For the past 24 years, I have been dreaming of a Greek Isle vacation. School, work, money, and life in general had always gotten in the way of traveling the highly sought-after destination, but my mom (and traditional travel companion) and I finally decided that May 2009 would be the perfect time for us to take our dream trip. After much research, message boarding, and TripAdvising, I decided on a two-week Greek holiday in Santorini, Naxos, and Athens!
The beginning our our trip was spent in Oia, Santorini, a picturesque seaside village located high above the Adriatic Sea. The typical pictures used to showcase “Greece” are typically ones of Oia’s caldera view. Itis undoubtedly the most beautiful and sought-after area of Santorini to vacation. Fira, the cruise ship port which also offers many accommodation, is unfortunately overrun with motorbike and ATV rental shops, not to mention the thousands of tourists who flood the sidewalks nearly every day during the high season. While Fira is still a beautiful destination, Oia is indeed quainter, quieter, and undoubtedly more picturesque. We unpacked at Alexander’s Boutique Hotel, located slightly outside the downtown, and were blown away by our (highly upgraded) accommodation and service from the general manager, Vicki. She was an integral help throughout our entire trip and provided us with THE best restaurant and excursion recommendations which we share below.
We dedicated one day to renting a car and exploring the island, which is a great way to see the sights at your own pace without the crowds of tourists tagging along. I highly recommend everyone who visits the Greek Islands do the same, and not to be intimidated by the windy, narrow roads. I rented a SmartCar, which I found to be the perfect size for the challenging driving conditions. Our first stop was at Art Space in Exo Gonia, a unique winery/ art studio combination. The art was beautiful and the wine was superb, plus the owner was kind enough to give us a private tour in the wine cellar where the aging and bottling process take place.
From there, we headed up in the hills for Pyrgos, which was formerly the capital of Santorini until the 1800s. The village is located inland and provides the most beautiful panoramic views of Santorini we saw during our entire drive. The town center is centered around a Venetian castle perched atop of the highest point of the village, surrounded by traditional houses, tavernas, and shops, all accessible by windy pathways circling the castle.
From Pyrgos we headed down to the Southeast coast of Santorini which is known for its volcanic black beaches, Perissa and Perivolos beach. We decided to lunch and relax in Perivolos, which was recommended to us by Vicky. I had never visited a volcanic beach before, but still found it just as beautiful as their white sand Caribbean counterparts. The sand was dotted with organized lounge areas where beach bars and tavernas across the street offer customers food and drink while swimming, sunning, and taking in the natural beauty! Our favorite part of our Santorini exploration was relaxing on the beach at JoJo Beach Bar. Even though we were there during the day, JoJo Beach Bar was filled with beautiful people sunbathing, drinking, jamming out to the live DJ who was spinning top Euro dance hits, including one of my new personal favorites, Shine On by R.I.O. After some relaxation at JoJo, we took a more scenic route back via Santorini’s east coast, a very flat section of the shoreline covered with wineries and farms.
One of my gripes about Santorini was the lack of non-touristy Greek restaurants. While there were few very casual tavernas, these establishments are traditionally visited lunch or mezes before dinner. Particularly in Oia, the selection of restaurants included Asian, French, Continental, and LOTS of Italian.
However, we were able to find the exact dining destination we were searching for in Exo Gonia, a tiny farming village located high in the hills of Santorini at a restaurant named Metaxi Mas. In fact, we were so happy with our first meal there that we rented a car for our last night specifically to enjoy our last meal there. This restaurant is a local favorite and offers a huge variety of Cycladic and Cretan dishes which can be enjoyed while dining on the garden terrace overlooking the beautiful farms, wineries, and ocean below. Why was Metaxi Mas so great? For one, it offered the perfect balance of a traditional Greek taverna-style cuisine with high end quality, presentation, and service. Both nights, I ordered seafood and I would highly recommend the Grilled Calamari with Seasonal Vegetables or King Prawn Ouzo Pasta as entrees, while the Tomato Fritters or Feta Cheese with Honey and Seseme were the best appetizers. Did I mention the freebees? Yup. Before each meal, we were given a small cafafe of raiki (firewater), and after each meal we got a delicious after dinner drink made with boiled raiki, honey, cinnamon, and cloves. Also not very Greek, we were also given a complimentary dessert of chocolate mouse, which was dense, dark, and delicious!
Finally, how can I forget about shopping? We did a lot of shopping, mainly at the beautiful boutiques in Oia. Greece is famous for their gold jewelry, and there was no shortage of jewelry stores in Oia. Oro Boutique, which just happened to be owned by the same gentleman who owned our hotel, had the most incredible selection of Byzantine style rings which caught my mother’s eye, while I was drawn to their selection of gold pendents. She walked out with a gorgeous gold ring embezzled with rubies and emeralds, while I left with a gold donkey charm. Other buys while in Santorini included pistachio candy, tomato paste, ouzo, olive oil, and capers.
Santorini was a fabulous island and I cannot deny I had the most amazing time visiting such a beautiful island; however, I was looking forward to visiting another island and experiencing a more authentic and traditional Greek island. Next up, Naxos!