There is just something about Greece. The laid back lifestyle. The white washed houses. The turquoise blue sea. The incredible food. I don't know... its just got such a good vibe about it. The first place I visited in Greece was Crete for a holiday with friends. We wanted to be able to go out dancing but stay out of the chaos that is Malia. We booked into some apartments in Stalida called Pela Sofia. It was a lovely little family run place with a bar and pool table and only a minute walk to the beach. We went out dancing in Malia on a few nights and into Stalida for some quiet drinks. We hired a rusty minibus (with no driver window and no working indicators) to visit the ruins of the Minoan Palace. We also did a boat trip to Spinalonga, an island that was a leper colony until 1962. It was ridiculously touristy, but what can you expect in the height of summer staying in Crete. Given how touristy it was, the food was incredible... I discovered Kleftiko and Stifado! It was one of the few holidays I was forced to truly chill out! :-)
We have been on holiday with a group of Chris's uni friends a few times now. Before I joined the group they went to Zante and then together we've been to Cyprus, Crete, Sunny Beach in Bulgaria and more recently a number of cute cottages and houses in the UK. We are usually a group of 10 and just looking to go away for some sunshine and dancing somewhere relatively cheap. Cyprus and Crete were great... we stayed in quiet areas with nice places to eat out and swim, and we could go out dancing if we wanted to. Sunny Beach is the top of my worst holidays list. We stayed in a big ugly hotel where they tried to put two couples to a room when we arrived in the early hours. Most people in our group got a cold. We had a couple of openly racist waiters. We were all groped at a paint party. We were chased by a security guard with a taser. Saw a guy assault his girlfriend in the street. The list goes on...
We made the most of it and did some research to find some good restaurants. Most of the traditional food was meat and cheese. The beach was actually really good. We visited the UNESCO town of Nessebar which was beautiful. And of course we went out dancing and had some good nights out. One of my close friends is Bulgarian and has only told me good things about Bulgaria, so I know Sunny Beach is by no means a reflection of the rest of the country. We either had a particularly bad experience or we're just not the type to enjoy what it has to offer but I don't think I'll be rushing back anytime soon.
If it is up to me I would always choose to travel somewhere far away (from the UK)... I love Europe, but as it is so easy to travel there, I think I will explore more of Europe when I am a bit older and go further afield for now. Some friends were getting married in Kefalonia in the summer though, so how could we say no. I have always imagined travelling Greece, with it's beaches, white houses and bougainvilleas... but Kefalonia was something else. We arrived at the airport in the South of the Island and took a coach North to Evreti (Near Fiskardo), where we were staying. The first part of the journey was winding roads and long beaches, but as we headed further North, the sea got bluer and the trees greener... it was so beautiful and so much greener than I was expecting. This place is magical... literally! There are butterflies everywhere, flowers, hills, lakes, hidden beaches, olive groves... and the fact that they suffer from earthquakes means that the landscape is forever changing.
The whole island is so laid-back, when we got off at our stop, it was literally on the side of the road where our hire cars were waiting with the keys in them! Evreti is more a road of villas than a village, but it is quite high up with an incredible view of the sea, there was a little beach we hiked down to for a swim... and in amongst the trees there is the constant sound of goat bells!!!
For a beach holiday, this was the most active holiday I have ever had! We went for runs, swims, sailing, hiking... we were spoilt for choice with clear calm beaches! Obviously we were there for a wedding, so there were a few things already planned... we were really spoilt with a beach party at Jerusalem beach with amazing Greek food and three spit roasts(!), music, drinks and swimming. There was the beautiful wedding at the Emelisse, a luxury hotel where they married in a beautiful open chapel, and we ate and danced outside under the stars. And on our final night we had a Greek night with so much amazing food, wine and traditional dancers... not everyone who goes would be treated to such delights, we were very lucky! :-)
Based on my friend Katharine's advise and the things we did while we were there, these are my top places to see and activities to do:
- Fiskardo - gorgeous fishing port with lots of tavernas and beautiful scenery
- Assos - this place is so picturesque! Rugged crumbling buildings, a lovely beach, a few pretty tavernas and a ruined fort at the top of a long winding hill which you can take a gentle hike up to. The views on the way up are incredible (We did this the morning before the wedding!)
- Swim at the various beaches... we mostly went to Jerusalem and Foki, both have tavernas where you can go for lunch or a drink and Foki has a big cave you can swim out to. We tried to get to Myrtos beach which comes highly recommended and is where some of Captain Corelli's Mandolin was filmed, but there had been a recent landslide so we couldn't get there
- Take a boat trip across to Ithaka. This is a smaller sleepy island very close to Kefalonia with more amazing Taverna's, cafe's, churches and lots of little jewellery shops (I may have bought a few things!)
- Hire a motor boat (you can do this at the port in Fiskardo) and spend the day exploring the different coves and beaches that you can't really get to by car. You can spend most of the day hardly seeing anyone else!
- Melissani lake - This is a bit touristy, but it is an amazing underground lake, which you access through a gift shop and then through a downhill tunnel, hop in a little boat and someone rows you around the lake.
As a foodie... I obviously took great pleasure in trying all of the different Greek food. My top foods were:
- Houmous (always)
- Fried feta with honey and sesame seeds
- Greek yoghurt, melon and honey
- Spanakopita - Spinach and feta pie
- Melitzanosalata - Amazing aubergine dip
- Baklava - I've only every had this is bite size pieces before, but we had this in big slices with ice-cream as dessert at the wedding!
This place really was a dream... absolutely stunning, totally relaxing (despite being quite active!), delicious food, friendly people and really not touristy at all (I think it is the lack of hotels on the island!)... I can see why people who have been return again and again... I am pretty sure I will be joining them!