Saturday, May 11, 2013

Greek Isles Guide

Santorini, Greece

One of  the most touristy, visited and crowded islands in Greece, Santorini still has a lot to offer if you ditch the crowd and find a place that you can claim for your own.
Part of the Cyclades, Santorini forms a “ring shape” that offers visitors fantastic views of the typical villages with white houses perched on the edge of the cliffs that ring the island’s rim.
The center of the ring is called Caldera, Santorini’s main natural attraction. Many visitors make their way to Nea Cameni Island, located in the Caldera a few minutes away by boat. Once there, you can climb to the top of the island or swim in a hot spring.
Many people believe that when the central part of the volcano sunk it took the legendary city of Atlantis with it.

Beautiful views from Oia village. © Luciano Travassos

When Your Ship Arrives In Santorini

The captain and the local pilot will decide where to drop anchor, as in some places the sea is not shallow enough for the anchor the reach the bottom. Now comes the tricky part: Many ships will actually drop anchor twice. That’s because Santorini has two ports: Athinios and Fira.
Skunas (local boats that are used as tenders) will first take guests to Athinios for organized tours. The tours will finish in Fira, where guests can stay in town or take the cable car back to the port of Fira, where they’ll take theskuna back to the ship. Athinios itself is of little interest for tourists, and taxis are almost impossible to get there, unless you have made previous arrangements.
If you are not on a tour, you will have to wait until the ship moves to another location, near to Fira, drops anchor again, and than take the skuna to the little port of Fira. From there, you can take the cable car up the hill to Fira, which is the biggest town on Santorini. You can also walk from the port to the town or ride a donkey, which can be an adventure.

One way to get from the port to Fira.© Luciano Travassos
It may take as long as two hours from the time the guests on tour have disembarked the ship until the time you reach Fira— depending on the conditions. So if you want to take advantage of your time in Santorini, I recommend you to take a tour. It is a much easier way to start your day. Sounds a little bit complicated but by the time you are there, it will make sense.

Getting Around Santorini

The easiest way to explore Santorini is by “quad bike” or “scooter”, I prefer the quad bikes because they are easier to drive. There are many rental places, where you can hire one for the day or if you prefer you can rent a car but traffic sometimes can be a little busy and parking also. Buses and taxis are available but limited.

Fira, Oia & More

Fira or Thira is the main town, and it’s also the busiest and most commercial. You can easily explore Fira’s narrow streets on foot, or if you are not in a mood to face the uneven cobbled stones alleys and dodge the other visitors, you can find a nice terrace and enjoy lunch with one of the best views in the world. It’s worth skipping lunch on the ship. You’ll find excellent restaurants in Fira or anywhere in Santorini.

Recharge your batteries with a view like this one. Oia. © Luciano Travassos
The Museum of Prehistoric Thera and the Archeological Museum are both located in Fira. The town also boasts many other museums and art galleries, but what you will find most are shops and restaurants. From souvenirs to beautiful jewelry, you could spend a small fortune here.
Fira serves as an excellent gateway of things to come, but don’t spend too much time here, because Santorini has a lot more to offer.
Make your way to Oia (pronunced Ia). Located approximately 8 miles northwest of Fira, Oia has a powerful and seductive appeal, and arguably, the most beautiful views of the island.
After browsing for souvenirs during my visit, I stopped in a little café with a view and asked for a delicious Frappucino while planning what to do next. I hardly wanted to move the view was so attractive.
Traveling southeast, you will pass Fira and continue for about 5 miles until you reach the village of Pyrgos. The village has amazing views and recently has reached its moment with big tourism development. On the main road of the island, you will have the opportunity to stop along and take wonderful photos.
You may want to stop at one of the “tavernas” for lunch, if you haven’t done that before now, and try the local wines with a plate of olives, feta cheese and local appetizers.
There are a few other villages, which are great for a photo stop but not as appealing as the three main villages I’ve mentioned. You can check out Fitostefani and Imerovigli, both very near Fira, or Akrotiri where the eponymous Archeological Site is located but unfortunately closed. You still can see some impressive wall paintings in Akrotiri.

Beaches In Santorini

You’ll find beaches in Santorini in the south of the island.
The Red BeachPerissaPerivolos and Kamari are the most popular beaches on Santorini. The Red Beach is only reachable by foot from a parking lot nearby. All beaches have chairs and umbrellas for rent, and all have dark volcanic sand (black or gray), which can be very hot in the summer.
Perivolos is the longest and most popular beach, with many restaurants and hotels.
You can also practice water sports, snorkeling and swimming, since the water temperature is always inviting.

Island view. © Luciano Travassos

Don’t Miss

The village of Oia and island drives are the best things to do while in Santorini. Fortunately, you can visit Oia in the morning on the ship’s tour and visit the island in the afternoon.
Keep in mind if there is more than one ship in Santorini, you might have to stand in  line for the cable car to return to the port to take your tender back to the ship. The cable car ride itself takes only five minutes, but the lines can be quite long. Allow yourself some extra time.
If you’d rather walk, follow the path connecting Fira to the port downhill. It takes approximately 30 minutes, and you will have to share the narrow path with the donkeys. You can ride a donkey back too. After visiting Santorini several times, I decided to ride a donkey. It was an unforgettable experience, but I am not certain I would do it again.
If you are on tour, the guides will give you a cable car ticket that you can also use for the donkey ride, but the donkey owners will expect a tip.
Enjoy Santorini. No doubt, you’ll want to return here one day.
Luciano Travassos

Greek Islands

See more travel details for recommendations highlighted in bold, excerpted from Rick's guidebooks.
Hi, I'm Rick Steves. For twenty summers I've traveled Europe with my travel writing and teaching in mind. Making lots of mistakes and taking careful notes, In the hopes you learn from my mistakes rather than your own. In this series we're exploring the best of Europe.
This time we're in Greece, we'll tour popular Santorini – an island on the lip of a still active volcano. We'll enjoy being a tourist in its quintessential white-washing villages, visit an archaeological dig on one of its ancient cities, and swim on its black sand beach. Then we'll cruise the Aegean to the island of Samos, where we'll tour its sights by moped and ponder the ruins of an ancient temple before resting in a quiet fishing village. And finally we'll feast and frolic far from the crowds on tiny  Lipsi.
Greece lies between Italy and Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea.  Starting in Athens, we'll take an overnight ferry to the island of Santorini.  Then we'll sail east to the island of Samos, and finish with a side-trip to obscure isle of Lipsi.
It's by ship that people have island-hopped the Aegean for centuries. This overnight boat from Athens to Santorini offers tickets in several classes. Deck class is cheapest and can mean literally on the deck. For a few extra dollars an airplane-type seat can make life considerably more comfortable. And for even more comfort, try first class.
Along with soft chairs and tables, you can be assured of some sleep in a stateroom. Our cabin has a window and a private shower. Cheaper cabins offer a shower down the hall. By the way, even passengers without a stateroom can go down to the cheap cabin deck and grab a free hot shower.
Greek ferries are reasonably priced. In fact, this all-night cruise including beds in a comfortable stateroom is costing us less than what we paid for our hotel in Athens last night. While speedy travelers can fly from Athens to the major Greek Isles, we're in the Aegean to relax, feel the breeze, and have a little adventure. For me, that's best done on the ferry boats.
Sunrise and our Greek island dream come true — Santorini. Thousands of years ago this was one island, a volcano named Thyra. 1500 years before Christ a huge eruption blew away most of the island, leaving a flooded crater surrounded by five small islands.
Today, Santorini — one of the remaining islands — is a lip of the crater, lined with tourists. For 3500 years the volcano has destroyed a series of island settlements — the latest in 1956 when it toppled 2000 houses. Yet, locals still build and tourists still come. Why? Those who visit will understand.
Luckily, we're arriving here in mid-September, just after the peak summer months. Although this looks pretty busy, most of the students have gone home.
And hungry local entrepreneurs are eager to talk us into following them to their beautiful little pension.
Looks like we have our rooms. With mini-buses and mini-pickups, pension operators shuttle new arrivals to their accommodations. Up-scale travelers generally arrive by air and stay at one of the many rental villas or posh hotels.
Santorini's main town, Thyra, is an exotic white-washed town offering the quintessential Greek island experience.
Tourists come year after year to soak up the sun, and stroll the tiny lanes of this town perched 700 hundred feet above the sea. So what if Santorini's a little touristy. That's not necessarily bad. There's lots of shopping, English menus, fruity drinks, and plenty of British and Scandinavian fellow travelers. We all enjoy the spectacular physical setting and unmatched views ironically created by the volcano.
But don't let being a tourist get in the way of enjoying some authentic Greek treats...
Yogurt and honey is a wonderful local treat. Greek yogurt comes plain and super creamy. A little honey mixed in and I'm one happy hedonist.
One of the advantages of a tourist hot spot, can be the very convenient tours. Even for the most independent-minded travelers, there are times when an organized bus tour is a fine way to spend half a day.
At noon our bus leaves for the five-hour tour of the highlights of Santorini..... This tour includes, a visit to the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, a little free time on one of the island's best black sand beaches, plenty of information and a ride to the summit of the island for a grand view.
Up here, beginning in the 18th century, the monks in the monastery preserved and taught the Greek language and culture during centuries of Turkish occupation.
On the road again, on our way to Akrotiri.
Without wheels we'd still be back in Thira. The tour gives the island an air-conditioned once-over-lightly and gets us home in time for dinner.
And there it is, Akrotiri, the highlight of this tour. Akrotiri is the most impressive dig I've seen in the entire Aegean — including anything on Crete. This was a large city. With only about 1/30th of the city unearthed, much archeological work remains.
An advanced civilization thrived here from 2000 BC until about 1500 BC when the island exploded in one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the history of the planet. The boom from the eruption was heard in Scandinavia and was followed by months of darkness.
The city revealed beneath the thick layers of ash and pumice shows a plan not too different from present-day villages on Santorini. Narrow streets widen here and there into squares. Houses line the streets, some three and possibly four stories high.
To date the only intact room to be uncovered contained this fresco of lilies or papyrus and swallows. It's an idyllic spring scene of flirting birds and spring blossoms explained by the guide with the help of color photos of the originals.
One mural details a great sea battle. These young boxers evidently shaved their heads and sported long locks of curls.

And the fishing must have been pretty good.
Some believe this may have been the lost civilization of Atlantis. And many figure it was a tidal wave created by this eruption that swept away the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, just 75 miles south of here. Probably the tidal wave disrupted their merchant fleet and with it the Minoan economy.
Carbon dating shows the Minoans survived the tidal wave but steadily declined over the next several centuries. Since archeologists found no bones and no jewelry they figured that the inhabitants of Akrotiri, expected the volcanic eruption and fled the island before it blew. The ash- and the mud-covered remains of a once busy community are all that's left.
Our last stop is the beach...
A reminder of its volcanic past, Santorini has a great black sand beach. One of the best swimming spots on the island.
You can get good swimming and sunbathing weather on the Greek islands through October. So that gives us.... about seven more weeks.
But we won't spend it all here. Tempting as it might be to become a runaway beach bum, we've got other fish to fry and other islands to hop.
Tourist money keeps the Greek Islands afloat. Greek Island travel agencies are eager to help you with tours, moped rentals, boat tickets, and flights.
We need to line up our boat ride to Samos. Since there are many competing boat companies and agencies, one line can't tell you all your options. For all the information under one roof, we're going to the port authority.
The man in the port office has all the schedules — that's his job. He tells me the best boat for us leaves tomorrow at four. OK! Our travel chores are finished, now we can relax.
On Santorini, itineraries are tossed into the sea and couples have only one appointment to keep. The sun's daily reminder that the Greek Islands are a place for romance.
Your experience in Greece is shaped by when you visit. Summer break is one long college party: crowded, expensive and hot. A cruise today cuts through the same waters that great galleys patrolled during Greece's Golden Age.
In the fifth century BC, Athens expanded its control throughout the Aegean, uniting cities and islands into the short-lived Delian League. At its peak, 300 war ships, manned by 60,000 oarsmen plied these waters, taking slaves, and collecting taxes from the island-dotted Aegean.
Since there's no direct connection from Santorini to Samos, we're sailing from Santorini to Paros, a hub in the Greek island ferry system, and connecting to Samos. From Samos we'll side trip to the tiny island of Lipsi, which doesn't even show on most maps.
Any time of year, island-hopping is easiest if you stick to a series of islands served daily from Athens. Going against the flow — like going from Santorini to Samos — can cause needless frustrations.
We have a few hours to kill here in Paros before catching our night boat to Samos. It's morning and we've arrived on Samos, one of the larger Greek islands. By Aegean standards, it's lush, historic, and not too touristy.
It's a short hop to the Turkish mainland. Samos town, the main city, is easy. Several decent hotels line the harbor front.
From here it's easy to plan a variety of island excursions and activities.
And a public phone makes it easy to take care of some travel details.  While cell phones are becoming popular with travelers, those watching their Euros do just fine with the payphones. Like all of Europe, Greece has phased out the old fashioned coin-operated public telephones in favor of vandal-resistant card operated booths.
These cards have nothing to do with the various American phone cards. You buy these locally, usually at a kiosk or the post office. Smart travelers do lots of chores by telephone.
And with a phone call, we lined up our transportation for today — mopeds. If you can ride this is a cheap and breezy — if a bit dangerous — way to explore Samos.
You'll find mopeds for rent on nearly every Greek island. My wife and I usually share one, but with these gutless wonders, our producer John and I each got one.
We'll be checking a monastery, an ancient temple and a great beach town, before returning to Samos town. That's about 25 miles.
With the moped we can get a feel for life outside the town. These mopeds are like bikes with a motor. They seem simple, but take it easy — travelers take a lot of spills.
By the side of the road this tiny family chapel reminds us how religion permeates the Creek culture. In the Greek Orthodox religion, all members of the church — laymen, priests, bishops — are considered equal in importance.
The family chapel is a sanctuary where God's love of man and man's love of God can be expressed on a daily basis. As you ride, you'll notice your map lists as many monasteries as towns — like the Spiliani monastery which welcomes guests.
The original monastery, in a cave at this site, dates to the 11th century. The cave is cool and quiet . . .refreshing after the hot and noisy road. Life in a Greek Orthodox monastery is simple and ascetic. The monks are mostly laymen, not clerics, who devote themselves to meditation and prayer to achieve a union with Christ.
Monasteries dot the island landscapes. In a cave much like this on the next island, Patmos, the evangelist John wrote the book of Revelations, the last book in the Bible.
Below the monastery lies the town of Pythagorio, which sits on top of the ancient capital of the island. This was called Tigani until 1956 when the name was changed to honor the island's most famous son — the pre-Socratic philosopher Pythagoras.
 Best remembered today for his contribution to mathematics, his disciples spread beliefs that also treated slaves humanely, the sexes as equal, and animals with respect. Samos was one of the most important islands in the ancient world — a center of learning. But only a few remnants of past greatness remain.
Outside of Pythagorio is the Temple of Hera. Not much is left. Originally a large temple with two rows of columns — 133 in all — only one still stands.
Early Greeks believed that Hera, queen of the gods and wife and sister to Zeus, was born near here. Twice a year in ancient times, large numbers of celebrants came from the sea by the Sacred Way, passing huge statues, as they came to worship the powerful goddess.
On to the Beach! The town of Kokkari is ideal for two saddle sore easy riders or any weary traveler. This laid back beach almost requires relaxation.
The town is a great place to settle in plenty of dhomatio, that's Greek for Bed and Breakfast, the best skipping rocks I've seen in ages, and no shortage of fisherman who have graduated from mending nets to flipping worry beads...what a fine place to end our exploration of Samos.
Dawn and we're really heading off the beaten path. We're on a hydrofoil to Lipsi. Lately hydrofoils are offering a speedy alternative for island hopping. They're half as relaxing, twice as fast, and double the cost.
When it comes to finding a un-touristy island, the trick is to find one just big enough to have regular boat service, but not big enough to have a promotional budget. Lipsi fills the bill.
Most visitors don't spend the night, but Lipsi has just enough commerce to keep us fed and watered. And there's our island home.
My best Greek memories are in towns with no hotels. No hotels? That's okay; we're staying in an extra room at Anna's house, sort of a Greek B and B. This "domatio" is simple, cheap, and very real.
Entrepreneurial enterprise reaches even the small islands. Daytrippers from a tour boat bring out the local dancers.
In a place like Lipsi, you won't find a menu. This is a fun opportunity to take advantage of the friendly Greek tradition of welcoming customers into the kitchen to see what's cooking.
Have some fun. Sample what you like. Ordering this way, you know exactly what you're getting. Tsatziki is a refreshing cucumber, garlic, yogurt dip for your bread. This could be a meal in itself. But with so much looking so good, let's call that an appetizer.
Greek cooking has changed little since the time of Plato, who gravely discussed such questions as what kinds of fish should be baked and what kinds boiled. Other classical writers describe the addition of herbs like oregano, basil, dill, and mint to the lamb and vegetable dishes still popular today. And then as now, a meal was a social occasion — eating alone only to be tolerated if no other option existed.
Residents like to relax on the small, private town square. You'll find a sleepy taverna and a local partner ready and willing to play you a game of Backgammon — the national pastime.
Lipsi's more remote beaches are an hour's hike away. Normally, these pick-ups are happy to be your taxi. Local legend has it that this island is where Calypso held Odysseus as a love captive for seven years. Hmmm. I suppose these romantic beaches establish the right atmosphere for the legend. This is pure Greek paradise.
Well, we've seen a lot of the Greek Isles. From the romantic white-washed villages of Santorini, to the sleepy fishing villages of Samos, to theses remote beaches of Lipsi,  and with some of the most relaxing cruising inbetween, we've seen why these 'jewels of the Aegean' are so popular.
I'm Rick Steves and this is happy travels.
See more travel details for recommendations highlighted in bold, excerpted from Rick's guidebooks.

Corfu: Half-day cruise ship visitors

There are many cruise ships that visit Corfu every day, stopping here for a few hours, mostly from 9am to 5-7pm  as part of a Mediterrenean cruise.
Corfu Port is located very close to the Historic Corfu center, some may even like to walk from the cruise ship pier, out the port entrance and to their left ,by the seaside. Others may take the free bus dropping them off close to the center or may even get a taxi, available outside the passenger terminal.
Since visitors will only have a few hours available to see Corfu, it is best to stick to town, or closeby, unless they take an organized bus tour, that will pick them up at the port and at the end it will drop them off at the pier. You would not want to miss your departure time, would you? 
A usual question is : "which beach should one choose to go for these few hours?"  ,and the answer is that most of the good sandy beaches are located on the other side of the island, so it is either sightseeing around Corfu Town, or go to a beach and not have time for anything else.
For the first choice, you can walk around the historic town center, along it narrow streets, the "cantounia", do some shopping, visit a couple of museums, one of them being the Asian Art Museum at the Old Palace, on the left of the Spianada square. Also  visit the Old and/or the New Fortresses, on top of them you will enjoy the scenery. Sit down and have a refreshment or a ice coffee at the Liston cafeterias and later pick a taverna that serves local dishes and enjoy your lunch.  If you like to squeeze in a short visit to Achilleion or Palaiokastritsa, a 20min drive outside Corfu town, do that first, and have the taxi  drop you off close to the center, so you can best organize your remaining time, until you have to get back on the ship
For the lovers of fishes and reptiles, any way you visit Paleokastritsa,  the  Corfu Aquarium is a real experience. The collection of the international  reptiles is excellent and very well chosen, exactly what you expect to see from a  well organised local aquarium. The mediterranean fish collection is also infrequently selected and in combination with  the excellent service of the staff, the Corfu Aquarium provides a memorable experience for both children and adults.
  If you are a beach type, then you have to visit Glyfada or Kontogialos( below Pelekas village),  but even if it will cost you a bit more to go there by taxi ( best if there are 4 persons to share it), it's better to take one, than using the Green Buses (Suburban bus) which will waste a lot of your valuable time on shore.. If you like to take the bus, the Bus Station is close to the Port, you can walk there in 5 min. Green buses serve the whole island rather efficiently, south and north part, but traffic and frequent stops will double your journey time.
If you care for tasting local wine along with local food & delicacies, you may book to visit "Ambelonas Corfu" - a family owned vineyard with a panoramic view, wild nature, flower, herb and vegetable garden.

Where cruise ships dock:

The main ferry port of Santorini, called Athinios, cannot accommodate large vessels, so most cruise ships either put down anchor in the caldera, just below Fira, or 1 - 2 miles away from the old port.

Transfer from the cruise ship to the old port

Passengers are brought to land (pier at Skala) with tenders (small boats). By request, they can transfer the passengers to Athinios Ferry port.

The Cruise Port of Santorini

cruise ship santorini
Santorini Shuttle Boat to Skala
Panoramic View of the Cruise Port

At the Old Port (Skala Pier)

At this small harbour you will find Duty-free stores, restaurants, taverns and small shops where you can buy souvenirs or traditionsl local products.
From Skala, there are three ways to reach at the top of the cliff which is 260 metres above sea level,
  1. cable car (daily, 6.30am-10pm, every 20 mins, €5/£4.15),
  2. mule ride (€5/£4.15), or a
  3. tough hike up 580 steps (following the same path as the mules).
Skala was an old port serving the Santorini before the bigger port of Anthinios took over. This old port became a tourist hub of sort, a small town of seaside cafés, boat rental agencies and trinket shops. During summer times, there are tours going to the nearby volcano and hot springs.

Cable Car - Teleferik - Funicular

Getting to the Cable car you need to walk up quite a few steps, the steps are low and long, but gradually get steeper. When reaching the Cable car, there are steps up to the station, then steep steps onto the cable car itself, so be warned.The Funicular travels up the path and in three minutes time you are comfortable in the beautiful town of Fira, at an altitude of 220 metres.The journey itself only takes a couple of minutes. Be warned, if you haven't a head for heights this is not for you. The cars are quite tiny, and the descent is steep, but you will appreciate the views of the rock formations, and Fira, clinging to the edge of the cliffs.
Teleferiksantorini funicular

See Our Interactive Map

View in a larger map

Port Authority

Santorini Port Authirity: Branch office
Tel.: +30 22860 22239
Fax: +30 22860 23778

Santorini Port Name:

The ferry port name of Santorini is Athinios. The Athinios port is where the ferries dock. The cruise ship port does not have a name, but it is known as old port, or skala.

Santorini Port Location

The port is located below Fira, the capital of Santorini Greece.

Santorini Private Photographer

Book a private photographer in Santorini and create memories that last for your whole life.

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