I admit, I was a little hesitant about traveling to these destinations. Working in the news industry, I had closely followed all the stories coming out of Greece about its financial woes, and recent events in Egypt also made me a little nervous. But I am thrilled to share that this adventure was a safe and happy one that led to some incredibly beautiful places.
Getting there: Getting to Greece was a breeze, the islands required a bit more effort. The plan was to spend a brief amount of time in Athens, hit the main tourist spots and keep moving. Once again, in order to cram in as much sightseeing as possible, renting a car was a must. After a night in Athens, a roughly 350km drive to Metéora was next. The roads in Athens were great. A bit past the city border heading north the construction zones and windy turns kicked in, which really slowed things down. There weren’t many places to pull over to get a bite to eat, but gas stations were abundant.
From Metéora the journey continued all the way down to Kyllini to hop on a ferry to get to the island of Zakynthos. The drive was roughly 5 hours with quite a bit of traffic along the way but the ferry ride after made up for it. I have only been on a handful of ferries in my life, but this ferry was by far the nicest. It resembled a cruise ship more than anything else. It had all the bells and whistles: elevators, chic lounge areas, private cabins, espresso bars and so on. This particular ferry, owned and operated by Levante Ferries was a great way to get to Zakynthos, which is on the eastern side of Greece. The port in Kyllini is almost directly across from the northern tip of Zakynthos, with only about 35 km or so of water in between. The ferry transports vehicles over so if you have a rental it won’t be an issue. Is a car necessary on Zakynthos? No, but it makes exploring the island a lot easier. Certain must-see places are far from the main town and although tour buses shuffle back and forth in between, having a vehicle will allow you hit the road whenever and get to where you want to be. The roads on the island are very windy but certainly manageable. However, traveling short distances can take a long time.
After Zakynthos it was back to Athens to hop on a flight to Santorini. You can take a ferry from Athens to Santorini, but it’s a pretty long stretch and will take about 8 hours. Meanwhile the flight is roughly 40 minutes. Typically, the prices for the flights are decent and this way you save yourself a ton of time. A couple of carriers offer service to Santorini, Aegean Airlines ended up being a nice choice.
Over to Santorini, where once again you can rent a car if you want to, but it definitely is not a necessity. Several of the little towns you’ll want to visit are within walking distance and you can also rent a moped or take a taxi. Another reason to skip the car rental is because parking spaces are very limited and the roads are very narrow and crowded. Plus, walking is good for you!
Where to stay: The Herodion Hotel in Athens was the ideal place to stay to catch up on sleep after the flight from New York. The service was outstanding, although I have to say Greek hospitality overall is nothing short of incredible. The hotel combines a nice mix of modern and historic. The rooftop bar offers a great view of the Acropolis and is a really chill and relaxing place to spend the evening. The location is perfect for anyone planning to visit the historic landmark as you can easily walk to it from the hotel. It’s also right next to the Acropolis Museum and there’s plenty of other art galleries, restaurants and cafes close by as well.
Ananti City Resort was just a straight up treat. When pulling up to this swanky resort you’re not sure what to expect because for miles and miles beforehand, you drive through villages, farms, and big open fields. Then you suddenly see this impressive piece of architecture pop up in the distance. The property sits on the hill of Loggaki, close to the city of Trikala but the immediate surroundings are very quiet and rural. Ananti is about a 30 minute drive from Metéora so the location was very convenient. It’s modern, contemporary and very stylish. The infinity pool is definitely a focal point but the building itself is also very beautiful. The rooms are spacious and furnished with contemporary pieces. The balconies are quite large and provide great views with privacy as well. If you plan to hit this part of the country, this place is not to be missed!
Aquis Avalon Hotel is on the island of Zakynthos. If you’ve never heard of this island, look up the name and wait for images of Navagio Beach to pop up. Don’t think you’ll need much more to get you interested in going. Aquis Avalon sits pretty high up on a hill and has nice views of Zante town below. The rooms, lobby and pool area all have a similar feel, very neat and clean. Not a ton of color or personality throughout, just a very simple, no frills look. Speaking of the pool, it was a great way to cool off and the views from it are stunning. If you have a car with you then you’re only a few minutes from the town. You could walk there from the hotel, but it would be a fairly long trek. Otherwise, the hotel offers shuttle service to make the process a bit easier.
Kapari Natural Resort is now one of my favorite hotels. It’s on the island of Santorini in the town of Imerovigli, sandwiched in between all the others that hug the cliffside overlooking the caldera. What I particularly liked about this resort was the room, which is more like a modern cave. The architecture pays tribute to the traditional Cycladic style, with all the modern amenities you could want. Each room also has a ‘smart home’ system which allows you to control the atmosphere, temperature, lighting scenario and so on. I did not know this until after visiting, but the resort has an incredibly rich history. The original foundation is 300 years old, suffered a devastating earthquake back in 1956 and slowly over time was rebuilt and restored. Finally in 2010 it was transformed into a resort. The quality of service was exceptional, the food was delicious, and the bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept on. Highly recommended!
Where to eat: Let’s talk food!! Before I list a few recommendations on places to dine, I want to get one thing out of the way. Pictured above is a meal I enjoyed pretty much every single day while in Greece. Yes, a Greek salad is such a cliché item to order given the context but there’s a reason why this salad is so popular all around the world- it’s just THAT good. Chopped veggies, a slab of feta, some extra virgin olive oil and herbs. It’s so simple and delicious! You’ll find it on almost every menu so you don’t need to worry about where to get one, just order and dig in.
Anogi is a great spot to grab some lunch or a casual dinner. The dishes are simple, fresh and delicious. The location is very convenient if you’re staying in Imerovigli as it’s close to several hotels and is right off the main street in town. Anogi is a good starter restaurant. The menu has all the Greek staples you’d expect and it’s a great way to get into the flavors of the local cuisine in a very relaxed and welcoming setting. The tzaziki is beyond words!
Pitogyros is THE spot. There’ll probably be a line when you get there and all the stools and nearby benches and curbs will be occupied- especially if you’re dining late night. It’s fast food à la Santorini. You walk up, order something delicious off the menu, grab a Mythos and set up shop. The menu has gyros, souvlaki, kebab and all that good stuff!
Where to go: Metéora was by no means ‘along the way’ for this trip. But after seeing images of this UNESCO World Heritage site which means “in the heavens above” or ” suspended in the air”, it quickly made the itinerary. Basically, it’s six Greek Orthodox monasteries built on top of rock pillars and they are just spectacular. After miles of flat terrain, seemingly out of no where, these massive rock formations emerge. Today, you can drive right up and take stairs to get to them. But back in the day, monks built the monasteries on top of the peaks intentionally to make access difficult. I suggest packing a picnic or grabbing a bottle of wine and settling down somewhere along the cliffs to catch a sunset.
Santorini I’ll keep this somewhat short and sweet because Santorini has to be one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. You’ve seen, I’m sure, images of the bright blue domes on top of the white homes and churches glazed over the cliffside. It’s a little piece of paradise. Everywhere you turn you’re surrounded by aesthetic wonders. If you have the time, visit as many villages and towns as you can. Each one is a little different and has it’s own vibe. Oia, Fira and Imerovigli are must-sees! Also, consider renting a boat for the day and cruising around the coast and taking a dip in Ammoudi Bay. The boat rental process in many European countries is easy and pretty affordable. You’ll notice in previous posts that I am a big fan of doing this. You can go it alone or head out with a boat operator, whatever works best for you.
Zakynthos As mentioned earlier, Zakynthos (or Zante as it’s also called) is where you’ll find Navagio Beach or Shipwreck Beach. If you’ve seen pictures, you already know what this is all about. The beach is perfection in every way imaginable. The bluest water you will ever see, contrasting with an almost white cliffside wrapping around it, and then in middle of it all this eerily magical shipwreck! No photo or video can capture what it feels like to actually see this in person. There are two ways to admire the beach: from up above and down below- do both. Drive or get a ride up to the top and make your way to the rocky edge. There is a lookout point with a railing but really anywhere along the side will give you a great view. Just be careful and watch your step. You can only get to the actual beach via boat; signs will be posted everywhere offering tours. You can arrange to go with a group and spend a couple hours on the shore but just know that there will be tons of other boats with visitors there as well. Unless, of course, you have your own boat or catamaran 😉
I would never suggest visiting a place that could be dangerous. At the same time, it’s easy to be swayed by news stories that sometimes overstate or understate what the situation is really like at a given place. I can only share my impressions based on my experience. With that being said, regrettably, I cannot recommend visiting the city of Cairo at this time. I’m lucky that my trip was a safe one, and realistically, odds are yours probably would be as well. But there is just too much uncertainty and unrest in that part of the world right now for me to comfortably say ‘go for it’.
Seeing the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, and hanging with the camels was an amazing experience. But unfortunately, the tourism industry in Cairo is really suffering (not to mention the city as a whole). These wondrous sites and attractions are practically empty and the tour guides and locals that make a living off them are struggling to stay afloat. Security is at an intensely heightened state and every measure is taken to keep things safe, but the general feeling throughout the city is an uneasy one that is impossible to ignore. As upsetting as it is, I am posting these images with the hope that soon, things will improve.