White washed buildings glowing against the Aegean blue sea sprinkled with bright blue domes here and there. Greece’s beauty is magnificent. On top of that the freshness of the food and the kindness of the people make this one of my favorite parts of the world. If there is a stop in Greece, even if I’ve been there, I am eager to go.
When one realizes that there are 6000 islands in the Greek country you’re relieved when only 227 are inhabited. How do you decide where to go? I decided to google the top 10 islands for visitors and found I’d only been to 4 of them. I will share with you those experiences.
Santorini Island (Thera) is my favorite island so I am not surprised it is number one. The joy of being tendered into this cliff side town is wondrous. As one looks up 1312 feet or 400 meters the volcanic caldera is obvious. In order to get to Fira you have 3 interesting choices. One can climb the 587 steps with great views, ride a donkey the same 587 steps or take a cable car for 6 Euros a person. We usually take the cable car up and walk down.
Once at the top there is wonderful cobblestoned alleyways with beautiful shops, cafe’s and art galleries to explore. This seems to be the usual experience for most visitors. There is so much more to do here though. For history lovers there is an exquisite archeological site to explore. It is called the Archaeology Site of Akrotiri. This site is thought to be the legendary city of Atlantis. A golden IBIX has been discovered here as well as a sophisticated society that disappeared thousands of years ago. The sites treasures can be viewed at the Archaeologist Museum of Fira.
Some quick adventures on Santorini are to visit Mt. Profits Ilias Monastery. There are great views surrounding it. The beaches are nice and two to suggest are Perivolos Beach or Persia Beach. I would google each and see what meets your needs. Finally Greece is known for it’s wineries and special grapes so Venetsanos and Santos Wineries have been recommended. The pride of the island is the sweet and strong Vinsanto. This is a dessert wine made from the best sun-dried Assyritiko, Athiri and Aidani grapes. Yamos!
For other great views we suggest hiking from Fira toward Oia. Oia is known for it’s sunsets. Hundreds of people flock to Oia hours before sunset, set up their blankets and enjoy the atmosphere. There are many restaurants that have views to the west as well if that is your preference. My only caution is that there is a ton of traffic both ways so if you have a cruise ship to catch or other obligations know you will not get through the 1 lane of traffic quickly.
We like to hike towards Oia when we visit. Oia is 8.5 miles from Fira on a well determined path. Liking to hike around 5 miles we hike out to Skaros Rock, have a drink and hike back to Fira. From the ridge near Skaros Rock you can see Oia and Fira both. Skaros Rock is climbed as well but make sure you are wearing hiking shoes. It seems as if some of the turns are narrow.
If you’re interested in taking a boat somewhere there are many opportunities to do so. You can take a schooner over to Oia instead of the other options. Boats will take you to quiet coves to swim in as well. A boat is needed to visit Nea Kameni volcanic area also. Nea Kameni (New Burnt) is an island with a somewhat active volcano. Here one can hike or swim in thermal hot springs. Palea Kameni is a green sulphur water with temperatures around 98 degrees.
Hopefully you will enjoy Santorini. The cobblestone lined streets do create the need for shoes with traction. If you are hiking, exploring or going down the steps the marble edge and cobblestones get quite slippery. Enjoy your day.
Mykonos If you love ancient windmills, the blue waters of the Mediterranean and quiet beaches this is the island for you. Ranked number 2 we love Mykonos as well. Little bays along the water make this different than the cliffs of Santorini. Furthermore it seems a little quieter and is thought to be more cosmopolitan than Santorini as well.
Being there just a day, we decided to rent ATV’s and scooters to get around the island. When renting these items we were forewarned that people do die riding them. Upon leaving the rental agency we had already seen an accident with a tourist laying on the street. Extreme caution and experience is highly advised.
The other problem in Mykonos is that no one obeys any street signs. This may sound humorous but when trying to figure out where you are going on the scooter, then not having anyone obeying the signs it makes for a stressful day. If you’re looking for relaxation take a cab or the bus. So needless to say we were off to the backroads of Mykonos.
There are so many beautiful beaches in Mykonos I would suggest just googling the top 10 and see which one is your ideal. We ended up in Paraga Beach and with the sun shading cabanas and beach lounge chairs were quite happy. The water is pristine and private yachts could be seen unloading their passengers into the blue waters. Beautiful afternoon.
Rhodes We were very excited that this most recent trip took us to Rhodes. Rhodes is ranked 3rd as for beauty in the Greek Islands. Rhodes is an entirely different experience than the previous 2 islands. What makes it unique is the perfectly preserved medieval, walled city making it an UNESCO World Heritage site.
When entering one of the seven gates of Rhodes, medieval Greece appears. Our guide said the further into the alleyways the more genuine your surroundings become. Imaginings of the Knights trying to protect the city from Ottoman invaders, the final Ottoman conquest and then the Christians leaving their beautiful walled city in 1523 must have been heartbreaking. The Grand Master Palace which was built in the 14th Century was so damaged the Italians carefully reconstructed it. It now houses maps of the Old Town and exhibits about the Knights. Next door is the Hospital of the Knights built in 1489 that can be toured also.
Taking you back further is the 3rd Century temple of Aphrodite! This is located through the Gate of Navarhou. The final time travel is the Colossus of Rhodes. This was a 108 foot, bronze statue that was built by Chares of Lindos to commemorate the Rhodian triumph after the siege of Dimitrious the Beseiger in 305 BC. This statue was started in 292 BC, opened in 280 BC and destroyed by 226 BC. Known as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world it now does not exist at all. We stood in the castle courtyard where experts feel it may have stood but due to an earthquake and then selling the bronze off as scrap, this momentous wonder is gone.
Other interesting points inside the walled city is the multi cultural component of the city. There is a Jewish Quarter with the Kahal Shalom Synagogue built in 1577. This is the oldest synagogue in Greece. Then enter the Turkish Quarter with the Mosque of Suleyman and the Turkish Library and Baths. Finally you have the Evangelismos Church which is modeled after the destroyed Church of St. John. Our favorite spot was the 14th Century Turkish coffee house with the Nargile or hookah water pipe and the heavy grounds at the bottom of the small coffee cup with which they used to tell your fortune. Wonderful.
A side trip we took which was worthwhile was up to Mount Smith. This is an easy half hour drive. Atop this mountain was the Acropolis of Rhodes ruins. As you’ll learn every city had a high point where they built an Acropolis. This was in ruins but to make this meaningful there is a monastery which was well preserved and a tree lined walk to a cross. Along this walkway were depictions of the walk of Jesus through Jerusalem with his cross. The peacefulness of the mountaintop, trees and dozens of peacocks made this saunter unique and meaningful. Reaching our destination the picturesque, panoramic view of Rhodes was much appreciated at the end of this walk.
Other half day trips can take you to Lindos an ancient town 30 miles south of Rhodes. This has lovely beaches but the star attraction is the Acropolis of Lindos. There is a steep climb to the top but the medieval castle, Byzantine church and remains of the Temple of Athena make the exertion worthwhile.
Rhodes has a lot to offer especially if you enjoy walled cities and historic sites. It has resorts and beach communities here as well but the history and walled town is stunning. Enjoy.