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I planned a girl's trip to Santorini and discovered Riva Villa for rent – a cheaper stay than splitting two hotel rooms by the sea. We knew it would be difficult to leave after as we arrived to discover its beautiful, private patio overlooking the caldera–a water-filled crater. Many speculate that the volcanic eruption that formed the caldera is the spot where the mythical lost city of Atlantis once stood.
This is a very little museum, a display really, but it's worth seeing in my opinion. It's in the center of Fira by the huge line of people waiting to get on the funicular. Rather than waiting in line, in scorching heat, for who knows how long enter the archaeological museum and see the great collection of pottery they have on display. It's very well preserved and they have notes in English about what each represents. The entrance is three euro, a bargain.
Syntagma Square is most notoriously known for its political demonstrations in front of the Parliament Building. All the major events in Greece over the past century have been mourned or celebrated here, and it's a hub of activity. Grassy areas around the square make an ideal place to sit back and people watch. Stick around for the changing of the guards -- the (somewhat absurd) performance is worth it.
From the outside, San Giorgio looks like one of Greece’s ubiquitous whitewashed homes. Inside, traditional Greek textiles and locally made furniture adorn the 33 unfussy rooms. Most feature rough-hewn wooden dressers, large circular jute rugs, and beds canopied with mosquito netting. Some have terraces with views of the Aegean Sea. Guests can relax during the day in cocoonlike hanging swings near the pool or take a 10-minute walk to the popular beaches Paradise and Paranga. In the evenings, it’s not uncommon for DJs such as Bob Sinclar or David Guetta to make guest appearances in the hotel’s open-air lounge. Doubles from $156. 30/22-8902-7474. This appeared in the October 2013 issue. Photo courtesy of San Giorgio
Of course I could not post highlights of Athens and not post a photo of the majestic Parthenon. I prefer this shot over one I took of the front simply because you don't see so much of the scaffolding from restoration work. It's a shame that this building was in beautiful condition until 1687, when a bombardment set off an ammo dump the Turks left in there, blowing up a part of the building. I do wonder if they'll fully restore things in my lifetime.
The noisy, smelly, chaos of Athens Central Market is an experience no foodie (or photographer) should miss. The colours, shapes and patterns are a compositional dream, but the market is not for the squeamish. You can find every conceivable creature from the sea on sale here. The floor is wet and the air smells salty. In the next building, animal parts you didn't even know were edible are hanging from hooks or stacked in baskets - Sheep's head anyone? Around the exterior of the market you can find spices, fresh fruit and vegetables. When you tire of the crowds, just grab a cup of strong black Greek coffee and watch the bustle from a safe distance.
All the way across the landscape from the top of the Acropolis is a green-covered hillside topped with an ancient Greek mausoleum and monument dedicated to Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos. This site is not only historic but an adventure. Hiking up the small hill is energizing and, if you're into photography, lots of fun to shoot with a zoom lens.
If you want to get away from the crowds in Santorini, try Megalochori - one of the prettiest, quietest little villages on the island. The town's location further inland, away from the caldera cliffs, removes it from the typical tourist itinerary. A beautiful bell-tower archway frames the entrance as you drive into town, which is easily accessible by a short car, taxi or bus ride from any part of Santorini. Megalochori features a maze of extremely narrow cobblestone streets passing by hundreds of traditional white-washed houses and churches with accents of bright blue. Let yourself get lost. At the the center of Megalochori is a sleepy town square, with two tavernas and bougainvillea-covered patios. Sit in the welcome shade and order a vibrantly-hued Santorini tomato salad, grilled souvlaki and sesame & honey-coated feta. Try Restaurant Raki (above) in the town square, where the locals go. (Live Greek music at night.) And since Megalochori is the heart of Santorini's wine industry, be sure to visit a winery, where you can meet the local vintners and sample their goods. If you are looking for a very quiet village and a low-key, relaxing day, this is a wonderful place to visit. Sometimes a really lazy day is just what the doctor ordered. www.santorini.com/villages/megalochorivillage.htm
For knockout views over Oia and the ocean as the sun sets, go for dinner or a drink at Pelekanos. Fresh, delicious seafood, cute nautical decor and gorgeous views.
Lost in the streets of Plaka, I stumbled upon Monastiraki Square in central Athens. These couple were having tango lessons in public, even the dogs sat quietly in full blast of tango rhythm. I had fun watching them having fun.
Hagios Demetrios is known as the largest church in all of Greece, and while this interior doesn't look as large as other European churches, the entire building and grounds are a true showing of historic periods coming and overlapping one another. You'll find ancient ruins with Christian worship, and many relics and antiquities to see.
I felt like I was in some sort of trance while I was walking around this museum; it was so amazing to see these statues and sculptures of Gods and Goddesses that I have been intrigued by since I was young. I thought this museum was also very representative of Athens itself; thousands of years of history combined with modern architecture and technology. Note: They have a very strict "no photo" policy inside the museum.
Thanks to doing research on AFAR.com, I learned that one could sea kayak around the island of Milos. I signed up with Rod from Sea Kayak Milos and had a fantastic time. My fellow kayakers and I paddled through bright blue water, in and out of tight caves and learned about the various geological highlights on this volcanic island. It was stunning! Lunch on a private beach rounded out the day before we paddled our way back to dry land.
In the Roman Agora by the Tower of the Winds stands this ancient marketplace that isn't much more than a lovely piece of history worth grabbing a photo of as you pass by.
This porch, containing six female statues as columns, is the most eye-catching feature of the Erechtheum. Definitely a must-see if you get up top on the Acropolis.
While sitting outside at a café in Plaka, the historical neighborhood in Athens, a brightly colored wall across the way—filled with bottles—caught my eye. Ouzo was something I wanted to try, as it is for many first-time visitors to Greece, but stumbling upon Brettos was definitely a surprise treat. This is the oldest distillery in Athens, where both locals and travelers stop in to drink homemade ouzo, brandy, and liqueurs. We sat at the bar and drank ouzo, then moved on to sampling liqueurs in a variety of flavors. I will always remember the banana liqueur as being my favorite that day. There were so many colorful liqueurs, more than 36 flavors waiting to come down off the wall and each poured in a glass to try. It was hard to stop at only a few to leave and continue on our way to the Acropolis. Enjoying some drinks at the Brettos distillery and bar was not a planned stop on our trip. But should I ever return to Athens a second time, it definitely will be, and is a memorable spot to have your own first glass of ouzo.
Oia is a picturesque town on the northern part of Santorini that overlooks the famous caldera where some speculate the lost city of Atlantis stood before sinking into the sea. It is the perfect place to feel on top of the world and watch the sun set into the endless seas surrounded by M.C. Escher-like architecture.
For one of the best views and best meals in Santorini, try Red Bicycle. Located at the tip of Oia on the northern part of the island, the restaurant is housed in a 19th-century Santorini mansion with a 180-degree view of the famed sunset and the volcano caldera. It was heavenly. Soft island breezes on the open-air terrace. The best food I had in Greece (fresh, local Mediterranean dishes with Greek/Santorini influences). A warm hostess who was incredibly kind to our two children. We ate here twice during our weeklong stay - I definitely hope to go back.
Meteora means "suspended in the air" in Greek. The town of Meteora, about a 5-hour drive north of Athens in Thessaly, Greece, is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site - six Greek Orthodox monasteries built on enormous rock pinnacles that rise up to 1,300 feet from the valley floor. Hermits settled in this area in the 11th century, but the official monasteries were not built until the 14th century, during a time of political instability. At their peak, 24 monasteries provided a place of safety, refuge and quiet contemplation until the 17th century. Six of the monasteries still operate today. Several of the monasteries are accessible to tourists on a road connecting the rock towers. Byzantine frescoes and architecture are a sight to see, and the views are breathtaking into the valley. Meteora reminds me of the American southwest, like Moab, with huge rock cliff walls and sandstone pinnacles, but with houses built on the tops. A natural and man-made marvel. Base yourself in the town of Kalabaka, at the base of the rock pyramids, where there are plenty of hotels and al fresco restaurants with a view. After the quiet contemplation of the monasteries, you can also try rock climbing, hiking and rafting. Fun Fact - the monastery of Holy Trinity was featured in the James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only.
People gathered at Oia an hour before sunset to find a perfect spot for watching the most romantic moment on the island. After the sun finally sets, you will hear a round of applause from different directions around you, just like after a good show.
Starting our morning at the Hotel Attalos, my fiance and I took in the sights just outside our private balcony. You might look at this building and think it's dirty, deteriorated, and such, but we liked how beautiful the owner made their balcony with just some greenery. We could imagine ourselves living somewhere like that, having morning coffee or dinner out on the patio, with the world far below us.
You can't beat this - a delicious, freshly caught seafood dinner on the edge of the Aegean Sea. Sunset Taverna is located in Ammoudi, at the base of the cliffs in Oia, Santorini - dramatic scenery for simple, rustic, delicious food. From the castle in Oia, enjoy a leisurely, winding walk down to the marina (or take a car down the coastal road). Feast on lobster spaghetti, fresh grilled seafood, baked feta, stuffed eggplant, Fisherman's Salad. Hike back up to Oia under the clear, starry night.
The Vienoula's Garden Hotel in Mykonos is located 10minutes away from the city center (Downtown Mykonos). For people who would like to enjoy some quiet time, this is the perfect place. For those who loves to party, it's a 10 minutes walk to the downtown area. Since Mykonos is a party island, and people can dance till the sunrise, you might want to be a little outside of the party center if you want to catch some Zzzs. The staff is very friendly since its a family owned hotel, and you don't need a tour guy after spoke with them.
Across the city from the Acropolis atop Mount Lycabettus sits the small Chapel of St. George. It's worth trekking to if you have the stamina to hike to the highest point in Athens. At the top you can stop for a drink, and take in the view from a seat at Orizontes Lycabettus. If you're not up for a climb, it's definitely worth taking photos of.
These ruins in Naxos Harbor—consisting solely of a large marble doorway leading to nowhere—are a dramatic sight. It was once the entrance to Apollo's Temple, and now it stands guard over the Aegean Sea and the Naxian people. Perhaps now it leads to another universe. Who knows? Come here in early spring, at sundown, when the hillside is dotted with marigolds and daisies. Sometimes you'll have the whole spectacular sunset to yourself.
At the northern edge of Oia lies a pool lounge overlooking the Aegean Sea – a peaceful place to stay while cruise crowds storm the town in the afternoon. The pool is open to the public and makes money off the purchase of snacks and drinks from guests who linger to take a refreshing dip or soak in the spectacular views. To find this hidden treasure, walk the northern path along Oia's caldera, past the far windmill until the walkway ends. It can also be accessed by car from the next parking lot north of the the bus station.
Beautiful day to lunch at the outside dining patio at Raki taverna located in the traditional Greek medieval village of Megalochori on the island of Santorini.
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