By Catherine Gadient –
Ready for a holiday? Broaden your horizons while having fun in the sun in Greece. Our guide makes sure you enjoy the best the country has to offer.
It’s all about having the best of both worlds in Greece. As an avid traveller up for both adventure and education, Greece beckoned me. Athens, with its ancient architecture and plethora of museums, offered an assortment of sights on my bucket list. When my brain had its fill, it was time for an escape to the natural beauty of the islands dotting the Aegean’s azure sea. Greece left me longing to return and explore some more.
Day 1: Getting to Know the City
Arrival in Athens was our jumping-off point. This historic European city centre, with street signs conveniently marked in both Greek and English, has certain car-free designated areas, making for pleasant jaunts. I found it was helpful to know where to go, though, as some of the most beautiful architecture was hidden down unassuming alleyways. My friend and I signed up for a walking tour (US$56) on our first day to get our bearings in this labyrinthine city. We were guided down cobbled streets that opened onto Neoclassical architecture and Byzantine churches near the Acropolis. We had considered a tour atop a segway (US$66), which covered more ground in less time, but it was delightful to soak in the surroundings at a leisurely pace. Our guide also kindly made recommendations for further exploring and dinner. We had a delightful introduction to Mediterranean cuisine at dinner on the rooftop terrace at Strofi.
Day 2: Outdoor Greenery
With warm temperatures and outdoor sights galore, we dedicated day two to the outdoors. Syntagma Square, also called Constitution Square, was our goal for the day. Hopping on the recently renovated Metro system made it a breeze – just make sure to validate your ticket if you use any of the buses.
We wanted to catch the changing of the guards, which happens every hour on the hour. It was a sight to see with their pompom-decorated uniforms and highly choreographed, slow-motion walk – kids will love it. Lunchtime was done picnic-style with Greek gyros. We tucked into lamb and fresh vegetables stuffed into a pita at the National Gardens, an enormous park that used to be the king and queen’s playground.
It contains ancient ruins and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, where the flame for the Winter Olympic Games originates. After a quick rest, we took inspiration from the athletes and prepared for a climb.
Our guide had recommended Lycabettus Hill, the tallest hill in Athens, for a drink at sunset. Departing from the Kolonaki district, it took us a little less than a half-hour to reach the top at 277 metres. The views of the city lit up at night and the glowing Parthenon in the distance were spectacular, accompanied by a glass of cool, white wine from Orizontes Restaurant at the top. After a few glasses, we opted to take the funicular down (US$8.20). Our legs were thankful.
Day 3: Architecture, Sweets and Boutiques
A visit to Athens wouldn’t be complete without a day spent exploring the Acropolis (US$33). Its famous sites from Greece’s golden age are on every traveller’s bucket list, ours included.
The ancient ruins don’t offer much protection from the sun, so we made sure to have sunscreen, hats and plenty of water on hand. Our knowledgeable guide explained the history of the UNESCO World Heritage Site dating from the 6th century BC. Enormous Doric columns towered above us with breathtaking sculptures overlooking the city as we stepped back in time, climbing the steps of the Parthenon.
In the Temple of Athena Nike, we marvelled at the magnificence, wondering at the ability of man to construct such beauty thousands of years ago. Having exhausted our cameras’ batteries, we departed for more marvels of a different variety: Greek treats from Matsoukas and shopping at the family-owned boutiques in the Kolonaki and Plaka neighbourhoods. Try on some funky shades in the creative Favela shop.
Day 4: On the Road to an Ancient Amphitheatre
Having sufficiently experienced the city sights, we were curious to venture farther afield. A day trip (US$101) to Mycenae, Epidaurus and Nafplio provided the perfect combination. There was pick-up from the hotel to embark on a gorgeous drive along the Saronic coast. We thanked our lucky stars for the driver because it left us free to soak in the spectacular scenery.
We witnessed large ships slip through the impossibly narrow Corinth Canal and listened with rapt attention to the tale of Agamemnon’s role in the Trojan War at his tomb in Mycenae.
In the afternoon, we got onstage at the amphitheatre in Epidaurus. In the 4th century BC, it seated up to 14,000 people who could all hear every single word uttered by the actors perfectly, thanks to its outstanding acoustics and advanced design. Choose your words wisely, as fellow visitors can hear!
Day 5: Sunset at Oia
It was time to get on the water and start the island-hopping fun. Flights depart from Athens to Santorini, but we opted for the high-speed ferry departing from the hectic Port of Piraeus. Showing up early was key as the area can be chaotic. Having found our ferry, we settled in near window seats with our books and watched the water go by.
Upon arrival at the port in Santorini, the staff from Ecoxenia Studios met and drove us to our island paradise in Oia. The drive featured white-washed buildings topped by cerulean-blue domes, all stacked together with the glistening water in the background. Not wanting to miss a moment, we quickly headed out to the seaside for a memorable sunset cruise aboard a catamaran.
After snorkelling stops around the island, the staff spoilt us with a delicious buffet of tzatziki and souvlaki as we gazed at the show of colours on the water.
Day 6: Beaching it by Quad
Having already seen the island from the water, we were ready to explore inland… atop a quad! Everyone knows of the beauty of the Aegean Sea, but there’s a lot to see on land as well. With the freedom of an ATV, we could see exactly what we liked. Rentals from Mark’s Bikes run about US$45 per day.
Santorini is known for its volcanic beaches of red, white and black sand, and we experienced all three in one day. Make sure to bring proper footwear and a thick towel because the coloured rocks baking under a hot sun all day get steamy. When the sun got strong, we hopped on the quad and cooled off in the breeze as acres of vineyards and olive groves stretched before us. Even better was stopping in and sampling a glass. We couldn’t resist buying a couple of bottles of wine and oil to bring back as souvenirs.
Day 7: Rejuvenating in the Caldera
With a week of activity under our belt, a day dedicated to pure relaxation was on the agenda. We slowed down and stayed put in Oia. The hotel provided us with free bicycles for a morning ride to the beach after breakfast. Sunbathing, swimming and reading occupied the morning, with an afternoon massage back at the room.
As we went for our last meal of moussaka at Skala, we reflected on the week of beauty, both natural and man-made, and decided that Greece was a certainly a destination worth returning to.
Photo credits: Getty Images