Category: Our Greece holidays in past years (page 1 of 13)

A Sifnos island icon: The Church of the 7 Martyrs

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Like hundreds of other picturesque chapels in the Cyclades, the Church of the 7 Martyrs on Sifnos has a traditional Cycladic design with whitewashed walls and a shiny blue dome

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

but its startling location — perched atop a rocky peninsula pounded by powerful winds and waves — makes it one of the most memorable and impressive shrines in the region

 

Windswept wonder: We have seen hundreds if not thousands of blue-domed churches in Greece, but the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs on Sifnos easily ranks as one of the most memorable.

We got to see it during a four-day visit to Sifnos in late September 2007, and were practically blown away by the experience — and not just because the chapel is such an impressive sight. 

It was warm and sunny when we arrived at Sifnos on a Friday afternoon, but conditions changed abruptly. Within less than two hours, near gale-force winds began blowing, followed overnight by thick, dark stormclouds and periods of light rain. The gusts were so strong that rough seas forced the cancellation of ferry service for the next three days. But we didn’t let the unrelenting wind stop us from sightseeing. Occasional breaks in the cloudcover motivated us to get out and explore,  and we spent one day hiking to the villages of Artemonas, Apollonia, Kato Petali and Kastro.  

 

A breathtaking sight below Kastro village

We got our first glimpse of the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs while following a clifftop footpath that winds along the the east side of Kastro, about 90 meters above the sea. It was breathtaking to look down and suddenly see the whitewashed, blue-domed church far below, perched atop a rugged, rocky peninsula that juts into the Aegean. We saw a group of tourists making their way down a twisting, stone-paved path that leads to the church, and decided to make the trek as well.  But the blasting winds actually stopped us in our tracks a few times, and more than once nearly blew us off balance. When one particularly strong gust nearly knocked down a woman walking behind me, she and her companions turned back, saying they felt it was too dangerous to venture any further. But we plodded on, climbing down dozens of steps and then up a short hillside to reach the church.  

The wind was even worse here, but we couldn’t go inside the church to escape it because the door was locked (apparently the chapel is open only several times a year for special occasions and feast days.) It was almost impossible to hold our cameras steady to take photos, even on the south side of the building where the wind was partially blocked. In fact, the blustery conditions were so unpleasant we stayed only a couple of minutes to view the coastal scenery before making a hasty climb back to the sheltered lanes in Kastro.

Despite the inclement conditions, it was well worth braving the elements to briefly see the chapel. If anything, the wind and the surrounding whitecapped sea gave the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs even more of an exhilarating “wow” factor.

Below are several more of our own photos of the church. You can see full-size versions of them, along with 20 additional images, in my Chapel of the 7 Martyrs album on Flickr.  At the bottom of the post are two wonderful pictures of the chapel that were shot by photographers from France and Greece.

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Much of the chapel’s tremendous visual appeal stems from its location on such inhospitable coastal terrain

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Dozens of stone steps lead down the cliffside to the church

 

 Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Here’s a view of the steps from a point far down the cliff 

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

After descending dozens of steps, visitors face a short uphill climb to the chapel. A terrace that wraps around the church offers amazing views of the sea, the Sifnos coast and Kastro village, but we weren’t able to enjoy the scenery because of the high winds.

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Looking northwest along the rugged coast of Sifnos 

 

7 Martyrs Chapel on Sifnos photo by Giannis Kontos

A view of the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs in weather conditions even more severe than we experienced. This image, which has been widely circulated in social media, was captured by Sifnos photographer Giannis Kontos.

 

7 Martyrs Chapel on Sifnos photo by Charley Lataste

Another image that has been shared extensively on social media is this sunset view of the chapel, shot by photographer Charly Lataste.

 

Marathi: a get-away-from-it-all Greek Island

Marathi island

This was my first view — from a ferry — of the serene bay on Marathi where the tiny island’s restaurants and rental rooms are located

 

Stavragos Taverna Marathi

while this is a view of the bay from the taverna terrace at Stavragos, one of only three places where people can eat and  stay while visiting Marathi (photo from a  Stavragos group page on Facebook).

 

Island escape: Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed by city life — the crowded streets and sidewalks, incessant urban noise, construction all around and illuminated advertising signs everywhere I look — I daydream about getting away from it all on a remote Greek island few people know about. Somewhere like Marathi.

A tiny isle situated about 12 nautical miles east of Patmos in the Dodecanese island group, Marathi is off the beaten tourist path and free from crowds, traffic, noise and light pollution. According to Kalispera Greece, the English-language version of a Swedish website about Greece, it’s an ideal spot for someone seeking a Robinson Crusoe-style escape from the demands of contemporary urban life.

That’s because there simply isn’t much there —  just “three tavernas, three pensions, two jetties, one cemetery, one tiny church, a few goats and a pretty nice sandy beach. There are no shops, no cars, no scooters, no villages and no roads,” Kalispera Greece says.

There aren’t many people, either. A recently-published travel article on the website for the UK newspaper The Telegraph called Marathi one of Greece’s 11 least populated islands, with only 12 residents in summertime and just 3 during the winter.

No crowds? No traffic? No bright digital ads? No noise besides birdsong, crowing roosters and jingling goat bells? It sounds idyllic to me, and in online holiday reviews many Marathi visitors have used the word “paradise” to describe the island.

 

Marathi island

A hilltop view of the Marathi bay and nearby Arki island. (Image from the website for The Pirate Rooms and Taverna on Marathi.)

 

Marathi bay

Side view of the Marathi bay in another photo from the public Facebook group page for Stavragos Taverna and Rooms

 

I haven’t stayed on Marathi yet, but I have been enthralled by the dream of enjoying some quality rest and relaxation there after getting a brief glimpse of the isle nearly five years ago.

We were riding the Nissos Kalymnos ferry from Patmos to Samos at the time. The ship had just stopped at the island of Arki, and I was on the open deck enjoying the scenery as we headed to the next port of call, Agathonisi.  As we passed a crescent-shaped bay with a sandy beach on Marathi, I spotted several people watching us from a vine-sheltered terrace at what I assumed was either a private vacation home or a holiday rental villa. I felt a tinge of envy, imagining how restful it must have been for those people if a ferry sailing past once a day was one of the few interruptions to the island’s prevailing peace and tranquillity.

Several weeks later, when I was organizing photos I had shot during the ferry ride, I couldn’t stop looking at my pictures of the Marathi beach and bay. I wanted to learn more about the island and, a few Google searches later, discovered that I had photographed Stavragos, one of only three properties on Marathi with a taverna and rooms for rent.

Click on the link below to view additional photos and read more about Marathi on page 2 of this post.

 Stavragos Taverna

When I saw this building from the ferry, I thought it was a private vacation home. It’s actually rental accommodations and an excellent restaurant — Stavragos Taverna and Rooms.  It has four rooms for rent, and serves seafood and home-cooked Greek cuisine at its seaview garden terrace.

 

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Two hot days on Crete

beach on Crete

Fodele beach on the north coast of Crete, about 25 km west of Heraklion. It was empty when we were here in 2004, but I’ve seen recent photos showing the beach lined with umbrellas and lounge chairs.

 

Frostbite flashback: We had perfect hypothermia weather in Toronto today. Although it was gloriously sunny, the outdoor temperature was a frosty minus 24 Celsius — minus 40 with wind chill.  My face nearly froze while I was walking outside this afternoon, and for some reason I started remembering our one and only brief visit to Crete back in early June of 2004. Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to warm myself up by thinking about being somewhere hot instead of standing on a city street corner, shivering in the firm grip of a frigid Arctic air mass.

Once back home, I sorted through photos we shot while on Crete. There weren’t many pictures to review, primarily since we had a whirlwind visit of just three nights and two full days. (It didn’t help that a malfunction with my camera’s memory card wiped out dozens of images we did manage to shoot.)

We were in Greece on our first-ever island hopping holiday, a 2-week package tour that took us to Mykonos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini and Athens. It was a great introduction to Greece, but the Crete segment of our itinerary was way too short and rushed. On an island as vast as Crete, two days gives you time to merely glimpse a few sites and attractions. With a visit so short and hectic, there’s no opportunity to soak up the island’s atmosphere, or to experience the local life and culture. Nevertheless, we felt our fleeting look at the sights and scenery was better than not making it to Crete at all. Next time, we’ll follow the advice of regular Crete visitors who advise spending one, two or more weeks just to explore one specific part of the island.

Click on the link below to continue reading my mini trip report on page 2, where I have posted a few of the photos we shot during our quick stop on Crete.

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Captivating colours on the coast of Paros

Paros coast

A rugged section of coastline near Parasporos beach on Paros

 

True colours: One of the things we most remember from our first trip to Paros 10 years ago was an afternoon walk along the island’s rocky coast just west of Parasporos beach. We were mesmerized by the constantly-changing sea colours, which ranged from a deep cobalt blue to a vivid emerald green, with an astonishing array of turquoise shades in between. It was fascinating to observe the colours shift as we moved from one cove to the next. Below are some of the photos we shot during our hike. You can view those and more images in larger format in the Coastal Colours on Paros album on the MyGreeceTravelBlog Flickr page.

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

 Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros island coast

 

Paros coast

 

Sunset’s glow at Roditses beach on Samos

Roditses beach on Samos

The setting sun casts a warm golden glow on Roditses beach (foreground) and nearby Vathy, the capital and main commercial center on Samos island 

 

Roditses beach and Tasos Taverna

Roditses beach is about a 15-minute walk from Vathy, in a predominantly residential area with apartment buildings, elegant holiday homes, rental studio accommodations and a few hotels. It’s also the location of Tasos Taverna, whose open-air dining terrace is visible at upper left.

 

Roditses beach

Roditses is a rather unremarkable small beach, with a surface comprised mainly of stones and pebbles.  There are scores of beautiful and more scenic beaches on Samos, but Rodises is quick to reach on foot from Vathy,  and it’s suitable for some quiet time or sunbathing.

 

 Roditses beach

Two big apartment buildings on the hill behind Roditses beach

 

Roditses beach

Looking toward the Tasos Taverna seaview dining terrace, from the rocky southeast end of Roditses beach.  Tasos is the #1-ranked restaurant for Vathy on TripAdvisor.com, where reviewers praised the reasonably-priced Greek cuisine and the taverna’s views of Vathy Bay and the sunset.

 

sunset over Vathy Bay Samos

Although Roditses beach is far from spectacular, that’s not the case for the views from Tasos Taverna, where diners can watch as the sun sets in the distance beyond Vathy Bay

 

Revisiting the Parthenon … 10 years later

 The Parthenon

Crowds were so sparse the first time we visited the Acropolis in Athens (on the afternoon of Friday June 11 2004, to be precise)

 

 

the Parthenon

that we were able to get this shot of me standing in front of the Parthenon — with nobody else in sight!

 

 

The Parthenon

However, it was impossible to get photos of the Parthenon without any other people around during our return visit to the Acropolis on Sunday June 1 2014

 

 

No all-by-my-selfies possible: We practically had the Acropolis and the Parthenon all to ourselves when we visited the historic Athens monuments for the first time late on the afternoon of Friday June 11 2004. Even though it was only two months before the opening of the Athens Summer Olympics, the site — one of the most famous tourist attractions in the entire world — wasn’t crowded. In fact, Dan managed to take a photo of me standing by myself in front of the Parthenon — with nobody else around.

There was no chance of getting another photo like that when went back to the Acropolis for a repeat visit two weeks ago. It was late in the morning on a Sunday this time (June 1), and we were among hundreds of people who kept jockeying for prime positions to get the perfect Parthenon picture. With huge throngs of tourists all around, including some guided groups with dozens of participants apiece, there was absolutely no way to take a frontal photo of the Parthenon without getting a bunch of people in the shot. Or without getting constantly jostled and bumped while making a valiant attempt.

 

34% increase in foreign tourists to Athens

We shouldn’t have been surprised to find the Acopolis so busy — tourism in Greece is booming this year. In fact, statistics reported by the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) show that 500,000 more foreign visitors arrived in Greece during the first five months of this year than during the same period last year — an increase of nearly 21%.  Specifically for Athens, the number of foreign visitors surged by a whopping 34% between January and May (compared to 2013), and rose by nearly 31% in May alone.

SETE expects that Greece will reach its target of 19 million international visitors for 2014 — a tourism record for the country.

Based on the number of tourists we saw wandering around Athens during the weekend of May 30 to June 2, I’m certain Greece will set that record.

Below is a brief videoclip I shot showing a few of the tourists who were visiting the Acropolis at the same time as us on June 1. Notice that almost everyone is moving briskly — no doubt to quickly find the perfect place to take selfies with the Parthenon in the background!

 

Tourists at the Athens Acropolis on June 1

 

Walls along a footpath on Sifnos

footpath in Artemonas village Sifnos

A footpath winds between tall stone walls in Artemonas village on Sifnos.  We appreciated the walls while hiking because they offered some protection from the strong cool winds that buffeted the island for three full days during our visit in late September 2007. Sifnos has an extensive network of trails and footpaths that link villages and lead avid walkers and hikers to scores of scenic locations. Click here to access directions for nearly 50 different walk itineraries on Sifnos provided by the popular multilingual website Walking, hiking and trekking in Greece.

 

Hotels we’ve stayed at: the Fildisi on Astypalea

Fildisi Boutique Hotel

Fildisi Boutique Hotel is a 10-suite property on a quiet “away from it all” hillside location overlooking the Livadi valley area of Astypalea island

 

 

Fildisi Boutique Hotel

The hotel boasts superb views of scenic Chora village 1.5 kilometers away

 

 

Suite stay: Seeing some old vacation photos that friends posted online today inspired me to sort through pictures of hotels we have stayed at in Greece and start a “Throwback Thursday” feature to profile some of those places from time to time.

To kick things off, here’s a look at the Fildisi Boutique Hotel, which is situated on a hillside near the popular Livadi resort and residential area of Astypalea in the Dodecanese island group.

The Fildisi is a small luxury property with only 10 units — 3 suites, 3 lofts, 2 spa-apartments and 2 double rooms, each named after precious gems (Emerald, Opal, Ruby, Sapphire, etc.). The hotel has a seaview swimming pool, along with an indoor breakfast room / lounge / bar area. A basic breakfast is provided each morning.

 

Exceptional panoramic views

The hotel faces northeast and has an enviable vantage point from its hillside location, with sweeping views of much of the Livadi region as well as the island’s scenic Chora village, which is perched on the crest of a mountain over 1.5 kilometers away.

We stayed at the Fildisi in May 2009 on an island-hopping holiday that took us from Astypalea to Amorgos, Naxos and Mykonos. I discovered the Fildisi while doing online research about Astypalea, and must admit I chose the hotel mainly because of its great views.

 

The Fildisi Boutique Hotel has a view of Astipalea's Livadi area (center) and Chora (top right)

Click on the image to see a full-size photo showing the panoramic view we enjoyed from the two private verandas for the Fildisi’s Pearl suite.

 

 

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Folegandros … rediscovered

Conde Nast Traveler

The December 2004 edition of Condé Nast Traveler magazine featured a profile of Folegandros with this cover photo and headline calling it “The best little island in Greece…getting there is half the fun.”

 

 

Hidden gem?: I always have a good chuckle when I read a travel article describing a “secret,” “hidden” or “undiscovered” Greek island that few people are supposed to know about. Usually the island is fairly well-known, both to Greeks and to seasoned island hoppers or anyone who has been to Greece even just once.

Nearly 10 years ago, in its December 2004 edition, Condé Nast Traveler magazine published an intriguing feature story about Folegandros. Written by Adam Sachs, it was entitled Greece’s best-kept secret (until now). We had taken our first-ever trip to Greece just six months earlier, and I bought the magazine because I was eagerly researching destinations to visit during a return trip to Greece in 2005. I had heard and read about Folegandros (in fact, it was already on my “must see someday” list), but at that point in time couldn’t resist buying any magazine that contained photos or information about Greece. The fascinating account of Adam Sachs’ visit to Folegandros made me yearn to see the island even more.

I clipped the Condé Nast article to save in my travel reference files, and re-read it before we went to Folegandros in September 2007. I have perused the article several times since, and have given the link to the online version of it to a number of people during the past six years.

 

The Panaghia (Church of Our Lady) is perched high above Chora village on Folegandros

The stunning Panaghia (Church of Our Lady) clings to the steep mountainside high above Chora village

 

 

Panaghia on Folegandros

A view of the Panaghia (Church of Our Lady) at sunset. The remarkable white church is one of many mesmerizing sights on Folegandros.

 

 

 

Folegandros photos popular online

I also gave many people the links to my Folegandros pictures on the Webshots.com photo-sharing website where my Greece travel photos had been viewed by more than 2.5 million people before public access to the site was discontinued at the end of 2012. Four separate albums of Folegandros images were among my Top 20 most-viewed albums, and each was seen by more than 20,000 people.

Meanwhile, between 2007 and 2011, I talked about Folegandros in more than three dozen posts on the TripAdvisor.com travel forums, where plenty of people appeared to be familiar with the island. In the three years since then, even more travellers have been talking about Folegandros on TripAdvisor, and one regular Folegandros visitor recently rued the surge in tourist traffic to his favourite island in recent years (he complained that the increase in visitors had led some restaurants to hike their dinner prices, while his beloved nude beach has begun to get too crowded).

 

Angali beach

Cliffs soar above Angali, one of the most popular beaches on Folegandros

 

 

Karavostassis Folegandros

Whitewashed buildings cling to a hillside at Karavostassis, the port village of Folegandros

 

 

 

Folegandros included on Fodor Travel list

So I was more than a little amused earlier this week when I logged into the MyGreeceTravelBlog Facebook page to catch up on news, and found numerous posts on other Facebook pages reporting that Folegandros has been ranked among the Top 15 “undiscovered destinations” in Europe. Each post provided a link to the Huffington Post website, where Folegandros was indeed ranked #12 on a list of 15 Undiscovered European Destinations.

 Huffington Post published the list on April 7, but that was just a reprint of a photo feature with the same title that originally had been published March 11 on Fodor’s Travel.

According to the Fodor ranking, Folegandros “proposes a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of more popular Greek islands. Perched on a towering seaside cliff, the island doesn’t offer much in the way of attractions—but makes up for it with local charm. Visitors can explore untouched beaches, sample traditional food, and spend quiet evenings contemplating the breathtaking, sun-touched cliffs.”

Most of that description is spot-on correct, but it’s actually just the main village, Chora, that is perched atop a seaside cliff — not the entire island! Grammatical errors aside, Folegandros does boast a spectacular coastline of precipitous and breathtaking sheer cliffs, as well as numerous small beaches that are popular with the thousands of people who visit the island each summer. It also has a pronounced local charm, a generous selection of excellent restaurants, and quiet evenings. But Folegandros is far from “undiscovered.”

 

Chora village Folegandros

Residents of the historic Kastro section of Chora live literally on the edge — their homes are built atop a sheer cliff that plunges hundreds of feet to the sea

 

 

north coast of Folegandros

Another view of buildings in the Kastro section of Chora (upper left) and the rugged landscape and coastline on the north side of Folegandros

 

 

 

Tourism surged after the magazine profile

When we finally got to the island in September 2007, staff we spoke to at our hotel and at some of the restaurants in Chora told us that tourism had been booming ever since Folegandros made the cover of Condé Nast Traveler. (Just what you’d expect for any place profiled in a travel magazine read by more than a million North Americans each month.)

One fellow told us that, during August, just one month before our visit, dozens of people with no hotel reservations stepped off a ferry, expecting it would be easy to find rooms — but every bed was sold out.  Locals scrambled to collect blankets and pillows and create makeshift sleeping quarters so the extra travellers would have a place to bed down for the night. Meanwhile, a mini construction boom was underway, with new hotels and private accommodations being built to cash in on the steadily growing traffic. A concrete frame for a new building was under construction right next to Fata Morgana Studios, where we were staying. And ferry companies had begun serving Folegandros with highspeed passenger catamarans to get more travellers to the island faster than the “milk run” car and truck ferries that stopped at multiple islands en route and took all day to get there.

So it clearly was Condé Nast, and not Fodor’s, that “discovered” Folegandros — and that was a full decade ago. But enough nitpicking about media hype. Ten years from now, some other publication or website will probably post a gushingly positive profile proclaiming that Folegandros is a “hidden gem” still waiting to be discovered.

 

Fata Morgana Studios

The Fata Morgana Studios swimming pool at sunset. The property has a view of several nearby islands, including Sifnos, which is faintly visible in the distance behind the umbrella.

 

 

Add this captivating island to your must-see list

If you haven’t been to Folegandros yet, consider giving it a visit. The island truly is as wonderful and captivating as the travel journalists claim. And chances are high that you, like us, will instantly fall in love with the place.

We have long been keen to pay Folegandros a return visit, but just haven’t been able to work it into any of our island hopping itineraries because of awkward ferry schedules and connections. Which is a good thing, because as long Folegandros remains off the main beaten path, it should retain its unique charm and character. And that’s what we want to experience again when we finally do make it back.

Below are links to two of my Folegandros photo album collections on the MyGreeceTravelBlog Flickr page. The main Folegandros album contains nearly 260 pictures of the island, while the second set features more than 70 photos of Fata Morgana Studios.

 

 Folegandros island

Rugged sheer cliffs on the coastline below Hora village provide some of the jaw-dropping natural scenery that delights visitors to Folegandros. Click here to view more than 250 more photos of the island in my Folegandros album on Flickr.

 

 

 Fata Morgana Studios

A view of the swimming pool and part of the rental apartment complex at Fata Morgana Studios, where we stayed during our trip to Folegandros. Click here to view my Flickr album with dozens more photos of the hotel.

 

Syrmata on the Klima seaside

Some of the colourful boathouses that line the seashore at Klima village on Milos island

Some of the colourful syrmata (fishermen’s boathouses) that line the narrow seashore at Klima village on Milos

 

Houses on the hills below Astipalea’s kastro

Chora village on Astipalea

Early evening sunshine illuminates the historic Venetian-era kastro (castle) and Chora village on Astipalea island

 

A captivating view of Kastro village on Sifnos

Approaching the medieval-era Kastro village on Sifnos island in Greece

One of the most memorable moments of our trip to Sifnos happened while we were hiking down the valley below Apollonia, and Kastro village suddenly came into view. The centuries-old settlement perched on a cliff high above the sea was one of the most exhilarating and breathtaking sights we have ever seen while walking in Greece. Built between the 14th and 18th Centuries, Kastro was the capital of Sifnos during the medieval period. It’s a must-see if you ever visit the island.

 

 

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