Exploring Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos
Andi Cercos, May 2017
My trip to Greece was a familiarization trip hosted by Classic Vacations, Emirates Airlines and Starwood. These “fam” trips allow travel advisors like me to explore a large number of hotels, restaurants, transportation and attractions in a very short amount of time so we get an authentic feel for a part of the world. Come with me to Greece now!
The flights to Athens (via Newark) were very comfortable with wide aisles, large seats and large spacious overhead bins. The crew was friendly and accommodating. Since the plane was not full we had 3 or 4 seats to spread out and plenty of leg room. Before take off, menus were handed out along with a zippered bag full of nice amenities.
In Athens we stayed at the Grand Bretagne hotel. Our very elegant rooms were large with huge bathrooms. Our group met up for cocktails and dinner at the rooftop restaurant, GB Rooftop Garden Restaurant. Surrounding us was a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, glowing with every changing lights.
The hotel is located on Syntagma Square, across from the Parliament Building, where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in the courtyard. The 24-hour Presidential guard, in dramatic Greek uniforms, changes every hour on the hour.
The next morning, we headed out on an Athens City Tour. We stopped at the Acropolis and climbed up to view the Parthenon. From there, we walked down to the Acropolis Museum for a short visit. The museum is built on top of the ancient city of Athens and the entire entry walk is built so you can view the ruins below.
We did a short inspection at to the Electra Metropolis, a modern hotel a few blocks from Syntagma Square. The rooms are built around an open atrium that rises from the lobby to the top floor. Several blocks away is the Electra Palace Hotel, which had more traditional décor and is closer to the Plaka, a charming but rather touristy neighborhood with pedestrian streets, shopping and restaurants. After lunch, we had a site inspection of the King George Hotel and the Grand Bretagne Hotel.
Dinner was at a typical rooftop Greek taverna, then we walked back to the hotel. Along the way, I was coaxed into going into the subway station at Syntagma Square. What a surprise! The station is a museum of what was there before the excavation. The walls and artifacts are all beautifully displayed behind plexiglass.
A Brief Stop in Crete
The next morning we were picked up and transferred to Athens Airport for a 20-minute Olympic Air flight to the airport in Heraklion on the island of Crete. Due to a ferry strike, we checked into the Blue Palace for just one night. The hotel is on a hillside over looking the sea across from the island of Spinalong. Dinner was at the Blue Door restaurant which was located in one of the original houses on the property.
The next morning we transferred to the Port of Heraklion for the ferry to the volcanic island of Santorini. Boarding the ferry is very confusing and it was quite crowded. You board on the cargo deck and leave your luggage under a sign for your destination. The passenger decks are two decks above. It is definitely worth an upgrade to Club seating for the two-hour ride. It is a separate cabins with bar and food service and the seats are very large and comfortable. Disembarking the ferry is pretty much a cattle call. Crowds descend upon their luggage and then push and shove to get off. . Once off the ferry, it is just as crowded ashore. Taxis are few and a private transfer is a must. I think the rush and crowds without one could ruin the start of a Santorini vacation. Our very nice 24-passenger coach transferred us to the Vedema for three nights.
The Vedema is located in the village of Megalohori. The property is a small village all by itself. Your enter through the gates of a stone wall that surround the property. It was once part of a winery and the village relied on the grapes and wine. The main gathering area is around the Pergola Pool Restaurant, the pool and pool bar. From there, cobblestone pathways wind around the property to the suites and villas. All the accommodations are different and very charming. After our site inspection, lunch was served at the Pergola Pool Restaurant with the owner, Kalia Konstantinidou.
After lunch, we had a site inspection at Nafsika. This 5-bedroom, 5.5 bath villa is owned by the same family that owns the Vedema. It is two stories, has two kitchens and overlooks the sea. The front driveway doubles as a helipad. There is a large pool off the ground floor bedrooms. Vedema hosted dinner at their Alati Restaurant, which felt like we were in a medieval dining hall. It is across from the wine cellar where a wine tasting can be arranged for guests.
Since the Vedema is located in a village and not on a beach, the hotel has a private shuttle to and from Perivolos Beach. There is wonderful beach bar with light food and plenty of beach palapas, lounges and couches to enjoy the beach. We spent about an hour there but since we were there pre-season, it was windy and the water was cold.
From the beach, we transferred to the Caldera area of Oia. This is the area people think of when they think of Santorini with all those white buildings along the hillside with blue domes overlooking the beautiful sea. We had a site inspection of the Androni Luxury Suites and Santorini Secrets, which both have breathtaking views, private pools and white glove service. Mr. E Restaurant hosted us for dinner. It opened just three days prior to our arrival and is also owned by the owners of Vedema.
The next day we were taken to Akrotiri for a guided tour. This site is similar to Pompeii as it was totally covered by volcanic ash. One difference is that the town had been excavated due to severe earthquakes. Archeologists are researching to see if the eruption of the Thira volcano was responsible for the collapse of the Minoan civilization. This is the fabulous tour that I highly recommend for anyone traveling to Santorini.
After this tour, we drove back to Oia to inspect the properties on the cliffs. We saw the Altana Traditional Houses, Altana Cliffside and the Astra Suites. These places are all on cliffs with MANY stairs. The stairs are uneven and there are no banisters. Clients should be aware that they are going to encounter lots of stairs and they should bring appropriate shoes. After lunch, we were transferred to Canaves Oia, Canaves Suites and Canaves Villa. All of these properties were perches on the hillside, many with private pools. After this afternoon of hiking in Oia, we were treated to a Catamaran ride. It was a great experience to view the hotels from sea level and to look back at the stairs we climbed.
After the Catamaran ride we arrived at Mystique (another owned by the Vedema family). It has 39 suites and villas, ASEA (Japanese lounge restaurant), and the Charisma Restaurant at Mystique with owners Kalia Konstantinidou and Emmanuel Niotakis.
The Food and Wine
All of our lunches and dinners on this trip were three hours long. Six or seven courses were normal. We always had the traditional Greek salad with cucumbers, red onions and slab of feta cheese. Couscous salad and quinoa salad were included in every meal. Vegetables were served in every form – eggplant, zucchini, zucchini flowers, stuffed grape leaves and all things olive. Chick peas were in soups, used as dips, and spread as a base fro seafood bits on toast. Main course was a choice of fish, prawns, octopus, lamb and occasionally beef. Just when you thought it was the last course, another plate was put in front of you. Wine flowed at all meals and Greek wines and beers were given high marks. We had an occasional dessert, but most meals ran late and we opted out of having dessert.
After our final breakfast at Vedema, we were transferred to the Santorini port to take the ferry to Mykonos. This proved interesting due to the ferry strike. We arrived at the pier early and were at the front of the line. The ferry that arrived was about half the size of the normal ferry and announcements were made that if you were not a part o a group, you would have to take the 4pm ferry. Needless to say, people were not happy and pushing and shoving started. When the yelling started, the man at the door shut it and walked away. Fortunately we were travelling with Classic and phone calls were made that identified us and we were let on to the ferry.
When we finally arrived in Mykonos, we were transferred to the Myconian Ambassador in their luxury van for a site inspection and lunch with the owner. We were running late and arrived at the Santa Marina three hours late. We had about 15 minutes in investigate their beach. It was right on the bay and the yachts were starting to arrive. Later, we met for a site inspection. This property was built on a hillside and some of the rooms were quite a hike from the public areas. Dinner was at the Colonial Pool Bar and Restaurant, hosted by the Director of Sales.
The next morning, we were met and treated to a guided tour of the island of Delos. In Greek mythology, Delos is the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The water was very rough and some declined the excursion. It was very windy on the island but ruins and museum were fantastic to experience. On the way back, we had a site inspection at the Myconian Villa and lunch. The last dinner of the fam was at the Buddha Bar in the Santa Marina. It was a bit of a celebration and a reward for a great group surviving all the stairs.
Heading Home Via Athens
After breakfast, we transferred to the Mykonos Airport for a 40-minute Olympic Air flight to Athens. Upon arrival, we claimed our luggage and walked across the street, a 4-5 minutes walk to the Sofitel Athens at the airport, to inspect the property. The entry level rooms are quite large and have black out curtains and soundproofing. Day rooms are also available. It also has a 24 hour bar and restaurant. The subway from the Sofitel goes directly to the Syntagma Square, right in front of the Grand Bretagne.
At the airport we boarded our Emirates return flight back to the USA.
Over the course of 9 days, I walked 91,469 steps, an average of 10,163 per day. I walked 43.2 miles and climbed 232 floors, 26 floors per day. I checked out 21 hotels. It was a lot of work exploring so much of Athens, Santorini and Mykonos but it was a great work out, I learned so much and really enjoyed My Big Fat Greek Fam Trip!