I have travelled a good bit in my life and frequently get asked where my favorite place I’ve ever been - I’ve been many places that love with top contenders being South Africa, Thailand, Kauai, Cadaques but not a favorite. Until now - GREECE IS MY FAVORITE!!! My parents took us there way back in 1993 when I was in high school but we didn't go to any of the islands. It has been top of my list for decades now and finally made it happen - every second was FABULOUS. My daughter and I went for our annual mother/daughter trip over Mother’s Day and all my plans came together just as I had hoped - I can’t wait to go back someday. I adore the Greek people - adore them. Greece is the most family friendly place I have EVER been - they LOVE children. Everywhere we went Olivia (six years old) was doted on - restaurants, shops, hotels all welcomed her with open arms.
We scored $500 Delta tickets from Scott’s Cheap Flights (sign up for their premium membership if you haven’t already - worth every penny. I hyperventilate when I get an email from them!). May and September/early October are my favorite times to travel - the weather is right and its on the cusp of busy season. I don’t like hot weather so May was PERFECT for me to visit Greece - was in the 70’s the whole time, heaven. Athens and Santorini were VERY busy and I can’t imagine going in peak summer!! I joined a Facebook group called “Matt Barrett’s Greece Travel Guides” and it was SO helpful in planning - Matt is also a travel agent specializing in Greece and can book everything for you. I HAD to go to Santorini and stay in one of the cave hotels in Oia, but knew I wanted to spend minimal time there - one night was perfect all I needed. When I travel I try to avoid super touristy areas and know that both Santorini and Mykonos are swamped with cruise ships visitors. I had 8 days total and wanted to find one island to really get to know and spend several days on - it was so hard to narrow down! Once I read about Naxos I knew it was the one - Naxos has very fertile soil and is known for its local cuisine. Plus it is known for its gorgeous beaches. We had two days in Athens, 4 nights in Naxos, 1 night in Santorini and another night in Athens on the way home.
When we arrived in Athens I had arranged for George’s Famous Taxi to drive us to our Hotel Metropolis. I’ve never arranged for a taxi service before and am so glad I did - was $55 euro (regular taxi is $38 euro set price from airport into the city) and was so worth it. My driver met us outside customs (Olivia was so excited he was holding our name!) spoke perfect English, and gave us awesome tips during the drive. The Mercedes was so nice and clean and I knew I could trust him completely based on feedback from Matt Barrett’s group. Use George’s Famous Taxi - trust me!
Our Hotel Metropolis in Athens was just what we needed - excellent location in the Plaka area, good price ($115/night), clean basic room. I didn’t want or need anything fancy and it scored great on Trip Advisor. The folks at the desk were so nice and helpful. Everything was within walking distance - we never needed a cab. That first afternoon in Athens we ate a late lunch at a restaurant down the street - was really good, but I can’t remember the name. We both were fighting pretty bad jet lag and went back to the hotel and slept for an hour. Olivia was seriously grumpy and did NOT want to get up but I knew it would be a disaster getting on the right time if I let her sleep more. Then we walked over to Lukumades, which I had heard rave reviews about their loukoumades (doughnut holes with honey and cinnamon) - SO SO GOOD!!! They have several other flavors but I had to stick to the traditional honey and cinnamon -that combo (HELLO, Sweet’s Syrup!) can’t be beat! Walked around the Plaka area, popped into a few shops and Olivia had fun running around in front of the church, which was right across from our hotel. We ate dinner at Neoklassiko which was a gyro place next to the Hotel Astor recommended by our driver - was DELICIOUS. I had no idea that french fries go on a traditional gyro - was my first of many. I’ll return there and to Lukumades for sure!
The next morning we headed up to the Acropolis early - it opens at 8 and we were there about 8:30ish. Not many people at that time, but by 9:30 it was PACKED. Go first thing in the morning!! I’m not a big history buff and I’ve seen all the ruins I care to see in my lifetime - some people love it, but I just don’t (still wishing I had my day at Pompei back - again, some people love it but I don't). Olivia and I walked around and I shared about 5 facts about the Acropolis - we had read a mythology book before our trip, so we talked about Athena. That was it for the history lesson and we spent a couple hours up there playing UNO - had so much fun and I will always remember that memory. The gorgeous view of the city, the Acropolis next to us, sitting indian style playing UNO.
Walking down from the Acropolis we stopped at The Loom and made friends with Vahan - after rug shopping in Morocco he was a WONDERFUL change! Such a great guy and I am absolutely crazy about the rug, runner and pillow covers I bought. I had thought I was set on buying another Oushak from Turkey but fell in love with the style from Northern Greece for my runner for the kitchen - love it so much! He shipped them all to me and they arrived about a month later. I was very happy with the price, but could have done better had Olivia not kept saying “Mommy, you have that much!” We also stopped by “Doctor Fish” just down from The Loom for a fish pedicure - Olivia wouldn’t put her feet in and I could have done without. Checked that off the list. For lunch we went to Sabbas (also spelled Savvas) to the roof top restaurant with awesome views of the Acropolis - highly recommend!!! We then walked around and went shopping on Ermou Street and Adrianou. This is the most difficult thing for me during my trips with Olivia - I love spending time checking out boutiques and shops and she has a short fuse for it, very limited time window. Went back to Lukumades for more and ate at a neighborhood gyro spot. Throughout the day there were many UNO games!
I arranged for George’s Famous taxi to pick us up EARLY and take us to the port for our Blue Star Ferry to Naxos. If I could have done it over I would have taken the high speed - 5 hours on the ferry was FOREVER. We took the High Speed from Naxos to Santorini and it was fine - if you get sea sick, it could be a problem but we were both just fine and it was so much faster. Finally arrived in Naxos and took a taxi up to the Hotel Grotta - instantly fell in love. I have stayed at some very fine hotels in my life and the customer service at Hotel Grotta exceeded them all - I have never experienced such genuine hospitality. Nikoletta and Marine are THE BEST - so kind, happy, helpful, thoughtful, THE BEST - I could go on and on about how much I love this hotel. The view, the food, the beautiful clean room, and the breakfast - OH MY LORD THE BREAKFAST. They had a massive spread, all homemade - probably 6 different phyllo pies (the artichoke pie is INSANE), a whole entire table full of desserts - yes for breakfast! I had to try everything - the rice pudding, greek yogurt with the carrot marmalade and artichoke pie were staples every morning and then I had to try everything else that I hadn’t had the day before. I ate so much and it was worth the 4 pounds I gained in a week. Dinner was also incredible at The Hotel Grotta - we ate there the first two nights and I ordered the same thing because I loved it so much. Vegetable mille feuille, sea bass and Naxos potatoes. Homemade sorbet for dessert - the lemon! And their house white wine was $2 a glass - TWO DOLLARS and was SO GOOD!! Olivia went nuts for the indoor pool, which came in really handy on the day the weather didn't cooperate. Stay at The Hotel Grotta - if they are booked, change your travel dates. Do not miss this experience - and bring your children!!!
Naxos has everything I love - great food, charming whitewashed alleyways full of handcrafted local treasures (SO MANY GOOD SHOPS!!!) , beautiful beaches, and lovely surrounding towns to explore. The Hotel Grotta is in Chora, which is the main town by the port. Marine at the Hotel Grotta arranged for a rental car for two days for us - was delivered to the hotel and $35/day. SO CONVENIENT!! Driving around was a little tricky with the greek language but I was able to manage (seriously if I can do it, anyone can). We spent a day driving around through the villages and stopped in Aprianthos, Halkia and I was really bummed The Rotunda was closed for repairs - the views are unbelievable, go eat there!! I loved Halkia the most and we met Maria who weaves and I filled up my suitcase with goodies she made - I LOVE the blue and white placemats and pillows I bought from her!! We then went to the beach Agios Georgios and had a great time. Rented a cabana and spent the afternoon playing more UNO in the sand - the water was COLD. The next day we went to Beach Agios Prokopios, which is a little further and a popular beach town - wish we had more time to explore there was BEAUTIFUL (listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece) and lots of great beach shops and restaurants. The cabana we rented was about $8 and included wait staff for cocktails. For dinner that night we ate in town (Chora) at Meze-Meze by the water which was amazing - I got a “traditional” Greek salad that had these soaked croutons, can’t even explain how good this salad was. The portions are HUGE here - could definitely split. When it was time to go they brought out a little dessert of the greek yogurt with the carrot marmalade - Olivia and I both love this so much I found a recipe and we’ve been making it at home!
The rest of our time in Naxos we spent at the Hotel Grotta with new friends we made, a little time every day in the indoor pool, and playing UNO throughout the day. I loved our time there so much - was everything and more I had hoped for. Seriously can’t say enough good things about Naxos and our time at Hotel Grotta!! I rarely like to return to the same place again, but MUST go back - would love for my whole family to go sometime and enjoy this magical place!
We took the high speed ferry to Santorini - heads up, make a reservation early on and print it out to bring with. You also have to get a ticket printed out at the dock - and they charge about $1 to print it off. The high speed took about two hours to get to Santorini - it definitely sways a lot and walking around you have to hold on to something for balance. Still so much better than the regular slow ferry. When we arrived at Santorini it was CHAOS - people EVERYWHERE at the port. Lots of drivers soliciting business, tons of people in a small area. I didn’t have transportation plans, so I kept Olivia close and found an option to get us to the hotel - was a van that dropped off at several locations. The trip to Oia was about 40 minutes with all the stops, but gave us a chance to check out the rest of the island.
I’ve dreamed of staying in one of the cliff-side white-washed hotels on the caldera of Oia and knew it would be a splurge. Somehow lucked out and got our room at Kaleidoscope Luxury Cave Houses for only $225 - the typical rate is around $700!! Was awesome and everything I had hoped for - incredible views and a hot tub, which Olivia thought was the coolest thing ever. We were located just off the main walking road of Oia so there were hundreds, probably thousands of tourists walking by like 20 feet from where we were. Not private at all, but we didn’t mind - was fun to people watch and there was always someone taking selfies in front of our private space. There was even a Chinese couple getting their wedding photos done that Olivia probably photo-bombed.
The weather was perfect during our day in Santorini and we walked around among the mobs of tourists, did a little shopping (there is some GORGEOUS jewelry there if you’re lucky enough to be in the market). We found an awesome gyro place right around the corner from our cave - Be sure to check out Pito Gyros and get a side of halloumi, SO GOOD!!! We actually ate there twice we loved it so much! There were lots of fancy restaurants around us that looked amazing, but not on the agenda traveling with Olivia. We spent most of the day hanging out at the hot tub, playing UNO and enjoying the views. I really wanted to catch the sunset and we headed to the other end of Oia to see it - along with every other single person on the island. It was CRAZY all the people trying to see the sunset - if you can get a reservation for dinner somewhere that has a sunset view. There were seriously about 15-20 people thick trying to see the sunset at the end of the row (hard to explain) - we went down a side street to the right and walked down an alleyway and had a great view. The sunset was beautiful. We were lucky to have a full moon that night and the view from Kaleidoscope Cave was gorgeous.
We woke up early to see the sunrise and this was my favorite time on Santorini - before all the crowds arrived from the cruise ships. Between 6:30am and 8:00 it was empty, the light was beautiful and we had a great time running around (Olivia loves to run, skip, hop - rarely does she ever walk). I’m glad I saw Santorini and the gorgeous caldera view, but for me one day was plenty - honestly a half-day would suffice. The tourists are overwhelming and for me, ruin the charm of the island - I’m thankful for that time we had early morning. I honestly couldn’t imagine going during the peak of the summer. Our hotel took us to the Santorini airport to catch our flight back to Athens - our flight was delayed a little bit, which we were told was pretty standard.
Our flight back home left at 11:00amn so I wanted to stay somewhere near the airport. There is a Sofitel that connects to the airport, but is about $250 night - not what I wanted to spend. The drive into Athens is about 45 minutes from the airport, so for a night we didn’t want to travel that far. I found the Hotel Avra which worked out perfectly - was considered an airport hotel even though it was about 20 minutes away in Rafina, which is a port town. They offer free airport transportation, had good reviews and was $130 and worked out great. Next to the hotel is a restaurant called Agnanti and it was excellent - try the calamari! Our trip to the airport and all the transfers went smoothly - Olivia watched 5 movies and stayed up the whole time, was awake for almost 24 hours straight which really helped with jet lag on the return.
I am so in love with Greece and can’t wait to go back. I’m thinking for future trips I’ll go somewhere new, then Greece, then somewhere new and then Greece. Looking forward to checking out additional islands, although I think I’ll always have to go back to Naxos and stay at Hotel Grotta - oh I miss it! Paros is on my list and I’m getting lots of ideas for other islands from following Matt Barrett’s Facebook group. If you’re planning a trip I encourage you to look beyond the popular islands of Mykonos and Santorini - don’t get me wrong, they’re both beautiful (never been to Mykonos but from what I have heard and read) but way way too many tourists - so many stunning islands to have an authentic Greek experience!