greece, and until 1971 Hania remained the capital of the island. Visitors can enjoy a relaxed stroll in the old town and along the pier, which is lined with outdoor cafés, bars, and nightclubs. Beautiful restaurants occupy the ruins of 15th-century buildings. From Syntrivani, the main square of the old harbor, you can take in a view of the magnificent lighthouse at the entrance to the port. Hania is so captivating that it’s difficult to leave it to visit other places. And the very hospitable residents of the island, who become friends for life, make it even harder.

2. Monemvasia
This town, settled in the 6th century A.D., sits at the top of a 1,000-foot (300-meter) rocky island off the southeast side of Peloponnesus. A second settlement was built on a lower level, the only part of the town that is inhabited today. In the Middle Ages, Monemvasia’s fortified castle was once the heart of a great center of commerce and shipping, even as control switched back and forth between Venice and Turkey. Walking its Byzantine streets is like going back in time. Cars are forbidden and must be left at the entrance bridge. Visitors can get away from noise and traffic to enjoy the quiet isolation that the castle evokes, study the architecture of Monemvasia’s restored buildings, and savor an evening of dining under the stars.

3. Island of Thira (Santorini)
Once you visit this island, part of the Kiklades complex in the Aegean Sea, you will never forget it. Many believe it is the lost island of Atlantis. Rock-hewn houses, the traditional architectural style of Santorini, dot the island. Visitors can take in a wonderful view of Santorini volcano’s caldera from Fira, the capital located at the top of the rocky island. Excavations at Akrotiri on the southern tip of the island have resurrected a Minoan civilization that was destroyed by a cataclysmic eruption of the volcano in the 15th century B.C. The village of Oia, several miles north of Fira, offers the most beautiful sunsets on the island. The best times to avoid the summer crowds are in May, early June, September, and October.

4. Plaka
If you need to get away from the noise and crowds of Athens, escape to Plaka at the foot of the Acropolis ruins in the old heart of the city. Neoclassical houses and gardens adorn narrow stone streets. Dine on a delicious meal of mousaka—a traditional casserole of potatoes, eggplant, meat, and cheese—at one of the small restaurants or outdoor cafés surrounding the central square. A walk down Kydathinaion Street will take you to a number of small souvenir and jewelry shops. And what you don’t find there, you can find at the local flea market. The ruins of the Roman Agora, an ancient marketplace, stand in this oasis in the heart of Athens.

5. The Villages of Mount Pilion
The ancient gods chose this place on the eastern side of the mainland for weddings and festive celebrations. From the city of Volos, tourists can drive northeast to Mount Pilion, where small villages such as Milies, Tsagkarada, and Vizitsa look as if they are climbing up the mountain. The stone stairways, decorated walls, and narrow windows of the houses reflect traditional architecture. And the Byzantine churches display exceptional wall paintings. Welcoming white-sand beaches stretch beyond the village of Pagasitikos at the base of the mountain on the Aegean Sea. The temperate climate makes this a beautiful place to visit all year.

Photographs by Stacy D. Gold (left), Jon Hicks, CORBIS (center), and Dave Bartruff, CORBIS.

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