Greece is a part of paradise. It’s magical, historic and simply picture perfect. 40 degree heat, daily swims followed by ice-cream, olives and tomatoes and feta and wine (plus my dad’s pancakes) made this the best family holiday I’ve ever had!
Greece has cemented itself in a special place in my heart. It has such beautiful scenery, stunning Old Towns, crystal clear ocean, friendly people and views to die for. Made extra special because it was the place where I spent an amazing holiday with parents who I hadn’t seen for almost 18 months, and it was my first sight of the ocean in almost a year.
I can liken arriving by boat to the island of Santorini a little to the movie Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs of course. Above the port is a 200m high sheer cliff face which is both stunning and terrifying at the same time. It appears as such a wild, unknown island. Once you pass the summit of this impressive cliff face, the rest of the island slowly stretches out before you, sweeping down to the east coast and revealing stunning views of the whole island. The landscape is vast and bare, with white-washed houses dotted amongst farmland growing mainly tomatoes and olives.
We stayed in the town of Oia, the northern tip of the island and the place in which most picture perfect images of Santorini are taken. Think cliff faces covered in whitewashed houses with bright blue roof domes, sweeping down the steep cliffs to the ocean. The small town is a maze of streets covering the cliff, meaning lots of stairs but amazing views from almost every corner. Rooftop restaurants make the most of the views, small cafes perch precariously above narrow streets, locals sell fresh fruit from some of the main squares and donkeys chill out at the top of the path leading to the ocean.
Oia is famous for its sunset location overlooking the Caldera (the result of a huge volcanic eruption about 3000 years ago). Facing north from the old town, you look out across the sea to some islands in the distance, the space in between creating the crater of this volcano. In summer, thousands of people visit Oia each evening to watch the most stunning sunset – completely uninterrupted by any land mass, the huge orange sun slowly falls into the ocean. People arrive hours early to secure the best spots and once the sun is gone, applause breaks out before the restaurants become packed with post-sunsetting diners.
It’s some 270 steps down to the small fishing dock below the town which is host to a handful of rustic fish restaurants. Once you’ve had your full of fresh fish grilled on open barbeques, it’s common for tourists to ride a donkey back up the hill – we tried this and it was definitely an adventure! The animals aren’t so well trained and they seem to have a hierarchy amongst them which can result in some pretty funny (slash scary!) races to the top.
From this port, you can follow a stone path along to the left to a small swimming inlet – the best place to swim in Oia! The place is full of people sunbathing on the rocks or jumping into the crystal clear ocean, many people bringing their snorkels to enjoy seeing life below the surface. Swimming, floating and diving in the divine water was the thing I was looking forward to most on this trip. You can also swim 50m out to a small island and, if brave enough, jump off a 6m high platform. Alternatively you can explore this tiny island which has a small fisherman’s hut and an old church built into the rock. The ocean in Santorini really is like nothing else and standing atop the platform on this island you can really appreciate how blue, clear and clean the ocean is.
Back up in the village, there is a great walk which heads along the west side of the island, from Oia heading south. We walking a few kilometers, through the town to the church at the end, but I believe you can follow this path most of the way along this side of the island.
Visiting Santorini really felt like we were in a movie – it is so beautiful and perfect, and every corner presents picture perfect views which could come straight out of a photography exhibition. We visited in July which is just a few weeks shy of the main summer vacation period in Europe, meaning we had moments when there was no one else around and we could enjoy it all to ourselves.
Mykonos Old Town is by far the most stunning town I’ve ever seen. The Grecian style buildings are painted all white with doorframes or balustrades or window shutters painted different shades of blue. The very narrow roads (think two people wide!) wind around the shops and homes, the footpath made from huge dark grey stones, fitted together into a jigsaw, with all joins painted a crisp white. Bougainvillea grows on most homes and kittens live absolutely everywhere.
The town is situated right on the coast at sea level, which means you can be lost amongst the maze of streets before feeling a breeze which is the tell tale sign that the ocean is close. Glimpses of the wild west waves are visible down small side streets which lead to seaside restaurants and buildings overhanging the ocean. The town is packed with cute cafes with verandas, restaurants with tables spilling into the street, home ware and jewellery and shoes and clothing shops, ice cream parlors, modern bakeries, and lots of art galleries.
Similar to Capri, although less affluent and much more authentic, Mykonos is so stunningly beautiful especially in summer when there are flowers and sunlight everywhere.
During one of our days here we hired a car and since Mykonos is a relatively small, were able to explore almost the whole island in one day. We drove to the popular beaches in the south (Elia, Ornos and Agrari) and even visited the party beaches of Paradise and Super Paradise. We rented deck chairs at Paradise Beach and enjoyed a platter of fresh fruit, the waves less than 10metres away gently hitting the white sand, cocktails served by Greek gods and a good book – this was one of the best places I’ve ever spent an afternoon. That was before the party started (at around 4pm!) and we decided this wasn’t a scene we wanted to stay and witness.
Back in Mykonos town, our beautiful villa was high atop a hill overlooking the port, village and beach, just 10 minutes walk from the town. Sunset from our balcony presented uninterrupted views of the ocean and our nightly holiday ritual became enjoying the sunset from this spot before going into town for dinner. Local restaurants in the town offered the freshest seafood (and not much else!) in some of the most stunning locations I’ve ever visited. Whilst I loved Santorini, there is something so unique and special about Mykonos, I would definitely recommend it as my favourite of the two islands!
Athens was hot. 42degree heat is my primary memory of one of the oldest cities in the world. Rivaling Rome, never before have I been to a place which has so much history in such close proximity. Five minutes’ walk from where we were staying took us to the Acropolis hill, the Acropolis Museum, the Temple of Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and right into the heart of Plaka. We visited all of the above! We also had an amazing view of the Parthenon from our accommodation, in which we would climb to the roof with cheese and wine to enjoy the sunset and night flag lowering ritual preformed by the Evozones (explanation to come!).
Plaka is the Old Town in Athens but I would describe it as a ‘new-old town’. There is history there in the old buildings, not to mention various archeological digs dotted about and vast views of the overshadowing Acropolis, but modern restaurants, cafes, and the vast amount of shop selling cheap (Chinese?) souvenirs takes away from the authentic feeling and brings it into the 21st century.
Our first morning, on the way to the Panathenaic Stadium, we passed by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and witnessed the weekly ceremonial Changing of the Guard. This was a unique experience – every Sunday morning the soldiers (called Evzones) wear a very unusual (can I say funny?) costume and walk in a very interesting (hilarious?) way. Highlight of this show – their red clogs adorned with pompoms! I can’t even begin to explain – just Google it!
Our highlights in Athens were the Panathenaic Stadium (there was literally no one in the whole place!) where we saw all the torches from past Olympic games – the Olympic flame always starts from here before beginning its journey to the venue for that year. Climbing the Acropolis hill was also a highlight – we went early one morning to beat the crowds (and the heat!). It’s an easy climb to the top past ancient amphitheatres and temples, up to the Parthenon, where you get to enter via the actual official entrance!
We did our best to indulge in the local cuisine (new foods = not my strong point!) and were happy to try Lukumades which are small deep-fried donuts covered in sugar and honey – a delight! Another common food is Souvlaki (meat and salad wrapped in pita bread) but this wasn’t something I felt the need to try…
Athens is packed full of history, namely the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Panathenaic Stadium, which are all within a short walking distance of each other. It’s difficult to miss the weight of the city’s extensive past as you explore the ruins and years of history etched into the cobble stones of the main street. Writing this, from a 6degree evening in Paris, I definitely wouldn’t mind being back there!