Date of stay: : 23 Sept - 2nd Oct 2011
Where you stayed: : Avanti Hotel (Ios)
Tour or pre planned: Pre-planned
This is the second time I have been to the Greek islands, flying over from living in London - and both times it's been great.
I have done both the 'sail Greece' type trip (stopping at a new island every night), and this most recent trip where we chose to base ourselves in one place for the majority of the time. Both have their highs. But I would say that overall by choosing to base yourself you'll have more of a relaxing trip, done at your own pace. It's great to see as much as you can on the sailing trips (5 islands, 6 days) but in the end it all feels very rushed and transient - consistently needing to pack up to move from boat to land accommodation - and you are doing it to someone else's schedule. On the other hand, having based ourselves in Ios for 6 days, then having 2 days in Santorini - it felt like much more of a beach holiday. We explored all the corners of the island with quad bikes, had the option of busy beaches but also remote beaches, and didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time.
One of the reasons that made it so enjoyable is that we went towards the end of the season. We'd been told by a friend that we don’t need to book any accommodation at that time of year and he was very very right. On arrival at the island we had a group of chalet/hotel/guest house owners all fighting for our attention. The peak of the season had passed so at this stage they are trying to get what they can from the last scraps of tourists for the year, and this puts us in a good position. After a little bit of friendly negotiation we decide to go with one lady who has shown us the brochure to her place and offered us a nice and cheap rate of 15 Euro for the night per person. We went and had a look and signed up immediately, the Avanti Hotel was a great place, central, and cheap: That said, this is one of hundreds of places where you could probably get a decent deal - just look for the people crowding the tourists as you step of the ferry and start negotiating.
Because it was the end of the season we also got a great discount on hiring quad bikes, we had an island that was busy enough to still be fun and have a good amount of people in the bars and beaches - without it being too much. If you are looking for an Ibiza style holiday - this is not the time for that. The huge clubs had closed, but the core bunch of bars were still open - we felt more like locals than joining the season madness and it actually worked well. We sat at restaurants near the beach for hours, not being hassled to leave or order more, as an example.
Santorini was pretty much the same - even though it is known as the more exclusive or expensive island - we did the same thing and got the same deal.
Both islands are beautiful in their own way. Ios is great for exploring remote beaches on a quad bike and lazy afternoon drinks next to the beach. Santorini seems like the kind of place where a lot of people would get engaged. The island and is location is incredible. It's part of an old volcano crater. It's high up on a cliff and looks out to other islands which form the old ring of the volcano - it feels like you are at the end of the world. It really is amazing - and for that reason the shops are expensive designer clothes and jewellery, as opposed to the beach bats and balls in the shops of Ios.
All in all I would highly recommend doing something similar. It can actually be done for pretty cheap too if you hold back on the restaurants / going out.
Some of the things we did that I would recommend:
- Snorkeling over ship wrecks
- Renting quad bikes and exploring the island
- Head to the main beach in Ios, and at 4pm pick one the many beach cafes lining the beach and settle into a long afternoon of margaritas
- The black / red beach. Really amazing beach next to a cliff with red sand
- Drinks on the cliff (you will know what I mean when you get there. The whole town is built on a cliff. Pick the best spot you can find and settle into one of the best sunsets you will ever see.
Some other tips that come to mind:
We asked the locals for good restaurant recommendations, away from the main tourist traps. I would definitely recommend this as this island is pretty expensive. We found a great restaurant right in the centre of town, but almost like it was meant to be hidden away from the tourists. It's called Momma's House, serves great food, and you will get a carafe of wine for the price of one glass at any of the other restaurants.
It’s a bit complicated if you have never done it before, but to get to the islands you need to head to Athens and get a ferry from Piraeus, which is the main port in the city. You can get there on the tube / metro, and I would recommend buying tickets before hand online (just Google 'Athens to Ios Ferry' etc.)
We stayed for one night in Athens before heading out the islands, and we used a website called airbnb.com, which is literally amazing. Not specific for this post, but for travelling in general - definitely check it out. Basically you stay in someone’s spare room instead of a hotel, at ridiculously cheap prices. Sounds a bit weird I know but give it a look. It really is great.
You can do Athens in one day in my opinion. See the main attraction, the Acropolis, which will take at the most half a day if you include strolling around the city and maybe some lunch. Don’t book more time in Athens if it’s at the expense of time on the islands. You will prefer the islands!
All in all - go to the Greek islands if you get a chance, most definitely. It can be a crazy holiday full of clubbing if that’s what you want, or it can be like the one above too - it is very much dependant on where and when you go, so hopefully this is a good little insight to help you plan your trip.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: n/a
Would you recommend your hotel: Yes
Overall rating destination: 5 of 5