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Driving, Greece, Travel

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

July 9, 2018

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Driving on the Greek Islands might be daunting for some, it certainly was the first time I drove on Santorini. I had been warned about the turns and traffic. I was prepared for the worst, but it wasn’t bad at all. This last year I rented a car on Ios and had a different experience, so here are my tips for driving on the Greek Islands with confidence and ease.

Renting a Car

Most of the time, I like to rent cars in advance. This is for two reasons, usually, the rate is better and I need an automatic transmission. On some islands, renting a car in advance might not be an option though. Ios is not listed on several car rental sites I checked. However, if the island has an airport, you will most likely be able to book in advance online.

When booking rental cars in Europe, I prefer to use AutoEurope, click here for rates. Picking up the car is pretty straightforward and is similar to picking up a rental in any country. If you have a driver’s license from outside the EU, you will need an international driver’s license to rent a car. Some companies will not ask you, but you and the company can receive a fine if you are pulled over. The rule on this is being more strictly enforced since the beginning of the 2018 season.

Driving

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Before I rented a car on Santorini, I had done some research on driving there. People warned the drive from the ferry to Oia could be scary. The drive was twisty and some the curves were next to cliffs, but the roads were well maintained and there were guard rails.

Ios was different. The island of Ios is not as popular as Santorini and many of the tourists do not drive. The roads were steep and many did not have guard rails. The rural roads were not well maintained. I am also deathly afraid of heights.

My tips are to do your research on the island you are going to. Find out about the geography of the island. Go on travel forums and ask about the road conditions.

Another tip for driving on a Greek island is to make sure you rent a car with enough horsepower. I had a two door smart car on Ios and it was barely enough for the steep Ios hills. This is also something to consider if you are going to rent an ATV instead of a car.

There are not many stop lights or stop signs on many of the islands, so proceed through intersections with caution. Greek drivers have been driving on these roads all their lives, so they tend to drive faster and what seems more erratically than you are. My advice is to drive in the right lane if possible and let them pass you.

You might see a Greek driver come up behind you and flash their lights. Basically, this means get out of my way. If you can’t, do so as quickly and safely as you can. As in many European companies, honking is common.

Parking

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

If you are renting a car, check that your hotel has parking. Finding a parking spot in small or crowded villages can be hard. The lots are often full, especially during the high season, from May to September.

Some parking lots are for use for patrons of a specific business, so check before you walk away. There should be a sign and they are usually in English and Greek. I only saw a few paid parking lots in Greece, so that isn’t as big an issue. It may even be worth paying so you can park in a real spot.

You will see some people get creative about making a parking spot. However, in a rental car, I would avoid this since your car will easily be spotted by the local police.

Purchasing Gas

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Gas stations are few and far between on many islands or they are all in the main village. If you are going for a long drive, fill up before you head out and check to see if there are gas stations on your route.

Another thing to note is that most gas stations in Greece only take cash. They also will most likely pump the gas for you. If they do, I tip a euro or two to the attended.

Taking a Car on the Ferry

My tip is to not do this if at all possible. Driving on and off the ferry is done so quickly and many times you are expected to park your car in reverse once inside the ferry in a tight spot.

Renting a car on the islands is so easy and many car rental places have cars at the port, so you can pick up a car right there.

If you do decide to do it, you need to make sure you pay the fee for it when you book your tickets. There is also a place at the port to line up the cars for driving onto the ferry. Check with the port police when you arrive. They are wearing navy blue uniforms that look like military uniforms.

Driving in Greece doesn’t have to be scary if you are prepared and know your limits. Enjoy the scenery and the places you can only reach by car. Have you driven in Greece? Give us your tips in the comments!

Europe, Greece, Travel

5 Alternatives to Santorini

June 18, 2018

Alternatives to Santorini

After I wrote my post, Why I Didn’t Love Santorini, many people ask what islands they should visit instead. So I am giving you my five alternatives to Santorini.

A few of these islands are close to Santorini and a few are closer to Athens. Each of them has comparisons to Santorini in some way and all of them are cheaper than Santorini.

1. Paros

Alternatives to Santorini

Paros is one of the large Cycladic Islands and is accessible by ferry daily from Piraeus port in Athens. Do not confuse it with Poros, which is an island closer to Athens. Paros used to be known for its marble quarries.

There is something for everyone on Paros. You can visit historic sites, get a tan on the beach or go windsurfing! It is a great alternative to Santorini because the villages have a similar style and since the main village, Parikia, is flat it is more accessible than Oia on Santorini.

Things to See and Do

  • Visit Panayia Ekatondapiliani Cathedral – This is also known as the church with 100 doors. It is very beautiful and there are tons to see.
  • Old Port of Naoussa – This is one of those iconic Greek places where cafe tables meet the sea!
  • Wander Parikia Town – This is one of the most beautiful towns on the islands I have seen. Tons of shops and restaurants to see as well.
  • Go Windsurfing – For the more adventurous, Paros has lots of wind making it a top spot for windsurfing.
  • Visit Golden Beach – One of the most beautiful beaches on the island and it is large. You might even be able to see the windsurfers from here.

2. Naxos

Right next to Paros is Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic Islands. Naxos has tons of beautiful beaches. It is also extremely family friendly. You can fly to Naxos as well as take the ferry.

I like Naxos better than Santorini as it is also flat at the port and the Chora is right next to a great beach. It means you don’t have to walk far for dinner or rent a car.

Things to See and Do

  • Visit the Kastro – Located right in the Chora, the 13th century Kastro is an ancient castle with three gates. Two of those gates are still in existence. The Kastro has several things to see inside including the Archaeological Museum.
  • See the Temple of Apollo – This is hard to miss as it sits at near the entrance of the port. Walking out to it is easy and offers great views of the sea.
  • Take a Dip at Agios Prokopios Beach – This great beach is right next to the Chora and has plenty of cafes and bars to hang out as well.
  • Go to the Eggares Olive Press Museum – The olive tree and oil are very important part of Greek life. This covers the whole operation of the press operation.
  • Take a Day Sail – Spend the day on the water and visit places only reachable by boat.

3. Ios

Alternatives to Santorini

Ios is close to Santorini and in my opinion, has the better sunset! The Chora is up on a hill just like Santorini but without the volcano.

Ios has 75km of beaches and is the island to visit if you are wanting to party or even if you are not. Given that parts of the activities are geared to young people, it makes much of the accommodation more affordable than Santorini.

Things to See and Do

  • Explore Skarkos – This is one of the best preserved ancient sites in the Cyclades. You can see some artifacts from Skarkos in the Archaeology Museum in the Chora.
  • Visit Managanari Beach – One of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. You can take a bus for the day to the stunning beach.
  • Eat at Octopus Tree – This tiny port restaurant has some of the best Greek food on Ios. I recommend the fried zucchini fritters. Here is my list of all the best places to eat in Ios.
  • Watch the Sunset from the Liostasi Hotel – The sunset in Ios is stunning and due to its unobstructed views, the Liostatsi is one of the best places to see it. You don’t have to be staying there, just order a drink from their bar.
  •  Visit Homer’s Tomb – Homer the poet is supposedly buried on Ios. It is a drive, but worth visiting. The view from here is amazing.

4. Kea

Alternatives to Santorini

Kea is a great alternative to Santorini that is close to Athens. It is also great if you want a less touristy option as it is mostly Athenians that come here. You could come to Kea on a day trip if you wanted to as well.

The hilltop village is white and blue like Santorini and offers great views of the island.

Things to See and Do

  • See the Lion of Kea – Located in the hilltop village of Ioulis is a Lion sculpture. It was carved before 600 BC.
  • Visit the Archaeology Museum – Also in the village of Ioulis is the small but great museum. The pottery has feminine features and I have never seen anything like them before.
  • Go Scuba Diving – This is one of the few islands have seen with a dive shop. The waters here were calm making it a great place to dive.
  • Hike to Ancient Karthea – This is a long hike but worth it to see the site and go swimming after.
  • Eat at Bourkarion – This family-owned restaurant is located in the village of Vourkari, which is just down from the port of Korissa.

5. Kythnos

Kythnos is also not far from Athens and is another great alternative to Santorini. The island is not too big, but if you really want to explore you will need a car as some of the best places to eat are not in the port. Kythnos still has some of the best food I have eaten in Greece.

It is also great as it is not crowded and much more affordable than Santorini.

Things to See and Do

  • Take a Dip in the Thermal Springs – In the village of Loutra right in the sea is a thermal spring.
  • Eat Mussels at Sofrano – Also in the village of Loutra is the great restaurant of Sofrano and has some of the best mussels I have ever had in my life.
  • Visit the hilltop Chora – This is one of the most charming white and blue villages and reminded me most of Oia in Santorini.
  • Swim at Kolona Bay – This two-sided bay offers great swimming and a stunning view of the surrounding island. There is a narrow strip of beach to relax on, but it is never crowded.
  • Visit Katafiki Cave – This is one of the largest caves in Greece. It was a mine and is now a tourist attraction.

I would never tell you not to visit Santorini, but it is expensive and is very crowded in the high-season. If you are only going to Greece once, then visit Santorini for a day or two and then visit one of these great alternatives. There are 220 islands in the Cyclades, so you plenty to choose from!

Do you have favorite Greek islands that are alternatives to Santorini? Share with us in the comments!

Food, Greece, Travel

Best Places to Eat in Ios, Greece

May 22, 2018

 

Despite having a kitchen while living in Ios, I did eat out many times. Discovering that Ios had quiet the food scene, I decided to try as many places as financially possible! I always forget to take pictures of my food so I don’t have pictures of it all, sorry. (This is list is in no particular order.)

 

The Octopus Tree

 

Where to Eat in Ios, Greece

 

This tiny restaurant sits on the edge of the Ios harbor. It is so small, I am not sure if there is inside seating. The only unfortunate thing is that I didn’t discover it until late in September and I wish I hadn’t waited!

 

The first time I ate there, I was with friends and we shared several plates. One of those items was an amazing salad that was huge. We also shared some small fried fish and french fries. The star of the evening was the fried zucchini balls. I really wish I had been brave enough to ask for the recipe. These things are what me back the second time and would have a third time if they hadn’t closed for the season!

 

 

Where to Eat in Ios, Greece

 

Grandma’s

 

Where to Eat in Ios, Greece

 

This was the second time I had eaten at Grandma’s as I had eaten here the year before on my sailing trip. Grandma’s is located in the Liostasi Hotel, of course inside is not accurate since all the seating is outdoors. This makes it possible to enjoy the amazing sunset with cocktails by the pool and then dinner under the stars.

 

 

Everything here is good.  The menu had changed slightly from the year before as they had a new chef. This was the sea bass, which is always one of my favorites. For dessert, we had the Caraibe chocolate bar and it was chocolate-y without being too much chocolate. I say this because I am not a huge chocolate fan. The nuts helped offset the richness as well as the vanilla ice cream. I only went here once on this trip because the prices are on the higher end at Grandma’s.

 

Where to Eat in Ios, Greece

 

Hotel Corali

 

The bartender recommended this place to me as they have their own outdoor wood burning pizza oven. Yes, even in Greece sometimes you want pizza. And this wasn’t just plain pizza. Each pizza can be ordered with different crust thickness and the sauce is the perfect balance of sweet and tart and they don’t skimp on the toppings. Not only that but they also have amazing salads. Amazing salads in Greece are definitely a thing I noticed last year on Kythnos.

 

 

Thai Me Up

 

Thai Me Up is where I spent most of my money on food, which is funny since I never took a single picture there. I love Thai food and discovered they have amazing Pad Thai. Plus it was one of the cheaper restaurants on the island. They were also one of the few places to get breakfast and no it isn’t Thai breakfast. They actually have a British woman who cooks breakfast and a Thai woman make the Thai food. Many nights I would go down there for Pad Thai and beer and watch the boats come in the harbor. Better than any TV show especially as many of the locals would come down and hang out at the port at night.

 

Salt

 

Where to Eat in Ios, Greece

 

Salt is located on Milopotas Beach. I had seen it several times when I had gone to the beach but was really there for the beach and not food. However, I had seen the food and knew I needed to try it. The service was terrible, but the food made up for it. It also could have been that it was late in the season and they might have had less staff. Above is an eggplant dish that was so big, it could have been my meal. I love eggplant and this did not disappoint. And yes, I think that is ketchup on top. My main was disappointing, but I think I ordered the wrong thing. As a thank you, they brought out this treat, which has to be a full dessert! I tried hard not to eat it all but I couldn’t resist. Salt also serves food and drinks on the beach in their loungers. You can see the sea from the sit-down restaurant as well. Go for the view and the dessert.

 

 

Lord Byron

 

On the sailing trip we were told about this place, but opt to eat at Grandma’s instead, so this year I was determined to go. It was one of the first places I went and for some reason only took pictures of my tzatziki! I ordered pasta with clams and it was perfect. It was light and the portion was a good size. Next time I would eat inside. There are many stray cats outside and it smelled a bit. During the high season, make a reservation.

 

Where to Eat in Ios, Greece

 

Harmony

 

Want a little Mexican food while on your Greek vacation? I was very hesitant to try this place being from Texas, but the call for tacos eventually made me go. I ordered a fish taco and a pork taco. The fish taco was way too hot even for this Texan, but the pork taco was great and I would have eaten it again. Do not, however, order the guacamole. In order to keep it fresh, they had put lemon juice in it and that was all I could taste. During the day, the views from here are stunning and there is live music most nights. It does appeal to the younger set overall though. They also offer yoga on some mornings.

 

 

Sousana

 

This is another port favorite that is next to Thai Me Up. This is the best place for moussaka on Ios in my opinion. What makes it different is that they bake each one in its own clay pot. It is then served piping hot. The whole thing just melts in your mouth. I was scraping the pot to try to get all of it out. Again, I had a photography fail, so this photo is of regular moussaka from somewhere else. But trust me this is the place!

 

Where to Eat in Ios, Greece

 

This list is by no means exhaustive as my budget really didn’t allow for me to eat out every day. I did have a hotel room with a kitchenette at the amazing Kritikakis Village Hotel. If you have been to Ios, what is your favorite place to eat at there?

Europe, Greece, Hotel/Accommodation, Travel

Kritikakis Village Hotel Ios, Greece

October 23, 2017

Kritikakis Village HotelWhen deciding where I was going to “live” for a month on the Greek island of Ios, I knew I wanted to be able to cook while I was there. This meant I needed to find a place with a kitchen and I was hoping for a place that had a monthly rate as well. I did lots of research trying to find the right place including Airbnbs and looking at smaller hotels. The Airbnbs were further away from my preferred location and some only had a shared kitchen. Finally, I found the amazing Kritikakis Village Hotel. Not only did each room have a small kitchen, I was able to ask for a monthly rate and they had two pools!

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Hotel

The hotel is set up like a small Greek Village and has all the lovely characteristics of that including whitewashed walls and blue doors. There are less than 50 rooms and it feels like even less. The reception area is located outside the village right on the road from the port. You can walk from the ferry to Kritikakis Village Hotel.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The two pools are located on two different levels. One has the pool bar and the other has built-in sunbeds and is smaller. The smaller pool is also more shallow. The pool offers great views of Yialos beach. Breakfast is served a few levels up with a small cold breakfast and offers traditional Greek yogurt and delicious local honey.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Rooms

There are many room options to choose from at Kritikakis Village Hotel. You can choose from a studio with many single beds or a double. You can also choose an apartment style room that has a separate living area. The great thing about these rooms is that it allows for groups of friends to split the cost of a room and each have their own bed. The apartments are great for couples or people with small children.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

I chose an apartment since I really didn’t want to look at the kitchen for a month! When I contacted them about a monthly rate, they offered me a double bed apartment at a discounted rate. This was something you definitely had to contact them about and it may not be available during the high season. It was more than I wanted to spend, but I was very happy that I chose to do this instead of the studio.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The benefits of staying in a hotel for a month was that I had daily maid service if I wanted. This meant no washing sheets and towels or mopping floors, which is definitely a plus while on vacation. It also meant I had help planning things or calling restaurants for reservations.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

Kritikakis Village Hotel

My apartment had a large terrace with a table and chairs and umbrella. Many mornings were spent here having my breakfast. The hotel also faces the west so you can catch a view of the amazing sunset on Ios. You are also close to the port and I could hear the ferries come and go, which I enjoyed. I preferred this location versus the village or the party beach of Myloplotas. I was close to the port, a grocery store, Yialos beach and many great restaurants. The bus stops right outside of reception and it takes you to the village or Mylopotas beach. You can also walk the path to the village if your legs are up for it. The path is also right next to the hotel.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Staff

By far the best thing about this hotel was the friendly hotel staff! They made my stay very memorable. Many times I would come back to my room to discover fruit or chocolates. One day I had a knock on the door only to be presented with a plate of fruit and loukoumades, Greek donuts!

Kritikakis Village Hotel

I chatted with the staff almost every day and made good friends with them. One night they even asked me to have dinner with them. It definitely made my time in Ios less lonely and I would have missed out on some great restaurants without their help. When I checked out they gave me a Kritikakis Village Hotel t-shirt! Which I have worn in Portugal a few times.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

So if you are planning a trip to Ios, Greece, I highly recommend staying at the Kritikakis Village Hotel, check rates here. You will feel at home right away and be close to all that Ios has to offer!