Greece’s Stunning Cyclades

After a crazy few weeks in Turkey, we were excited to be heading to the Greek Islands for some sun, beach time and relaxing. More than that though, we were thrilled to be meeting up with Rod’s sister and her husband for a week, giving us a little taste of home life on the road.

We took our time deciding where we should spend our time in the Greek Islands, wanting a mix of everything on offer. Eventually we settled on three stops in the Cyclades Islands; Santorini (a must for any first-time visitor), Ios and Paros.

Santorini

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Stunning sunset views in Santorini

We arrived in Santorini at the absolute perfect time, as the sun slowly set on the caldera and made us instantly fall in love with the place. Travelling in Greece in August, our hotel in Oia was PRICEY but the fabulous views absolutely made up for the extra pressure on our wallets.

After five months away from home, it was great to catch up with Annabel and Matt, hear about their own travels, find out the latest news from Sydney and enjoy conversations that didn’t end ruefully with, ‘sorry, but I don’t speak X language’.

Our first night was spent admiring our amazing surroundings over a (few) glasses of wine and our first delicious introduction into real Greek food. We ticked off must-eat items including tangy tzatsiki, vibrant Greek salads and the requisite lamb, cooked to tender perfection. I’m not sure whether it was the food itself, the generous pours of local wine or the great company, but here in Santorini, the flavours jumped off the plate and tasted more amazing than even the most authentic Greek tavernas back home.

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Exploring the cobblestoned streets around Oia in Santorini

Exploring the winding streets of Oia after dinner presented its challenges – both the masses of tourists that flocked to find the best sunset views and the many beautiful boutiques that threatened to steal our interest (and remaining Euros).

On day two, we hit the road with quad bikes, keen to explore every inch of this exciting place, from bustling Fira to the stunning Red Beach in the south, black sand beaches of Perivolos and Perissa in the east and taking our trip full circle with Amoudi Bay near Oia. We refuelled with Greek iced coffees and gyros, for a budget-friendly but belt-bursting lunch that had us craving some down time on the beach.

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Red Beach – one of Santorini’s colourful coves

After our road trip, we were keen to explore a little further so we jumped on a boat to visit the original Santorini volcano. We were treated to gorgeous sweeping views of the amazing Santorini coastline, dotted with picturesque white houses and the island’s signature blue roofs.

We set off on Santorini volcano, determined to beat the hordes of tourists to the top, before admiring the amazing views that surrounded us. From this vantage, we were able to see the whole island spread out before us and where the original volcano would have stood. After our hike, we stopped off for a brief (but uninspiring) trip to the hot springs – we’d been warned to wear our least favourite bikinis as this brown water will do some serious damage! Luckily, our next stop was to Thirasia, the final piece of the Santorini island ring and the perfect spot for a long, lazy lunch and a quick dip in the cool, clear sea.

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Views of Oia from the sea

Our final night was spent feasting on Greek maze and drinking too much local wines. We were keen to make the most of our precious spot among the beautiful white buildings and take in one final, stunning sunset before our early morning departure to Ios.

Ios

I visited Ios once before and as a 20 year old, I thought it was heavenly. Lazy beach days followed by long nights of partying, Ios was meant to be the perfect middle-point between the stylish, stunning Santorini and the relaxed beachy Paros.

Unfortunately, like most things when you’re 20, Ios was a place we’d definitely grown out of. Still beautiful and charming, what had been an absolute paradise almost a decade ago now seemed like a lot of effort and not a lot of fun. Here, beach bars served up sugary sweet pre-mixed cocktails and the main town of Chora didn’t get going until 1am (which just didn’t seem as tempting after our lovely late nights in Santorini).

Luckily we were staying at Petros Place hotel which had the perfect pool area for a few lazy days of sun tanning and stuffing our faces, and we still managed to find some great food (Harmony in Mylopitas was a fantastic Mexican break from our overdose of Greek salads and souvlaki) but we we excited when the time came to see what Paros had to offer.

Paros

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Sunset over Paroika harbour in Paros

Third time lucky, Paros was unanimously decided as our favourite of the three Greek islands. Not too fancy, not too youthful, Paros combined the best of both worlds with gorgeous seaside surroundings, beautiful cobblestoned streets filled with delicious looking restaurants and plenty of temping shops to while away our afternoons.

We hired a car to explore the island and were instantly rewarded by one of the best lunches of our whole trip at To Thalami, in Ampelas, a short drive from Naoussa. Here, we had a waterfront view while we ate fresh prawn pasta, grilled squid, heavenly red tomatoes and tart feta cheese, all washed down with great local wine that came in huge carafes for less than 5 euro.

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The picturesque Naoussa harbour in Paros

It was easy to lose track of time in Paros; whether by the pool at our stylishly weathered hotel or getting lost within the maze of streets in Naoussa. We set out with no real plan in mind, stopping off anywhere that took our fancy around the island, including the tiny beachside towns along the coast and the rustic rural Lefkes in the centre. We stumbled on a tiny, hidden cove, sheltered from the wind and lounged for hours, swimming in some of the clearest and warmest water we’d found in Greece.

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An ionic Greek windmill welcomes you to Paros

While Santorini was definitely the star of sunsets, Paros offered its own gorgeous vistas in Paroika, with plenty of seaside cafes and bars providing the perfect setting for the golden and pink hues which marked the end of another day. Once the sun had finally set, we would travel through the town’s beautiful bougainvillea-lined streets to find somewhere delicious for dinner and were rewarded with deliciously fresh seafood caught that day, Greece’s signature salads, dips and of course, eggplant at Hungry Cows and Aegean Deli.

Eventually, our time in Greece was up, seeming to last forever and disappear in an instant. We were sad to say goodbye to Matt and Annabel; our drinking buddies, paddleball players and connection to home, as they headed off back to Sydney and we carried on to our next destination in search of new foods to devour and new angles for our sunset shots.

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One final shot of the Parthenon in Athens before we leave!

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