Greek Island Hopping
Sunlight shinning down on the sea like crystals twinkling in a distant place. I wondered when I would get to see water as beautiful as this again…
I recently read one of my new favourite travel magazines – Wanderlust. It had asked a few travellers ‘Mountain, desert, ocean or jungle… which are you?’ I’d have to say ocean for sure. I’ve always lived near water (most of New Zealand is within an hour or two of water) until I moved to the UK and the ocean is one of my true passions in life. It is calming and fills me with peace and happiness as I hear the water move and watch the sun glisten down upon it. So when I finally organised a trip to the Greek islands you can imagine I was in heaven.
Santorini: stunning scenic cyclade to take your breath away
White washed buildings high up, overlooking the sea is a simple, classic way to describe Fira and Ia (otherwise known as Thira and Oia), the hearts of Santorini, yet they are so much more. Little paths between boutique cafes and shops litter the towns and its never long before you see one of the many churches – often with rounded blue tops.
Santorini holds an array of beaches across its coastline. For my first afternoon in Santorini, I opted to venture out to ‘Red Beach,’ a beach covered in red and black stones and sawdust. It was an interesting trip out there, as despite how many people were on the beach I don’t think the government intended for it to be used, given the amount of ‘rocks falling’ signs and rope that was meant to cut off access to the beach. It had been recommended to me, so I figured it was worth a careful risk.
However, once settled on the stoney beach, it gave me my first chance to relax, watch the glistening sea and enjoy the warm waters at my leisure.
Next up was my chance to get the much-desired sunset photograph as I ventured to Ia with a tripod, camera bag and my knee strap firmly in place (the bulk load of tourists didn’t seem to care I had an injury). I’d heard the location of Ia (Oia) was a prime viewing point for the sunsets, so I strolled the streets until I found what I thought would be a great spot to capture the sun and less crowded (well it was 2 hours before the sunset). Ia didn’t disappoint and I began to learn that no matter where you are in the Greek islands, there is always a sunset to be enjoyed, this was just one of many to follow.
This trip was a different one for me, for once I had decided to invite some friends to join me, compared to my usual solo travel. I’m pleased I had people to enjoy the sunsets, beaches and greek lifestyle with, its definitely one of those spots that is nicer to travel with people.
Following my sunset expedition the next day a Kiwi and Irish gal landed on my doorstep. Together we ventured on a boat trip to a volcano, where we learned that the stunning landscapes of Santorini were formed by a massive volcanic eruption (granted I opted to relax in the sun and save my knee from the walk up the volcano, but I heard through the others). It’s impressive to see how the Greeks have created this paradise despite eruptions and earthquakes over the years. Our boat tour continued to Thirasia and Ia to provide us with more scenic enjoyment before returning to Fira to relax and prepare for yet another sunset at a lovely restaurant.
Top Tips for Santorini:
Dinner: Check out Argo on the caldera of Fira for a reasonably priced meal and if you request a good spot for the sunset like us you’ll feel like you’re in heaven. If you’re still hungry make sure you try a Gyros at some point too!
Boat Trips: Bare in mind that the volcano is a decent hike, if you’re like me and injured or have small children it may be best to sit it out. The hot springs that the tours often go to can stain swimsuits so try avoid wearing white.
Walk: Walk as far as you can along the caldera of Fira watching the coastline below and view behind you. It is a stunning view throughout; just try to pick a time to dodge all the cruise ship tourists.
Understated Naxos: raw beauty
Naxos was a quaint island, filled with plenty of inner beauty without flashing it at tourists. It was much more chilled with fewer tourists and had more of a Greek feel to it compared to Santorini and Mykonos. Naxos was filled with lovely beaches and incredible landscapes and views.
Our first dinner in Naxos turned out to be a bit of a disaster of pink chicken and cheesiness, yet that didn’t seem to matter as we enjoyed yet another sunset and Greek music and in my friends case, dancing (for once I was pleased for my injury to get me out of dancing).
Naxos was where I think we found the best beaches in my opinion. Agia Anna has stunning white sand (yes I said SAND – much of Europe doesn’t understand sand on beaches), crystal clear turquoise blue waters, yet with the upmarket feel of beach restaurants and beach chairs across the beach (most of the Greek island beaches have these). It didn’t quite have the same feel as New Zealand beaches, but was still lovely.
Naxos had so much more to offer as we found when we hired a car to venture around the island. Mt Zeus towers up in the center of the island with little towns around it. I even got a taste at driving on the right hand side of the road! However, this meant when I took over driving, navigation was left to two people that weren’t brilliant at reading maps (sorry girls, but it had to be said!). Still it was brilliant wandering through the likes of little villages such as Halki, where you could wander in the quiet little streets amongst the overhanging flowers and trees.
Apiranthos was a beautiful white marble town towering high up in the mountains which hosted an array of Greek restaurants and cute little Greek shops. I have to say the Greek like putting hot chips (fries) in things. I had a Greek omelet that consisted of an array of ingredients including sausages and hot chips, not that I’m complaining – it was delicious! Likewise their glorious Gyros (Pita wraps filled with chicken and salad) also contain hot chips and my favourite spot in Fira, even put chicken salt on them – one word: YUM!
Anyway, back to Naxos. Our drive took a detour towards an amazing view over distance coatline and along deadly looking roads (thankfully I was a passenger at this point, watching the sets of three billy goats gruff that were munching grass on various corners). Stavros Keramotis provided a stunning viewpoint over this road, across the dry rolling landscapes and out towards the blue sea.
Top Tips for Naxos:
Hire a car: Get a car and drive leisurely around taking in villages like Apiranthos and views like Stavros Keramotis.
Beaches: Agia Anna isn’t far from Naxos town/port and is one of the loveliest ones I’ve come across. We also enjoyed Orkos beach, but I’m sure that entire western coastline of Naxos is littered with lovely beaches.
Mykonos, beach parties in paradise. Literally.
So many people rave about Mykonos. I think it is definitely in line with other party locations like Ibiza etc. The beaches are okay and spots like Paradise Beach turn into nightclubs late afternoon. Granted it was a nice way to end the trip – however, my knee injury didn’t thank me for it and I generally prefer the prettier, less touristy beaches. I’m more of an adventure and scenic traveller, so the party and high tourist aspect of Mykonos didn’t entirely appeal to me personally. In the township everything seems to be over-priced and aimed to suck in tourists money. However, we did take on the advice of our lovely hotel owner and I had an incredible meal at Taverna Nicholas. I had a baked fresh fish with garlic, potatoes, tomato and herbs, a meal that I would normally shy away from, but was possibly the best seafood meal I’ve ever had.
Top Tips for Mykonos:
Accommodation: We stayed halfway between Paradise Beach and the town of Mykonos which was a great spot – best of both worlds. Hotel Milena was incredible, the staff were lovely and went out of their way to assist us, it had incredible sunset views where you could enjoy an affordable wine or beer (unusual in Mykonos), lovely white buildings and nice breakfasts.
Dinner: Check out Taverna Nicholas, it is highly popular so get in early for a good spot.
Partying: We were at the end of the season, but Paradise beach seemed to be humming a lot more than the town.
The Greek islands have been on my to-do list for several years, so it was great to finally visit them. I had my dose of sunshine to get me through the English winter ahead and plenty of ocean and sunsets to take anyone’s problems away.
For more photographs from Greece – check out my Greece photography gallery »
Next Week: Historic Athens to take you back in time