Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Greek Paradise

I think Greece might just be my favourite place to vacation - it's culturally rich, relaxing, has great food and the people are lovely. We headed to Athens for a quick stop after our trip to Istanbul, and then spent five sunny days in Crete and Santorini. Of course, the main reason for heading to Athens was to see the Acropolis, which we did very early in the morning before catching a flight to Crete. The Acropolis is such a magnificent place, even though the city surrounding the ancient structure leaves a bit to be desired. I was last in Athens about 12 years ago and the city has gone through a lot of changes (unfortunately for the worse) since then. Stores are closed, there's even more graffiti, and the general infrastructure is just poorly run. Still, it's worth going to see the beautiful Acropolis...the photo below is the Old Temple of Athena. 
The same day that we toured the Acropolis, we also caught a quick 30-minute flight to Crete, the biggest island in Greece. I'd heard good things, especially about Rethmyon, the beach village where we spent two nights. From Heraklion airport, we rented a car to get down the coast - it just seemed like an easier option than a bus, and it was so fun to drive in another country! If you're in Rethmyon, check out Castelvecchio restaurant...it has the most insanely good traditional Greek food. My favourite dishes were the sauteed chicken in a warm creamy sauce, and the dolma, rice wrapped with vine leaves. From the main town, there's a lovely big beach just ten minutes away called Episkopi (see the below photo). As you can tell, it's beautiful and there's nothing to do but read and look at the ocean. The beachside cafe there has really good food, including a huge fresh Greek salad. Back in town there are tons of really cute waterfront restaurants and little shops dotted along the white-washed streets. You could easily spend two or three days there, especially if you're staying in a cute inn like our Hotel Rex (highly recommend!).
Our next and last island on our Greek tour was Santorini - the ultimate paradise. I seriously felt like I was on a honeymoon, so it was the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. I cannot say enough good things about our hotel, Anastasis Apartments. The staff were beyond accommodating and planned our entire stay on the island, making sure every detail was taken care of. When we arrived by ferry from Crete, we were picked up and taken just past Imerovigli which is in the middle of the island overlooking the caldera (or volcano). The view is breathtaking! Right away, we were showed to our room and then given a welcome champagne cocktail and a decadent dessert on our patio (heaven). Over our three day stay, we spent hours and hours just relaxing on the patio pictured below, and enjoying the sunshine (which we don't get in London). Perks of lounging by the pool all day included 4 p.m. iced coffee service and immediate access to anything you needed! If you stayed through sunset, you could sit on your patio and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine and gourmet hors d'oeuvres. 
On our first full day in Santorini, we decided to take a walk to Fira, the main town on the island. The walk there goes along the cliffs overlooking the water so you had something to distract you from the blazing heat. The photo below shows Imerovigli, where there are loads of lovely waterfront hotels with private pools and cafes at every turn. You can also see the white buildings and churches with blue roofs and shutters along the way. We loved walking into town and shopping around...there are great restaurants (both cheap and gourmet), fun souvenir shops and really cute designer shops and fancy jewellery...something for everyone. We watched our first sunset from Oia, the iconic place where it seems everyone goes to watch the sunset - although crowded it really is a fabulous view and it's also a really cute place to shop.
Santorini doesn't have the best beaches, but there are a few worth going to - my favourites were Perissa and Perivolos, the black sand beaches. We reached them by ATV (so fun!), although you could take a bus too. We spent a few hours laying in the sun and cooling off in the crystal clear water, and then enjoying lunch at one of the beachside cafes. We also passed by the red sand beach along the way, which is smaller and very touristy, so it's better for a quick visit. Later on we relaxed on our hotel's rooftop jacuzzi (perfect way to end the day) before heading to dinner at one of the island's many delicious restaurants. Honestly I could go on and on about Santorini but I'll leave it at this. I really hope we can get back there sometime soon because it's by far the most beautiful, relaxing place I've ever been.

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