Greek Isles, Greece
As a photographer, I tend to associate the places I visit with color palettes. For me nothing quite compares to the distinct colors of Greece - its islands awash in blue and white, punctuated with bright purple bouquets of bougainvillea ! Its picturesque ocean views combined with its laid-back atmosphere make for the perfect summer getaway spot. I've had a few friends visit this summer, igniting my inner wanderlust and inspiring me to look through old photos. Had I the time (and budget) right now, I would easily hop on a plane there for some classic R&R - good eats, sunshine, and scenic beauty. Hoping to go island-hopping again next summer !
With its pristine white buildings and blue domes overlooking the Mediterranean - the island of Santorini epitomizes our vision of Greece. The small town of Oia is full of shopping, arts and crafts, with wine tasting tours just outside the city. Despite the heavy influx of tourists, the views are every bit as beautiful and unspoiled as you would hope. On my two trips here, I spent most of my time meandering the narrow streets and alleys, searching out photo ops of flowers and stunning scenic views. For lunch, park yourself at a cafe with a good book and view, enjoy a fresh greek salad, glass of wine, and soak up the beauty ! And make sure to allow yourself at least one magical sunset, when the entire island transforms from stark white to shades of rose and gold.
Although a little less manicured than Santorini, Mykonos marks my favorite island. Its vibe is a little more casual and relaxed, with fishermen coming in to port, children playing on the beaches, and a famous pelican who frequents the town square. The island's aesthetic is distinct - with cobble stone floors and red domes (the only island to feature red in addition to the traditional blue !) It's home to one of Greece's most famous churches - "The Church of Our Lady," and the country's iconic windmills, set against vast expanses of blue. Mykonos features active nightlife and parties on the south end of the island, while the beaches to the north are quieter and more secluded. Per usual, I spent most of my time sampling Greek cuisine and exploring the neighborhoods to get a feel for the local culture and lifestyle !
There are a number of fun activities one can partake in on small islands off the coast of Mykonos or Santorini. Some of my favorites have included sipping ouzo on a sailboat and swimming in Mediterranean hot springs, and hiking active volcanoes. Check out the various boat tours you can book from your island !
History buffs will enjoy a day-trip to the island of Delos, which marks one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece - and birthplace of mythological gods Apollo and Artemis. While many of the structures are in ruins, there are still a number of statues that are remarkably intact. There's something amazing about walking among ruins and structures that were inhabited back in the 3rd millennium BC, walking where so many generations lived and fought and worked before us. I remember feeling quiet and humbled by the experience.
If you're keen on history, I also recommend visiting the island of Rhodes (full of well-preserved medieval architecture, and declared a World Heritage Site), and Athens of course (home to the first Olympics and the Acropolis.)
I've had the pleasure of visiting Greece twice (and counting !) My first voyage there was part of a cruise throughout the Mediterranean - exploring Italy, the Greek isles, and Turkey. Cruises are a great way to explore numerous cities in a short period of time, but don't give you a ton of time to really get to know the area. I recall our stop at the gorgeous Santorini was less than 4 hours, which was about enough time to eat lunch, poke my head in a few shops, and snap some photos ! My second trip there I went with my mum and a group called Gutsy Women Travel - a women-only tour that ferried us between islands every few days, allowing a more in-depth look at each city with guided tours and meetings. Neither experience is wrong - depending on what you're looking for ! But I like being able to partake in the local culture - wake up and wander the streets, grab breakfast at a local cafe, and walk around the neighborhoods on my own time. Next year I plan on flying into Athens and ferrying between islands myself.
Some have raised concerns about traveling to Greece after the economic crisis this summer. Greek Landscapes is a great website that updates travelers each month about the situation, and at this point one can travel without fear - banks have reopened, there are no ATM withdrawal limits, and prices have dropped. Greece still offers great history, delicious food, and unbeatable views - book a trip and support the Greek economy !!