By Denise Payne
I’ve always wanted to visit Greece, thankfully so did my new husband. With much excitement, I started planning our honeymoon ten months in advance. I carefully thought out and thoroughly researched our destination. We decided to go a few months after we were married. I joined Greek Island Facebook groups to get tips and helpful info. According to those groups July and August are horribly hot and crowded. I planned our trip for the end of August and all of September, still warm enough for swimming. It didn’t feel that unbearable to us since we live in south central Texas. I purchased all of our plane tickets, ferry tickets and Airbnb’s early, and online.
After months of planning, we were finally heading to the Austin airport. Before flying to our first island, we stayed in Athens one night to acclimate to the time difference. We wanted to be near the Acropolis neighborhoods and stayed at the Acropolis View hotel. Our hotel rooftop had a stunning view of the sunset and Acropolis from our balcony. Walking to the rooftop for breakfast the next morning presented us with the Acropolis view against an orangey red sunrise. We opted for a light day of sightseeing and strolling around the narrow alleys of Athens. We walked to Parliament to view the precise movements during the changing of the guard. We explored the Acropolis Museum and then looked for a cute place to eat. If you like eating, Greece is the place.
As my friends can attest, I’m a picky eater, but the food was wonderful! My husband, Steve and I both noted how even the tomatoes tasted so unbelievably good. I tasted Feta once and wasn’t a fan but the Feta I tasted here was exceptionally good!
We both became hooked on Greek salad. Towards the end of our trip we could actually taste the differences in Fetas.
The next morning, the hotel car took us to Athens airport and we flew Aegean Air to our first Greek Island, Mykonos. We decided to rent a car on all the islands. Some people suggested buses since they run to major sights and are cheaper. Most of our Airbnb’s were in the country so a car was our best option. After seeing people waiting for buses in the hot sun on the side of roads. We decided we had made the right choice. The streets were narrow and the drivers a bit erratic. After a few days navigating the roads, Steve was an expert.
We headed to the famous area called Little Venice. My research indicated it’s a very popular area. We were early so we were able to have drinks in cafes that are usually packed. This area is famous for pinkish orange sunsets and colorfully painted restaurants perched right on the water. We found a nice restaurant called Sunsets, aptly named. We then reserved a table for the night of my birthday, a few days later. Roaming around the narrow alleys we discovered beautiful shops and Greek artwork. Eventually we headed back to our Airbnb. We found Airbnb’s were the way to go for us. Our honeymoon was for 6 weeks so I wanted to hand wash things along the way. I bought detergent sheets online which were flat like dryer sheets to use as needed. Airbnb’s had either yards, balconies, etc. where I could set up the 5 ft wash line rope I brought. It worked perfectly.
From Mykonos we planned a day trip via boat for the next morning to the island of Delos, which is a world UNESCO heritage site. The ruins were amazing! An archaeologist from the tour told us the history of the island as she led us around. We were able to wander around freely before heading back to the boat.
Back on the boat they were serving lunch and then swimming at a nearby small island. The next day we explored the town and had my birthday dinner back in Little Venice, at the Sunset restaurant. I have to tell you, Mykonos was nice, but not our style. It’s expensive and the beaches were just ok. It was very crowded.
According to YouTube videos the ferries are crowded and chaotic. So, I was a bit apprehensive about our first ferry trip, which was to Milos island. Getting on and storing our luggage went well. We both had a backpack and a large suitcase, and we managed fine. It was not confusing as I had heard. But, the trip itself was a different story. I have never been seasick in my life but came close to it this time.
We were on a Seajet superjet. A smaller and faster boat, but the water was rough. The boat was warm and that didn’t help with many people getting sick. Thankfully I made it to the port without incident. I had heard Bluestar ferries had less incidence with seasickness. If I ever go back, I’d book with Bluestar.
The next outing was taking a sailboat cruise around Milos with Sunfos Alessia Yachting. There are some beaches only accessible via boat. After watching many videos about the island, we really wanted to see these beaches. The crew fed us breakfast, snacks, lunch, and more snacks and offered us snorkels if we wanted. The boat stopped at some unbelievably beautiful rock formations. One area named Kleftiko was where we jumped into the water, went snorkeling and swimming in caves. The water was a crystal-clear turquoise color. It did not disappoint. The sailboat stopped at three other beaches for swimming and a dingy ride to more caves.
Viewing the beach from the boat helped us format the next day’s outing. We knew we had to leave early for Sarakiniko beach because of its popularity, especially with photographers. Waves shaped the greyish-white rocks into amazing forms. It felt like being on the moon. Though we were there at 7:30 am, there were a few others around, such as a bride having pictures taken. Two large yachts were moored off the beach and two people were getting massages on tables set up right there on the rocks. This beach is quite remote, so we thought that was quite odd. We found catacombs behind a clump of bushes. Luckily, I had a small flashlight in my backpack, so we could explore the caves.
GOOD TIP: Always carry a flashlight!
We saw a few people jumping off of the cliffs into the aquamarine water and others just sunbathing. I was really glad we experienced Sarakiniko.
Our next beach was Firopotamos, which is a small seaside village complete with a Cyladic church and sandy beach. It was nice. While there, a women suggested we see Pollonia. Off we went! We fell in love with this waterside village. Great restaurants right on a sandy beach. A very chill area. We wish we had found this place earlier, so we could have spent more time here. We really recommend Milos island to anyone contemplating going to the Greek Islands. With its unusual beaches, it is an island begging to be explored.
After my last experience on a ferry, I was hesitant about going on another one. But we were already booked on one to Santorini, our next island. The ferry ride was an unexpected, pleasant trip. Our seats were at a table which had a lot of leg room. It was a bigger boat than our last experience and in no time we were in Santorini.
Like Mykonos it is a popular and expensive island, but we felt like we should see it for ourselves. We found our way to Oia, where the famous blue domed churches are located and took pictures. If you ever see pictures of Greece, it’s most likely a picture of them.
On our way to our Airbnb we stopped in Fira, another popular town. We walked around and both thought it wasn’t for us. Too crowded, not the experience we wanted. Our Airbnb was a typical whitewashed cave house in the town of Akrotiri. Very cute, within walking distance of great restaurants. Not far from the Ruins of Akrotiri are the towns of Megalochori and Pyrgos, towns we wanted to see. As we wandered around exploring Megalochori and Pyrgos, they seemed similar to us with winding narrow streets filled with restaurants, churches, cute stores and of course blue domed churches. These towns to us were just as beautiful and not as crowded as Oia and Fira. The Ruins of Akrotiri are well-preserved in this prehistoric town. You will find pottery, frescoes , and parts of ancient buildings. Another famous spot was the Akrotiri lighthouse for sunset pictures. We got to the area early and secured a spot on the rocks for sunset viewing. Eventually many people arrived and began blocking our view, so we left to search for another spot. As we started walking to our car, I found an area between some trees for some great sunset pictures. It was right in the parking lot before you walked up to the light house. We heard about White Beach and Red beach. We saw Red beach and weren’t impressed. We never made it to White beach. After visiting Milos’s beautiful beaches, it was hard for beaches to impress us.
The next day we flew to Rhodes. Our castle like Airbnb was about a thousand years old and had been in the hosts family for many, many generations. It was inspiring and I envisioned the lives of the people who lived there many years ago. During research for our trip, we found Old Rhodes and the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. We love medieval sights and couldn’t wait to go there. Old Rhodes is a walled medieval town with no cars allowed. We didn’t rent a car for this portion of our trip and an airport taxi dropped us off at one of the gates into town. It was like stepping back in time to the era of the Knights Of The Round Table. The Palace was stunning. As we explored the many rooms, I took hundreds of pictures. We also walked on the top of the wall encircling the town and were rewarded with a picturesque view. The next two days we explored the cobblestone alleys, shops, and restaurants. We bought a few treasures, and our ”honeymoon” rings from Tassos Samourakis Gold and Silver Jewelry store in Old Rhodes. He designs and makes his own jewelry and is reasonably priced. Discovering the rest of the island required us to pick up our rental car and leave Old Rhodes. Being in the car-less part of Rhodes, our host took us by golf cart to one of the gates of the wall. On our way to our Airbnb in the town of Stegna, we stopped at the Filerimos Monastery.
This gorgeous archaeological site is located high on a hill surrounded by tall pine trees with countless peacocks strolling around. We thought this monastery was beautiful.
On our way to our next Airbnb we were awarded a view of a lovely, tiny beach town with crystal clear water. I felt fortunate that we found this place. After checking in, we couldn’t wait to swim in that enticing water.
I brought a tube with me from home. It was perfect. Folded super flat and took 2 minutes to blow up. I carried this with me to every beach we visited. Floating in the clear cool water I could see fish four feet below me, swimming along the rocky bottom. For such a small town, there were many restaurants to choose from. We recommend trying them all. Many were right on the beach.
Lindos was the next castle town we explored. Due to our research predicting large crowds, we got up early to climb the castle ruins. From the castle top we walked down to a beautiful sandy beach below and floated in the dazzling aqua water for hours.
The following day we drove to the other side of Rhodes to explore the Acropolis of Kamiros, the Monolithos and more beaches. Kamiros ruins were a beautiful walk back in time. Twenty minutes down the hill after leaving Ancient Kamiros we found Porto Antico, a nice restaurant right on the beach. The food was excellent and the beach had brightly colored tiny pebbles all along the waters edge. Thinking back, we should have stayed longer and went for a swim but we wanted to drive along the northern coast and visit the Monolitho, a 15th century Venetian castle. It turned out that the “castle” was more of a ruin with a small church. The drive was nice though and we cut across southern Rhodes on the way back to Stegna. Rhodes was a larger island than the others we visited so we needed more time driving from sight to sight.
We woke up very early to catch a plane to the island of Crete. It was Steve’s birthday. Poor guy, there was no sleeping in late. We arrived in Chania, a port town and picked up our rental car from Discover rental cars. It was the second time we used this company. I was hesitant about using a no name rental place but they were amazing. Previously they went out of their way when we had to drop off the car at 4:00 am.
We wandered Chania a bit, had brunch and then we went to the archaeological site of Aptera. We couldn’t check into our Airbnb for hours yet and were hoping to find something to do. I was so glad we found Aptera. Loving history, it was very interesting to explore.
Our Airbnb in the town of Gerani had a gorgeous marble balcony. Our host’s dad gave us eggs from his chickens, when we first arrived. The next morning we ate fresh scrambled eggs while watching the coral- colored sun rise from that balcony. After breakfast we drove 15 minutes to the old town of Rethymno and Venetian Fortezza Fortress. The fortress was amazing. We walked all over and soon discovered stone steps leading down to a cellar filled with ancient tablets and statues. I was in heaven just thinking about the people who chiseled these tablets and their lives.
It was fantastic. We absolutely loved Rethymno and visited twice during our time on Crete. Narrow cobblestone alleys filled with shops, restaurants, museums and plenty of history is what you will find. Lunch was delicious, and I savored every bite of my goulash- like meal. About a half hour away from Rethymno we read about a village where the whole town makes stoneware, so we drove to Margarites pottery village. After finding a perfect piece of pottery we drove to The Monastery of Arkadi, built in 1587. One of the most beautiful sights we visited.
If you read the history before you go, you’ll appreciate it even more. Words cannot describe it. It was a beautiful place to discover. Our next historical stop was the beautiful Minoan ruins, Knossos settled in 7000 BC. After strolling around we drove back to Rethymno for another delicious meal.
Though it sounds crazy we got up early to drive two hours to the world famous, colorful Balos beach. Famous for the different shades of blues and turquoise. You have to arrive early because of crowds. Part of our trip was a half hour drive on rough rocky roads, and a half hour walk down a stony hill. Or you can take a boat, which gives you limited time. We drove. It was windy as we walked down the hill and it only got worse as we arrived on the beach. Sand was pelting our faces and we found shelter behind a large rock. After 10 minutes, we gave up and hiked 45 minutes up the hill to the car and drove to Falasarna beach. The turquoise-colored water on this beach was unbelievably beautiful. We thought just as pretty as Balos. The parking lot was close to the beach, so no hiking was required. The sand was soft and a part of the beach had large boulders with hidden areas to sit for privacy. This became one of my favorite beaches.
From Crete we flew back to Athens. The hotel Adrian was centrally located for what we wanted to see. We spent four days discovering the area. The Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Panathenaic Olympic Stadium, Kerameikos, Hadrians library, and of course the Acropolis with the Parthenon and Temple of Athena Nike were some highlights.
TIP: We heard cruise ship passengers go back to their ships later in the day and that was the best time to see the Acropolis. So, we planned a late in the afternoon visit the next day, and it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I’ve seen in pictures. It worked perfectly!
The neighborhoods below the Acropolis are filled with wonderful restaurants and bars. Cobblestone pathways line the stores selling Greek art, clothing, souvenirs, food, and there are many experiences to discover. We made sure we had time here to see everything we wanted at a leisurely pace. We hung out at cafes longer and relaxed to absorb the feeling of the town.
In Greece your server will not give you your bill unless you ask for it. They believe in enjoying your meal, so they don’t try and rush you. The entire six weeks in Greece, we had wonderful weather. We met and got to know great people from all over the world. Doing my research for this trip, I heard that Greek people are very friendly. Words do not describe how wonderful Greek people really are. We felt like we were family. One time we couldn’t find our Airbnb and asked a stranger for directions. The man hopped in his car and told us to follow him. Within five minutes we were at our Airbnb!
The Greeks go out of their way for perfect strangers. Greece was a wonderful part of our honeymoon!
Denise Payne was born and raised in New York, but as the saying goes, she got to Texas as fast as she could. In 2022, she married the love of her life, who was born and raised in Texas. She enjoys traveling the world, writing, photography, hiking and working on their property in the Texas Hill Country.