After returning from a few months of travel in India and Nepal, the summer 2018 has continued on with extremely hot and windy weather in The Greek Islands. This Greek summer experience was very unexpected but sweet in reuniting dear friends from across the globe. We did some island hopping between Mykonos, Syros and Crete, rented a car, and “ate our way through Greece, one taverna at a time, as Tarek would say.
Check out my travel story below for the best Greek culinary experiences, tanning on nude beaches, road tripping, epic landscapes, Cretan festivals, goats, Greek men, sunsets, day parties, and everything in between.
Of the three Greek islands we visited, Mykonos stands very apart in that it attracts the jet setter glamour type of tourism. Visitors will plan their days around beach club parties, international DJ shows, while indulging on a unique Greek designer tunic, watching the sun go down over the horizon.
Visit Mykonos, Where to stay in Mykonos, Beaches in Mykonos
In Mykonos Island, we stayed at Ornos Beach on the south west coast, also known as a kite surfing beach, at Korfos. If you didn’t know, Mykonos is a windy island, which explains the kite surf, but really the added benefit is that it keeps your body at a balanced temperature, …you are never too hot and never too cold. We stayed at Yiannaki Boutique Hotel in Ornos, which was a great experience, and the best hideaway from busy Ornos. The hotel staff was extremely friendly which was surprising and made me think twice (?). The rooms were clean and modern, but honestly speaking, what grabbed my attention the most was their Greek yogurt at the morning buffet, from which, I shall never recover. Check them out here: https://www.yiannaki.gr
Ornos Beach has a bit of everything you need, AB supermarket, Greek bakeries, tavernas, hotels, Airbnb apartments as well as a selection of cafes and restaurants lining the beach. For those looking to buy something extra special, Ornos Beach has a selection of higher end boutiques that feature Greek and international designer items. Surely what you find will be unique and beautiful, with a price tag to match.
Best beaches in Mykonos, Places to eat in Mykonos, Where to eat Mykonos, restaurants Mykonos
I recommend Agios Sostis Beach, for a quieter and more relaxed day in the sun, located north of the island. After some sunbathing in Agios Sostis beach, around lunchtime between 12/1pm, walk over to the best traditional Greek taverna experience at Kikis. You will need to write your name down (he doesn’t do reservations) and you’ll have to wait until a table frees up. We waited over one hour but it can be more. The great news is that waiting was never so fun with bottomless rose wine and in the company of great friends. Luckily by the time we had caught the attention of other epicures in the queue with uncensored conversation, our table was ready! Since the wine kept flowing, so did the table banter. We feasted on several fruits of the sea, freshly grilled squid, octopus, fish, as well as taramasalata (fish roe salad), more than enough wine, dessert, hard laughing … Between the 4 of us our bill was approximately €35-40 each.
Parties in Mykonos, Music in Mykonos, Drinks Mykonos, Alemagou Beach Club, Sunset Mykonos
If you are looking for a daytime beach party spot, check out Alemagou in Ftelia Beach. They’ve got umbrellas and beach chairs for you to lay out and tan while listening to melodic rhythms over a refreshing beverage. Alemagou’s military tent, cofounded by fashion merchandisers John Votsaris and Kat Exarchou, offer day goers swimwear and original bohemian Kaftans to fit the atmosphere. More info here: http://www.alemagou.gr
As the day turns into night, this sandy setting turns into an evening party, hosting DJs from around the world. In fact, Mykonos has become a hot pod for renowned music composers and artists. This summer Mykonos hosted international DJ and veteran burner, DJ Behrouz, from Do Not Sit On the Furniture Miami. He played his last show at Branco’s before heading to the legendary Burning Man in Black Rock Desert where he seduces the desert sunrise every year at Robot Heart.
Just north of Mykonos town find 180 Sunset Bar. They had an ensemble of live music and a DJ remixing Pink Floyd which was a great combination of elements as we watched the sun go down down down. But be prepared as it does get very crowded. I suggest getting there earlier in order to get a comfortable seat or table to watch the sunset and then to dinner in town afterwards. Have a look at this playful space: https://www.instagram.com/180mykonos/
Night out in Mykonos, Dinner in Mykonos, Lunch Mykonos, Eating in Mykonos
For an evening out, dress up in your favorite boho chic island garb, and head over to Mamalouka for dinner in Mykonos town. This restaurant is open air with a very nice outdoor atmosphere, and in my opinion, excellent evening lighting. You’ll notice a big beautiful tree in the middle, and underneath it, a cocktail bar, that will serve you exotic drinks with mescal as you wait for your table. For a big group of people, I recommend making a reservation. I would describe the atmosphere as relaxed yet classy. They had a DJ playing music, slightly hidden under the tree, at just the right volume to enjoy table conversation. Dinner for 3 people including wine and dessert came out to approximately € 50 per person. Check out the space here: http://mamalouka-mykonos.gr
The dresses you see throughout the blog are from India. If you like any you see, send me a message, as they are for sale and support a network of artisans and wonderful inspiring people I met on my travels this year in Asia. The above beautiful Indian Kaftan is made of crepe cotton with colorful flower embroidery on the front and back side. Your purchase supports my friend Imran and his father who has a little shop and work with artisans.
My friends took (a large) set of photos of me wearing the Kaftans from my travels earlier this year (thanks Jo and Tarek – you guys are amazingly patient and great photographers!) If you haven’t read my stories of traveling in North India visiting monasteries, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, coffee and tea plantations in South, or trekking Annapurna in Nepal, check out my stories here: www.1010experiencias/blog.
For a more casual setting, lunch or dinner, Paprika has some of the best suvlakis (the Greek version of kebabs or pieces of meat on a skewer). This dish is a famous type of fast food, but do not be turned off, suvlakis are very much part of the Greek experience. There are many more items on the menu, but we came specifically for that = and no regrets! The restaurant is spacious, clean and appears to be “child friendly “ (??) but don’t quote me on that, I’m still single at 35. Other than that, good value for money. € 12-20 per person. More info here: https://paprikamykonos.com
Staying on any of the islands, it is best to hire a car in order to move around freely and discover the coasts. In Mykonos, you need to expect everything to be much more expensive, and in August prices are through the f – – – – – roof. The best price we could manage was €50 per day.
Drive east from Mykonos town towards Ano Mera, and you’ll find a quieter and more local Greek atmosphere. The drive takes approximately 20 minutes and as you distance yourself from the touristy coastline you come upon some good old traditional local charm…as we leave the tourists behind us …[sigh of relief]… Tarek was staying there with his boyfriend Yanni over the summer months, so we were in with the local scoop. Lunch was under another tree at Odos Araksame, decorated with classical white wooden chairs and tables. Lunch consisted of taramasalata, Greek salad, grilled little shrimps that you eat entirely with the shell, squid, octopus, wine. €10-20 per person.
Another local and casual place for lunch or dinner without breaking the bank is Koutala in Chora for home cooked style meals. Walk into the restaurant to the display counter, and pick your favorite Greek tapas. Choose between traditional pasticcho, moussaka, baked green beans, meatballs or stuffed peppers with rice. Also check out their menu for more elaborate dishes like grilled octopus with vegetables. I’d say taramasalata is as essential as Greek salad for any meal, but take it easy, although tarama seems like a harmless hummus, it has bread crumb in it I seemed to have forgotten this very important piece of information, which might explain the healthy weight I have added on! My favorite part was the relaxed outdoor seating/atmosphere and the summer night wind. €10-20 per person.
Visit Syros, Ernopoulis
Just west of Mykonos, approximately 1 hour on the ferry, Syros island welcomes you. Also situated in the Aegean Sea, Syros is worlds apart from the party island and offers a very different type of Greek experience. It is much more laid back, attracts by its large majority, national tourists, and therefore, still a very well kept secret from international crowds. Enjoy Syros’ beaches, the small town island vibe, and delicious Mediterranean food at affordable prices. I would say it is a great place for family vacations, group of friends or island hoping with your partner.
Visit Syros, Best Restaurants Syros, Best Restaurants Ernopoulis
The ferry arrives into the port of Ernopoulis, the capital of Syros and the largest settlement on the island. Without trying to describe it second best, one author stated it ‘exudes an aura of neoclassical romance harmoniously combining elements from ancient Greece and Western Europe’ and I would certainly agree. The beautiful architectural buildings, marbled streets, plazas, the Apollo Theatre, the town hall at Miaoli Square, showcase Ernopoulis as an important historical, cultural and trade capital in Greece. My favorite time of day to enjoy Ernopoulis is in the afternoon after a day at the beach. Freshen up, put on your sexy island linens and discover this beautiful place under the dimming sunset light. Most shops will be closing, but you will get a unique experience of the day’s bustle transforming into the quiet of the evening, under the indigo sky. From there, lose yourself down the narrow streets lined with flowerpots leading to open courtyard spaces.
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Greeks love to sit outside, chat, drink and eat under the stars. We dined at ‘Kuzinha’, the most common name a Greek restaurant could have, it means kitchen. Our meal was a bit more pricey but very worth it. Highlights included bone marrow (more carnivorous sounding that it actually is), watermelon with feta salad carved into the watermelon itself, sausage in a delicious pesto sauce, aaand you guessed it right, wine and desserts. Approximately € 20-25 per person.
Nearby Ernopoulis is Ano Syros, an old Venetian settlement dating to 1200AD that sits on top of a hill overlooking the capital city. Enjoy the walk up through little streets, stonewalls, balconies and mysteriously small doors. Visit the Catholic Cathedral of Saint George and take in the views.
In the very north of Syros island, visit the town of San Mihali. For a gourmet lunch or sunset dinner spot, go to Restaurant San Mihali. Let the chef inspire you with his culinary talents AND THE VIEW! You can’t but feel in love with life here, forgetting all your mental ping-pong games. Everything is 100% better with a view. This was at the top of my Greek island and Syros experiences. 1010 recommended!
Best beaches in Syros, Beaches in Syros, Delfini Beach Syros, Nudist Beach Syros, Galissas Beach Syros
Galissas Beach on the south west coast is a perfect beach to spend the day, and you’ll find plenty amenities, umbrellas and chairs. The town is small and right off the beach so when you are ready, just walk over for lunch or dinner and eat some fresh fish at the local taverna. Further north, is Delfini beach on the west coast. If you are facing the ocean, on the left side is a very small nudist beach. Just be mindful there is less sand and you may end up having to sit on the rocks. It’s not terrible, just bring a mat with you or if you prefer, on the other end, there are plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs and a small kiosk to buy a cool beverage, but for God’s sake, cover up.
Last but not least, was an amazing road trip through Crete, Greece’s largest island in the Sea of Crete and part of the Aegean. Of the three island experiences, Crete is the most diverse offering beach, mountains, village experiences, history, culture as well as romantic destinations to satisfy all palettes.
Visit Crete, Eat in Crete, the best restaurants Crete, Herkalion restaurants
The ferry to Crete arrives into the port city of Herkalion, the economic capital and largest city on the island. We headed straight to Peskesi restaurant for what was the best Cretan and Greek food experience of the entire trip. By that time, we lost one roadie, Josephine, for La Bella Italia, so Tarek and I got a table for two in the back ally way. Walking through the restaurant is an experience in itself, seeing how they restored this beautiful historical mansion into a traditional Cretan House. Ready for the menu? We ordered zucchini flowers stuffed with local cheese, the best and juiciest pork belly dish, potato wedges with local cheese, chorizo with a homemade mustard sauce, a full bodied red wine, homemade desserts and as is customary, the
local aperitif, Tsikoudia, similar to grappa, to wash it all down. Our bill came out to €62 total, which we considered extremely fair for the quality and the excellent service we received. 1010 recommended, check them out here and do not miss this: https://peskesicrete.gr
Visit Sfakia, Stay in Sfakia, Cretan Pie Festival, Skafia Beach
After lunch, Tarek and I hit the road heading approximately 200 km west towards UNESCO’s Heritage Site, Chania. Crete has excellent highways for driving, which makes road tripping fun and easy and the changing landscape from mountains, olive groves, and goatherds with the Aegean backdrop, vibrant and colorful. On the way, we turned into Hora Sfakion for the annual pie festival where 200 Greeks gathered around long tables stocked with piles of food including varieties of pastries, meats and Tsikoudia. On the stage were 4 uniformed men in traditional Cretan dress singing and playing the lira, violin and percussions for the crowds. Music, drinking and dancing followed for the next couple of hours.
Quick side note for the ladies: you cannot imagine the men out here. I noticed, unlike any other island we visited, Cretan men really represent the thick, strong, bearded masculine warriors from Greek mythology. You remember those stories from literature class…?
You will also see goatherds and sometimes a single goat, on the side of the road, waiting for the bus or standing (with those confused goat eyes), on an extremely small surface off the side of a cliff. And you can’t avoid asking yourself why the crazy goat gets himself into such unappealing situations…
Visit Anopoli Crete, Visit Crete, Travel Crete, Hiking Crete, Aradena Gorge, Samaria Gorge
After the festival in Skafia, we were lucky to find a place in the neighboring village of Anopoli for the night, for €30 total. I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. The room was spacious, clean and surprisingly very fitting to international travel standards, it even had a little kitchenette. The next morning we woke up to the beautiful quaint town of Anopoli, with traditional houses, surrounded by farms, mountain views, horses and the enticing smell of freshly baked bread. Yanni, the local baker was a friendly bearded man with excellent curls. Upon seeing us enter his shop, he jumped out from behind the counter with an enormous smile to offer us his freshest batch of sweet bread (it had spices of cardamom and anis star). Nearby is an abandoned village called Aradena. Stop in and walk through the ruins of the town and glimpse at the 14th century church of Archangel Michael. As you arrive to Aradena, you will cross the Aradena Bridge, where, on occasion, adrenalin junkies jump into the gorge from a bungee cord. The view of the gorge is amazing and the hiking trail, the Aradena Gorge, will lead you all the way down to the coast, arriving at Marmara Beach. The hike takes approximately 2.5-3 hours. For more info and a map of the trail and footage, check it here: https://www.chania-crete-greece.com/aradena-gorge-sfakia-chania-crete.html
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We arrived into the city of Chania at night. Our reservation was booked in the historic old town, a pedestrian only area, comprised of narrow streets filled with cafes, shops, restaurants, bookstores, hidden galleries, and bars that bring life and movement into this cobblestoned corner of the city. Our place was on top of a restaurant where patrons sat outside drinking, eating and swaying to lively Cretan music. Chania’s old town is the perfect place to walk and discover the old Venetian settlement, day and night. Take your time to explore the nooks and crannies. Visit the Maritime museum and the Venetian harbor.
Driving out of Chania, we rented a smart VW Up rental car for approx. €38 a day @ Tellus Car Rental 108b Halidon Street, Chania. We were headed to Balos Beach, located on the northwest corner of the island on the tip of a peninsula. This is nothing less than spectacular and you may have never seen such a natural wonder, two lagoons resting at the bottom of a mountain. Getting there is a little tricky but well worth the effort. Cars will line up approximately 2-3km from the descent so you will most likely have to walk unless you are lucky and can find parking at the front. From the entrance you will need to begin the descent, which will take another 30-45minutes as you head down the mountain towards the beach. There are stairs going all the way down, so take your time. Lucky sailors will sail in on their vessel into the lagoon, throw out the anchor and jump in. This one goes to the top of my experiences in the Greek Islands and Crete. 1010 recommended!
Agios Nicolaus, on the far east end of Crete as well as Elounda were also wonderful and memorable visits. Agios Nicolaus has a 60s/70s air to it. Walk down the promenade and arrive to the center of town to Lake Voulismeni, find restaurants, cafes and shops for entertainment.
Nearby is Elounda beach and Plaka Beach, both smaller than Agios Nicolaus and also perfect for a more intimate setting. Spend the day at the beach in Elounda and dine at candelight in Plaka…Why not!
To sum it up if you are still reading, congratulations, here are the abridged notes:
The best tavernas and restaurants for traditional Greek food in the Greek Islands
(1) Peskesi, Heraklion, Crete Island
(2) Kiki’s taverna, Agios Sostis Beach, Mykonos Island
(3) San Mihali, San Mihali, Syros Island
The best beaches in the Greek Islands
(1) Balos Beach, Crete Island
(2) Galissas, Syros Island
(3) Agios Sostis Beach and the little beach in front of Kiki’s, Mykonos Island
The best historical and cultural visits in the Greek Islands
(1) Crete: Aradena Gorge, Anopoli village, Sfakia Pie Festival, Chania’s Venetian harbor, Agios Nicolaus, Plakia Beach, Elounda Beach
(2) Mykonos: Little Venice and the windmills in Mykonos town, Ano Mera town
(3) Syros: Ano Syros, Ernopoulis, San Mihali
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