Sat 18 Jun 2011 - Fri 22 Jul 2011
Travellers are spoiled for choice in Greece! Which of the many islands do you want to explore? The only drawback is, if you're travelling in the summer months, you have the best weather for swimming but the worst crowds and highest prices. If you travel in the off-season, ferries run on irregular schedules, and it's likely you won't dip your toes in the turquoise water - it will be too cold! As it is, the ferry schedule will likely dictate your path, as it did for us. Here was our route, coming from Turkey.
This large island feels more like a coastline than an island and features a large, modern city. The old town is very well preserved and there are lots of sights to see. This is a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, so there is a noticeable influx of people during daylight hours. The new town has many shopping and eating choices, but many tend to be touristy and expensive. There is a small, busy beach just North of the town, and people eagerly find any small strip of sand - even the one between the pier and a busy road! From Rhodes you can take a day-trip to Lindos, which features an acropolis at the top of a picturesque town.
It was on this island that John the Divine received the Book of Revelation and, as such, the island attracts a different kind of tourist. Christian pilgrims and families come here, and the island has a solemn, family vibe. There is a small pier area with restaurants to choose from, but undoubtedly the best place to eat on Patmos is called Ta Souvlakia Tou Pappou - out of 45 days of Greek food this restaurant served us the best Greek salad and the best grilled veggie pita. Friendly owners and good prices meant we ate here every day. If you're staying in town you can take a quick bus ride to the monastery on the hill or another bus to some nice beaches. The island is small and easy to navigate. From town, pretty much every building has a great view of the monastery and the water.
We stayed in Pythagorio, which has a large pier area with a good choice of shops and restaurants for all budgets. There were grocery stores for self-catering as well. The slope of the town means that almost everyone has an amazing view of the water. There is a small beach by the pier, and another a short walk or bus ride from town. There are many attractions to keep you busy on Samos, including a monastery, ruins of Ireon, a museum, a castle, and a tunnel. Samos had it all - sights, choices, and the right vibe for relaxation - so this was one of my favourite spots.
The old town on Mykonos is completely touristy, but for a good reason - it really is beautiful. The beaches in the South offer choices (including nudity), and you can walk or take a bus if you want a change of scenery. There is a definite party atmosphere on this island, with many of the beaches equipped with discotheques. Mykonos is the most expensive island in terms of accommodation and food. We also took a ferry to Delos, which had some of the best ruins of the islands.
Renting an ATV is perhaps the best way to see this medium-sized island, as you can explore at your own pace and stop wherever there is a great view. Thira is very touristy, and we had our fill in a few hours. The Southern beaches and towns also cater to tourists, but allow you to glimpse into village life. Oia is the most beautiful spot on the island and THIS is where all the famous postcards are shot. Watching the sunset from Oia is a must-do. We liked that the island had choices for accommodation and food, and the colourful volcanic sand was unique to Santorini.
Gritty Iraklion feels more like a real city than some of the other towns polished for tourism. Graffiti adds to its charm. A few friendly people here made this a great experience for us. We took a day-trip to Knossos, which is artificially recreated and looks more modern than its actual age. Chania is a cute port town with narrow old town streets to wander in before hitting the new town. From here we trekked the Samaria Gorge, which was tough but well worth it.
After a brief stop in Athens, we said goodbye to our travelmate Tricia and went South to the Peloponnese Peninsula. Monemvasia was our first and favourite stop, as we explored the old town on The Rock by foot. This unique area has some nice beaches as well. Sparta was quite 'spartan' (sorry) as little remains as evidence of the soldiers' famous battles and way of life. It was, however, a link to the ruins of Mystras. Nafplio was a cute town with easy links to Epidavros, Mycenae and hill-top castles. Last, we spent a night in touristy Loutraki, thinking it would be a better link to Athens, but in fact, Corinth would have been a better choice.