fun4all4 Trip Report: Greece is Great!

Old Jul 19th, 2008, 02:35 PM
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fun4all4 Trip Report: Greece is Great!

Greetings, Everyone!

We returned a few weeks ago from our family trip to Greece, and I am finally getting to our trip report. DH and I traveled with our 2 sons, ages 14 and 17 (D and J) as well as another family consisting of our good friends, B and A, and their 4 children – 2 girls, ages 24 and 21 (K and S) and 2 boys, ages 14 and 17 (A and W). Everyone gets along really well, but this was the first time we had spent such a long period of time together. It worked out great; we knew before we left that we have similar travel styles, but it also helped that we all felt comfortable doing “our own thing” without having to spend every second together.

I would describe our travel style as slightly upmarket - we are not budget travelers nor are we luxury/deluxe. We usually stay in nice 3* places and often 4-5*, but not super deluxe. I look for smaller, family-run B&B’s or hotels that are very nice and a reasonable value, but will sometimes go with a splurge or a larger hotel. We like value, but do not scrimp. We like good food and particularly want to sit down to a nice dinner. We tend to eat a smallish breakfast (well, not the 17 year old), usually have a sandwich (in Greece, gyro) or salad for lunch, perhaps an occasional ice cream or other afternoon snack, then a full dinner. Breakfast was included everywhere we stayed.

Our basic itinerary was as follows: 1 night overnight flight, 3 nights mainland/Peloponnese with stays in Delphi and Nafplio, 4 nights Naxos, 3 nights Santorini, and 2 nights Athens.

I will share briefly about each section of the trip and would be happy to answer further questions or provide additional details as requested.

Day 1-2 Flight from Dulles through Heathrow to Athens

We flew British Air and other than a long 5-hour layover at LHR, there was nothing to note about the journey as it is no longer worth the bother to comment upon the lack of legroom in coach. The food was edible, they serve wine with no extra charge, the air was smooth (a big bonus for me, the nervous flyer), and we arrived on time. A couple of other good points – the flight attendants were quite friendly and did a nice job AND the dreaded switch from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 and the ensuing wait was no problem at all. It does take some time and we allowed a long layover to avoid stress and minimize the risk of a missed connection (our other choice was just a 1 ½ hour layover), but the early problems with the new terminal seem to be remedied. There was ample staff to handle the number of passengers and we had loads of time to spare in T-5. We walked around, looked at books, ate breakfast at Wagamama, and slept and read in the waiting area. Unfortunately, our flight to Athens was delayed a bit, and we finally arrived in Athens at 6:15 pm. By this time we were tired and happy to have landed, but still had a few travel hours left to go.

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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 02:37 PM
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Day 2 Athens Airport to Delphi

As a group of 10, the logistics were a bit different than when we travel as a couple or family of 4. Both to accommodate our larger group and because we wanted this portion of the trip to be educational for us all, we had a private guide and driver for this part of the trip. The younger boys in particular are mythology fans and we all like history so having a knowledgeable guide proved to be a fantastic experience. Not only did she enrich our experience as we visited the various sites, but she was fun, friendly and recommended restaurants, helped us order some great meals, etc…. It was a real splurge to have our own bus, driver and master guide for 4 days, but it was great. Also nice was that we could adjust our schedule as we went.

Our first stop was Delphi. We finally arrived after 9:30 pm, tired and hungry. Our hotel for the night was the Hotel Apollonia, a 3-4* hotel with awesome views overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. The hotel is fine – nice, but fairly basic. I found our room to be a bit too smoky but the other 4 rooms seems ok so I guess we were just unlucky.

By the time we were checked in it was 10:00 pm, but hunger won out over tiredness so we trekked down the steps/hill for dinner at Tavern Vakchos which was very good. They were friendly despite us walking in towards the end of their evening, and all of our dishes hit the spot – Greek salads, moussaka, cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, calamari, beer, wine, and more. Back up the hill and to bed! We had already decided to tweak the schedule – at that point we had been traveling for more than 24 hours so agreed we all needed to sleep in a bit and would not hit the road till 9:30. Even if it meant a little less time somewhere, we knew the first few days of this trip were paced pretty quickly and did not want the group grumpy and burned out already.

Day 3 Delphi, Corinth, and Nafplio

Breakfast at the hotel was fine – the basement room lacked charm, but the selection was decent and fairly typical of other breakfasts we have had in Europe. And, best of all, there was plenty of good coffee to help us get rolling!

Our driver and guide were ready and waiting so we boarded our vehicle and were dropped at the ancient site of Delphi. We all loved Delphi. It is amazingly well-preserved, and we explored the hillside including the Sacred Way, Treasury, Altar of Apollo, the theater and arena, and enjoyed glorious views. Our guide added immeasurably to our visit by providing a wealth of information about the history of the people, oracle, religion, daily life and more. After a short visit to the Museum – small, but well done, we went back into the town of Delphi for lunch at Lekaria. It was delightful.

Sated, we hopped on the bus for a longish (approx. 4 hr) ride to Nafplio with a stop in Corinth to view the Canal and get a cold drink. The Corinth Canal was an amazing feat of engineering and is really high. It is 4 miles long and connects the Aegean and Ionian Seas.

Upon our arrival in Nafplio we checked into the Hotel Rex which is a 3* hotel situated in decent but not spectacular location just a 5-minute walk from the main waterfront area. For this portion of the trip, knowing we would be on the go a lot, we really chose to devote our resources to having a guide and save our more upscale hotels for the islands. Still, the Hotel Rex was clean with fine service and a good breakfast at a very fair rate. We were happy with our stay and would return although if I were going to go more upscale in Nafplio, the new Amphytron on the waterfront looked very nice. The Nafplia Palace is also supposed to be special, but is higher up above the waterfront.

The weather is fabulous –as it is for the entire trip- and Nafplio is absolutely delightful. It is a lovely town with a great waterfront, nice shops and restaurants, and gorgeous scenery and sights.

We relaxed and explored around a bit after arriving. That evening, we strolled the waterfront and ate a delicious meal (mostly fish and other seafood) at Restaurant Savouras. It is a place where you go into the restaurant and choose your fish so make sure you are careful and clear about the pricing so you do not end up with an expensive surprise at the end. This is not an issue particular to this restaurant, but rather reflects the common European practice (at least we have found this in Venice and Croatia as well) of selling fish by weight and not by the serving. By now we are really settling in to a relaxed vacation mode, and we sit for a long time enjoying our meal, wine and the company of good friends. We also spend time watching the Euro 2008 match. Note: we are huge soccer/football fans and relish being in Europe during Euro 2008. We were fortunate enough to be in Switzerland and Italy during the 2006 World Cup and a highlight for us was knowing we’d be able to spend our evenings watching football as we lingered over our wine and coffee. It is so fun that so many of the restaurants, bars and cafes have huge viewing screens set up and there are a ton of people out enjoying the night and the games.

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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 02:38 PM
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Day 4 – Mycenae and Epidaurus

DH and I woke up fairly early and met up with A for our morning workout – a climb up the steps of the Palamidi Fortress that towers over Nafplio. The guidebooks say 1000 steps, but B counted 901 (of course, the entrance at the top was closed so perhaps there are more on the other side of the gate). The views were awesome and the exercise was appreciated and needed. It must have been a good workout because my calves complained for a couple of days afterward – not enough steps in my routine, I guess.

Back at the hotel, we grabbed showers and breakfast before meeting the bus for the day of touring. Our first stop was Agamemnon’s Tomb on the approach to Mycenae. We were very impressed – its age, size, and craftsmanship were amazing.

Next, we went up the road to Mycenae proper where we saw the Lion’s Gate and explored the citadel that Heinrich Schliemann excavated. Then, it was on to Epidaurus, a cool theater which is amazingly well-preserved. It was built in the 4th century BCE and seated 14,000. The acoustics are extraordinary.

It was 2 pm by the time we arrived back at the hotel in Nafplio. We were hot, tired and hungry – the whole group headed up the street for gyros at a casual eatery near the hotel. We hung out in the AC for a while and then went to the beach (rocky) for a swim and drinks at the seaside café.

That evening we met our guide for a nice dinner at Agnanti (? I think but can’t remember for sure – that is the name on the cc bill) which is all the way at the end of the promenade and just around the tip. It is right on the water. We had a most memorable evening with gorgeous views including a spectacular sunset, great service, and a very good meal. They were so kind and brought ouzo for all, but, unfortunately, it is not my thing.
We stopped at a bar on the way home to watch the Greece match which they lost – too bad, but fun anyway. Back to the hotel and to bed.

Next up….. Naxos

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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 02:47 PM
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Link to photos from first part of trip:
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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 03:24 PM
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Beautiful pictures and looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 04:19 PM
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Great start! Isn't Nafplio wonderful? We were tempted to climb up to the Palamidi, but in the end, we were lazy...we drove. Watching Euro 2008 was a big part of our trip this year, too. Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 04:26 PM
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ttt 4 later
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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 05:43 PM
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Looks like another great trip! Nice photos.
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Old Jul 19th, 2008, 06:28 PM
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Sounds like you had another great trip. I look forward to the rest. And I agree, great photos.

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Old Jul 20th, 2008, 07:16 AM
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Thanks for the kind replies so far. I am working on the next section and will try to get it posted later today.
Glad you like the photos so far - Tom, I am especially flattered if you like them because, having had the opportunity to see many of your pictures .... well, let's just say I take pictures for fun and to record memories and give a sense of place from a trip - your photos are art.

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Old Jul 20th, 2008, 11:18 AM
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Days 5-8 Naxos

After breakfast, we left Nafplio for the ride back to Athens airport. Lots of hugs and thanks to our guide, and we were off for a quick flight to Naxos. The flight took about 30 minutes (I had been nervous all spring because our tickets were booked with Aegean and we’d heard concerns about whether they’d still be operating) and all was fine. The resort sent a bus for us that was right on time and within 15 minutes or so we were checking into our hotel. Our home for the next 4 nights was the Naxos Resort (recently renamed as it was the Naxos Royal). We receive a kind welcome, and the hotel is really lovely. The only slight issue was that our 5 rooms were in 4 different buildings, but it worked out fine. The buildings are close together and the kids are old enough not to need us right there at every second, but it would have been easier to be together. Anyway, everything at the resort was fresh, bright, and clean. The breakfast is good and there are areas to eat both inside and outside by the pool. The pool is large and very pretty, but could use more lounge chairs, particularly ones in the shade under palapas as the sun is strong and the competition for the shady spots is stiff. The beach is a short block away, and there are many chairs/umbrellas to rent there at various beach clubs (I think it was 7€ for a full day with 2 chairs and an umbrella). Town is a pleasant stroll away – perfect as our location was quiet yet shops and restaurants were easily accessible.

There seem to be many sightseeing opportunities around Naxos – hiking, ruins, daytrips to Delos/Mykonos, etc… In fact, before leaving home our plan had been to take advantage of many of these activities. As it turned out, after a very busy spring (work, school, sports, exams/SAT’s) and a long few days of travel and touring, we were all ready for some downtime. We spent the 4 days reading, sleeping, swimming, lounging by the pool and beach, eating and drinking, watching Euro 2008, walking, kayaking, and exploring town and the Portara. Our big, ambitious plans melted away as we succumbed to the lure of the lounge chair.

Since we did no particular sightseeing, and the days on Naxos really run into one another, I am not going to do a day-by-day report of our time here. However, I will mention the restaurants where we dined in case that might be helpful to someone.

Dinner 1st night at Meltemi on the main strip going into town. Friendly service and fine meal with yummy swordfish souvlaki for me and DH. At the end of the meal we were served “Masticka” – not sure if spelled correctly – which is an herbal liquor of some sort made out of tree sap? Suffice it to say, it is better than ouzo, but still quite unusual and an acquired taste for sure. We finished the evening watching a match in the hotel lobby.

If I may digress for a moment as I thought of this as I tried to spell “masticka”…… there is a reason for the saying “it is all Greek to me!” I can fake it in French and Italian, but Greek is just difficult! Plus, there seem to be a million variations in spelling when words are translated from the Greek alphabet to ours. Usually we try to learn a number of words in the local language, but we barely managed to get down 2 or 3 words including thank you and hello. Luckily, we also found the Greek people to be warm and friendly – they were gracious and patient as we used smiles and hand gestures, and most of the people we encountered could speak some English so it was not too much of a problem or barrier. In fact, one of the coolest things on the trip was when W and J (the 17-year old guys) spent an afternoon on Naxos beach playing soccer with a bunch of locals – none of them spoke any English, but with claps, hand signals, and body language, they communicated all the “rules” of the game, served passes, picked teams, etc… It was a blast.

Dinner 2nd night – (thanks stanbr!) was at To Kastro where we had an excellent meal. The view was fantastic and the owner great. In fact, we made reservations for our 4th and last night as we were leaving. The Blue Snapper special was amazing as was dh’s dish called Kaligaros. Actually, there was nothing any of the ten of us got that was not terrific.

Dinner 3rd night – each family went out on their own. Our friends went to the Mexican place which I think is called Picasso – they loved it! We chose to have Italian at Trattoria Susanna which was also delicious. The mussel appetizer was particularly memorable. My pasta with veggies was yummy and the guys had a great pizza. The wine was a really good Montepulciano. Italian was a nice change even though we love Greek food and never really tired of it the whole trip. Again, watched the game at the hotel before heading to bed.

Dinner 4th night was back at To Kastro which was again amazing.

Our lunches were by the pool a couple of the days – their tomato and cucumber salad was so fresh. Another day we ate at Mama’s Steak House and had delicious gyros (chicken).

Next up… Naxos to Santorini

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Old Jul 20th, 2008, 11:25 AM
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Naxos photos:

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Old Jul 20th, 2008, 02:17 PM
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bookmarking ... great review and pictures!! Thanks!
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Old Jul 20th, 2008, 02:52 PM
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Great report and wonderful pictures. Waiting for more...
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Old Jul 21st, 2008, 07:18 AM
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Very informative and interesting report, especially with the details including names of hotels, restaurants, etc.

Am reading with particular interest as we're going to visit our daughter who's studying in Athens this coming fall semester. Hopefully she'll have solved the Greek alphabet/language issues by the time we get there!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2008, 11:07 AM
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What guide/driver service did you use? I'm tentatively planning on going to Greece in April 2009. I will probably go on a tour but will spend extra time at the end in Athens and want to take a day trip to Epidaurus, Mycenae and Napflio. I have checked into several companies, but a recommendation is always welcome.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 10:12 AM
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Finally getting a chance to get caught up on your report! Sounds like you had a great time and what a good looking group you are!!

Looking forward to the next installment.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 03:46 PM
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hi, fun,

i think that the drink you are thinking of is "METAXA" - a sort of greek brandy.

it's so good that the bottle we brought back with us from our one and only trip to Greece over 25 years ago is still supplying us with alcohol on occasions when the taste doesn't really matter.

like you we tried to learn some of the language - DH had a head start as he's done a maths degree so he could pronounce the letters which came in really useful when we hired a car. but I did better on pronunciation - which meant that if I asked a question, they gave me answers that were too complicated.

BTW I can still remember the greek for water-melon. Don't know why, I just do.

looknig forward to the rest of the report,

regards, ann
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Old Jul 24th, 2008, 06:25 PM
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Hi everyone! Thanks for your kind comments and your patience. Life is getting in the way of working on this report.

A couple of responses before I post the next section:

DeniceRG, xyz99, and jgg - thanks, I appreciate your reading along (sometimes I think my trip reports are pretty boring, but I hope they are at least informational).

Delaine - I am sure you will have a wonderful trip. April should be a pretty time. As for our guide/driver, I actually booked them through my agency (we are Virtuoso and they are one of our on-site partners. I am not sure if they work with clients directly). It is also a pretty pricey option that may/may not be worth it if you are one person. Nikki, a frequent poster here, used a company called GO Tous for this type of trip and seemed happy. It might be worth checking her posts. Or, there are probably other recs here if you search under "private guides" or you could have an agent arrange if you'd feel more comfortable. I hope that helps.

annhig - I am so glad you are reading as I follow many of your posts and travels with your "kids."

You might be right on the liquor, but I actually think this was what we had:

Mastika (from Greek: μαστίχα (< mastich(a)o "to chew, to gnash the teeth"), mastícha; South Slavic languages: мастика, mastika; Romanian: mastică) is originally a liquor made from the resin of the mastic tree. This tree grows primarily on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea.

As for the language thing, I think you did better than we did. DH and I were in a fraternity and sorority, respectively, while in college so we could do some letter ID's and phonic sounds, but really bungled our pronunciation attmepts.

Would you mind emailing me about a topic completely unrelated to this thread? I have a couple of South Africa questions if you are willing.

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Old Jul 24th, 2008, 06:28 PM
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Day 9 Naxos to Santorini

We took the Blue Star Ferry to Santorini which is approximately a 1 ½ -2 hour trip. Approaching Santorini is beautiful, but the port is busy, crazy and it was very hot. Fortunately, we all managed to grab our bags, find each other, and then find our driver holding a sign with our name. Our mini-bus climbed and climbed the narrow road with multiple switchbacks until at last we were at the top of the island. The views blew us away. It is impossible not to take a million pictures while on Santorini and none of them seems to do justice to the beauty.

After weeks of agonizing over our hotel choices and location, we decided to stay at the Astra Apartments and Suites in Imerovigli. It was a great choice for us. The property is lovely and the location quiet. With the teens we weren’t sure we wanted to be all the way in Oia (although after going there, I think it would have been fine as well), but we decided we did not to stay right in busier Fira. Imerovigli is also right in front of Skaros Rock which makes for great views and was a fun hike for all of us (some of the group did this multiple times). The walk to Fira is probably around 25 minutes and is harder (ie. more uphill) on the way back. It may be too much walking for some, but it was fine for us – and, we only went all the way into Fira once as there were fine restaurants in Firostefani (and Imerovigli has a few as well). The Astra was terrific. Breakfast is delivered to your room each morning, the staff is nice and was helpful in arranging dinner reservations and transportation as well as a dive trip, and the pool area with bar including Chris, the bartender, was lovely. Note/Tip: walk to the nearby grocery for a 6-pack of large water bottles. We were thirsty a lot and a huge bottle x 6 was only 2-3 euros compared to like 2 euros each at most of the hotels. I don’t fuss about that stuff much, but we go through a lot of water and this was a major savings.

We ate dinner the first night at the hotel. With 10 of us and having had a long travel day, it seemed to be our best plan. The good news is that it was a peaceful dinner with good food and views, but it was very expensive compared to many choices in the area.

Day 10 Santorini (and DH’s birthday)

First thing in the morning we went for a walk/run/hike up Skaros Rock. It was very windy – everyone got the top while we were there except me. I got to within about 3-5 feet, but don’t love heights and was feeling nervous so I backed out. Part of me is still sorry, but I just didn’t feel comfortable. After our adventure, as it is quite challenging in spots, we returned to our patio for breakfast.

DH and I along with our friends, B and A, decided to go to Oia for the day. Our 2 boys also decided to join us partly because they were interested and partly because it was their Dad’s birthday and wanted to do what he chose for the day. Oia is a gorgeous village and it is clear why so many people like to stay here. Our plan was to peek around the village for a bit then walk down the steps to Ammoudi Wharf. We did that and ate lunch at the last place on the left (facing the water) called Dimitri’s which was wonderful. We ate octopus, mussels, calamari, Greek salads, and more while watching the fishing boats bob on the crystal blue water. Following lunch, we continued around the point to swim among the rocks which was glorious and refreshing. What a life!

That afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool and napping. Dinner that night was a split with the kids eating Italian and the adults dining at Vanilia, both in Firostefani. The kids did not love their dinner (I am sorry I cannot remember the name), but Vanilia is both very pretty and a worthwhile meal. After one last toast to DH’s birthday, we walked back and headed to bed.

Day 11 Santorini and Diving

DH, J and I are all certified divers and 14-year old D is an absolute fish who loves the water. J was just dying to do some diving, and we were able to arrange a daytrip with help from the Astra. I decided I did not want to dive as it was fairly choppy and I was hoping for some time on my own to do some shopping and take some pictures. D was given the chance to participate in a “resort” experience with his own dive master and a maximum depth of 20 feet after a brief lesson. They went with Volcano Tours Dive Shop and were very pleased with them. It was a fabulous day and they came back all smiles. DH and J enjoyed the shelf/wall diving and rock formations and D was completely jazzed by his first experience diving. Now that we are home, he has already started lessons to become certified.

I walked into Fira and enjoyed my time wandering on my own before returning to the pool for a salad lunch and time to read.

After another perfect sunset, our last dinner on Santorini was at Skaros Tavern in Firostefani. It was excellent and we definitely recommend it. We all took our time strolling back to the hotel not wanting to think about leaving this perfect place. Luckily, we didn’t have to check out until noon so we could defer packing and sit on our patio soaking in the view until bedtime.

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