Our last, but not least, of the Greek islands that we visited during our Greek Adventure was Paros. Paros was a family friendly island that, like Naxos, did not have the cruise ships stopping here. It seemed more stylish and hip than Naxos and it was quite charming. It exceeded our expectations and if I had to do this trip again, I would spend 4 nights on Paros…2 nights was not enough to explore!
We stayed at the Saint Andrea Seaside Resort on Naoussa Bay and it really was very lovely! We stayed in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom superior suite. The decor was modern and fresh and the grounds were beautifully landscaped. The pool area was stunning! The breakfast selection was great and we ate a lovely dinner at the hotel on one of our nights there. The service was wonderful.
During our time on Paros, we didn’t get a chance to do a lot but we loved what we did see! We took the hotel shuttle into town and explored the Venetian Fortress and enjoyed watching the fish jumping in the crystal clear water.
The town was lovely and the harbor was picturesque.
There was a man washing the octopus against the rocks. I’ve never seen this before.
And there was a man violently beating the crap out of the octopus…repeatedly swinging it over his head and onto the pavement…I was completely fascinated! ( I wish I had a video)
And then we saw them drying out in the hot Greek sun.
I guess this whole process is why those octopus taste so darn delicious!
Our third stop in the Cyclades was Santorini. This island was the one that I was the most excited about and have heard the most about. It didn’t disappoint and it totally lived up to all the hype! It was unique and special. My pictures do not do it justice!
We arrived by ferry and when the alarm sounded just before the big door started to come down, everyone cheered. Even though it was hot and crowded while we waited to exit, people were so excited to be on Santorini and it made our arrival special!
If you also arrive by ferry, you will dock at the port of Athinios. However, cruise ships arrive in the old port, Skala Pier, and there aren’t cars from that port. If you are a cruise ship day tripper, your choices to get up to Fira, from the bottom of the cliffs are:
via donkey (but this seems cruel)
steps (I hope you are in shape and good at avoiding donkey poop!)
or by cable car (seems the most sensible)
Since we arrived at Athinios, we got in our air conditioned van with our driver and started heading up! If you are prone to motion sickness, you might not be a fan of the drive!
For the next 6 days, we would be staying at Celestia Grand Executive Villas just outside of Fira. It was amazing…and as I’m posting this, I see that the villas are undergoing a renovation so, wow, they will be even more amazing! This was our villa and the view!
We stayed in the Artemis Villa. We had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms plus a living room, upper balcony and mini kitchen. This was our private pool and the view was killer. We got to have a fabulous breakfast each morning delivered right to the patio. It was heaven!
We chose the Celestia Grand in part for it’s location just outside of Fira and in part for the fabulous reviews which were all spot on. When we wanted to go into Fira, we just hopped on a shuttle and got there in a few minutes. It was easy. We did walk to town one morning and we also walked back one afternoon but the walk was kind of hot and not too pleasant. We really wanted to experience a week on Santorini but we wanted some peace and a break from the crowds of Fira and Oia. This small hotel was the perfect solution!
The best part about staying here was our awesome host, Niko! He took care of everything for us. He ordered our breakfast each day, (which was delicious!). He booked a cruise around the island, he made dinner reservations for us and he arranged a rental car for a day. He gave us tips on activities and suggested a wonderful beach resort to spend a few glorious hours at. There is so much to do on the island. We didn’t have to arrange anything! He checked on us every day. We felt like he really cared about us and the property. I seriously almost cried when we left this amazing place!
Another thing we did to pass our time on Santorini was go for a hike. We hiked from Fira to Oia. I’m not sure I would do this again and if I did, I would leave earlier in the morning so it was a little cooler. I was very, very hot! However, it was a beautiful hike with incredible views. It took us about 5 hours to get to Oia. In Oia, we walked around, had lunch and shopped. We took a shuttle back to the hotel. (we didn’t walk back because we aren’t completely cazy!)
Oia- We didn’t spend a lot of time here but we did hit Atlantis Books, do a little shopping and we ate a very nice lunch at the rooftop restaurant Meltini.
If you are headed to any of the islands, you should check out Santorini Dave. Look at his website, Facebook page or sign up for his newsletter. His advice on our Fira to Oia hike was perfect. As were his great tips on restaurants (Lucky’s Souvlakis was one of his restaurant recommendations. It was so good and I’m craving the fries in the pita right now!) Dave really has the most comprehensive and extremely detailed site about the Greek Islands!
One thing that was on our “must do” list while in Santorini was to visit the ancient Minoan site of Akrotiri. This settlement was destroyed in 1627 BC by a volcanic eruption. The covered archaeological site was well preserved, well organized, well marked and really fascinating. It’s been an active site of excavation since 1967. We were very happy we went there.
and then, of course, there are the sunsets…
Yes! You should go to Santorini. It really is amazing. Next up-Paros…
We stopped at Naxos next. This was our second island that we visited in the Cyclades. (well, actually third if you count our day trip to Delos). Naxos is the largest island and the greenest in the Cyclades island chain.
We booked 4 nights at the Nissaki Beach Hotel in Naxos Town. This turned out to be a great hotel for families. We had a 2 bedroom, 1 bath family suite overlooking the pool and the sea. It was right on the beach and a 5 minute walk to the center of town. There was a little market about 2 minutes away so we bought a few things to keep in our room fridge (wine, water, olives and cheese) and enjoyed we some happy hours on our patio.
We loved the hotel breakfast each morning and the yummy baked goods that waited for us each day in our room-a nice touch. I also have to give the bar and kitchen staff serious kudos for making our daughter soup from scratch when she was sick. That was very sweet.
We had a mix up with our transportation when we arrived in Naxos. We ended up walking to the hotel. Turns out to be no big deal because it was an easy 10 minute stroll!
We enjoyed Naxos Town. The people were so friendly (the guy at the mini market gave my husband some of his homemade hooch!). The food was fresh and delicious (still thinking about the honey, yogurt and Naxos potatoes!) The sights were interesting and the town was easy to navigate. We had lovely walks through The Old Market, to the Venetian Castle and the Temple of Apollo.
It was very low-key. We walked everywhere and always felt safe. The beach was not the best beach that we have ever been to but the girls loved splashing in the water and running on the beach so everyone was happy!
We arrived on our very first Greek Island! How exciting. Mykonos is the most popular Greek Island in the Aegean. It’s understandable because it really is stunning!
I’ll admit that I was very worried that Mykonos would be full of partying 20 somethings or swarming with cruise ship passengers. So, we only booked 2 nights on the island. But, apparently, this is not something you need to worry about in early June! It was pretty quiet. (But, it is something to take into consideration during the peak of summer tourism in July and August.)
We enjoyed strolling around Chora, or Mykonos Town. The contrast of the blue sea against the white buildings was spectacular. We loved the windmills, the breezes and strolling past the white washed houses and through the narrow lanes. Simply beautiful!
We stayed at the Mykonos Princess Hotel in a 2 bedroom suite with a big balcony. Everything about this hotel was amazing. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The food was outstanding and the rooms had every little amenity you could possibly ask for but the icing on the cake at this hotel was the service!
We have stayed in many 5 star places over the years but wow…this hotel blew us away! Every single staff member was over the top amazing. Omar welcomed us and immediately made us feel at home. Ella tended bar and she was so much fun- like she could be your best friend! Ana took care of us in our room and at the restaurant. Everyone anticipated everything you could possibly need-even before you realized that you needed it! We only stayed 2 nights but I wished we had stayed a week. Totally incredible!
They picked us up from the ferry port and took us back when we left. We got a ride when we wanted to go to town for the afternoon and just gave them a call when we were ready to return. Everything was so effortless. Exactly what you want on vacation!
Creative dishes at Mykonos Princess
Delos. In less than an hour’s boat ride from Mykonos you can arrive on Delos. Delos is an uninhabited island (except for seasonal archaeologists) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is said to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. A pretty awesome little pit stop for history buffs.
So, in my last post on Greece, I gave you an overview of our itinerary and told you what I thought we did right and what I would change. I also mentioned some fun and unexpected things that we encountered in Greece.
Now here is my Athens overview and the different Greek Islands that we visited will appear in the next few posts.
Everything I read in preparation for our trip to Greece told me to only spend 1 night in Athens, quickly see the Acropolis and then get out of town. These people told me to pack in all the sights into 1 or 2 days in the city. No way! Don’t do it.
This place deserves at least 3 days. It really is amazing! (We spent 6 days-that might have been a bit much) but please give Athens and the surrounding area more than 24 hours.
What to see? Well, for starters…The Acropolis, The Parthenon, The Theater of Dionysus, Temple of Athena, New Acropolis Museum, National Archaeological Museum, Stygmata Square, The Plaka, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Agora, Temple of the Winds and the Roman Forum. And what about Delphi…this is a day trip in itself!
We stayed at the Hotel Grande Bretagne, which is just next to Stygmata Square. In fact, we could see the changing of the guard from our room which was super cool! This beautiful hotel was in the perfect location. It was really lovely and the staff was very nice, although we found them to be a tad stuffy.
The GB Roof Garden Restaurant view is absolutely insane! We ate breakfast there each morning and enjoyed two dinners as well. Looking at the Acropolis lit up at night from this location is totally outstanding! We did love the rooftop pool at The Bretagne!
Another restaurant worth mentioning was Tzitzikas & Mermigas This place was a 5 minute walk from the Hotel Grande Bretagne. It was hoppin and it was also really good! We loved the welcome shot of Mastiha. Strong stuff but hey, when in Greece! The vibe was a nice mix of locals and tourists enjoying the fresh and local Greek dishes. Mmm.
When we weren’t busy touring all of the above museums and ancient sites, we took two day trips from Athens. We had a 1/2 day trip to Cape Sounion to tour the Temple of Poseidon as well as a full day tour to visit Delphi. Both of these tours were operated by Private Greece Tours. They picked us up in a spottless private van, complete with air conditioning and cold water. We had Dominic as our guide and driver on our full day tour to Delphi and he was absolutely wonderful! We highly recommend him and Private Greece Tours.
The full day tour up into the mountains to see Delphi was amazing. It was a full day commitment but to us, it was worth it! We saw the sanctuaries of Apollo and Athena, the “Belly Button of the Ancient World”, Serpent Column, Temple of Apollo, Sacred Way, Treasury of the Athenians and the legendary site of the Oracle.
On the way back from Delphi, we stopped at the cute mountain ski town of Arahova. We enjoyed lunch at a delicious and cheap family restaurant and strolled around town. We climbed to the top of St. Nicholas Bell Tower and took in the breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
Time to get on board the ferry and head to Mykonos!…
We traveled to Greece in June 2017. We visited Athens as well as 4 islands in The Cyclades. (Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos and Paros). We chose to travel to Greece because we wanted to go to a warm, sunny, family friendly location with ancient ruins and amazing history. Mission Accomplished!
Ferry to Athens, 3 nights at Hotel Grande Bretagne (day trips to Cape Sounion and Delphi)
I’m going to start out by telling you what I would do differently if I had to plan this trip to Greece again. Then I will get to the good stuff!
Here is what I got wrong planning our trip to Greece…
Allocating our time. If I was planning this all over again, I would stay just 1 night in Athens on the front end of the trip. (I liked having a few days on the tail end). I would distribute those extra days to the islands. More time on each island!
I would add another night in Mykonos, because we all liked it. I was worried that it would be too crazy and crowded but early June was quiet so if you aren’t going in July or August, you can stay longer! It really is so beautiful!
We also really liked Paros a lot and wished we had more time there! It had upscale shops, good restaurants and no huge cruise ships. I would have added another 2 nights there.
Transportation between islands. I would consider flying whenever possible over ferry travel. I debated this in my planning stage -especially arriving on Santorini. The islands in the Cyclades are far apart!
Ferry travel. I was worried about using the smaller high speed ferries because of the seasickness factor. I read a lot about high winds but I think in June, you don’t get the winds. I would just go for it if I booked a similar trip again. We wasted time traveling between islands and it wasn’t quite as relaxing and scenic as I had imagined in my head.
Tips for traveling by ferry in Greece:
-If you have a business class ticket you don’t have to arrive super early and there is no need to worry about getting a nice seat.
-Wear sunscreen and a hat while waiting to board-you might get burned!
-Have a bottle of water because it’s hot!
-Pack light for carrying your bag up and down ferry stairs.
-The escalators worked getting on but they didn’t work on any ferries getting off.
-If your bag is carry-on size, you don’t have to leave it unattended downstairs.
-Bring a deck of cards and/or something to read.
-Wear sea bands if you are prone to seasickness.
-Be prepared for some chaos as well as pushing and shoving.
The boarding and disembarking process for the ferries was an unorganized, hot, pain in the ass. I can’t imagine what it is like during peak season! The least organized boarding was in Athens. The most organized was Naxos. The best decision we made was traveling business class vs. economy on the ferries. We used Blue Star Ferries for most of the trips. However, we did use Gold Star Ferries Superrunner from Mykonos to Naxos. Nice service on both.
Clothes. We traveled with just a carry-on bag and that was awesome! But, next time I would take a smaller bag with just 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of pants and more lightweight sundresses…I was so hot. Dresses are the key to hot weather, not shorts. And, they look nice and appropriate for both sightseeing and dinners out.
Here is what I got right in planning our trip to Greece…
The Hotels! Woot woot! A+ for me because we were all very happy with each hotel. I could nit pick on a couple things (and I might) but for the most part, we were really happy!
The Islands! I really stressed out about what islands to choose for our first time in Greece. I though about Crete a lot as well as Hydra and Ios but I liked the way it all turned out.
The Sights! I feel like we saw the main attractions and the towns without doing too much to the point of being exhausted.
Here is what was totally unexpected…
The Greeks. We were really surprised how appreciative the Greek people were for having us in their country. We really had a great experience just about everywhere we went. So many friendly Greeks!
The food. It was delicious! Fresh, simple and quality ingredients. Great local honey, tomatoes, potatoes and yogurt. Watermelon salad is so delicious and I made it for months after we got home.
Creative dishes at Mykonos Princess
Octopus was everywhere! And in various stages-being cleaned, beaten, dried and cooked.
The Pelicans. I saw the most enormous pelican on Mykonos. OMG! People were petting it as it meandered through the lovely alleys of Mykonos Town.
Cats. So many cats everywhere!
The Donkey Wrangler. We weren’t planning on riding the donkeys anyway because it seemed cruel but then we saw this guy and then there was no way we were going to torture the donkeys more. Wow!
The flu. Our youngest daughter got hit with the flu about 20 minutes prior to boarding the ferry in Athens. Now we always travel with a barf bag in her backpack!
One thing we took away from this trip is that we don’t like to be at a location for less than 3 nights. It’s too much travel, packing and unpacking. We are going to try to stick to this as much as possible during bigger trips.
Coming up…my opinion on the different hotels and the Greek islands that we visited.