What to do with 5 days in Crete

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Ah beautiful Crete. This was by far, our favorite leg of our Greece trip. Crete is the largest of the Greek isles and as such, we decided to split our trip with 3 days in Chania and 2.5 days in Elounda. I highly recommend doing this as it gives you the time needed to explore and really take in the island without trying to drive from one end to the other in one day. It is a beautiful island with amazingly hospitable people who take great pride in their shops and restaurants.

Day One

We took a 45 minute flight out of Athens and rented a car from Sixt (counter at the airport) to get around. If you are brave enough to take on the Greek driving experience, I’d highly recommend renting a car. We drove about an hour to our hotel in Chania, Domes Noruz. Trust me- you must stay here. The service was impeccable, and the restaurant was amazing. Upon arrival, we met our lovely concierge who gave us a full tour of the property and our room. Rooms have Nespresso machines, wading pools and private patios. There is also a spa on site which looks really nice, but we didn’t indulge (should have!)

We were starving and ordered an early lunch from the restaurant, a tasty salad with grilled Greek cheeses and some freshly baked bread with dipping sauces. Heaven!

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Amazing beachside meal at Domez Noruz

We were feeling our jet lag and decided to relax by one of the two pools until dinner where we ventured out into the old Venetian port area of town. The stroll down the waterfront is so romantic in the evening, with tons of restaurants to choose from and little shops to explore down cobblestone alleyways. We opted for some Italian food for dinner as we needed a break from the Greek fare. We both enjoyed pasta dishes at Veneto. The pizza here is supposed to be quite good as well. The food and service were on point and made for a perfect, romantic evening.

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The Venetian Port in Chania

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Restaurant Veneto in Chania

Day Two

We ate breakfast at the Domes Noruz restaurant almost every day and it was worth every penny. It’s a huge Greek spread of miniature baked goods, fresh breads, jams, honey, nuts, fruits, yogurt, granola and hot items like eggs and sausage, all that you can enjoy on the patio overlooking the ocean.

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A less windy spot at Elafonissi Beach

For our first full day, we ventured out to the famous pink sand beach, Elafonissi. It was a bit of a trek from our hotel on narrow, winding roads sprinkled with tiny, idyllic villages. The beach was more crowded than we expected, but still worth the trip. There are several stands where you can buy a bite to eat and restrooms that cost a euro to use. Be advised that the beach is extremely windy so you’ll want to bring a towel to sit on and a towel to wrap yourself in when the wind picks up. We were able to find a spot amidst some rocks to lay out, enjoy the views and read. There’s an inlet of water that you can wade through that is quite warm with clear water. The water is a breathtaking blue with lots of soft sand to put your toes in.

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Milia Mountain Resort

From the beach we headed back to Chania with a few planned stops along the way. We popped in a shop called To Pantopolion which is a gem filled with wares from local artisans and Cretan products. We really wanted to bring back gifts and souvenirs that were unique and truly Greek and this shop offers just that. Our concierge recommended we visit a tucked away eco resort, Milia Mountain Retreat. You guys….this is a must visit. It’s a bit of a beast to get there, up some winding, narrow, non-paved roads, but WHEN you get there, it feels like you’ve stepped into an old world fairy tale. The property dates back to the 17th century and has since been restored into a sustainable resort and restaurant hosting cooking courses and activities for guests. We enjoyed a fantastic late lunch in their rustic dining room made primarily from ingredients grown on the property including a spinach feta hand pie, bean salad, strawberry sorbet and goat’s milk ice cream.

We headed back to the resort and were still full from lunch so turned in as we had a 5am wakeup call.

Day Three

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The trailhead of Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge! If you are on the athletic side and love nature and hiking, you must hike the Samaria Gorge, the largest gorge in Europe. There are several tour companies and I would highly recommend the company we used, Elafonissos Travel and mountain goat of a guide, Kostos. This is an ALL day adventure and does require a certain level of physical fitness as it’s over 11 miles of rocky down and uphill hiking. To begin, the tour bus picked us up at 6am near our hotel and then we begin the drive to the top of the gorge, about a one hour trek through beautiful albeit windy mountain roads (If you get carsick, you’ll want to forgo this or take your Bonine). The bus makes a pit stop at a small restaurant at the starting point where you can purchase grab and go items such as pastries, to go sandwiches, hardboiled eggs and fruit.

And now the hike begins. The trails are primarily downhill and are extremely rocky and uneven. You’ll want to wear a pair of real hiking boots, although there was an older gent in our party who survived the whole ordeal in Teva sandals so there’s that. Keep in mind, if you break anything the only way out is by donkey so just wear the right shoes. There are also bathrooms and water fountains at intervals along the hike.

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Samaria Gorge

The hike takes you through wooded areas, slot canyons and the old Samaria settlement, vacated in the 1970’s. The scenery is gorgeous, and you are hiking next to and through a river the entire way. The hike ends in the small and car-less village of Agia Romeli where you can put your feet in the ocean, enjoy an ice cold beer, gyros and relax. Pack your swimsuit and take a dip in the ocean and relax on a beach chair that you can rent for a few euros. We took a ferry back to our pickup point and made a very long bus ride back to Chania along some treacherous roads, half eroded away by landslides and flooding. Quite an adventure.

Despite being absolutely pooped, we decided to hit up the Domes Noruz restaurant again for an amazing fancy dinner. A great way to put an exclamation point on a lovely visit to Chania.

Day 4

We were in serious leisure mode after hiking the previous day, so we decided to check out late and then head to Elounda, about a three hour drive. The plan was to stop in Heraklion and explore a bit, but once we got into the heart of the city, driving was too chaotic and we opted to head to our hotel to lay by the pool instead. We were in serious relax mode. We stopped for a pizza and salad lunch at Olio in the little downtown of Elounda.

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View of Spinalonga from our room at the Blue Palace

We checked into Blue Palace which is a huge resort right on the ocean and directly across from the small island, Spinalonga which was once used as a leper colony. The service was great, and you could easily get lost at this property as it’s so large. There is a gondola type elevator that moves you between the different levels. We had a two level room complete with a soaking pool looking out to the ocean. Honestly, it was the size of a small condo, way more than we needed but fun nonetheless. There are multiple pools on the property and an extensive beach. We explored the resort and then meandered down to the adjacent little town of Aglios Nikolaos for dinner. We had the loveliest, intimate dinner on the patio of a restaurant called The Carob Tree. Again, the service was amazing and they gave us free starters and dessert (very common in Greece so bring the stretchy pants). We enjoyed fresh bread, fish roe, a bean salad and beef stifado. There are a few eclectic shops right around there that are worth exploring, Mezzaluna and The Blue Shop.

Day 5

We had breakfast in downtown Elounda at a place called Babel and it was pretty tasty. From there we decided to visit a little olive oil “farm” of sorts, The Cretan Olive Oil Farm. It’s really just an outpost for the olive oil producer to sell products but also offer tours and mini classes. Classes include ceramics, cooking and cheesemaking. We chose to do a tour and the cheesemaking class. For the price, it was fun and interesting as we got to meet a real shepherd and watch the initial process of Greek cheese making (and yes, you get to eat it!). We also learned a ton about olive oil and picked up some nice products to share with family.

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Cheese making with the shepherd Mr. Kostas

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Cretan Olive Oil Farm

If you’re feeling adventurous there are several boats to take you out to Spinalonga, but we really wanted to be lazy and laid by the beach all day. The water is gorgeous and we wanted to take it all in. I can’t remember where we ate the last night so it must not have been very good!

The next morning, we were off to Heraklion to catch a ferry to Santorini. I’ll do a recap of our three days in Santorini in a separate post.

Would love to hear if you’ve been to Crete, what you did, what you ate!

 

What to do with 3 days in Athens

So you’re planning a trip to Greece!! We spent two weeks in Greece, spending 3 days in Athens, 1 day trip to Aegina, 6 days in Crete and 4 days in Santorini. I’ll be breaking up my posts by the areas of Greece that we traveled to. So here we go with what to do if you have three days in Athens. If you are staying exclusively in Athens, three full days will be plenty of time to explore it all. Honestly, two full days in Athens is enough accompanied by a day trip to a surrounding attraction or nearby island is even a good option.

Day One

We arrived in Athens in the late afternoon and got checked into the New Hotel in the heart of Athens. I would highly recommend this hotel because of the amazing service, clean (albeit tiny) rooms and it’s centrally located. It’s got a modern, artsy vibe and you are in walking distance of the Plaka.

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Walking through the Plaka

To combat the jet lag, we walked through the Plaka that night, taking in the sounds and sights of the bustling city. For dinner we were looking for very traditional Greek fare to kick off our first night in Athens. We landed on Liondi, a small restaurant at the foot of the Acropolis. It did not disappoint with big portions of traditional, delicious Greek fare.

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Chicken gyro, Moussaka and complimentary chocolate cake at Liondi’s

We finished up the night exploring more of the Plaka. There are countless gelato shops, touristy stores and nooks and crannies to explore including the colorful, one of kind doors that adorn the old buildings.

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Meeting one of the many cats of Greece

Day Two

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and if you feel the same way, visit Yiasemi in the Plaka. There are several open air, eclectic rooms where you can sit and enjoy the breakfast buffet, a spread of homemade baked goods, egg dishes, yogurt, honey and absolute deliciousness. You feel as if you are at someone’s house taking part in an amazing potluck. There’s live piano music in the background and it’s just beyond lovely.

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On the steps outside Yiasemi

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Inside Yiasemi, complete with piano player

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Some of the delicious bites at Yiasemi’s buffet

Next we were off to the Acropolis. We purchased the three day pass which allowed us to take in the other historical sights. We didn’t buy these in advance, just purchased while in line to get in. While we went in May, it was still quite hot and there really is no shade throughout the entire trek or when you are at the top. I’d recommend either taking a guided tour or reading up beforehand on all of the history. The signs are fairly limited and more of an explanation of the architecture rather than the history.

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It’s quite breathtaking and exciting to be viewing a part of such ancient history as you meander up to the top of the Acropolis to the Parthenon, passing the Amphitheater temples and ruins along the way. Keep an eye out for tortoises as we saw a few munching on grass amidst the ruins. There are restrooms and water fountains at the top as it is quite warm if you’re there in the Spring and Summer months. I’d allow at least 2-3 hours to take in all the sites here.

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Hadrian’s Library

Next we walked on to Ancient Agora (you’ll get a lot of walking in!) and then to Hadrian’s Library. Hadrian’s library is in the heart of the Monastraki marketplace. We were still full from our yummy breakfast so we grabbed fresh veggie and fruit juices from Xymopieio (so good we went there the next day too).

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The best juice from Xymopieio in Monastraki marketplace

We got caught in a long downpour here and waited it out in the rather sketchy transit station. There is quite a lot of open air shopping here and rooftop dining, but it did feel a bit sketch. The downpour continued so we ran through the rain to Ancient Agora where we explored the Agora Museum. It’s a very impressive museum and admission is included with your site pass. Due to the rain, we didn’t explore the grounds of the Ancient Agora and headed back to get ready for dinner.

We had a long walk to dinner from our hotel but it was worth it! We went to Atitamos in the center of Athens. It’s a tiny restaurant (plan on a bit of a wait) with a small outdoor patio. We enjoyed fresh bread, phyllo wrapped feta drizzled with sesame and honey, salads and the best baklava I’ve had so far. The service was impeccable and prices could not be beat.

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This baklava deserves its own photo.

Day Three

We had breakfast at a little curbside cafe (sorry, can’t find the name of it). From there we toured Hadrian’s Arch and surrounding grounds. We then went back to Ancient Agora and the Temple of Olympia. There’s really so much to see here and it really depends on how much of a history buff you are to determine how long you’d like to spend here. I would really recommend getting a tour guide though as the signs are really nominal and not very informative.

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We went back to the juice bar, Xymopieio, for a midday snack as we wanted to save room for a big, later dinner. We then checked out the Acropolis Museum which really is a must see. It’s built over an ancient Athenian neighborhood and it’s quite an experience to peer down into it through the glass floors. The museum is beautiful and has a nice terrace restaurant and bookshop.

Dinner plans were for a rooftop restaurant with an Acropolis view. We made same day reservations at Strofi which had really strong reviews. A few tips, make your reservations further in advance than we did so you can get a later time (8pm or later) so you can really enjoy the Acropolis lit up at night. Also, I can’t recommend Strofi. The service was seriously lacking and the food for the price was just not very good. Maybe it was an off day when we went, but I wouldn’t return. Regardless, do make sure you do an Acropolis view, rooftop restaurant for dinner at least one night while in Athens.

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Looking out over Athens from the Acropolis vantage point

I’d love to hear about your plans and experience in Athens! It’s a beautiful, albeit busy, big city with a rich history which you need to experience.

Safe and happy travels!