After the stress of selling Harmonie and all the last minute problems we had, a holiday was needed and we decided to go island hopping in Greece. Easy Jet flew us from Gatwick leaving at 6-40am so we were up at an unearthly hour at a Crawley hotel, parked the car and were eating breakfast in the departure lounge by 5-30am!
After a three and a half hour flight we touched down on time at 12-30pm local time. A taxi to the centre of the main town wanted 15 Euros each at the airport which we declined and waited for the public bus which only charged 1-60 Euros each and it included a tour to Kamira which was nice. 24 degrees C was the temperature as we walked up the hill from the bus station towing our cabin baggage and fell into a bar overlooking the Caldera.
For those unacquainted with Santorini, about 3600 years ago there was an enormous volcanic eruption, one of the largest ever recorded. It may have been responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation on Crete which is about 200km away and the theory is that it the eruption would have caused a tsunami that drowned the population of most of the surrounding islands. After a volcanic eruption you are usually left with a mountain of lava with a crater at the top called a caldera. In this case, two sides of the lava mountain collapsed and the sea flowed into the caldera forming a lagoon.
In 1707 the volcano became active again and a new island was formed in the middle of the lagoon. The last eruption was in 1950 and you can see the island in the photograph above.
A couple of Brits were supping some Rose wine and we asked them for their opinion of it. They let us taste it so we ordered a bottle as we had nothing better to do until we caught the ferry to Milos at 6-30pm then we staggered back downhill to the bus station and caught another local bus down to the port at Athinos.
The fastjet cat took 2 hours to get to Milos where we were met by a local car hire firm and drove ourselves to Pollonia, a small fishing village 10km from the port. Milos is where the statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was discovered in 1820. It is known as the 'Venus de Milo', is now in the Louvre in Paris and believed to be over 2100 years old.
Like most of the islands in the Cyclades it has a history of being ruled by different civilisations from the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Dorians, Athenians, Spartans, Franks, Venetians, and Ottomans. They finally became part of Greece in 1830 after the war with Turkey.
We stayed at the Nefeli Sunset Studios, situated right on the beach shown in the photos above. Our hosts Roula and Makis made us feel at home from the start and nothing was too much trouble. They seemed to have thought of everything in the design and layout of their studios and a better location would be difficult to find.
Just a ten minute walk away from the centre of the village with a bakery and mini markets for your breakfast supplies, all the rooms being equipped with a hob and a refrigerator which contained a bottle of local white wine with our hosts compliments for drinking as we watched the sunset.
The village harbour with the local fishing fleet supplied fish to the restaurants lined up all along the harbour front, straight off the boat into the pan. One in particular recommended by Roula and Makis was Gialos where we enjoyed a grilled Snapper. You first select your fish from the chiller which they weigh so you know the price. Our Snapper, was under 20 Euros and fed the two of us but the chips were the best of all and we had to go again for more. Twice fried so they have crisp skin and seasoned with salt and herbs they are quite the best chips in Greece and Makis said it was because they use the local potatoes which are perfect for the job!
After a day of relaxation we explored the Island Capitol, Plaka, situated on a high hill in the island centre and out of bounds to cars. Just a pretty little village of which there are thousands in these islands and nothing much to commend it. Close by are the Catacombs of Milos, one of the earliest Christian burial sites ever found. You get a guided tour after walking down steep steps to where the caves were carved out of the soft porous volcanic rock. There is a Greek theatre nearby but they were rebuilding it when we were there and it was like a building site!
Our next destination was Sarakiniko where there are many white volcanic rocks moulded by the sea and weather over centuries to a lunar like landscape and as you can see from the photographs are quite spectacular, particularly so on the day we visited as a strong northerly wind had whipped up the sea but on a calm day it is draped with sun worshippers.
The next day we caught the fast cat back to Athinos port on Santorini then the local bus up to Fira and another to Imerovigli which overlooks the caldera and the outcrop of Skaros, the site of an old Venetian castle.
Here we stayed in the Nefeli Homes but nothing to do with the Nefeli Sunset Studios we had just left and no comparison as far as the facilities were concerned. Most of Fira and it's environs were destroyed or badly damaged in the earthquake of 1956 so most buildings are modern replicas but the situation on the edge of the caldera is dramatic.
The view from our balcony was superb but inside the room was gloomy and very dated with uncomfortable and unnecessary furniture, we counted 12 dining chairs in our room which also had surplus mosquitos and we had to ask for spray before we could sleep. The roof in the shower was leaking water, doors would not close and lights did not work and this was twice the price we had just paid in Milos. You pay for the view.
Breakfast was included and served outside as there was no inside dining room. One afternoon we had an unusual torrential rainstorm and all the outside seating was soaking wet so we ate breakfast on our balcony which was fortunately under cover. That evening the steps outside became waterfalls and we became marooned in our room. The rain stopped in time for us to get out to a restaurant to eat.
Restaurants were plentiful and expensive, once again you paid for the view but if you walked inland away from the views the prices were more reasonable. At Mezzo Restaurant we met the best waiter of our entire trip. He introduced us to the islands indigenous grape variety Assyrtiko. It cost 35 Euros a bottle but it was very special and had a zingy citrus taste which was quite unique.
It is about 30 minutes walk downhill into Fira which was usually mobbed by cruise line passengers which anchor in the lagoon below. They have three methods of getting up to the town after they are landed at the old port; the easiest is by cable car then they can get a donkey or finally by shanks's pony after which they are too knackered to go further to the benefit of the local bars!
We visited the same bar as when we first arrived and consumed another bottle of Rosé, always a mistake when you have to climb back up the hill to Imerovigli and especially before cocktails and wine at dinner!
One of our more athletic activities was to walk round the crater edge to Oia or Ia just to confuse, a spectacular walk of about 8km. We stopped and rested about half way at a kiosk selling freshly squeezed orange juice before tackling the last hill before Oia or Ia and declined the offer of a donkey.
Oia or Ia is situated right at the end of a peninsula and is a splendid, if expensive place which claims to have the best view of the sunset. Here we found a really good Mezze cafe where we ate and drank cheaply and well, proper Greek food. After we wandered around the marble paved streets and found the best ice cream in Greece serving yoghurt ice cream with liqueur cherries.
We met a couple on the way who engaged us in conversation and I apologised that I could not understand him as I was English. He replied "so am I mate, I'm from Yorkshire". Well no wonder I couldn't understand him! They were walking both ways but we caught the bus back.
We checked out of Nefeli Homes and they asked us if we could pay cash as their machine had broken down. I suspected this was untrue as they really wanted cash due to the current state of the Greek economy so I negotiated a miserly 5 Euro discount plus a free transfer down to Athinos port for our ferry to the next island of Ios.
Once again on a fast jetcat for the 50 minute ride to the Island of Ios and a nice quiet six days at the Liostasi Hotel and Spa. This time we really felt we were going to be properly looked after and we were not disappointed. Firstly we received an email from them asking for our arrival time so they could arrange transfer from the port to the hotel. We were met by the hotel mini bus where we were welcomed by Mary who showed us round the hotel.
Ios's claim to fame is the supposed place of birth of the Greek poet Homer, that is if he ever really existed! It depends which academic you chose to believe but some theorise that the oldest ever written poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, were not composed by one man but are instead a collection by several poets in the homeric tradition. If you prefer to believe Homer existed then his birth is reckoned to be somewhere between 1100 and 400 BC so they are not even sure when he lived or where he came from. Legend does have it that his mother came from Ios and he died there so one of the sites to visit is his grave.
Back to Mary at the Liostasi who introduced us to all the staff and we were given a welcome drink before being taken to our suite of rooms. Mary explained that we had been upgraded as they were not very busy during our stay so we had a family room with a lounge, bathroom and bedroom. Mary took us out onto a large balcony with tables and chairs which we were impressed with but she then said we should wait until we saw what was round the corner. It is pictured here.
The hotel is situated 1km up the hill from the port and 1km down the hill from the town of Chora. We learnt that Chora simply means "town" in Greek and is used all through the islands wherever the name of the main town and the island are the same.
In the 1960's and 70's Ios was discovered by the hippy community and the town has many rock bars and cafes dating to those times. 2km further round the coast is the popular beach of Milopotas where we walked to on our first day and had our umpteenth Greek Salad between us. There must have been a kilo of tomatoes and 250g of Feta cheese on that one so we caught the bus back!
Our hotel has one of the best restaurants on the island called Grandmas but we never met her. The first night we ate here after an afternoon by the pool and pre prandial gin and tonics. I had Plymouth and Sue had Hendricks gin which are both full strength, the liberal measures saw us floating into the restaurant where we tucked into grilled sea bream with a crispy skin on a bed of artichokes and carrots with a lemon sauce, fine dining at it's best. It was washed down with a bottle of local wine before we resisted the temptation for a nightcap.
Mary was always on hand to advise the best places to go according the weather and our first day with the car, thick cloud was hanging over the highest mountains which are 740m. Mary said that rain was even possible and said we should head North to Homers grave. Sure enough once we were over the first hill we were in the sunshine and it is strange how this cloud forms. I asked the barman to explain the phenomenon when I observed the cloud over the adjacent island but not over ours but he couldn't.
Homers tomb itself was mostly made of concrete but there was a number of engraved stones as you begin to walk out to it in different languages. Back over the hill into the cloud then East over another hill and back into the sunlight down to Theodoti and what the hire car man said was his favourite beach of which there are many on the island. Here were four fishing boats anchored off the beach which we had mostly to ourselves. We both swam and it was cold, a bit like a summers day in Britain but nice and hot when you came out.
Back to the top of the hill we turned South for a bit, past the cheese factory and on down to the coast again until we came to Paleocastro. Here are the ruins of a Byzantine castle built on a steep sided limestone rock 300m above the deep blue sea. They have built a nice stone path and steps all the way to the top so anyone can easily walk up there and it is well worth the effort. Inevitably there is a church on the top but the only inhabitants were a family of goats. We voted this place as the best scenically on the island.
Back in Chora we dined at Anogi which is a mezze restaurant and very popular. On another night we wandered down to the port where there are many other restaurants. There is a real Italian pizza place with a wood fired oven and Susanas taverna treated us to the best salad in Greece and fresh Grouper.
Mary deemed the weather suitable for the half hours drive to Manganari in the deep South which has four beautiful sandy beaches with free thatched sun shades and loungers. Unfortunately although the temperature was the regulation 24 degrees C there was a nippy wind from the South which made swimming a bit cold on the two days we visited. There was a good taverna on the beach.
On our final day we climbed up to Chora and continued up to the most important of Ios’ 365 churches, Panayia Gremiotissa, standing on Chora’s highest spot. It is built literally on the edge of a cliff, affording an amazing view of the open sea. This place is the centre of one of the biggest religious feasts on the island, taking place on August 15, and involving a procession in Chora with the icon of the Mother of God placed at the forefront. Later on, a traditional festival takes place with local island-style singing and dancing till dawn!
On our last night we dined with Grandma again and afterwards had coffee and Metaxa at the pool bar where we had interesting discussions with a hotel staff and a lady guest who was a professor from Athens and did her PhD at Stirling University when we solved the Greek economic crisis!
Mary farewelled us the next morning onto the hotel mini bus and we caught the big Blue Star Ferry back to Santorini and cruised into the Santorini caldera. The skipper brings the ship in at full speed then at the last minute goes hard to Starboard and full astern swinging her stern in towards the quay. He does this every day so I suppose he is used to it. The stern ramps are lowered, traffic and passengers stream off and on and you sail after about 10 minutes, very efficient and organised chaos Greek style. Once aboard escalators take you up to the decks above and we settled down to a 90 minute cruise. Being out on the deck of a big ship rather than peeping out of a window of a seacat we had a great view of Oia or Ia from the sea. Later we passed a big Norwegian cruise liner at anchor at Fira for our last good view of the island.
We were unable to get a ferry back to Santorini early enough on the day of our flight back to the UK so booked a hotel near the airport just for one night, the Mediterranean Royal near Kamari. We expected the worse as it was only 50 Euros B & B for the two of us. The bus driver from Fira put us off at the end of the road and we walked the few yards down to the hotel.
Our room balcony looked out over the large swimming pool which had a swim up bar where there were a party of Americans in a very inebriated state. One of them was rescued from the pool later floating face down and unconscious. He was rushed to hospital and later transferred to Crete by helicopter with suspected brain damage!
The hotel was a bit the worse for maintenance but in general a good hotel with a great buffet breakfast in the morning. The hotel laid on a shuttle bus service into Kamira where we had dinner and found the Mango restaurant on the sea front who assured us all their seafood was fresh and it was. I had four huge grilled prawns which the Greeks call shrimps and Sue had calamari in Kamira, almost the whole squid grilled with chips of course! Another surprise Kamari, full of nice restaurants along the beach and a nice selection of shops.
Easy Jet was on time and the flight was full so can't understand why their shares have dropped. Airparks had our car ready for take off but we spent over an hour on the M25 in a big jam for no obvious reason other than too much traffic Mr Mannering. Nice holiday.
Weather had turned cold back home at the official start of summer.