By Jodi Baretz
With much excitement my husband and I were finally headed to Greece. We were supposed to go 20 years ago on our honeymoon but, another event got in the way. I’m not a big planner so minus a few dinner reservations we were going to wing it. Since we have the Starwood card, we got to use our points for a large portion of our trip.
The first stop was Athens. The flight was much smoother than expected, although we didn’t get much sleep. Upon our arrival we went to our first Starwood hotel – Hotel Grande Bretagne. We got upgraded to the Butler floor and were very impressed with the service we received. After settling in, we were off to a little shopping area right near the hotel called Plaka. We were exhausted, but pushed it to reset our clocks. My husband waited in the heat while I shopped for souvenirs and Greek trinkets. After he was sufficiently overheated and had enough, we found some Souvlaki and Tzatziki. We were ushered in by an eager maître d’ and sat at a nice shaded outdoor table. The best part was there was a nice fan with a cool mist spray coming out of the wall to cool us off.
The next day we had a bus tour of the city that I booked through Viator. We were picked up at the hotel and waited for the people on the tour to assemble for quite awhile at the meeting point . We checked out a Panhellenic stadium, drove around the city and ended up at The Acropolis. We waited on huge lines in boiling heat much to the courtesy of all the cruise ships. The rocks were slippery and there were no railings. This lack of safety standards would never fly in the states. We finally got to the top while our tour guide rambled on about the history as I gazed at the impressive view and ruins of the Parthenon. Swearing off any other touristy cruise ship stop, we continued to the Acropolis museum. We learned quickly that early in the morning or late afternoon was the time to avoid the crowds. Thankful for the air conditioning, we strolled around the statues and ended up with a panoramic view of the Acropolis. This museum is pretty new and strikingly modern compared to its ancient artifacts. It is apparently one of the 5 best museums in the world . Happy to retreat to our rooftop hotel pool, we ate, drank and swam. We then enjoyed the rooftop garden restaurant at our hotel and enjoyed great views of the Acropolis and ate delicious Greek food.
We took a plane ride to Crete and were ready for the islands. By the time we took off, it was time to land. My kind of trip. There was barely time for the flight attendants to get anyone a drink. Then they scrambled as the landing quickly approached.
Ah Crete. We had arranged a car to pick us up and take us to the hotel. All the taxis are air conditioned Mercedes . The island was breathtaking and our hotel, The Blue Palace, was incredible. The views alone can take your breath away. The hotel was set on a mountain and we needed a funicular to take us down to the beach. The ocean view was vast and we were staring at a little island called Spinalonga which used to be a leper colony mid century. We hung by the rocky beach on lounge chairs, ordered drinks and were set to chill. We ate at 2 of the restaurants in the resort, The Blue Door, traditional Greek, and Flame, a fine dining steakhouse. Each had incredible views. The next day we took a 5 minute boat ride from the hotel to Spinalonga and walked amongst the ruins of the leper colony, learning about all of the civilizations that occupied it over the years. It was pretty cool with lots of preserved ruins.
We were debating about going to Knossos Palace for some Minoan ruins, but it was an hour away, and we had enough ruins by this point. I was feeling adventurous and left my husband to climb to the top of the island and get the view. It was rocky, slippery with steep steps. I happily walked up, but needed some tourists to spot me on the way down. Pretty scary. Again, no railings.
We headed to the town of Elounda for dinner and ate at The Ferryman right in the center of town on the water. Every restaurant has incredible views, you can’t go wrong. We walked around for more chachkies and enjoyed the small town.
The next day was spa day. I did some yoga on the beach. We walked to Plaka, a small nearby funky village ( there is more than one Plaka in Greece) 5 minutes from the hotel for some morning shopping and coffee. We then headed back to the hotel spa and tried the Thermassio therapy pools. There were different stations of jets, each targeting a different body part. Amazing! The spa was offering free facials from a company in Switzerland, which didn’t turn out to be free because I had to get the night cream for my dehydrated skin. I ended my spa day with a massage on a dock in the ocean. Yes, I was in the ocean for a massage!!
We ended our stay in Crete with a visit to Agios Nikolaos (st Nicolas), a fishing village about 20 min from the hotel. Between the stores and the views, my husband was given a no win choice of shopping or pictures. He chose eating early and walking up the hill to our restaurant, Gioma Meze, on the top that had an incredible view of the village and lake. We were given the best table, which had the best view and was isolated on the hill, so isolated that we were feeding a stray cat our leftovers. It was very romantic and special. (The benefits of eating early in Greece, where dinner usually doesn’t start until 20:00 which is 8:00.)
Leaving Crete was sad, but we were now off to Santorini. I’m not good on boats so I was not looking forward to the high speed ferry. It was a good thing I didn’t know in advance we would be delayed 3 hours and sat on the boat (which is uncommon). The boat was nice and had very comfortable seating – not at all what I was expecting. I was happy about that and took a nice nap. There was food available and it was all inside. Arriving in Santorini was a zoo. The port is not designed for all the cruise ships that dock there and all the buses and cars that have to drive down or up the mountain on one very curvy road. We finally got out of there and headed out for an hour ride to the hotel. We stayed at The Mystique, another Starwood hotel nestled tightly in the mountainside cliffs of Oia.
The scenery here was incredible, much like you see all the white houses and white and blue churches built on the side of the mountain. The town is on the tip of the island on the Caldera or cliff side. The other side of the island is the beach side and is much quieter. We had to walk what felt like a million steps to our secluded room wondering how we would ever get back up. Watching the guys carry down the luggage over their heads on a hilly windy path was a spectacle. There was a small pool for the guests nestled in among the rooms and there was no real typical lobby for the hotel. A bunch of rooms interspersed with other hotels and homes all on a cliff with again, breathtaking views. I couldn’t stop taking pictures because everywhere you looked was a Kodak picture moment.
We relaxed at the pool and met some people, with whom we had friends in common, and they lived near us at home. We ate at the hotel restaurant for dinner and strolled around Oia. Thankfully for my husband, the stores closed around 10. So we came back the next morning and did it all again. We saw donkeys taking tourists down a hill as we took pictures at the best view and the classic Santorini picture spot. After shopping and pictures, we relaxed at the hotel for a bit and went to Fira, the capital of Santorini. We walked around and then walked The Caldera, the cliff path to our restaurant in Imerovigli. The hotel told us it was a scenic 45 minute walk from Fira to the restaurant and we figured we would get some exercise and walk. Little did we know how hot, sunny and crazy hilly it would be. It was a trek about a mile and half or more but well worth the labor as we finally reached The Athenian House – our dinner spot for the night with a gorgeous sunset view, delicious food and impeccable service. I couldn’t get enough of the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers of the Greek salad (or Santorini salad with pickled onions ), the tomato rice and yummy eggplant dishes. The service was amazing and my husband even got escorted to the bathroom. I got a gift from the restaurant, a keychain with a tassel and a shoe, a symbol of the restaurant, as well as two night caps.
It was pretty windy so my sunset pics had my hair blowing all over the place. That was also the reason we didn’t take a catamaran trip. As I mentioned, boats are not kind to me, but all who went said it’s a must do.
Since we didn’t do the boat trip, on our last day we took a 45 minute cab ride to the other side of the island to the Mystique’s sister hotel called Istoria. This is a Design hotel which was quite boutiquey and used to be a horse stable . It only has 12 rooms and is quite beautiful and just opened in May. We got a tour of the hotel and saw the beautiful pool and rooms all done to a tee.
We went to the black sand beach, (black from the volcano) and sat in sun beds. I don’t like the sound of that, but the beds were super comfy. They actually need thick beds because the sand is so crazy hot. (Although it was entertaining watching people run across the sand doing the high knee run to escape the burning of the feet). Then some wind storms came and thank God for my big straw hat that shielded me from all the black sand. The beach was amazing and a much different experience from the cliff side. So glad we made the trip to Istoria as my husband was glad to have the peace and quiet away from the tourists and cruise ship hoards.
Our last night we went down to the pier in Oia, to the best place to watch the sunset, Ammoudi. They have steps you can walk down the side of the mountain or have donkeys that take you down but we decided to cab it. We ate at Ammoudi Fish Tavern which was delicious. We had a great table right next to the choppy water, as we watched all the boats gather for the sunset . A beautiful end to a beautiful anniversary vacation!
I am now sitting at the Athens airport waiting for my flight back to the states. I will not miss the crazy narrow roads, steep steps and no hand rails to grab on to, but I will sure miss the fresh food and those unbelievable vistas!
See ya Greece.
Jodi Baretz, LCSW, CHHC is a psychotherapist, mindfulness and holistic health coach at The Center for Health and Healing in Mount Kisco. Her new book, “Mindful is the New Skinny, 10 transformational steps to a lighter you inside and out” is available for purchase. Visit jodibaretz.com for more information. Follow her on Facebook @Mindful Is The New Skinny or join her Facebook Group Mindful Moms. You can also read more about Jodi’s travels in Finally Made It To Cape Cod and A Small Glitch In My Colorado Vacation.