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Trip report: Just back from Santorini, Crete, and Athens (Part I)

Trip report: Just back from Santorini, Crete, and Athens (Part I)

May 31st, 2006, 11:44 AM
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Trip report: Just back from Santorini, Crete, and Athens (Part I)

Thanks to everyone who provided such great information in assisting with the planning of this trip!

A couple of comments if I was re-doing the trip:
--We found two-three nights is plenty for Santorini.
--We'd most likely fly Aegean over Olympic in the future. While our Olympic flight was on time and all our luggage arrived in one piece, the plane itself (a turboprop) was very dusty/dirty inside and looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie!
--We'd definitely recommend staying in Oia, as opposed to Fira, but you'll probably want to rent a car/4wheeler/ scooter if you're staying more than one day.
--After visiting a bunch of the hotels/rooms in Oia, we'd most likely stay at Perivolas on a return visit. It was the only place we found with a large pool with lots of greenery--it really stands out and to us appeared much nicer than Katikies/Oia Mare/etc.
--The highspeed catamaran was a great way to travel and I'm so glad we bought business class tickets. It was well worth the extra 12Euros/pp.

Santorini (Part 1)
We arrived in Santorini around 5pm after a short hop on Olympic from Athens. Having arrived safely and with all of our luggage, we left the airport to meet our pre-arranged transfer. Since it failed to materialize, we took a cab to Oia. We had booked our hotel for Residence Suites through Ecorama--the taxi dropped us at their office and we were guided through the streets to the rooms. The streets were packed with a just unloaded busload of elderly and we could barely walk through the streets. After what seemed like a very long walk (and in mule kitten-heels!), we arrived at our rooms. We had reserved the honeymoon suite which had a great view of the caldera, was very spacious, and had a large private balcony with chairs, table, lounge chairs, and a hammack. Our luggage arrived a short time thereafter on the back of a donkey and the staff at Residence Suites had even cleaned off the dust our bags had received from the flight over.

After a quick nap, we headed to 1800 for dinner. A beautiful setting and the town was much more pleasing after the daytrippers had left. The food and the wine list were ok, but my appetizer was horrid. I learned after this experience to read the fine print at the beginning of most Greek menus which indicated if the seafood, meat, etc. was fresh or frozen.

The entire village of Oia is a photographer's dream. Every building, walkway, etc. is a perfect photo. The next day, we explored Oia, walking from end to end, visiting the churches, cemeteries, stores, grabbing a quick snack of tomatoes and cucumber salad, and then heading off to Sigalas winery for a tasting. The staff at Sigalas couldn't have been more pleasant or hospitable. We had a lovely time and tried their entire range of wines along with a chat re: methods of winemaking in Santorini, etc. I had emailed ahead for a reservation and tasting and they had recommended that we arrive late in the day once all of the tourists had left if we wanted an informative tasting. On the way back to our rooms, we found a small restaurant on the back streets called Kantourni and made reservations there for later that night. The restaurant is owned by a man from Montreal and the setting and food were divine. Our favorites included a crock of eggplant tian and the roasted lamb. Just yummy, the staff was very attentive and friendly, and dinner was about 1/2 the price of dinner at 1800 the night before.

The next day after walking down to the harbour and back, we rented a car for the afternoon and ventured to the other side of the island. Stopping briefly at Akrotiri to in fact confirm that it was completely closed and then grabbing some snacks of tomato balls and fried zucchini at one of the tavernas near the light house. We also wandered around some of the smaller villages on the opposite side of the island (nice for a different view of the caldera) and stopped briefly in Fira and Imerovegli.

That evening, we headed to Ambrosia and Nectar for dinner. We ordered 4-5 appetizers for dinner, including the leek flan, the stuffed tomatoes w/ couscous, and the feta in phyllo with honey. Everything was delicious and we had a great view looking out over the caldera to view the fireworks in both Fira and Imerovegli (presumably from weddings that day per our waiter).

The next day, we took the highspeed catamaran to Heraklion in Crete.

Although Santorini was lovely and I'm glad we visited, it's very small and we did not find much to do (other than lots of shopping and eating), so I can think of other islands we'd prefer to return to before making a return trip here.
LoriS is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 02:57 PM
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LoriS, I'll read your trip report with interest as I'm going to Greece in the fall! One question - did you spend a night or two in Athens before you flew to Santorini, or did you just stay at the airport for a layover? Thanks in advance.

sunny16 is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 03:16 PM
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We actually flew Dallas-Zurich (AA), Zurich-Athens (Swiss), and then Athens-Santorini (Olympic) all in one day.

We were a little tired by the time we got to Santorini, but after a short, dinner, and a good night's sleep, we were pretty much on European time. We only had short layovers (1-2 hours) in Zurich and in Athens so we saved a lot of time by not spending the night in Athens.

On the return, we flew from Crete to Athens and spent two nights in Athens before catching an early flight to Frankfurt (Lufthansa) w/ connection to Dallas (AA). Hope that helps!

LoriS is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 03:20 PM
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Thanks for the help!
sunny16 is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 04:04 PM
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What's the restaurant owner's name from Montreal? Montreal (my city) has superb Greek cuisine.
Syl is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 04:35 PM
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I took his card and the names on the card are Efstathia & Fotis Korakianiti-Nikolopoulou and Spiros & Panagiotis Korakianitis. Here's their website: www.kandouni.com

Hope that helps!

LoriS is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 04:41 PM
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Enjoying your report Lori and looking forward to the rest of your report as I am off to Oia, Chania and Athens in Sept.
Jackie is online now  
Jun 1st, 2006, 07:02 PM
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Part II Crete

We loved Crete and can't wait to go back.

We took the high speed catamaran from Santorini to Crete. The catamaran was about 45 minutes late getting into Crete since they had difficulty in loading all of the luggage in Santorini. At one point, the captain said enough is enough, and some people were left to trying to lug their own luggage up the gangplank. As I mentioned in my previous post, it's well worth the 12 Euros/pp. extra to purchase the business class tickets. While we were upstairs in relative comfort, the folks downstairs in economy class were pretty crowded and having some words over seats, luggage space, etc. I was surprised by the level of comfort on the catamaran--almost more like an airline. Very nice and great ride, albeit very bumpy. Lots of the children got seasick and the purser was very nice in going around checking on everyone and handing out seasickness bags. Luckily, we don't get seasick--if you do, you'll want to be prepared.

The rental car company had told us that the car pickup was at the port--but they neglected to tell us it was about 10 blocks from the port and with a lot of luggage and nearing dusk, we decided to take a taxi to pick up the car. An easy drive (1 hour 15 min--all autoroute) later, we were pulling up to our hotel, the Blue Palace near Elounda (Eastern Crete). The Blue Palace is actually on the far side of Elounda and closer to Plaka (directly across from the island of Spinalonga).

The Blue Palace is beyond words. Usually, we stay at smaller hotels, but we chose the Blue Palace because of the available amenities (It was initially a toss-up between the Blue Palace and the Elounda Mare/Palace,etc. group). While it was much larger than we would like, the location was fantastic. Our room had a private infinity pool and looked out over Spinalonga. Included in the rate, is a luscious breakfast buffet with almost anything you can imagine (poached eggs with spinach, grilled tomatoes, crepes, omelets, a wide variety of pastries, fruits, charcuterie, cheeses, etc.).

The first day, we decided to relax and stay at the hotel, enjoying the spa and beach. You take a small incline from the top of the hotel down to the spa and beach. After a few spa treatments, my husband joined me for a cycle in the thalassotherapy pools. This was my first time doing the cycles as opposed to a bath and I loved it. So much that I booked another session later in the week. There are freshwater and seawater outdoor pools, as well as a heated freshwater pool in the spa. The beach is very rocky and the water was freezing! The days were blistering hot (actually the temperature was lower than it is here in Texas, but it felt a lot hotter!), but the nights cooled off and were quite nice (a good deal warmer than Santorini). We had a nice fish dinner at Poulis on the harbor in Elounda.

The next day, we set off for the western side of the island. My husband is a huge WWII buff and planned a full day of WWII site visits. It took us about 2.5-3 hours to go from Elounda to Maleme to first visit the German War Cemetery. The cemetery is located on the very hill that the Allies fought so hard to defend only to lose to the German forces. As it was almost 65 years to the day of the battle, there were several large groups visiting.

From there, we drove along the coast and into Chania. We grabbed a light lunch at the restaurant right next to the Mosque at the old harbor (can't remember the name). We were eating late (2:30pm) and the restaurant was actually full of locals, not tourists. I had the tabbouleh salad which was excellent!

Chania has a cute Venetian harbor and loads of markets/shopping, but it was a little touristy for my tastes. We walked up to visit Casa Delfino (which looks very nice) since friends of our had stayed there and recommended it, but I prefer to be much further out and away from the commotion.

Leaving Chania, we headed to the Commonwealth War Cemetery near Souda Bay. To our surprise, they were holding a wreath laying ceremony which began soon after our arrival and the presenters included our own USS Enterprise aircraft carrier group (CVN 65). It was a very nice ceremony and we were so proud to see our boys/girls in action.

Then we headed back to Elounda and grabbed a quick dinner of mezedes at another restaurant (can't remember the name) along the harbor--everyone was throwing the leftover bread into the harbor to bring out the fish in the lighted waters--we even got to see some squid and sea turtles!

The next day, we headed to Knossos to visit the palace. I will have to say that this was the biggest disappointment of the trip for me. The British archaelogist who discovered the site had his own ideas about what he thought Knossos should/did look like and they've done a lot of reconstruction on certain parts of the palace. Apparently, it's been quite controversial. I'd have preferred to see the ruins/remains without the modern interpretation.

Then we drove on to visit the Crete Golf Club so my husband could head to the driving range. If you're a golfer, you should try to play the course. It appears to be very difficult, but some of the views are fantastic.

We made a short stop at the Monastery of St. George Selinari (between Malia and Neapolis). This is actually a very small monastery and directly on the New National Road--but there's something about this place. We walked around, took some pictures, lit some candles, but I left with such a feeling of peace that was different than anything I've felt before. It was so peaceful that it's difficult to accurately describe it. But you feel so good when you leave here. We hadn't planned on stopping, but it was one of the highlights for me.

Then we headed back to Elounda with a brief stop in Agios Nikolaos. The harbor here is mich larger than in Elounda, but it's very nice and much quieter than Chania. There's both an inner harbor and an outer harbor (it almost reminded me of Lucerne/Zurich and how the rivers/bridges feed into the lake). I preferred it to Chania and we were glad that we decided to stay on the Eastern side of the island.

The next day, we also stayed at the hotel for another spa/beach day. Divine!

On the way to the airport the final day, we stopped in Malia to view the ruins here. Also from the same period as Knossos, these ruins have not been reconstructed and I got a better feel for what it was like. There are tons of ruins everywhere all over Greece and the islands. So I'm sure whatever ones you choose to visit you'll find educational.

We flew from Heraklion to Athens on Aegean and the difference in the planes between our previous flight on Olympic was like night and day. The Aegean plane was a large Boeing 737, new, clean, and very efficient. An uneventful short hop over to Athens!

LoriS is offline  
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