Santorini

Athens Must GO’s Beyond the History

Beyond all the amazing history and ruins of Athens, there are more neighborhoods to explore, fabulous restaurants for delicious local cuisine, nice hotels, and adventures to be had outside the city.

Neighborhoods & Restaurants

Plaka: The old quarter of Athens, once considered the neighborhood of the Olympic gods, is a fabulous place to enjoy a cafe’s Greek coffee or yummy Greek food at one of the many restaurants. My favorite restaurants and cafes are:

  • Arhaia Agora: We stop here for lunch outside every visit – Greek salad, tzatziki, fried zucchini. Just outside the Agora is a strip full of restaurants. Arhaia Agora is directly across from the end of the Stoa of Attalos (Museum in the Agora).
  • Geros Toy Moria: Dine under the grapevines of this traditional taverna in Plaka built on the side of the Acropolis. The tiered steps offer great spots to enjoy their classic Greek cuisine and many nights enjoy their live local entertainment(Mnisikleous 27).
  • Psara’s Fisherman’sTaverna: Plaka’s oldest restaurant is another great spot for outdoor dining with some really good fish 16 Erechtheos).
  • Brettos: Don’t miss the oldest distillery in Athens dating back to 1909 for one of their spirits, ouzo or a local wine surrounded by their colorful floor to ceiling liquor bottles (41 Kidathineon).

Psiri: A cool neighborhood to check out at night with lots of activity and restaurants. I really like Oineas (Aisopou 9) for its eclectic decor and authentic Greek food.

Kolonaki: The high street of Athens has great cafes and shopping. Coffee competition here is unbelievable. There are 18,000 shops in Athens, mostly mom & pops. Everyone drinks frappe and fredo so check them out. Greece’s department stores are here as well as high-end retailers. Walk to the University area to enjoy the architecture.

Piraeus Port: It’s worth a trip down to Greece’s largest port for a leisurely lunch or dinner on the water among the yachts at Jimmy and the Fish for local seafood like their famous lobster spaghetti.

Lycabettus Hill: This is the highest hill in Athens and worth a trip to the top for stunning views and a drink. We rode the CableWay up for a sunset cocktail. Perfect evening! There’s also a restaurant.

Hotels

Your hotel can add a nice touch to your stay in Athens.

  • St. George Lycabettus: This was the hotel I stayed in my first few visits and is my favorite! Sitting on a hill just down from Lycabettus Hill, there are fabulous views from the rooms looking out to the Parthenon. If you don’t stay here, they also have a bar to enjoy the great views (call to ensure its open this time of year). Sensia Spa is a great place for a massage.
  • Marriott: Yes its a chain but you know what you’re getting. I stayed here many times for work as it was close to our office. The great thing about the hotel is the amazing rooftop pool, restaurant, and bar with stunning views of the Parthenon and Acropolis. Its hard to walk to downtown from here but there is a complimentary shuttle.
  • Fresh Hotel: This trendy hotel is in the heart of Athens. Friends have stayed here and really liked it.

Taxis:  A few tips…The Athens airport is 30-40 minutes from downtown and costs about €35 (maybe a bit more today). Beware of the taxi drivers in town. They often try to take advantage of tourists so watch the meters. If you feel the fare is too much, ask the bellman at your hotel to confirm before you pay. Avoid taking taxis from the Acropolis! I was severely ripped off there on my first trip.

Adventures Outside Athens

Athens Riviera: Back to the beauty of it’s 1960’s glory, the Athens Riviera is island life only 25km from downtown Athens. It stretches from Piraeus Port to the Temple of Poseidon (really worth checking out), full of marinas, high-end resorts, beaches, shopping and nightlife.

  • Glyfada is a great upscale shopping area suburb resembling Miami’s Ocean Drive.
  • Astir Beach is a gorgeous beach club (connected to the popular and luxurious Astir Palace hotel) where you can lounge on chairs (daily rental was around €15-20), enjoy lunch, a coffee or cocktail.
  • Island is a hip spot 27km from Athens in Varkiza, one of THE famous spots for drinks.

The Cyclade Islands: If you’re making the trip to Athens for a few days, you MUST take an extra week to get out to the islands. This group of 39 islands, 24 inhabited, is a fairytale trip. We’ve been to cute, quiet Kea, magical Santorini and happening fun Mykonos.

Athens and beyond…truly worth the visit for a once in a lifetime experience!

Santorini Wine Discovery

While in Santorini I was thrilled to discover a new wine!  Wineries dot the island and the ‘bushes’ grow everywhere.  The dry volcanic soil produces a very unique grape. One evening during our stay, Vendema Resort’s Sommelier Vaios Panagiotoulas took us on a Greek Wine Journey in their Canava Wine Bar (a catacomb carved out of the earth) and taught us everything we needed to know.

Vaios told us Greeks were the first winemakers dating back to 6,000 B.C.  The first vines were discovered on a northeast island of Greece and then taken to Crete where it was cultivated on the Archanes winery near Knossos.  Then to Sicily, then Italy (who improved the taste), onto Spain and finally France.

There are over 300 varieties of grape in Greece in 7 wine zones. One of those zones is Santorini which produces mainly 3 white varieties: Assyrtico, Aidani and Athiri.  Because Santorini is so warm and windy, the grape vines are grown in bushes.  These basket shape bushes allow the grapes to grow inside them, protected from the wind and letting them capture the humidity in the middle of the bush at night.

We tasted 7 different wines on our journey.  The Assyrtiko grape produces a crisp, minerally wine with high acidity and high alcohol content.  Athiri is more fruity and lower acidity / alcohol content.  Aidani grape is typically sweet, fruity, fragrant with low acidity.  The blending and aging process chosen have a big impact on the final result.  I found from our tasting and since when I’ve enjoyed Assyrtiko (the main variety you find outside of Santorini), it is a dry white wine (many literally have a slight smokey smell from the volcanic soil), fresh, crisp, with sea salt and minerals. Some are more citrus in smell and taste while some tend toward apricot and honey.  The grapes also make very good dessert wines, Vinsanto I’m sure you’ve heard of.  The name means ‘wine from Santorini’.

We also visited Santo Wines Winery, the biggest producer on the island with a huge tasting room and patio with amazing views (built for big tourist groups but still worth the visit).  One wine we tasted is an exclusive wine called Nykteri, meaning ‘staying up all night,’ which is picked in the afternoon and pressed at night when its not too hot. The wine is very complex with layers of jasmine, fruit like banana/pineapple and spice.

Next time you’re out for Greek or making some at home, try a Santorini Assyrtiko.  Yassas!

For more Santorini wine pictures visit the gallery.

Vendema Resort Santorini, ‘a legendary corner of paradise’

Built around a 400 year old winery in the quaint Santorini village of Megalochori, one of the oldest villages on the island, stands Vendema Resort.  Forty-five white washed villas look out to gorgeous views of the vineyards and Aegean sea creating what truly is, as they call it, “a legendary corner of paradise.”

I booked this amazing (and quite affordable for what we got) package through Luxury Link and from winning the auction on, Vendema was incredible.  They emailed right away to secure our dates and helped coordinate any details we needed.  Our package included 5 nights in a Dorian Apartment with welcome drinks, wine & fruit in room, champagne breakfast daily for 2, 3 hr private island tour, 2 olive oil massages, wine tasting for 2, rose petal turndown, shuttle to private beach w/ beach services, taxes and service charges. Only $1,800 (retail value of $4,353).

The staff was perfect from start to finish. We arrived into port via ferry from Mykonos and were greeted by a friendly driver who took us directly to the Resort.  We checked right in, were upgraded to a stunning Athenian Suite (I could have lived in this 2 floor villa complete with upstairs veranda and downstair deck with jacuzzi), then with champagne in hand we were whisked away on a tour of the Resort which offers it all …

  • Restaurants & Bars: our favorites were Vinsanto Restaurant in the 400 year old winery where we enjoyed an incredible candlelight dinner our first night and Canava Wine Bar in a catacomb carved out of the earth where you can enjoy a Greek Wine Journey with the resort’s incredible Sommelier Vaios Panagiotoulas!  Oh and champagne buffet breakfast every morning at the Pergola Pool Restaurant was a great way to start each day.
  • Spa & Fitness – we enjoyed relaxing Olive Oil Massages in the cool cave like spa.
  • Excursions from boating to private guided tours – our 3 hour private island tour was perfect.
  • Pool & Jacuzzi – great spots for lounging (the only small draw back of the whole experience was many American honeymooners hanging out poolside at times made it feel like you weren’t on this incredible Greek Island).
  • Private Beach & Restaurant on Perivolos Beach with shuttle service.

You’d never have to leave if it wasn’t for the amazing island out there waiting.  And the sweet town of Megalochori is right outside with a few cute local restaurants.

Vendema is the perfect spot and very romantic (we even have dear friends who got engaged here)!  Check more great photos of Vendema and Santorini in the gallery.

Magical Santorini!

A perfect word to capture this indescribable island!  I was amazed by its beauty as we pulled up to the Caldera (crater) with the towering cliffs arriving by boat from Mykonos.  Its a one of a kind place unlike any of the other Cyclades!

Also known as Thira, the crescent shaped island is a result of a volcano eruption which blew out the center of the island in 1450 B.C. leading to the fall of the Minoan civilization. Many say this destruction gave birth to the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis.  The volcano’s eruption created all the majesty this island offers from amazing views and sunsets to archeological ruins to surprising wineries and beaches.

My list of “MUST GO’s” …

* Oia – This is the Santorini of the pictures but even more beautiful… houses built into cliffs, Aegean sea blue topped white churches. Pronounced E-ah, it sits on the northwest part of the island. I can’t get enough of this charming town! Wander the streets, explore the boutique shops, take pictures (there’s a photo pop around every turn) then find your spot for sunset and after stroll to a wonderful dinner.

  • Sunsets: every day on Santorini is another chance for a dream sunset.  Two spots we enjoyed… Sun Spirit is a must with the windmills as a back drop for your fruity cocktails and Billy Brown playing fun tunes.  Kastro is a sweet spot with fantastic appetizers to go with your local glass of wine.
  • Dining:  Ambrosia & Nectar was our favorite, low key dining under a pergola with incredible food like local fava, tomatoes & capers, chicken & figs and coconut cake. (They also have a more upscale restaurant Ambrosia but menu didn’t look as good.)  1800 Restaurant is a typical Santorinian captain’s house that was built in the middle of the 18th century…enjoy great Mediterranean food on the front porch terrace.
  • Ammoudi Beach: we didn’t make it down to Oia’s port but everyone raves about the traditional fish tavernas and swimming here as you look up at the cliffs.

* Island Explorations – We had a private 3 hour Island Tour arranged by our hotel that gave us a great sense of the island, its history and offerings.  Some key sites you can explore…

  • Ancient Thira dates back to 8th century B.C. with Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins. It sits high atop the island giving you amazing views of the black lava beaches.
  • Akrotiri is a small fishing village that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption and preserved under lava, often called the prehistoric Pompeii of the Aegean.  Unfortunately its been closed under construction for several years now but check with your concierge.
  • Caldera Islets: a result of the volcano, these little islands sit out from Santorini’s crescent.  Take a few hour boat excursion around the islets with beautiful views, lunch and even a swim in the Hot Springs of Nea Kameni.

* Fira – The busiest town on the island, Fira hangs from the highest cliffs on the Caldera.

As its where most ‘cruise shippers’ go for shopping during the day, go early evening to walk and enjoy.  While there are lots of touristy shops, you can’t beat the town for sunset and dinner!  There are tons of options to find a great seat, order a cocktail and watch the sun go down behind the Caldera islets.  We had dinner at a cute restaurant Katrin Gallery where our table literally hung off the cliff as we enjoyed fresh local fish and the very friendly staff (note you pay for the view).

* Beaches – Black sand, white sand, red pebbles, white pebbles? Thanks to the volcano, Santorini has them all. Most are on the back side of the island so you’ll need to travel from your hotel to get there.  Red Beach is worth taking the little walk to see.  Our hotel had a beach and restaurant on Perivolos’ black beach which was a great place to spend the day.

* Wine – Wineries dot the island and the ‘bushes’ grow everywhere!  The dry volcanic soil produces a unique grape. Check out my post on Santorini wine for all the details.

Where to stay? We had 5 amazing nights at Vendema Resort, built around a 400 year old winery with volcanic stones, in a little town inland called Megalochori. Its a true Luxury Collection Resort.  They also have a hotel in Oia or can you can try Oia’s Sea Captain’s House (they also run Caldera Massage Studio) or Golden Sunset Villas.

This trip is a once in a lifetime … and I look forward to going back again!

To see more great photos of Santorini and Vendema Resort visit the gallery.  Other posts you may like… Mykonos.

Luxury Link… affordable luxury!

Isn’t that one of the buzz words of this recession? Well here’s a way to get it.

Last weekend I rediscovered a travel site from a few years back. Hadn’t been on in a while but quickly remembered how cool it is!
Luxury LinkLuxury Link, founded in 1997, calls itself the ‘world’s premier online luxury travel resource.’ It showcases ‘more than 1000 extraordinary hotels and resorts, cruises, tours and villas in more than 60 countries’ with access to exclusive offers and many via auction.

I decided to make a bid on a package in Santorini, Greece… and I won! Check it out…only made 2 bids and saved 60% for an amazing package at Vendema Resort built around a 400 year old winery on this beautiful island!

vedema-resort-santorini-greece2

Package includes 5 nights in a stunning Dorian Apartment with welcome drinks, wine & fruit in room, champagne breakfast daily for 2, 3 hr private island tour on day of your choice, 2 olive oil massages, wine tasting for 2 on evening of your choice, rose petal turndown, shuttle to private beach w/ beach services, taxes and service charges. Only $1,800 for retail value of $4,353.

Gave credit card details, they sent confirmation I won, now I just call the resort directly to book.

I’ll share details after we visit in May!