This past October my husband and I had the great fortune to take a dream trip to Greece. We were gone for two weeks, visited Athens, Crete and Santorini and had the time of our lives. So this post is a little something different – no sewing or smocking – but just the info in case you’re interested and are planning a visit to Greece!
I booked then entire trip through True Trips Greece. They are a wonderful travel agency located in Greece that will customize your visit. They made all the arrangements once we arrived in Greece and all I had to arrange was our flight from the US to Athens and back. I did look at cruises but I really wanted a chance to experience Greece and it seemed that with the cruises we would be spending quite a bit of time on the boat and little time experiencing the country. The Greek islands are in 4 different island groups that are located quite a distance from each other, so island hopping is not quite as easy as it may seem. Originally I wanted to include a third island but True Trips strongly recommended that we spend at least 3 days on each island in order to truly experience it. That was the type of guidance I was hoping to receive, and they were correct with their recommendation.
We began with 2 days in Athens and stayed at the Electra Palace in the Platka neighborhood of Athens (the old neighborhood where everything is located). The hotel was lovely and had wonderful service. We had a suite and a full buffet breakfast was included on the roof restaurant with a view of the Parthenon and the Acropolis.
(In case you are wondering the Parthenon is the temple to Athena located on the Acropolis which is the hill or high place. Each town or city has an acropolis) There are multiple buildings on the Acropolis, not just the Parthenon.
The old town of Athens is very compact and it is easy to visit all of the ancient ruins on foot. We began with a tour of the Ancient Agora (marketplace) by following the Rick Steeves audio guide which is a free download through his app. We also did the Rick Steeves city walk tour. Learning some of the history of Greece; its struggles and fight for its independence was fascinating. A tour of the Acropolis had to wait until our last day in Greece. This was a private tour arranged by True Trips and we had a guide who walked us around the Acropolis and explained everything to us.
Before we headed off to the islands we had a day trip with a private driver and guide down to Corinth, Mycenae and Nafplio. Mycenae is the ancient fortress of Agamemnon from the 1600s BC. Again it was fascinating to see the accomplishments from that time, walk the ruins, see the geography of the area, and realize how these ancient people lived. Our guide again explained the history, answered all our questions and made the whole experience come alive.
We then headed back to the airport and flew off Crete. Crete is breathtakingly beautiful. It is only 7 miles wide and yet has mountains that rise above 8000 feet. It also produces 5% of the world’s olive oil. In Crete we stayed at the Hotel Caramel right on the beach. The service and welcome here was impeccable. Crete is known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Greece and they were truly lovely.
At the Hotel Caramel we were just a short taxi ride to Rethymnon, a city built by the Venetians who occupied Crete in the 1600s AD. In Crete we took a walking tour arranged by True Trips through the old town of Chania. The architecture was lovely. Besides Venetian buildings and the Venetian port, you can see ancient Minoan ruins (the original people of Crete from the 1600s BC), minarets from the Ottoman occupation, and Orthodox Greek churches from the Byzantium period.
Crete is known for its cuisine and farming, as well as its amazing hospitality. I came home from Crete with wonderful olive oil from our tour and tasting of Paraschakis Olive Oil, enjoyed the amazing yogurt which was a gift from our driver, and liked the raki warmed with honey and cinnamon. I was originally signed up for a cooking class here and cancelled it - something I wish I hadn't done!
From Crete we took a high speed ferry to Santorini. Santorini was breathtaking - there is just no other way to describe it.
It is about the views, the scenery and the stairs!
Santorini was formed by the volcano which is still active and located beneath the sea. When staying on Santorini, you are staying on the side of the volcano. A sailing trip on the catamaran is a wonderful way to see the scenery (we went with Captain Ted and Santorini Sailing).
We also enjoyed a private guided hike along the caldera with Santorini Walking Tours. We walked along the caldera from our hotel in Imerovigli to Oia. After one of the best lunches I had in Greece, we were returned by car to our hotel. Imerovigli is the highest town on the Caldera and is filled with hotels built into its sides. Here we stayed at the Astra Suites. It is a 30 minute walk along the Caldera path (again the steps) to Fira the capital. If you want an active nightlife or easy access to restaurants and shops, then Fira is the place for you. Imerovigli has the best views and is the place to stay for a hike out to Skores Rock. Most of the cruise ships take everyone to Oia (which is where the 3 churches with the blue domes are located)
I enjoyed seeing Oia, but with the crowds even in October, it was extremely crowded.
We ended our visit to Greece back in Athens with a delicious dinner at Tudor Hall at the top of the King George hotel with an amazing view of the Parthenon as we dined on the open air roof.
My goal in visiting the particular places we did in Greece was to truly see the history, scenery and culture. All 3 places were so different and I felt by visiting all 3, we truly achieved the goal. I hope to return one day!