Ten Days in Greece
Our room was tiny. Our bathroom was a cupboard. But the location of our hotel in Athens was great... and its rooftop absolutely got it over the line. The Plaka Hotel has its own private balcony with comfy chairs offering 180 degrees of uninterrupted views of Athens’ Acropolis. It's nothing short of mesmerizing. The ancient citadel is thousands of years old and it’s main structure, the Parthenon, is a former temple dedicated to the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, from which the city is named. We spent a couple of hours up here on a walking tour, then made our way through orange trees and chamomile flowers to The Temple of Olympian Zeuss, the largest of ancient Greece. For the rest of the day, we ambled through Plaka, Athens’ old town, eating souflaki and stocking up on strawberries, olives and local wine. By this stage, we’d given up on trying to find a good restaurant and decided to have a picnic on our rooftop to make the most of that fabulous view.
36 hours in Athens was enough for us and the next day we headed to Mykanos.
This place turned me. For more than 30 years, I refused to eat tomatoes. But the first meal I ordered here was a Mykonian salad, with plenty of the red stuff heaped on top. Purely by accident, I copped a mouthful of tomato. It had been hidden by a layer of cheese that tasted a bit like feta and parmesan all mixed into one. But the combination was a taste sensation. We went back to the same place (Madoupas Café) the next day and I’ve been hooked on tomatoes ever since.
We visited Mykonos in the shoulder-season so our experience of the island was quite different to the party-hard stories we’d heard. Most beach resorts were shut and most people we saw had a bucket of white paint in their hands, layering their white-washed shops and homes with yet another coat. Apparently, they do this every year in preparation for the Summer and the onslaught of insta-crazy crowds. The walks were beautiful and we quite enjoyed having entire beaches to ourselves. But we soon realized why so few people were here – the wind at this time of year (April) absolutely howls through and not only did the powerful gusts make for chilly sun-baking, it also affected the ferry service to and from the island. Our boat never came so we jumped on the only outgoing ferry and ended up in Paros.
It turned out to be an absolute blessing in disguise. Paros is just beautiful and the people who live here welcome you like family. The owners of our boutique hotel, Angie’s Studios, picked us up from the ferry terminal at midnight and were delighted to show us around the area the next day. This is an island of white sandy beaches and crystal blue water, old windmills and wild flowers that grow like grass. We loved it. I still think of the breakfast we had on the waterfront that morning – Greek yoghurt, honey and fruit with a double coffee. Simple but delightful.
We would have stayed in Paros longer but our next stop was the much-anticipated Santorini and we had already booked and paid for accommodation. Again we traveled by ferry. And as far as first impressions go, it doesn’t get much better. Approaching Santorini from the water takes your breath away - white-washed villages tumble down the cliff into the bright blue Aegean Sea.
We stayed at the Majestic Hotel. With its five star rating and champagne breakfast, it looked fantastic online but once we arrived, we realized it was too far away from the action. After two nights, we found a hotel on the Caldera at Thira and didn’t look back. For 120 euros/night, we got a two-bedroom cave, with breakfast delivered to our door. We ate it on our own private balcony, still dressed in our robes. Then we hired a car and explored the rest of the island. The beaches here aren’t your typical Greek Island-white sand type but they’re worth a visit. Among the best are Kamari, Perissa and Perivolos. We had lunch at Selene Restaurant in Pyrgos where we tried louza (cured pork) and fava before moving onto some wine tastings at Santo Winery. The grape vines here are grown and pruned into circles to form baskets on top of the soil, which protects the grapes from strong winds and harsh sun. The wine was better at our next stop - Sigalis Winery - then it was onto Oia for sunset drinks. Pure magic.
The best of Santorini:
Favourite beverage was Boutari wine – expensive but worth it.
Pantellia Suites – fantastic cave accommodation on the Caldera
Ellis Restaurant – On the Caldera, great views of the water without the wind. Try the milk cake dessert!
Nicolas Tavern– Santorini’s best Greek food on a budget. We ate here numerous times and can recommend the dolmades, stuffed peppers, lamb and lemon. The table wine is also spot-on.
Santo Winery – great view
Sigalis Winery – better wine
After five days, we jumped on the overnight ferry to Rhodes. It’s a nine-hour journey from Santorini so we booked a cabin with beds and a bathroom. The next day we arrived at our destination, well-rested, freshly showered… and pretty bloody smug about our decision. Rhodes is also fabulous and I honestly can’t say which island I liked best – they are all beautiful in their own way. The water at Rhodes is freezing at this time of year but it was lovely to lie on the beach and enjoy the sunshine while gazing across the Aegean towards Turkey. We hired a car and drove south to Lindos. This is a gorgeous cliff-side town with little shops and restaurants hidden amongst narrow, cobble-stoned alleyways. There’s an acropolis at the top and a beautiful beach at the bottom. Lots to explore. We drove back to the old town along the north-western coast which was slightly off the beaten tourist track and a really lovely part of the island. Our best meal in Rhodes was at Indigo – an authentic place with great food and even better table wine.