Greece - Naxos, Santorini and Crete, May 11-28, 2007

Corinthian Columns

Eighteen fabulous days in Greece, including three spectacular Greek Islands. Start in Athens; see National Archeological Museum and Acropolis. Ferry to Naxos, greenest island in the Cyclades, with impressively high mountains, fertile valleys. Locals still wear traditional dress and weave on old looms. Santorini, ofthen called "Lost City of Atlantis, " slopes downward from cliffs to surrounding Mediterranean Sea. Known for dramatic cliffs, gorgeous sunsets, romantic black sand beaches, ruins of Akrotiri. Lastly, we explore Crete, largest of Greek Islands, with villages accessed only by boat. Hike the 18 km Samaria Gorge, longest in Europe.

In May of 2007 is when I led this trip.

This was the first overseas trip I led, and, by far, it was the most wonderful trip. The trip started in Athens. Everyone has to go to Athens. I never was too excited about going there, but Athens is an a great city to go to.

Things I did months before the trip:
- emailed the Greek National Tourism Organisation to get 22 maps and pamphlets of everything pertaining to Athens, Naxos, Santorini and Crete.
- web searched to find ferries in Greece, some high-speed, some low speed and they all don't go to each island. This was actually considerable work when planning the trip because this helped decide which dates we would be in which islands.
- found a Greek travel agent and worked with them to get me 22 ferry tickets from Athens to Naxos, Naxos to Santorini and Santorini to Crete.
- looked at the Lonely Planet - Greece book to get an idea of hotels to stay at each island. Emailed many, many hotels in Athens and each island to find the right price that could take a group.
- made airline reservations to Athens from USA and then back from Crete to Athens to USA.

The first night and two consecutive nights in Athens, we stayed at the Attalos Hotel. Excellent hotel and the people there were very accommodating. The first day of our trip was a walking tour of Athens. The walking tour of Athens included the Plaka, Corinthian Columns, National Garden and Zappeio Park. The numbers of the locations match with the map the National Greek Tourism Organisation sent me.

The Parthenon

The next day, we did what every tourist who goes to Greece does. Yes, we went to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. We got a tour guide to take us around and show us some of the sites. There are so many tour guides there that you have to really decide if the price they are quoting you is a good price. Of course, another problem was when you have a big group, it is hard to hear the guide. The guide has to be relatively quiet so that s/he doesn't interfere with the other guides. With the Greek accent, it was a bit hard to understand her. All that taken into consideration, I'm not sure it was worth getting a guide. Maybe reading a pamphlet might have given the same or more information.

We were all looking forward to waking up the next morning and going to The National Archaeological Museum. It's definitely one of the must-do's in Athens!

A number of us could only go to so many museums, so we split the group in half. Half of the group spent the next day at the Benaki Museum while the other group, my group, did a long walk through the Old Town of Athens up Lykavittos Hill, which is the highest point in Athens, a mere 277 meters or 910 feet above the city. The walk was definitely worth it. I like the exercise, but the views were extraordinary. A workout to get to the chapel on the top. This picture in The Old Town of Athens looks like any postcard you might see of Greece. It was a house with flowers that we actually saw.

Old Town of Athens
We spent the next day in Athens at the Garden of Athens and the Plaka getting ready to board the ferry the next morning to Naxos. I chose the Blue Star Ferry because it was a slow speed ferry and it was the only ferry that went to Naxos from Athens. We stayed at the Grotta Hotel in Naxos. What a fabulous Hotel. The owner was so unbelievably accommodating that we knew he wanted us to stay there. The Grotta Hotel is highly recommended! The hotel gave us a free ride from the airport to the hotel. The first night we had dinner at Irini's in Chora Naxos. Very good meal, but all of our meals were excellent.

Our group split into two while in Naxos. There was the group that took bus tours all around the island visiting the villages and sipping coffee. They started in Chora and then went to Filoti, which is the biggest village in Naxos. Then they went to Aperanthos, with twisty streets and museums. Next, Appollanas, a large village in a beautiful bay with many nice shops.

The other half of the group took a local bus to Filoti and hiked Mt. Zas/Zeus. Mt. Zas is the tallest mountain in the Cyclades, which is a group of islands south of Athens. Mt. Zas is about 3,400 feet (~1000m) in elevation.

Mount Zas/Zeus

Some Information You Might Find Useful

* Hellenic Seaways
* Blue Star Ferries
* Greece Itinerary
* Greek Prospectus
* Currency Converter

After breakfast the next day, we're off to Santorini. We took the Blue Star Ferry again because it is a slow speed ferry and it got us to Santorini when we wanted. Our reservations were at the Villa Rena. A nice hotel. A beautiful outdoor deck to eat breakfast at. Santorini is very beautiful and all the tourist guides mention it. It really is beautiful.

Villas of the Village of Oui, Santorini
Our first day in Santorini at the Village of Thira was gloomy, so we decided to take a day ferry trip to Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni Islands. Both islands had great walks, not too strenuous. Santorini is somewhat "C" shaped. The Kameni islands are the result of volcanoes and are located in the center of the "C", the Santorini island caldera. Palea Kameni has a hot spring. Wow! Swim in a Hot Spring in the south Aegean Sea, wouldn't that be exotic! When you're near the hot spring, the boat lets you off to swim about 200' to the hot spring. The only problem is the water you have to dive into is unbearably cold. Unbearably cold! A few people in our group dived in and swam to the hot springs, but out of 22, only 5 jumped into that unbearably cold water.

The next day, we hiked to Ancient Thira and visited the black sand beaches. Relatively easy hike, actually I would call it a walk and it's very historical with all the ruins to walk around.

Ancient Thira, Santorini
The next day we're off on a ferry to Crete. The islands of Santorini and Crete are quite a distance apart, so we decided to take the high speed ferry this time. The slow speed ferries are actually more gentle on the stomach. The high speed got a few people naucous. Just something to be aware of.
We arrive in Crete in a large city of Heraklion. We had accommodations at Hotel Kastro. Apparently, there are two Hotel Kastro's in Crete. Make sure the taxi driver knows the address.
The next day we went to the archaeological site of Knossos, where the dynasty of Minos ruled. King Minos ruled Crete around 2700 B.C.
The next couple of days were spent in Chania, at the Nefeli Hotel. We went on a guided hike with the Happy Walker as he took us to see roman bridges and underground tombs.
We then head off, the next day, to the Samaria Gorge in Omalos. The public bus dropped us off at the start of this 18 k hike which ends in Agia Roumeli. From there we will take a ferry to the wonderful little town of Loutro. The terrain of the Samaria Gorge is stony most of the time but it varies.

Wooden bridges of the Samaria Gorge
At the beginning the path is paved with uneven stones, at times it is more like a forest path with some earth. Once you reach the river bed you walk mainly on pebbles, which can tire the sole of the feet. We also had to cross the river at least a dozen times, sometimes on small wooden bridges but more often by stepping on rocks. These have been placed at strategic intervals but still require some sure-footedness.

The only easy path is once you leave the southern end of the National Park: it is flat and there are no stones. We started the gorge at 8:45 am in a cloudy, foggy day. The woman at the entrance at the park signing us in told us to hurry through the gorge. As we hiked through the gorge, the day got mistier with a bit of rain. We found out after we finished the Samaria Gorge that they closed the entrance to the gorge at 9:00 am because of the rain that on the way and might start pouring through the gorge.

After finishing the gorge, we stayed in Loutro for the night. The next day was a rest day for numerous people, while a handful of us hiked part of the E4 trail which traverses the island of Crete. The trail had a lot of loose rock and some steep cliffs, a walking stick would have helped. There was also no shade and it was very hot, so quarts of water is very important. We ran into a german woman on the trail who asked if she could have some water. We gave her a bottle, but I didn't think she was equipped to hiked the trail and not sure if she would make it back to the hotel. I couldn't believe it, but I saw her that night at the hotel and she said she was fine. Lacking water is definitely not suggested.

After a good night sleep, the next day we take the ferry back to Hora Sfakion and the bus back to Chania, ready to take a flight back to Athens and then back to the U.S.



Included in the price:
  • Hotel lodging for 12 nights
  • Most meals as in itinerary
  • Land travel within Greece
  • Ferry travel within Greece 
  • Airfare from Chania Crete to Athens
  • Park admission
  • Some tipping of guides
  • Some museum admissions
  • Evacuation Insurance 
Not Included in price:
  • Airfare from home to Athens
  • Airline baggage charges
  • Personal charges, such as wine, liquor, laundry

Planned Vacations, What a Concept !

Sure, there are maps and tour guides and the Chamber of Commerce, but wouldn't it be nice if we had trips already planned and we knew what we wanted to do at those locations by others recommendations. I have been leading vacation trips with OutsideNE and the Appalachian Mountain Club for over ten years.
Hiking the E4 Trail in Crete

Rockland Maine

Hope you are able to go on one of these trips and add some information! Happy Vacations and Weekends!

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