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Trip Report Santorini and Naxos Anniversary Trip!

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In no small part to the wonderful input and assistance received on this board (special thanks to Brotherleelove, Heimdall, Travelerjan and others who contributed as we planned) we had an amazing 10th anniversary trip to Santorini and Naxos!

We departed San Diego on May 23rd and were fortunate to have first and business class seats throughout our trip. We flew from to San Diego to Salt Lake City where we had only a 45-minute layover (no delays, thank goodness) and then on to Paris, then Athens, and then to Santorini that same evening (now the 24th). Although this made for a very long travel day (or two), I was glad to have taken the advice to continue to Santorini that night rather than making a brief stop in Athens, since this maximized our island time.

We stayed four nights at Ifestio Villas, which are beautifully located in the center of Oia. Villa Paride was a good size for the two of us, with a small sitting room/dining area/kitchen, and a separate bedroom, as well as a balcony with breathtaking views of the Aegean. Our host Katerina was very helpful in providing suggestions for area restaurants and sightseeing. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal – it was mostly cool and windy while we were there. But this did not stop us from enjoying the island. In addition to wandering around the town and taking in the breathtaking caldera views, some highlights for us were as follows:

1) The hike from Oia to Fira (via Imerovigli). Somewhere I found a website that listed the distance of this hike (which is mostly on a cliff-side path) as around 3.5 miles. This is not correct, it’s over 7 miles and I think it took us around 3 hours to make the trip. Nonetheless I would do it again in a heartbeat (though granted my husband and I are fit and enjoy a very active lifestyle). The views were absolutely incredible, and we saw so many parts of the island that we would never have seen otherwise. We stopped close to Imerovigli for a drink, and then stopped in Fira for lunch. Our only mistake was NOT getting a taxi or the bus to Oia while in Fira. It was crowded that day and we thought we’d do better walking a little outside of the town. However, we ended up on a road not frequented by taxis or buses, and we had to walk back to Imerovigli before we could find transportation (a walk that ended with a long, steep uphill climb to Imerovigli!) We laughed about how far we walked that day, and were definitely tired when we returned, but it was worth all the energy expended.

2) A visit to Domaine Sigalas. We walked from Oia to this little winery in the plain area of Oia, called Baxedes. The winery is in a beautiful location with great views, and we tasted some excellent wines and enjoyed a delicious lunch while there. We also bought a couple of bottles to take with us to Naxos. Highly recommended.

3) The walk to Amoudi Bay. We enjoyed the hike down the steps, and the views of the bay. We were there early so none of the taverns were open. Instead of hiking back up the steps, we took the roadway around. This was less steep and we avoided the horse droppings that are at the bottom of the Amoudi Bay path!

We enjoyed some excellent meals while on Santorini. Those who shared that Greece is perfect for vegetarian dining were absolutely correct! I often had difficulty deciding what to order, not being used to having so many choices. Some highlights for us were:

Thalami in Oia. Traditional Greek tavern fare. We ate here on both our first and last nights. This is an extremely friendly, reasonably priced, family owned place where we had our first taste of Santorini tomatoes (delicious). We loved the horiatiki, tzatziki, zucchini fritters, and dolmades, among other dishes we ordered. Incredible views over the Aegean from the patio area.

Roka in Oia. A little off the beaten path (as much as can be on this small island), behind the main walkway. Still has very pretty views and excellent food. We loved the fava dip, rocket salad, and tomato fritters. My husband had a plate of meatballs he said were delicious!

Kyprida in Oia. Near Roka (not on the main walkway). Very friendly and gracious service, despite our very late arrival. Cuisine is “Cypriot” – a fusion of middle eastern and traditional Greek. Excellent wine, fava dip, rocket salad, and then I had the ravioli with halloumi and mint (delicious and different!) and DH had lamb, which he really enjoyed. The restaurant is beautifully decorated and has nice sunset views for those who can make it to dinner at a reasonable hour.

Pizza Edwin. It’s near the bus station, so not a great area (though safe as is the entire island), but the pizza, salad, and wine were great and a nice change from Greek fare.

We really enjoyed our time in Santorini, and the island is undoubtedly beautiful. However, we found the degree of tourist development, the number of people, and especially the cruise-ship associated crowds to be a bit daunting. We also noticed at times what seemed (to us) to be a degree of distance between the locals and the visitors on the island. This is not uncommon in relatively wealthy touristic areas, and in this case, I imagine it is in part due the economic issues that have befallen the country. As an example, at one point we tried to have a drink in a restaurant-bar but were turned away from what was clearly a locals’ only scene. The person we spoke with was gracious and she directed us to another location for a drink, but it was again locals only and we were not warmly received. I made a point of learning a few Greek words and phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, good morning/evening/night, please, may I use the bathroom, etc.), and each time I used one of these phrases in Santorini the recipient seemed extremely surprised. In short, I feel that this is definitely a beautiful place to visit, but designed for tourists as opposed to experiencing the local culture. Due to the crowds, and the expense, if planning a trip again to the Greek Islands in the future, we would most likely limit our time on Santorini to 1-2 nights if any. At the same time I'm very glad we were able to see this exquisite and romantic place during our lifetimes!

On the fifth day, we took the Blue Star Ferry to Naxos. It was cloudy and there was periodic rain, but we enjoyed part of the trip from the deck. I think the recommendation to take the slow ferry is a good one, as the views and sights are wonderful regardless of weather. We purchased standard economy tickets given that the trip was only 2 hours, but were able to sit in business class for part of the trip since the ferry was half empty.

We stayed six nights on Naxos, during which we rented a villa on Agia Anna (specifically, http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p421180). I really deliberated on where we should stay in Naxos, and looked at hotels and reviews fairly exhaustively. In the end I feel we made the best decision for us. The villa was immaculate, well-located, peaceful, and beautiful, with great views. The extra space was helpful since we were there for a full week. The villa is a short walk to the port area of Agia Anna, which has numerous restaurants that continue to the North (Agios Prokopios) and South (Plaka). The best beaches are close by (Plaka, Orkos, Mikri Vigla, Aliko), but the house is also convenient to Naxos town and to other interesting sites, such as the island villages. We enjoyed wandering around Agia Anna and the neighboring areas each night, and watching the sunset from our terraces or from the local taverns.

We rented a car since we were there for a week and wanted to explore (although there is also a local bus service). Some highlights from this portion of our trip include the following:

1) A visit to the local villages via rental car (Halki, Koronos, etc.). We especially loved the Village of Chalki (Halki), which is charming, quaint, and friendly. We had lunch at a small tavern in Koronos, which had no menu, but superb food! Usually as a vegetarian “no menu” means I’ll be walking away hungry, but not the case on this trip. We had some kind of fritter with herbs and cheese, tzatziki, horiatiki, delicious homemade bread, fried potatoes, and mythos beer. Wonderful and very friendly service! We drove around most of the islands, and also stopped to see the The Kouros of Apollon and Agia Tower, among other sights.

2) The hike from Halki to Moni. I purchased the book “walking on Naxos,” though unfortunately I did not have the new 2011 edition. This hike was a lot longer than we expected as we lost the trail at a couple of points (I think due to new fences). Still it was beautiful and a lot of fun, with excellent views and some interesting sights (e.g., churches). Along the way, we stopped at a wood workshop maintained by a local resident, which was beautiful and a great place to rest and have a refreshing drink. In Moni, we visited a handmade fabrics shop in someone’s home and also had a late lunch at To Panórama, which has outdoor seating with breathtaking views. The hike was uphill the entire way, and given our hour or so detour (also uphill into a goat grazing area – don’t ask) we were very tired by the time we finished lunch. We asked the proprietess (who spoke only a little English) about a taxi, and she made it clear that this would be difficult and expensive, so we resigned ourselves to the walk back. However, a few minutes later, a woman walked out onto the balcony and told us she would give us a ride into Halki. I believe this was the owner’s daughter in law, though no one spoke much English and my 10 Greek phrases didn’t help much. She was so sweet and gracious, and as she drove us down the mountain road, her small son road along beside us on his bicycle! Once in Halki, we ran back to our rental car to drop some items off and change clothes, and when we walked back into the town we were invited by our gracious driver to join her and her friend (a local tavern owner) for coffee. She also introduced us to her mother and showed us her (mother’s) handmade fabrics shop, where we purchased some beautiful napkins, and to her sister, who worked as a hairdresser in the area. Despite the communications difficulties (the interaction made me wish I had invested more time learning Greek!), this experience was a highlight of our trip.

3) The walk from Agia Anna to Orkos. The cooler weather was great for hiking, but we were happy to have several beach friendly days during our time on Naxos. One day we left early, and hiked South from Agia Anna, through Plaka, and down to Orkos. The beaches South are simply amazing – very peaceful and undeveloped, other than sporadic taverns or hotels. Lots of nude sunbathing! Orkos is a popular kite boarding area, and there were many kite-boarders there on the day we visited. We had lunch at a tavern just behind the beach – called Kontos - and it was one of the best meals we had on the island. We had (as usual) tzatziki, salad, bread, and also “chickpeas in the oven” (an exotically spiced and delicious dish), and fried potatoes. We enjoyed the walk back to Agia Anna along the farm roads and beaches.

4) The beach at Alyko. Another day we drove down to Alkyo, and this beach was a stunning amalgamate of cliffs, cedar trees, and white sand. Very private and excellent swimming. This was probably one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to – and I’ve been to many! Afterwards, we drove to Mikri Vigla and had lunch at the Mikri Vigla tavern. Not as good as Kontos, but we enjoyed the large baked beans – a dish that was recommended to me by someone on this board.

5) A visit to Chora. We spent an afternoon walking around the lovely old quarter and beautiful Venetian Kastro. We watched the sunset at the port, and had a delicious dinner at Trattoria da Susanna (excellent Italian). This was a lot of fun, but Chora and (Agios Georgios) were too busy for us and I’m glad we stayed outside of the town.

Besides restaurants already mentioned, we really enjoyed meals at Palatia (traditional Greek Taverna fare, right on Agia Anna beach) and Colosseo Pizza/Grill (mostly locals, very inexpensive, tasty pizza, pasta, and traditional Greek dishes, live music - toward Agio Prokopios). Also, in Halki, Il Basilico restaurant and wine bar looked interesting, though we never had a chance to eat there. We also had some excellent reasonably priced breakfasts at another place on Agia Anna beach, though I can’t remember the restaurant name. My favorite was the “#6”, fresh juice, tea or coffee, bread and jam, yogurt and fruit. Delicious and a great deal for only 5 Euro!

On Naxos, we very much enjoyed the beautiful beaches, interesting cultural sites, quaint villages, amazing views of the hills and sea, friendly people, and reasonable prices. Overall, we absolutely loved the island and would return in a heartbeat!

Finally, we departed Naxos on the Blue Star ferry to Athens on our seventh day. We booked business class (and were glad to have access to the lounge for the longer trip), but spent several hours on deck enjoying the beautiful weather. Again, I agree with the recommendation often voiced on this board to take the slower ferry. We really enjoyed the trip!

Our time in Athens was very short, since we did not arrive at our hotel (Athens Gate) until after 4:00 pm and had a flight out at 7 am the next morning. Athens Gate is a nice, centrally located hotel. We walked to the Parthenon, and walked around Plaka. Part of me wished we’d had more time in Athens, although like Santorini, I could sense a degree of tension during my short time there. Perhaps this was just a function of being in such a touristy area. Also, it seemed very loud and crowded after a week on Naxos. We did have a wonderful dinner at a nearby restaurant called Aglio Oglio And Peperoncino. Highly recommended for excellent Italian food!

We departed Athens and spent four nights in Amsterdam before returning home to San Diego. Overall a wonderful trip. Thanks again to everyone who offered advice during the planning phases!

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