Greece - Naxos, Santorini & Athens
Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Stone white washed buildings, blue doors, turquoise waters, feta cheese, fresh olives, My Big Fat Greek Wedding are what most people think of when Greece is mentioned. But, Greece is much more than beautiful architecture and Greek food. It is the homeland of Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Socrates and Alexander the Great. It's the cradle of Western Civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, literature, philosophy, government, math, science and the Olympic Games. Greece is absolutely mesmerizing, beautiful and should be enjoyed at a slow pace to take in all the splendor it can offer.
Causeway linking Naxos to the islet of Palatia, home to the Portara or The Great Door
A lovely restaurant in one of the many passages of the labyrinth
I was inspired to visit Naxos after watching the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: The Greek Islands. From the show, the island looked pristine and authentically Greece.
Naxos is a short 40-minute flight from Athens and unlike its party island neighbor, Mykonos, it doesn’t rely on tourism as it’s a farming community. It's a slow-paced island where the Greeks vacation and the locals still wear traditional dress. It’s an island that closes its shops at 3PM for a nap and reopens at 6PM. It’s home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Greece, Venetian castles, a waiter in Old Naxos town that looks identical to Bradley Cooper (which he had been told this several times…I asked him) and some of the friendliest people I met during my travels.
I went during the start of off-peak season, the middle of October. The island was very quiet which is good for relaxing and having all the restaurants, shops and bars to yourself. The weather is also ideal, 80° F (27 C) during the day and 60° F (16 C) at night. If you are looking for a party and to meet other foreigners in a nightlife setting, this might not be the best island for you or at least during this time of the year. I hear it’s livelier during the summer months. However, if a quiet beach where you can read a book without being bothered or walking the marbled walkways alone appeals to you, then this island is calling your name.
One of the many cats that have a run of the island
1. Visit the Naxos gate, Old Market within the Castle Walls, Rotonda Restaurant (looks over the valley and the mountains of Naxos), and Apiranthos Mountain Village (marble village). You will need to rent a car for the last two, but it’s well worth it.
2. Try some local cuisine - Nostimon Hellas, five-star gourmet quality food with a three-star price tag is a neighborhood gem tucked off from the road. Each meal is perfectly made to order, the food is completely fresh and flavorful and with every bite your taste buds will be beckoning for more. Highlights of the meal included, mushrooms stuffed with cheese and vegetables, lamb meatballs with yogurt sauce, fresh bream in aromatic olive oil and lemon sauce and moussaka, a casserole with minced beef and vegetables in a béchamel sauce. Another local favorite is Taverna Vassilis in the labyrinth of passages of the old market area. It’s tricky to find among the dark and winding passages, but once you do, you’ll be happy to have found it. The highlights were the lamb chops grilled to perfection and the stuffed squid that was so tender it was easy to cut with a fork, full of spices and feta cheese. All portions were quite large, so this is a place where you can easily share a plate. P.S. this is where the waiter works who looks like Bradley Cooper.
Portara or The Great Door looking over Naxos
Beautiful labyrinth passages that weave around people's homes, small inns and restaurants.
A quick 1.5-hour ferry from Naxos and I was in Santorini, excited to see the picturesque scene of white washed buildings with blue domes. Once the ferry docked, I could tell Santorini was completely different from Naxos. The ferry port was busy with porters, taxi drivers, tour buses, tour operators and locals trying to sell trinkets. Not to mention, the surroundings were completely different as Santorini is built high on the cliffs of a dormant volcano. The transfer from the ferry terminal to the top of the cliffs is about a 35-minute ride on a steep, curvy road. Once at the top, I realized what the fuss is regarding the view of the Mediterranean from the cliffs: it’s breathtaking. As far as the eye can see - blue water, blue skies, fluffy white clouds and little glimmer of boats dotting the coastline. When the sun sets on the horizon, be prepared to be awe struck. Santorini doesn’t lie when they say they have some of the best sunsets in the world. Oh, and if you want to see the blue domes, those are located in the small village of Oia (pronounced E- uh) which is the honeymoon area of Santorini. You need to take a cab, bus, rent a car or take a long walk to get there.
Whitewashed buildings line the sides of the cliffs
Even in the off-peak season, Santorini is crowded during the day with cruise ship tourists, but at night, the island is moderately quiet with locals and people vacationing. You will still be able to find a multitude of restaurants open and a nice bar to grab an after drink with lovely music. The temperature is 80° F (27 C) during the day and 55° F (13 C) at night from the cold winds blowing off the cliffs.
One of the many windmills dotting cliffs in Oia
1. Go on a catamaran boat tour as you get unlimited food and drink on board. Plus, you get to meet people from other countries and the best part, the sunset at the end.
The incredibly famous sunset of Santorini
2. Go to a winery or do a winery tour. I visited Santos Winery and while it’s touristy, the views were incredible and the wine was tasty.
3. Go to a local restaurant. It's convenient to go to the touristy restaurants within walking distance of your hotel and you will still get a decent meal, but try something where it involves driving. Mataxy Mas is a great choice as it’s authentically Greek, you receive a complimentary bottle of Ouzo, baked bread, olives and dessert. The lamb shank over mashed potatoes is to die for. An honorable mention was the pomegranate salad and the broccoli soufflé.
Lamb shank over mashed potatoes...fork tender!
The infamous blue doors of Oia
One of the world’s oldest cities, Athens is a cosmopolitan city with its classical architecture still very evident with every corner you take. The most famous architecture structure is The Parthenon. Tourists from all the over the world travel here to see this old relic. Once you reach the structure, it's enormous, stark white and stoic perched on top of the hill watching over its faithful city. Other mentionable areas to visit are the Plaka District for shopping, dining and nightlife, Monastiraki for the flea market and the Ancient Agora and Kolonaki for upscale dining and Greek designer boutiques as well as international labels.
A local hangout of coffee shops and restaurants
Book a walking tour with a guide that includes the admission to The Acropolis. You will be able to bypass the long line and go straight in.
The Acropolis...always under construction but still beautiful and majestic