I would have worshiped all the Gods on Mt. Olympus; Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, Demeter, Hades, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Athena, Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares. Always loved ancient history, the myths and all the Gods they worshiped. Three weeks in Santorini, Crete, and Athens renewed my interest, even the hokey Atlantis Museum on Santorini was enjoyable in a Disney kind of way!
The islands were beautiful, people friendly and the food fresh and delicious. The only mistake we made was not allocating enough time on Crete. We did five days in each and should have only stayed two in Athens and added the other three to Crete, our favorite spot on our trip. Next time…
I have to let you know that my impression was probably altered a bit due to Chuck’s, my husband’s, fractured foot (he had an accident two days before the trip and was on crutches the entire time). It did hinder us on the amount of sightseeing we were able to do, including walking the steep hills in Santorini and Athens, but we managed, as we always do, to have a great trip despite this handicap.
We originally booked a hotel in Oia overlooking the Caldera, but because Chuck was on crutches they couldn’t accommodate us due to the steep steps throughout the property (it was 200 steps to reception and the same amount to our room on a 90 degree angle with no railings!). But they found us a room at a sister hotel in Megalochori (Medieval village), that had less steps, and we were very happy with the switch. And not only for the flater environment (and this is relative) but because it was a small village, charming, and hardly many tourists.
Megalochori is a picturesque village, small, hidden, not crowded and car-free. The roads are very very narrow and the town is a labyrinth of winding alleys, whitewashed houses, and blue-domed churches with ornate bell towers. The village has small tavernas, where the locals actually dine, and beautiful views of the multiple vineyards surrounding it.
We visited Oia one afternoon, with the hundreds of tourists from the cruise ships, and though it was quite beautiful, with magnificent views, we were happy we weren’t staying in this crowded, touristy area. The town clings to cliffs above an underwater caldera (crater) formed by a massive volcanic eruption around 1650 B.C. The cliff towns overlook the sea, small islands to the west and beaches made up of black, red and white lava pebbles. Very impressive! A great place to spend a few hours at a cafe overlooking the caldera sipping cocktails and watching the sunset.
Other must do’s:
- Visit Ammoundi Bay, down the cliff from Oia, to a small stone & sand beach. Great for snorkeling, sitting in a taverna, or sun bathing.
- Walk from Oia to Fira along the edge of the Caldera (there are walking paths)
- Relax at Kamari Beach, one of the black sand beaches with loads of eateries. We spent an peaceful afternoon there.
- Perivolos & Perissa, also black sand beaches with many eateries.
- Stroll Pyrgos (small village), Fira, and Imerovigli (small village)
- Walk out to Skaros Rock which juts out from just below Imerovigli
- Visit the Akrotiri Excavations
We loved Crete, and especially the city of Chania where we stayed. Our hotel was a short distance from the center of town, on the beach (and they have glorious beaches!) with the most beautiful sunsets. Two friends joined us for this part of the trip and we had such a great time with them both.
Crete is renowned for its beautiful beaches, wild natural beauty, exquisite cuisine and thousands of years of culture and history. You have to visit the famous archaeological site of Knossos, just outside the city. This huge site dates back thousands of years to the Minoan civilization, is the largest Bronze Age archeological site on Crete, and is called Europe’s oldest city.
Other must do’s are hiking the Samaria Gorge, strolling Chania old town, relaxing on the beaches and visiting an Olive Oil grove and Vineyards.
Of course, you have to tour the Acropolis, Parthenon and Acropolis Museum. The Acropolis and its monuments are universal symbols of this classical civilization and form the greatest architectural and artistic complex of Greek Antiquity. In the second half of the fifth century bc, Athens took a leading position amongst the other city-states of the ancient world. In the age that followed, as thought and art flourished, an exceptional group of artists put into effect the ambitious plans of Athenian statesman Pericles and, under the inspired guidance of the sculptor Pheidias, transformed the rocky hill into a unique monument of thought and the arts. The most important monuments were built during that time: the Parthenon, built by Ictinus, the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles and the small temple Athena Nike.
We also enjoyed the Archeological Museum and just strolling the streets of Plaka and Psyrri. Pop into the Central Municipal Food Market if you have some free time. Would highly recommend a half-day tour to the Temple of Poseidon, and if you can time it right, catch the sunset from the ruins overlooking the water.
I did rudimentary research on Greek wines, dismissing them, incorrectly, as not being anything special. But I was pleasantly surprised, especially with the Santorini White Wines. White wines are predominantly made from three grapes: Assyrtiko (the island’s flagship variety) as well as Aidani and Athiri. Red grapes include Mavrotragano and Mandelaria.
Grape vines have been cultivated on Santorini since before the great eruption. The island’s volcanic soils combined with the high content of silica oxides and metals makes these soils acidic, and imparts low pH and a pleasant mineral taste to wines. White wines are their showcase; generally fresh, acidic, with a hint of salinity and not shy with the alcohol content!
Domaine Sigalag’s Wine Tasting Experience (Santorini) – https://sigalas-wine.com/el/food-pairing/ This great vineyard is located in the far north of Santorini, and produces some of the top wines in Greece. I decided to contact them directly for a wine pairing and it was our favorite tasting. They have a first-class chef and the wines was accompanied by a four course, gourmet lunch, set in a beautiful garden overlooking the vineyards.
This third-generation wine producer created his own label 24 years ago, and now owns 81 acres of vines. His winery’s most recent project has been to bottle seven different Assytriko wines—each planted and vinified identically, but made from grapes growing on different and dispersed locations on the island. Bottle labels are differentiated by the names of vine sites, as well as different symbols. Sampled side by side—each tastes unique. Assyrtiko has high acidity, is a really full-bodied wine, and has aging potential for over ten years. Highly recommended.
Santorini Half-Day Sunset Wine Tasting – We booked this small group tour through Viator. It was a good way to sample the wines from a few vineyard and also get to try some of the local appetizers. It ended at Santos Vineyard watching the beautiful sunset. The other people in this small group were one family of eight who travel together and immediately adopted us into their clan. They were really a fun group and we had a hilarious afternoon / evening. https://www.viator.com/tours/Santorini/Santorini-Sunset-Wine-Tasting-Tour/d959-6174P22ttps://www.viator.com/tours/Santorini/Santorini-Sunset-Wine-Tasting-Tour/d959-6174P22
Chania Wine Tour: Private Olive & Winery Tour (Crete) – Book it directly with this great husband and wife team, Anna Maria and Vasili. https://www.chaniawinetours.com/ They were both born in the US, children of Cretan immigrants, and moved to Crete after many childhood visits. Anna Maria, who was our guide, is a Certified Sommelier and Vasili dabbled in wine making. They are just amazing! We did the half day private tour with our two friends, and thoroughly enjoyed every part of it. The olive oil was so wonderful we actually decided to check our luggage for the first time so we could bring some home. We also fell in love with Anna Maria and met her and her husband later that day for drinks and sunset.
ALATI, in the Vedema Hotel (Megaiochori) – ALATI, means salt in Greek, and you understand why the name was chosen when you are served bread, butter, and salts when you are seated. They are quite serious about that condiment. The restaurant has a very innovative Greek and Mediterranean menu created by the executive chef Melina Chomata. We sampled many dishes and all were wonderful.
The restaurant is located within the stone walls of a 400 year old winery cave and surrounded by candlelight, which makes for a very romantic dinner. The menu consists of fresh fish from the Aegean sea with farm-to-table ingredients and a creative twist on Greek cuisine. Our friendly server lead us through the choices and made wonderful recommendations. The wine list has many finds from the island & Greece, and the Sommelier was very helpful in guiding us through the many choices.
Fino (Imerovigli) – Our favorite restaurant in Santorini. Everything was perfect from the setting overlooking the cliffs (and the best sunset we have seen) to the delicious and creative food, excellent wine list, and warm, friendly service. We chatted with the GM during dinner and she gave us lots of sightseeing and restaurant tips. The owner joined us at the end of the evening sharing stories of his visits to NYC. He was charming.
Alisachni Art & Wine Gallery (Megaiochori) – “Alisachni are the drops of the sea that spread in the air when the wave hits the rocks”, and this warm, welcoming restaurant/art gallery feels like that lovely mist. The owners Natassa Nikoletou and Alexandros Andrianopoulos filled Alisachni with their passions; art and wine. Natassa, with her beautiful paintings and sculptures and Alexandros with his great selection of wines from all over Greece and abroad. The combination of art and wine, when it comes together with modern Greek cuisine and this beautiful setting, makes this place really special.
We had such a lovely evening, drinking great wine and talking to Natassa and Alexandros. They invited us to come back for our Anniversary, two nights later. And when we did, they welcomed us with a dozen red roses and cries of Happy Anniversary as we arrived (and the best Anniversary dessert we have eaten!).
Salis Restaurant, Chania Crete – We loved this understated restaurant, overlooking the water, with an amazing wine list and creative Greek & Italian dishes. Anna Maria knew the owners, one of which was also a Sommelier (responsible for that great wine list) and we were treated like old friends. Anna Maria and Visili joined us for cocktails here and also had dinner at a nearby table. Highly recommended!
The Five Restaurant, Chania Crete – Recommended by Anna Maria so we cancelled where we had planned to dine and rebooked at this casual Mediterranean restaurant facing the Sea of Create. Beautiful setting, delicious food, great wine (yes, of course, Anna Maria knew the owners / Sommelier), and warm, friendly service. Dine here!
Kiouzin Restaurant, Athens – We arrived pretty late in Athens and asked our hotel for a local restaurant recommendation. What a pleasant surprise when we walked into this cozy, friendly restaurant with really good food!
Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro, Athens – A must for all wine lovers! This elegant, French ’60’s style wine bar / restaurant has the most impressive wine list with 250 labels priced from 4.5 Euros to over 1000 Euros. A wine for every taste. And the menu was perfect to enhance the wine experience as they have a detailed descriptions with recommendations of wine pairings.
NYX Restaurant, Athens – Our hotels Japanese Rooftop Gastrobar…who would have thought we would crave Japanese food in Greece, but it was such a beautiful setting (perfect sunsets overlooking the Acropolis) with great food and wine list. We ate there twice!
Vendema Hotel, Megaiochori Santorini – charming hotel in this lovely Medieval town with three pool areas overlooking vineyards. Staff was attentive and very helpful.
Domes Noruz Chania Hotel, Crete – on the beach, with beautiful modern rooms, bars and spa. The staff were lovely and attentive. We received a welcome gift (sparkling wine and fruit), a lovely Anniversary cake in our room, and a delicious going away present (shortbread cookies). Great experience.
Academias Hotel, Athens – good location, a bit off from the touristy area. Warm, friendly and very helpful during our trip.