Legacy Travel Designs’ hosted trip to Greece is in the books! We took a 2-week break from our e-newsletter and blog posts so that we could fully immerse ourselves in our travels, and now we’re excited to fill you in on the highlights and details of our amazing adventure. Below you’ll find pictures, information, and reviews of our hotels and experiences, along with a few insider tips.
Our trip preparations reflected some of the challenges that travelers and the travel industry are facing as we all adjust to pandemic-era travel. In addition to all we did during the planning process to mitigate risks related to flight delays, cancellations, and general airport chaos (See my blog post from mid-July for the tips I passed along.), we also had two group members contract Covid-19 right before the trip. One person had to cancel and another had to delay their travel by a day. This required reshuffling arrangements, rebooking or canceling air tickets, and dealing with travel insurance claims. As my daughter said, “Good thing we have a great travel advisor!” In the end, we wound up with 5 different itineraries on 4 different airlines traveling from Nashville, Washington, DC or New York to Athens, some direct and some with layovers.
Insider Tip: Those of us who had long layovers purchased one-day passes for airport lounges, which made the time at the airport much more comfortable. If you don’t have lounge access through a credit card or airline status, this is a great option. The complimentary food and drinks offset much of the cost.
When we finally made it to Greece (with little to no airport or airline issues), we began right away to enjoy the perks of working with our amazing on-site partner, Curated Greece. Each of the 4 arrival groups was met at the Athens airport by a private driver and whisked to our hotel in luxurious minibuses. That evening, our Curated Greece partners Seetha and Yvonni joined us at our hotel for a private welcome reception for our group at the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant. What a way to kick off our Greek odyssey!
Hotel: Elia Ermou Athens
Elia Ermou has a wonderfully convenient location overlooking the pedestrian-only section of Ermou, a main shopping thoroughfare in Athens. It is a short walk to the Plaka neighborhood, the Acropolis and other sites in Athens. The rooftop bar and restaurant, as mentioned above, has a beautiful view of the Acropolis. The rooms vary in size and views – some have juliet or full balconies overlooking the Ermou, some have a full terrace with Acropolis views, and some overlook the internal courtyard. All rooms are modern in decor and amenities. There is a lounge area with a hot tub on the roof. Full hot-and-cold breakfast buffet at the rooftop restaurant was included.
Sites, Tours and Activities
Walking tour: The first group to arrive dropped their bags at the hotel and headed right out to the surrounding neighborhood for a self-guided walking tour that Sandy had put together. They saw the Parliament building and changing of the guard at Syntagma Square, the National Gardens, the Panathenaic Stadium, and a few other sites.
Acropolis Tour: We had two tour guides for our group who met us at our hotel and then guided us to and into the Acropolis site, sharing a great deal of history and information along the way.
Acropolis Museum: This museum, which opened in 2009, houses a collection of many items from the Acropolis site as well as easy-to-follow information about the fascinating history of the Acropolis and the surrounding neighborhoods. Underneath the museum is the excavation of an ancient neighborhood that was discovered when ground was broken to begin building the museum.
Cape Sounion: After spending most of the day exploring the Acropolis and the surrounding Plaka neighborhood, part of our group chose to take a private tour out to Sounion, where they visited the Temple of Poseidon and enjoyed a beautiful sunset dinner overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Food, Drink and Nightlife: Even though we were exhausted and very hot, we tried to take advantage of the short time we had in Athens to experience some of the nightlife and culinary delights of the city. Seetha and Yvonni guided us to a locals’ spot – The Clumsies – for drinks and a light meal on our first night. On the second day, we reunited with John and Jack over lunch at The Cave of Acropolis (Spilia Akropolis), had a lavish dinner at the rooftop restaurant at the 5-star Electra Palace Hotel, and stopped for late-night drinks in the adorable courtyard at Hermion Restaurant.
While we only had one full day to experience the awesome sites in Athens, we were ready to escape the city heat and head to the Greek islands. Our first stop was Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades but less-traveled by American tourists. We stayed in a boutique hotel that had a distinctly “Mamma Mia!” vibe. We took advantage of this setting to make some fun lip-synched videos that we’re using to create a trip video for our group! We went on historical and gastronomical tours of the island, experienced beach club life, dined, danced and “promenaded” in the port area, visited a 13th century Venetian castle, and walked on the seawall to reach the ruins of an ancient temple at sunset. So many of the immersive, “off-the-beaten path” experiences we had would not have been possible without the help of our local tour guides, who took us to places and introduced us to people that we never would have been able to access on our own.
Travel & Transportation: Private minibus to Athens airport, 45-minute flight to the tiny Naxos airport, private minibuses to Naxos hotel
Hotel: The Nastasia Village Boutique Hotel is in a residential area of the main town. The hotel is run by the 2nd generation of the same family, and the feeling is distinctly village-like, more of an inn than a large tourist hotel . The rooms are spread out on several different levels leading off of a main courtyard. All rooms have a private terrace or balcony to relax or enjoy the included breakfast. It is a 10-15-minute walk or short cab ride to the beach or to the commercial center of town or the port.
Insider Tip: If you want more of a beach vibe, choose a hotel closer to the beach, several of which also have pools. However, if you want a more authentic, local feel, choose a hotel in the small streets of the main town (such as Nastasia Village) and take advantage of the beach clubs/restaurants that line the beaches of Naxos for your beach-going comfort. Below is a short video showing one of the beach clubs we went to at Agios Georgios (St. George Beach).
Sites, Tours, and Activities
Naxos Panorama: Our amazing Naxian guide, Kiriaki, took us on a full-day tour around the main town and a large swath of the island’s countryside and smaller villages. Kiriaki guided us through the old market and cathedral area of Town and up into the 13th-century Venetian castle that was turned into the first all-girls’ boarding school in Greece in 1739. We also visited a 5th-generation family-run olive press, a 3rd-generation family-run pottery studio, a kitron liqueur factory, a small village bakery, and had lunch and a walking tour of an ancient village in the inland section of the island (where Kiriaki’s father grew up). What a day!
Town & Beaches: Naxos is known for its beautiful beaches, and we were able to visit a few of them for swimming, lounging, eating, and beach-clubbing (see above). We also went into the old village and port area several times for wonderful meals, shopping, and Greek music. A few of us made the trek from the port, across the seawall, out to the ruins of Apollo’s Temple for a beautiful sunset view.
Marble Quarry & Workshop: On our second day, some of our group visited a marble quarry and then were able to participate in some marble carving at the nearby workshop. This group got to spend more time with Kiriaki, which was a bonus!
Naxos Gastronomy Tour: Another section of our group chose to go on what was billed as a “wine and cheese” tour, but turned out to be so much more! We got a private tour of a 3rd-generation family winery where the current winemaker is using innovative, unorthodox practices for making some amazing wines, as well as producing other agricultural products such as chutneys, hot sauces, grape molasses, and herb-infused sun-dried tomatoes. Later that night, we visited Konstantinos at his wine bar in Town! We also toured a farm at the top of a very windy mountain, where we helped make Naxian cheese, made friends with some goats and sheep, and enjoyed a homemade farmhouse lunch prepared by the farmer’s wife.
After 3 glorious nights, it was time to bid farewell to Naxos and board a giant ferry for our 2-hour ride to one of the better-known jewels of the Cyclades — Santorini. We stayed in a beautiful new hotel just outside of the town of Oia, where we enjoyed the highest level of luxury of our trip. Many of our rooms had a private garden with a plunge pool, and others had balconies with breathtaking ocean views. Our group was greeted with a signature cocktail toast, and on our last night the amazing Chef Alex created a sumptuous private buffet of Greek delicacies that we all are still dreaming about. In the interim, we visited wineries, went on a tour of the island, and explored the cliffs and whitewashed buildings of the caldera-view towns. A few of us even did the famed hike between the two largest towns, Fira and Oia. And we enjoyed what was for many in our group the highlight of the whole trip, a private catamaran cruise around the island, culminating in a beautiful sunset view over the Aegean Sea.
Travel & Transportation: Private minibus to Naxos port, Blue Delos ferry from Naxos to Fira, private minibus to Secret View hotel (about 30 minutes).
Insider Tip: We would advise our clients to fly between Naxos and Santorini rather than taking a ferry. It’s more expensive, but it’s much shorter and probably worth avoiding the ferry scene, at least in high season. The ride itself was lovely, in a Business Class lounge with indoor and outdoor seating options and full-service food and drinks. But the embarkation and debarkation of the ferry was a challenge for our group. It was very crowded, chaotic, and required agility and mobility. When we arrived at the port in Santorini, we felt like we were getting ready to storm the beaches at Normandy! (See video clip below, and turn off the sound if you don’t want to be blasted…). And there was more chaos trying to keep our group together while locating our drivers and vehicles.
Hotel: Secret View Hotel – As described above, Secret View is a luxury hotel just outside the town of Oia in the village of Finikia. It has two pools, a gourmet restaurant, and a lovely open-air bar and lounge. It faces northeast, so the beautiful views are over open ocean rather than the cliffs and the caldera. All rooms are gorgeous, but there are different categories with different sizes and amenities. You can walk into town in about 15 minutes, but the hotel also can provide transportation (for a fee), or you can take a taxi.
Sites, Tours, and Activities
Exploring Oia: Shopping, restaurants, and beautiful views abound. This really is a pedestrian area that requires a decent level of mobility due to the narrow alleyways, sometimes steep stairs, and uneven cobblestone pavement. The “main drag” for shopping is a smooth, marble-paved walkway, so once you get there it is easy to move around.
Insider Tip: If you want “THE” shot with the blue-domed churches and whitewashed cliffside caves of Oia in the background, go early and be prepared to wait in line. Sarah and I arrived at 8am, having scoped out the location the day before, and we still waited over 30 minutes while the few people in front of us conducted 5-10-minute photo shoot sessions. The location is down a non-marked alleyway off the main pedestrian shopping street, past the public school and main church square. Just follow the photographers and women in flowing, bright-colored dresses…
Santorini Tour: Some of our group did this on ATVs and some of us went by minibus. Both groups had a private guide and visited some of the same locations. We visited a winery, the archaeological excavation site at Akrotiri, and the black sand beach at Vlyhada. We also toured the village of Elborio with its Venetian castle, tiny alleys, Crusader markings, and incredible mosaic stonework. This is where the tiny village church was open for its feast day celebration, which only happens a few times each year. The villagers invited us in to share vin santo, olives, and bread in the church courtyard.
Fira to Oia hike: This is a 7-mile hike along the cliff, overlooking the caldera. I went with my 3 kids, knowing that I was only going to do part of it. There are some really beautiful vistas, churches, and cliffside hotels and residences along the way. The middle of the hike, after the town of Imerovigli, is the most deserted and most challenging section of the hike, which is where I peeled off to take a bus back to Oia. The kids said the hike was difficult but enjoyable. And they still beat me back to the hotel (since I just missed the bus that runs every 30 minutes)!
Private Catamaran Cruise: This was a highlight of the trip for most of us. Our captain and crew took us through the caldera area and around the south tip of the island to see the old lighthouse, the ancient site of the original capital village of Santorini, the Red, White and Black Beaches, and the entrances to caves with underwater ancient ruins that had been explored by Jacques Cousteau. We swam and snorkeled in several locations and even saw an octopus! The crew provided drinks and a delicious grilled dinner on the boat, and some of us got turns to helm the ship for a bit. It was a wonderful day, capped by a sunset over the caldera that none of us will ever forget.
We could have stayed at least a week in each of the places we visited in Greece, and we still would not have been able to see and do everything there is! We also feel that we only scratched the surface of this amazing country. We hope to return in the future to see more of the islands, each of which has its own unique culture and geographical features, as well as to explore the many sights and activities on the mainland. Thanks again to Curated Greece for helping us create this unforgettable trip for our 3-generation group of explorers!
Here’s a preview of our silly video we’re working on to commemorate our trip!
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