Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Greece photos and reviews!

In late August-early September 2007, we headed to Greece for an 8-night adventure! Our itinerary was as follows:

Athens: 1 night, Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel
Naxos : 4 nights, Muses Suites
Santorini: 3 nights Astra Apartments

Click "read more" for reviews and photos!

photos: http://tinyurl.com/2tqck8

We were very happy with this hotel. Originally I'd wanted to stay at the Grande Bretagne, but kept going back and forth on whether it was worth the price, and then it got booked up so was no longer an option anyway. But I actually ended up being glad we stayed at the DPA instead. The location was better than the GB in my opinion (walking distance to the Plaka and Acropolis) and it was about 1/3 of the price. Our deluxe room (the least-expensive category) was smallish but not tiny (especially by European hotel rooms standards) and had a small balcony with a view of the Acropolis on one side. The only thing I wasn't really happy with at the DPA were the high food and drink prices--pretty much on par with the GB, which is a 5*hotel (I'd say DPA is about a 3.5*). But it seemed like that was just how it was in Athens, and the only time we ate there was lunch that day anyway, so not really a big deal.

Honestly, we thought 1 night in Athens was plenty, but it really depends on how big a history buff you are. But since we got in in the morning, had that afternoon and night and the next day until about 3:30 to sight-see and didn't miss anything we wanted to see. The first day/night we walked around the Plaka and had drinks at the rooftop bar at the Grande Bretagne (highly recommend doing this--the view of the Acropolis at night is beautiful, and it's a fun place to get dressed up and go.) and dinner at a sidewalk cafe we stumbled upon.

The second day we got up fairly early, had the best Greek yogurt ever (it was almost like whipped cream--amazing!) at a little place in the Plaka (really should have written down the name), then climbed up to the Acropolis and walked around up there for awhile. I will say, it was insanely hot and crowded. But still, you can't go to Greece and miss it! My advice would be to go VERY early in the morning--walk up and plan to be at the ticket booth before it even opens if you're there during the summertime. Sure it will probably still be crowded even then, but less so, and hopefully less hot first thing in the morning! After that we looked in a few shops between there and our hotel, then spent the rest of our time lounging by the hotel pool.

Athens to Naxos

Since this trip was planned fairly last minute (less than 6 weeks in advance, in high season), the flights from Athens to Naxos were all booked up. So we ended up taking the Hellenic Seaways Highspeed 2 ferry to Naxos. I booked our ferries here: http://www.gtp.gr/ We went with business class, because the price difference between that and economy was fairly negligible. We were glad we did, b/c the economy section looked like what you find in coach on an airplane and was packed, whereas business was almost empty, had larger seats and tables to put your food and drinks on.The ferry took about 4 hours, which was a lot longer than the flight would have taken, but was also only about 1/2 the price.


photos: http://tinyurl.com/3deobw

When we arrived in Naxos, it was about 9:30PM. Our hotel had arranged for us to be picked up at the ferry port, which ended up being a bit iffy. On one hand, there were not tons of taxis available at that hour, but we also ended up crunched with 2 sweaty (though friendly!) strangers (who were staying at a different hotel) in the backseat of a small car, so it was not the most comfortable ride ever.

We stayed at Muses Suites (http://www.themuses.gr/), which is the newer section of Athina Studios (http://www.studiosathina.gr/) with larger accommodations. We had the Erato Suite, which I think was the largest/nicest 1-bedroom, and it was still pretty reasonably priced. the location is great--right on Plaka Beach (technically, there's a road separating the property from the beach, but this is the case with pretty much every hotel on the island). We really liked staying in that area because it was much quieter/less crowded than Naxos Town, but still had several restaurants and a little grocery store right next door and a few within walking distance down the road. And the beach was gorgeous, with really clear bright blue water! It's definitely not a full service resort, but does have a pool and a front desk (run by Athina herself) where you can arrange tours. Each morning, coffee and fresh baked goodies (coffee cakes, muffins, etc.) are available next to the front desk (included in the room rate). When you check in, you are also presented with a bottle of wine with an Athina Studios label, which was a nice touch.

The suite itself was great, with 3 balconies (a small one off the bedroom and another small one off the living room, and a huge one off the other side of the living room, overlooking the water). It was well-appointed with a tiny kitchenette, living room with sofa and coffee table and chairs, bedroom with pretty and reasonably comfy bed, and a small bathroom (shower only). The only issue we had was that you only get 4 towels (2 bath, 2 beach) for your entire stay, so have to hang them up to dry after each use. This is for conservation purposes, and is fairly common on dry Naxos. Still, we didn't realize this until we asked Athina for new towels our 2nd day, and she was not totally thrilled to give us new ones. Her attitude then was the only thing we didn't really like about our stay there (she was a little snippy a couple of other times as well, but it really had a negligible effect on our stay). All in all, we were very pleased with our choice, and Naxos was hands down our favorite destination in Greece!

We rented a dune buggy for 2 days, and had an absolute blast exploring the island. Until one of the back wheels fell off (yes, seriously) at about 9PM our last night on a long, dark, deserted stretch of road. Luckily, there was a hostel just down the road, and they let us use their phone to call the rental place to come pick us up. Apparently this is not an unusual occurrence, as the rental rep did not seem the least bit surprised and had some choice words about the manufacturer of that particular type of buggy. But I still would not hesitate to rent one again--riding around in it was definitely a highlight of our trip, you just have to be careful not to be too rough with it. Our favorite thing was driving down the road along the beach until we came to an area with tiny secluded coves in the rock down the side of a small cliff. Very nice to climb down, find one that was deserted, and stretch out in our own little area with no one else around!

photos: http://tinyurl.com/38fqzb

We took a ferry from Naxos to Santorini (there was no flight between the 2 islands), booked through the same website we booked the Athens-Naxos ferry. It was 4-5 hours--the "slow boat". We had originally been booked on a smaller boat that took about 1/2 as long, but the night before, we were told it had been cancelled due to high winds in the area. Had to switch our tickets at an office in Naxos Town, and once we arrived in Santorini, found out the original boat had left as scheduled after all. Typical! When we got to Santorini, our scheduled pickup from Astra was nowhere to be found. After an hour and a half of waiting and trying to get through to the hotel, a driver finally showed up. We would have just taken a cab, but they only seem to show up right around the time a boat docks, so by the time we started looking for one, there were none to be found. Anyway, the Astra driver finally got there, and it was never quite clear what caused the disconnect. We were just happy to get out of the blazing sun at that point, though, so didn't press the issue!

In Santorini, we stayed at Astra Apartments (http://www.astra-apartments.com/), which was wonderful. We had a superior apartment, which was around $300E a night--more expensive than the standard apartment, but that was all they had left when we booked. We were in #5, which I had requested in advance, and were very happy with the room! It had what we considered to be the best location on the property, up it's own private staircase over looking the infinity pool, and beyond that, the caldera. It was spacious, with another tiny kitchenette with breakfast table, sitting area, bathroom that was small but decorated with beautiful blue tile work and paint, and a nicely sized bedroom. There were 2 balconies, both with chairs and a table--one right outside the front door, and 1 off the bedroom.

A full breakfast was delivered to the room each morning (you just had to fill out a card with your choices the night before), and it was delicious! They even brought it earlier than they usually begin serving on the morning we checked out, as we had to leave very early in the morning for our flight back to Athens. There's no restaurant on the premises, but you can order room service. We only tried a couple of sandwiches, but they were very tasty and fresh.

My only real complaint about Astra is that due to the small size of the pool area, there are not nearly enough loungers to accommodate everyone who would like to use one, especially since many people "save" them at the crack of dawn with a towel, book, etc. But when you can get one, they're great, and sitting with a glass of wine by the pool looking out at the sunset is an experience that's hard to top!

Astra is in Imerovigli, which is less well known than the towns Oia and Fira, but is located between the 2. If you want more of the party scene, Fira is probably the best choice, and many people think Oia is the most beautiful part of the island (most of the typical "Santorini scene" photos you see are taken here). But after spending time in all these areas, but a couple of others on the island, we were very happy we stayed in Imerovigli. It's quiet, gorgeous, centrally located, and we actually thought the sunsets were better from Astra/Imero than from Oia, which tends to be celebrated for it's sunsets!

We rented a car for 24 hours and explored the island, driving down to one of the beaches (Perivolas) for some sunbathing and lunch, then made it to Oia to walk around, take pictures, and view the sunset. Oia gets incredibly crowded at this time of day, so if you want a good seat at a restaurant with a great sunset view, I highly recommend booking ahead of time. We didn't and just happened to luck into the last table at a restaurant with a great view.

The next morning, we took the car and went down to the port of Ammoundi, which is the famous harbor often shown in pictures of Santorini. Not much going on there, but made for a good photo op! Later that day, we went on a day/sunset volcano cruise. Honestly, it ended up being sort of a rip-off. Overpriced, overcrowded, very touristy and just not a great value all around, especially as the "included drinks" ended up being a scam--the boxed wine with appetizers before sunset was free, but all the other drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) during the day--the cruise started around noon, from what I recall--were $5Euros+ each. I kind of wished we'd done a tour and tasting at one of the wineries and/or just hung out at Astra's pool and watched the sunset from there instead. Maybe next time! Note: I hate to sound so negative, but just wanted to give you fair warning on the cruise, as I really was disappointed and did feel like we'd sort of wasted the day. In fairness, we did meet some nice people on the cruise, and swimming out to the warm thermal springs was an adventure!


Ally said...

I love the pics! I have to visit Greece, it looks like so much fun!
The beaches are gorgeous, and I am definitely a beach type of traveler.

Sarah Gemba said...

I'm dying to read your reviews of Ad Astra! Hey, it would be great if you made your links clickable...just a thought from a lazy blogger. :)

Hey it's Amy Benson said...

Hi I am obsessed with travel also! I live in AZ. I love your blog :)


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