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Frommer's Greek Islands
By John S. Bowman Sherry Marker Heidi Sarna
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-2457-7
Chapter OneThe Best of the Greek Islands
From Santorini's dramatic caldera to the reconstructed palace of Knossos on Crete, the Greek Islands are spectacular. There aren't many places in the world where the forces of nature have come together with the ancient sites and architectural treasures to create such dramatic results.
It can be bewildering to plan your trip with so many options vying for your attention. Take us along, and we'll do the work for you. We've traveled the islands extensively and chosen the very best that Greece has to offer. We've scoped out the beaches, explored the archaeological sites, visited the museums, inspected the hotels, and reviewed the tavernas and ouzeries. Here's what we consider to be the best of the best.
1 The Best of Ancient Greece
The Acropolis (Athens): No matter how many photographs you've seen, nothing can prepare you for watching the light turn the marble of the buildings, still standing after thousands of years, from honey to rose to deep red to stark white. If the crowds get you down, remember how crowded the Acropolis was during religious festivals in antiquity. See p. 129.
Palace of Knossos (Crete): A seemingly unending maze of rooms and levels and stairways and corridors and frescoed walls-the Minoan Palace of Knossos. It can be packed at peak hours, but it still exerts its power if you enter intothe spirit of the labyrinth, where King Minos ruled over the richest and most powerful of Minoan cities and, according to legend, his daughter Ariadne helped Theseus kill the Minotaur and escape. See p. 167.
Delos (Cyclades): This tiny isle just 3.2km (2 miles) offshore of Mykonos, was considered by the ancient Greeks to be both the geographical and spiritual center of the Cyclades; many considered this the holiest sanctuary in all Greece. The extensive remains here testify to the island's former splendor. From Mount Kinthos (really just a hill, but the island's highest point), you can see many of the Cyclades most days and the whole archipelago on a very clear day. The 3 hours allotted by excursion boats from Mykonos or Tinos are hardly sufficient to explore this vast archaeological treasure. See chapter 8.
2 The Best of Byzantine
Church of Panayia Kera (Kritsa, Crete): If Byzantine art sometimes seems a bit stilted and remote, this striking chapel in the foothills of eastern Crete will reward you with its unexpected intimacy. The 14th-and 15th-century frescoes not only are stunning, but also depict all the familiar Biblical stories. See p. 200.
Nea Moni (Hios, Northeastern Aegean): Once home to 1,000 monks, this 12th-century monastery high in the interior mountains of Hios is now quietly inhabited by one elderly but sprightly nun and two friendly monks-try to catch one of the excellent tours sometimes offered by the monks. The mosaics in the cathedral dome are works of extraordinary power and beauty; even in the half-obscurity of the nave they radiate a brilliant gold. Check out the small museum, and take some time to explore the extensive monastery grounds. See chapter 10.
A Profusion of Byzantine Churches in the Cyclades: The fertile countryside of the island of Naxos is dotted with well-preserved Byzantine chapels, Parikia, the capital of Paros, has the Byzantine era cathedral of Panayia Ekatondapiliani, and Santorini boasts the 11th/12th century church of the Panagia in the hamlet of Gonias Episkopi. See p. 246.
3 The Best Beaches
Plaka (Naxos, Cyclades): Naxos has the longest stretches of sea sand in the Cyclades, and Plaka is the most beautiful and pristine beach on the island. A 4.8km (3-mile) stretch of mostly undeveloped shoreline, you could easily imagine yourself here as Robinson Crusoe in his island isolation (bending the plot somewhat to include a few sunbathing Fridays). If you need abundant amenities and a more active social scene, you can always head north to Ayia Anna or Ayios Prokopios. See p. 248.
Paradise (Mykonos, Cyclades): Paradise is the quintessential party beach, known for wild revelry that continues through the night. An extensive complex built on the beach includes a bar, taverna, changing rooms, and souvenir shops. This is a place to see and be seen, a place to show off muscles laboriously acquired during the long winter months. See chapter 8.
Grammata (Siros, Cyclades): The small beach is enclosed by a lush oasis of palm trees at the outlet of a natural spring, sheltered and hidden by a rocky promontory extending into the bay. The beach is only accessible on foot or by boat, so it's rarely crowded. See p. 273.
Lalaria Beach (Skiathos, Sporades): This gleaming white pebble beach boasts vivid aquamarine water and white limestone cliffs, with natural arches cut into them by the elements. Lalaria is not nearly as popular nor accessible as Skiathos's famous Koukounaries, which is one of the reasons why it's still gorgeous and pristine. See chapter 11.
Megalo Seitani (Samos, Northeastern Aegean): Megalo Seitani and its neighbor, Micro Seitani, are situated on the mountainous and remote northwest coast of Samos. There aren't any roads to this part of the island, so the only way to reach the beaches is a short boat ride or a rather long (and beautiful) hike. You won't regret taking the trouble, since both beaches are superb: Micro Seitani's crescent of pebbles in a rocky cove, and Megalo Seitani's expanse of pristine sand. See chapter 10.
Vroulidia (Hios, Northeastern Aegean): White sand, a cliff-rimmed cove, and a remote location at the southern tip of the island of Hios combine to make this one of the most exquisite small beaches in the Northeastern Aegean. The rocky coast conceals many cove beaches similar to this one, and it's rare for them to become crowded. See p. 342.
4 The Best Scenic Villages & Towns
Chania (Crete): Radiating from its handsome harbor and back-dropped by the White Mountains, Chania has managed to hold on to much of its Venetian-Renaissance and later Turkish heritage. This allows you to wander the old town's narrow lanes, filled with a heady mix of colorful local culture, yet still enjoy its charming hotels, excellent restaurants, interesting shops, and swinging nightspots. See chapter 7.
Hora (Folegandros, Cyclades): In this town huddled at the edge of a cliff, one square spills into the next, its green and blue paving slates outlined in brilliant white. On a steep hill overlooking the town is the looming form of Panayia, the church that holds an icon of the Virgin, which is paraded through the streets of Hora with great ceremony and revelry each Easter Sunday. Mercifully free of vehicular traffic, Hora is one of the most beautiful and least spoiled villages in the Cyclades. See chapter 8.
Yialos (Simi, Dodecanese): The entirety of Yialos, the main port of the tiny, rugged island of Simi, has been declared a protected architectural treasure, and for good reason. This pristine port with its extraordinary array of neoclassical mansions is a large part of why Simi is known as "the jewel of the Dodecanese." See chapter 9.
Skopelos Town (Skopelos, Sporades): The amazingly well preserved Skopelos, a traditional whitewashed island port town, is adorned everywhere with pots of flowering plants. It offers some fairly sophisticated diversions, several excellent restaurants, some good hotels, and lots of shopping. See chapter 11.
Corfu Town (Corfu, Ionian Islands): With its Esplanade framed by a 19th-century palace and the arcaded Liston, its old town a Venice-like warren of structures practically untouched for several centuries, its massive Venetian fortresses, and all this enclosing a lively population and constant visitors, here is urban Greece at its most appealing. See chapter 12.
Piryi and Mesta (Hios, Northeastern Aegean): These two small towns, in the pastoral southern hills of Hios, are marvelous creations of the medieval imagination. Connected by their physical proximity and a shared history, each is quirkily unique and a delight to explore. In Piryi, every available surface is covered with elaborate geometric black-and-white decorations known as Ksisti, a technique that reaches extraordinary levels of virtuosity in the town square. Mesta has preserved its medieval urban fabric, and conceals two fine churches within its maze of narrow streets. See chapter 10.
5 The Best Resorts & Hotels
Atlantis Hotel (Iraklion, Crete; * 2810/229-103): There are many more luxurious hotels in Greece, but few can beat the Atlantis's urban attractions: a central location, modern facilities, and views over a busy harbor. You can swim in the pool, work out in the fitness center, send e-mail via your laptop, and then within minutes be enjoying a fine meal or visiting a museum. See p. 170.
Doma (Chania, Crete; * 28210/ 51-772): A former neoclassical mansion east of downtown, the Doma has been converted into a comfortable and charming hotel, furnished with the proprietor's family heirlooms. Although not for those seeking the most luxurious amenities, its atmosphere appeals to many. See p. 181.
Astra Apartments (Santorini, Cyclades; * 22860/23-641): This small hotel with handsomely appointed apartments looks like a miniature whitewashed village-and has spectacular views over Santorini's famous caldera. The sunsets here are not to be believed, the staff is incredibly helpful, and the village of Imerovigli itself offers an escape from the touristic madness that overwhelms the island each summer. If you decide to get married here, you have but to speak to the manager, George Karayiannis (before you arrive, unless you want to tie the knot on a return visit). See p. 216.
Anemomilos Apartments (Folegandros, Cyclades; * 22860/ 41-309) and Castro Hotel (Folegandros, Cyclades; * 22860/41-230): The small island of Folegandros has two of the nicest hotels in the Cyclades. Both have terrific cliff-top locations. Anemomilos has all the creature comforts, traditional decor, and is just out of town, with a delicious pool and sea views that stretch forever. Castro built into the walls of the 12th-century Venetian castle that encircles the village, has lots of character, and the necessary modern comforts. See p. 225.
Rodos Palace (Rhodes, Dodecanese; * 22410/25-222): The largest five-star hotel in Greece and possibly in the entire Mediterranean, this is truly a palace, decorated, in fact, by the famed designer of Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis. Located in Iksia, just outside Rhodes city, it offers all the amenities imaginable-the latest addition is a new family center, a resort within a resort designed to provide the ultimate holiday for families with children. See p. 290.
Hotel Nireus (Simi, Dodecanese; * 22410/72-400): Perfect island, perfect location, unpretentious, and tasteful. The views from the sea-facing rooms, framed by the fluid swirls of the wrought-iron balcony, define the spell of this little gem of an island. You'll never regret one more night on Simi, and here's the place to spend it. See p. 305.
White Rocks Hotel & Bungalows (Kefalonia, Ionian Islands; * 26710/28-332): For those who appreciate understated elegance, a shady retreat from all that sunshine, a private beach, and quiet but attentive service, this hotel, located a couple of miles outside Argostoli, can be paradise. See p. 402.
6 The Best Restaurants
Nykterida (Chania, Crete; * 28210/64-215): We're not denying that the location may influence your taste buds here, but the spectacular views from this restaurant high above Chania and Soudha Bay can definitely make you feel you're eating a meal like few others in Greece. See p. 183.
Selene (Santorini, Cyclades; * 22860/22-249): The best restaurant on an island with lots of good places to eat, Selene is one of the finest restaurants in all Greece. The reason: Owners George and Evelyn Hatzyiannakis are constantly experimenting with local produce to turn out their own innovative versions of traditional dishes. Inside, the dining room is elegant, and the terrace has a wonderful view over the caldera. See p. 220. To Koutouki Tou Liberi (Siros, Cyclades; * 22810/85-580): Open only 2 days a week and devilishly difficult to find (even the local taxi drivers have a hard time), this restaurant is so popular that you may need to book a table several days in advance. Amazingly, it's worth the trouble-the food is excellent, the view is stunning, and you might even catch an impromptu traditional music session if you're willing to stay around until the early hours of the morning. See p. 275.
Petrino (Kos, Dodecanese; * 22420/27-251): When royalty come to Kos, this is where they dine. Housed in an exquisitely restored, two-story, century-old stone (petrino) private residence, this is hands-down the most elegant taverna in Kos, with cuisine to match. This is what Greek home cooking would be if your mother were part divine. See p. 314.
Venetian Well (Corfu, Ionian Islands; * 26610/44-761): A bit severe in its setting at the edge of a small enclosed square in Corfu town, with no attempt at the picturesque, this restaurant gets by on its more esoteric, international, and delicate menu. It's for those seeking a break from the standard Greek scene. See p. 394.
7 The Best Nightlife
Mykonos (Cyclades): Mykonos isn't the only island town in Greece with nightlife that continues through the morning, but it was the first and still offers the most abundant, varied scene in the Aegean. Year-round, the town's narrow, labyrinthine streets play host to a remarkably diverse crowd-Mykonos's unlimited ability to reinvent itself has assured it of continuous popularity.
Excerpted from Frommer's Greek Islands by John S. Bowman Sherry Marker Heidi Sarna Excerpted by permission.
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