Historic Athens, Mainland Greece, Cyclades and Crete - 10 Days - Sep 13 - Sep 22, 2019
I have nothing but praise for Tasos and his team of local travel specialists who made our 30th anniversary trip to Greece a trip of a lifetime. It's not easy to put into words how incredible the trip was for us -- we have come home with fond memories of EVERY experience we had and we wish we could more easily reconnect with our guides and the locals we met during our visit. I am not exaggerating in saying every detail was taken care of for us with punctual transfers, delightful hotels, and fantastic activity choices.
I found Tasos via the Kimkim website because I honestly didn't know where to begin in the planning process. He had high reviews so I felt he was someone I could trust -- and he didn't disappoint. You pay a premium to use Kimkim, but our experience has been that we received a premium product. I told Tasos we like to travel using guides because we don't take international trips that often and have limited time. He knew we only had 10 days to "experience" Greece -- and I wanted it to include a few islands, authentic experiences, personal guides, lots of culinary experiences, and history. Via a few email exchanges, Tasos designed a PERFECT trip to make us completely fall in love with Greece.
We spent only 24 hours in Athens, which was just enough time to take in old city Athens and see the acropolis. Our hotel, Zillers Boutique Hotel, was conveniently located -- we could see the parthenon out our window and we were close enough to walk anywhere in old city, including to see the changing of the guard at the parliament building. Our two Athens guides were wonderful. With Panos of "Athens Insiders," we toured the fish, meat, produce, spice, and olive markets. We tasted MANY delicious local specialities along the way, including a gazillion olives, raki, lamb patties, gourmet gyros, Greek coffee (once was enough), and delicious Greek pastries. It was a wonderful introduction for us. We toured the acropolis in the late afternoon/evening with Dimitri who shared his extensive knowledge of the site's extensive history.
Early the next morning we were off to an early flight to Naxos, an island I wanted to visit because of a friend's recommendation. It's a laid back island with a low population. We were lucky to get there. Thankfully, Travel12 booked a flight for us -- the ferries were not running because of high winds. We stayed outside of Naxos Town at the Iria Beach Art Hotel. While the hotel is artfully decorated and comfortable, what made it truly wonderful was its staff -- and the kittens and turtle in the garden! The staff couldn't have been sweeter. What made Naxos MOST special was Katerina of Vioma Naxos, who spent a half day with us showing us "her" Naxos. Born and raised on the island, Katarina specializes in gastronomy and cooking tours, padded with lots of extra interesting information. With her driver, Alex, she took us through the Venetian Castle, introduced us to Naxos Citron, introduced us to Nicoletta, the delightful owner of Eggares Olive Museum, drove us all the way up to the quaint village of Apiranthos where we shared a tray of local cheeses and rose at a local Taverna, and finally to dinner at her parent's house in a tiny village of 35 or so people. It was an incredibly special day -- something we'll never forget. I've already experimented with the recipes she sent me via email.
Next on the itinerary were two and a half action-packed days on Santorini, made more interesting by my husband's crippling fear of heights -- and seven cruise ships invading the island at the same time. Needless to say, we had to make a few adaptations to avoid the crowds and to avoid certain site lines (ok, MOST site lines) -- not easy when you're staying on a cliff face! Another Tasos, a wonderful member of the Argyros travel group, was our driver for the better part of our visit. Highlights of our Santorini visit included the wonderful staff at PetitPalace Hotel (especially Victoria), a fabulous anniversary dinner in Fira at a gourmet restaurant called Mylos that was arranged by Travel12, a hike that was supposed to be along the caldera from Fira to Oia that had to be severely modified, (our hiking guide, George, did a wonderful job of finding areas to explore without the cliff site lines), dinner at Penelope's in Pyrgos (one of our BEST dinners of the entire trip), a visit to both black sand beaches and the red sand beach, a wine tasting at Estate Argyros, a visit to the village of Messa Gonia (where Santorini Tasos' grandfather lived before the 1956 earthquake) and the BEST of all, a visit to the Anydro Cherry Tomato Farm where we helped cook and eat a feast of local food with sisters Anna and Irena. There wasn't much we didn't see on Santorini!
Crete was the third and final island we visited and it was my favorite. In fact, if we're lucky enough to return to Greece, I will visit a couple other islands AND Crete. We spent two nights in Archanes and two nights in Chania (a 2-hour drive between the two locations). We truly fell in love with Archanes, a small picturesque village in Heraklion. We stayed at the Kalimera Archanes Village in a small house managed by Lefteris, one of the nicest humans we've ever met while traveling. I'm sure Lefteris befriends everyone who visits his village and everyone says the same thing, but he sure made us feel special. He personally drove us up to the top of Mount Juktas, walked us around the village showing us sites including its Minoan palace ruins and a building occupied by German officers during WWII. He also introduced us to George, proprietor of Bakaliko, a restaurant in the village square, who greatly added to our enjoyment with his knowledge of local wine, olive oil, and Cretan cuisine. A highlight of our Archanes visit was a trip to the Koronekis Olive Farm where we learned more about olive oil than we ever thought possible. George, the son-in-law of the proprietor, was a fantastic educator. In addition to what we purchased on vacation, I will be ordering more products from them in the future.
On our way out of Heraklion, we visited the Minoan Palace of Knossos and the Heraklion Archeological Museum -- two must sees if you're visiting that area of Crete. Every survey book of art history includes images of the palace and museum, including the bull fresco, the snake woman, and the octopus urns. We felt very fortunate to have Lena as our guide.
Chania was a beautiful place to end our visit -- a seaside village with lots of Venetian architecture, a slight Ottoman feel, an interesting maritime museum, and amazing restaurants -- all along the waterfront. Our hotel, the Ambassadors Residence, was AMAZING. A truly beautiful boutique hotel. We stayed in the Wood Room which was on the second floor and overlooked the harbor. Angie could not have been sweeter in welcoming us and securing our dinner reservations. We highly recommend Glossitses for a waterfront dinner. Our tour in Chania was to the Botanical Park and Gardens where we were treated to a cooking class (making briam, tzatziki, a Greek salad, and stuffed grape leaves) and a walking tour of the beautiful grounds of the garden. Learning the history of the park (formerly olive and orange groves before a devastating fire in the early 2000's) and seeing what the family has made from the ruins was very impressive.