The Greek Diaries: Your Ultimate Guide To Santorini & Mykonos

PRELUDE: This was my second visit to both Mykonos and Santorini. I loved both so much the first time, I didn’t even blink an eye at location repeating the following year. Last June, I visited these magical spots with my best friend. This time round, it was a romantic couples retreat with my boyfriend in the September. I was so surprised with how DIFFERENT my two trips were. The two biggest differences being:
– I preferred Santorini this time, and Mykonos last time. I think the main difference was staying in Oia over Fira in Santorini – the latter is SO windy, and it really affected my enjoyment of the island last time around
– The waiters are five times nicer when you’re travelling as two girls. I was actually shocked by how rudely we were treated as a couple. Perhaps it was because it was nearing the end of the season and locals were just…over it?

We arrived at Mykonos airport bright and early at 8am, and walking off the plane I was shocked that my first reaction was to shiver. I’d braced for heat, but it was windy and chilly! Apparently we’d arrived in the middle of an out of character cold week. Thankfully, the forecast told us we had missed the worst, and we were in for warmth again the following day. It was going to be an hour wait for the local bus our preferred (and cheapest) option into town, but we decided to fork out on a €15 taxi to avoid the wait. We arrived at our hotel right in the centre of Mykonos town expecting to just be able to dump our bags but to our surprise our room was pretty much ready for us. We sat on the roof terrace and had a coffee, before settling into our room. La Maison Kalogera is a charming, quaint and welcoming boutique hotel. There are only 8 rooms and the owner Denise makes you feel right at home. There’s no included breakfast, but coffee, tea and cookies are available in the morning and fruit and iced tea await you in the afternoon. We sourced our own breakfast for our stay from the local supermarket, and Denise was more than happy to provide bowls and cutlery so we could enjoy it on the terrace.
In the afternoon after a stroll around town and a bite to eat at the patisserie across the road from our hotel, we walked up to the main public transport square of Fabrika and caught a bus to Ornos Beach. Like everything in Mykonos, it was a rather expensive expedition we paid €22 for two sunbeds on the water. The water was gorgeous, but this beach was quite privvy to walk-by sellers which got a bit frustrating. It was very much geared to families, but the area itself was lovely, lots of nice restaurants and shops behind the beach front. After soaking up the sun we caught the bus back, freshened up and headed to Katerina’s to score ourselves a front row view for the sunset. We picked this restaurant purely for its location, other than that it was nothing amazing. We had one good meal and one dud between us, and the ambiance wasn’t overly special. We ended up eating quite quickly and hot footing it over to the windmills to watch the sun disappear because a ruddy big cruise ship was blocking the view for the whole of Little Venice. It actually turned out to be a beautiful spot to watch from. No fuss, a killer view and the shadows on the windmills created lovely photo opportunities.

As fitness addicts we decided to check out a Mykonos gym this morning. Pump 54 costs €13 for a day pass and was an amazing facility, particularly for an island. They had more machines than my gym back home! After we’d got our sweat on, we decided some beach r&r was in order for the rest of the afternoon.
Curious to take a peek at the renowned party beach Paradise we hopped on a local bus. Let’s just say – we didn’t last long. It reminded me of schoolies, and was quite trashy. So we decided to take the coastal path and walk around to Paraga beach. We only got halfway however, before we were stopped in our tracks by an absolute stunner of a swimming spot. Two wooden jettys nestled in between rocks with ladders into the ocean. It was bliss – and we only had to share with a handful of others. As sunset neared we continued on, and arrived at Scorpios at the far end of Paraga beach in time for sunset. For a seat and a table, it’s worth booking. But we were quite happy to snag a bit of carpet right at the edge of the venue on some rocks. This place is cool, and earthy and just a tiny bit pretentious. But it’s a hilarious place to people watch from and the vibe and drinks are nice. For what we wanted – a glass of Rose and a front row seat, it was perfect. The hidden surprise spots didn’t end there though, keen for some dinner after watching the sun dip below the horizon, we kept wandering along the coast and stumbled across Nikolas Taverna on the beach around the bend. It had a picture perfect location and was incredibly romantic. Lovely, authentic cuisine as well.

We hired a quad today, for €30, and beach hopped our way around the island. The rental company were going to let us drive off without a helmet, they don’t give them out unless you ask! So..make sure you insist. Our first stop was Ftelia, which I visited last year and adored. I was disappointed to discover it was much less picturesque then I remember. The sand was littered with trash, and it didn’t invite us to stay, despite the water still looking gorgeous. We moved on to Fokos which was much more lovely. This beach does attract a few nudists, so don’t be surprised by it! There is a taverna on the beach with a lovely feel and vibe. We had the ‘Fokos’ salad for lunch, which was a tad underwhelming to be honest. But the location made up for it tenfold. Our last stop for the day was Agios Ionannis which was a pretty little beach surrounded by fancy resorts. We sat on the sand, relatively alone and watched the sun go down. It was a complete contrast to the way we watched he sunset the night before – at a fancy bar on a cliff surrounded by onlookers in heels. Tonight’s experience was just as – if not more enjoyable. My favourite part was driving the quad back into town with the amazing sunset colours still bleeding across the sky. Truly breathtaking.

Off to the port today, on to our next stop. We paid our €2 to get the ferry over and waited with the hoards of tourists for our ride. It can take up to 4 hours to get from Mykonos to Santorini, but if you take the faster (slightly more expensive ferry) you can do it in two, which we did. I’ve never felt more like cattle, then when I waited beneath a Greek ferry as it prepared to dock. You are asked to wait in the hold underneath, so the disembarkment is quicker. It’s both bizarre, exciting and mildly terrifying….

Our hotel transfer picked us up at the other side and dropped us as close as close to our accommodation in Oia as possible..In a vehicle. The reason for that is… we were staying right on the tip, halfway down the cliff overlooking Ammoudi Bay. VIP Suites are apartments to rent, there is no daily maid service or included breakfast – but they are fantastic view wise. We absolutely loved our stay, but make sure you ask which number they’ve put you in! Some have breath-taking views, others are slightly obscured. We were in number 9 and swapped for number 5 which had a better outlook. There is lovely shade on the outdoor settings of a morning, making it the perfect spot for breakfast. You have a fridge, sink and kettle in the room making it easy to do a little shop and prepare your own (limited) meals. In the afternoon, you can’t get a better sunset vantage point. From halfway down the cliff we could see the hordes of tourists above us jostling shoulder to shoulder, while we spread out on comfy chairs nursing a glass of wine. It was perfect. For dinner we went to 218 All Day Cafe and I had a delicious stuffed squid overlooking the glistening lights of Oia all the way over to Fira. We found prices in general to be cheaper in Santorini compared to Mykonos which was, I’ll admit – quite surprising!

Once again, our fitness obsessed selves were in need of some exercise, and staying literally on top of the port gave us the perfect outdoor gym. Two fast paced uphill port-to-top hikes and we were stuffed! We wandered back down a third time, and turned left at the bottom, past the restuarants and around to the renowned Oia swimming spot. Oh my, what a find – I’ve been to the beaches of Santorini before and I was quite unfussed. This however, was simply stunning. Not exactly for those just hoping to lay out on a towel and tan however. This location is more about getting in the water. It’s quite tricky to actually get in, but the view back up the cliff face from the water is awesome. There is a little island off the coast that has a manmade jumping platform on it, but I was more intrigued by the little church also hidden up behind the rocky outcrop. For dinner, we decided to check out Fira. It’s the capital of the island and a lot more ‘buzzy’. The bus takes half an hour and costs next to nothing – you pay on board. We opted for cocktails at PK Cocktail Bar for sunset, and were more than impressed. Delicious, perfect view – and lovely service! For dinner we ventured away from the edge of the caldera and stumbled across Stani Tavern. This is a gem of a restaurant; real authentic Greek (amazing seafood platters), cheap prices and wonderful service. It was my boyfriend’s birthday and they were more than happy to help me surprise him with a chocolate cake, they even popped in a sparkler and didn’t even charge us for the treat.

For our last day we had booked a sailing tour to send us off, as our last hurrah. In the morning we had breakfast on our balcony overlooking beautiful Oia. Honestly the most magical of morning views you could hope for. We got picked up near the post office by our transfer van, which took us all the way to Vlychada port where our Lagoon 560 Santorini Catamaran awaited. There were people everywhere, all getting ready for cruises. We wanted a trip that was a bit smaller people wise, but not ‘old’ if you get my drift. We were so thrilled with our choice. There were about 8 couples on our boat, ranging in age from 20s, 30s and 40s; a nice mix. The boat was stunning, a two storey catamaran with beautiful finishes and trampoline trapezes at the front to sunbake on – and it was ours for five whole hours. Unlimited Greek wine and beer sat at the back of the boat, which we sipped in between swim spots at Red Beach and the natural volcanic hot springs. Lunch was simple and delicious – how can you beat chicken and beef skewers cooked on the BBQ off the back of the boat? The day ended at the tip of Oia, watching the sunset from the deck, all of the couples curled up against each other as we watched he sun make gorgeous shapes and colours up on the town centre above us. It was a different, peaceful and stunning way to witness Santorini. We docked at Ammoudi Bay soon after the sun went down, and we decided a fresh seafood dinner at one of the surrounding restaurants was in order – we’d heard such good things. We chose the ever charming (and very popular) Sunset Ammoudi Taverna, and I had the most divine seafood risotto. We then hiked up the port steps for the last time, to our little slice of heaven half-way up the cliff.

We had already organized a transfer to the airport this morning, at a cost of €30. For the ease,  it was worth the money. It was absolutely packed at the airport! The queue to get in snaked halfway around the building. Luckily we were early. It’s not the nicest of airports, and there is no room once you’re through security, I recommend heading upstairs for some breathing space, the bottom floor is like a cattle pen.

CONCLUSION: Greece will always have a special place in my heart, if you pick the wrong time or the wrong place – it can be a tourist trap. I would always recommend aiming for the start or end of the season,  July and August are over-run. But if you do it right, it is just glorious. I adore the culture, the food, the weather – everything. It’s such a delicious slice of the world, and one of my favourite places in the world. I have been twice, and both times I barely repeated in terms of experiences, I have no doubt I could return to the same two islands a third time, and have a completely new experience all over again.

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