Mykonos, la suite

While the town was not necessarily our thing, we spent two absolute dream days at Mykonos, three if you count our Date Day.

The First Adventure was with Sunfos Alessia Yachting, aboard a two cabin boat with Alessia and her captain on a private excursion to sail to a deserted beach on an uninhabited island. It was the calmest day locals had seen in weeks with mild 43 mph winds. Which means we were doing an exhilirating 8-9 knots throughout the day.

After a brief conversation the crew realized that not only did Mr French love sailing but he is actually something of an experienced sailor, so they gave him the helm. 2 metre high waves crashing behind him. Thrilling!!!

We passed an island, rounded a corner and paradise was before our eyes. A lone beach just for us. We set anchor, dove in and swam to shore while Alessia nd the captain prepared our lunch. Greek salad, spaghetti and fresh melon. I’m not sure what it is, but throughout our travels in Greece, we came across nearly as many Italian restaurants as Greek ones. Mr French was thrilled for the change in diet and I’ll admit that the pasta was cooked to perfection, but, well, when in Greece….

After lunch we returned to the water for some snorkeling while the captain headed out spear fishing for his supper, spear. He was proud of the assortment of fish he caught and they were both thrilled with the seashell he brought up. We think its called a pinha… looks like a ginormous mussel painted amber and it is enjoyed raw for its sweet, nutty flavored meat, that they generously to share with us.

Heading home, the boat seemed to sit 45* to the sea, for a thrilling ride back to land.

During this adventure Alessia recommended a visit to Delos. Thus began Adventure Day Two, a tourist excursion to Europe’s largest archeological site. Had I’d planned this bit on my own, I’d have probably just purchased boat tickets and tried to see the island on our own. Instead, we asked our hotel to take care of it and they made sure we had a guided tour, which was fantastic, bringing the visit to life. It was amazing as we stood there imagining the 30,000 people who had lived there nearly 3000 years ago, or the 20,000 deaths that occurred when the city was invaded by Mithrades. Wine vessels that had been buried in the ashes of the attack lay against abandoned was. Greek columns stood in solitude under the baking sun while lions stood guard. Archeologists have identified the homes of local aristocracy and fish mongers, temples and wells. An Egyptian temple to Isis marks the way to the summit of what was once a holy mountain while below mosaics of masked men, tigers and dolphins decorate homes that have not provided shelter in centuries. Nature is slowly reclaiming her land from man and the result is astounding. So amazing, in fact, that after several hours of hiking under the brutal sun, we were sad to hear the arrival of our boat on the last departure of the day, wishing we could have stayed to explore more….


After 4 days on Santorini, it was time to head to Mykonos. There are flights, but we took the ferry. A friend had told the ride was long, which I didn’t really get because its only 2 1/2 hours. Among the longest 2 1/2 of my life. Even in the height of summer the Cyclades are windy, which creates a natural air conditioning and can be lovely. It is less lovely at sea, especially while on a speeding catamaran ferry. The crew spent much of the trip passing out barf bags, an American woman screamed in desperation, asking them to slow the boat down. I recommend flying.

We arrived at the Mykonos town port, very happy to be on terra firma, and thanking our driver profusely for the cold face towels he handed us as we jumped into the van. As is our style, we stayed off the beaten path, slightly out of town. It suits us and we were thrilled with Stephanos, the beach just below our hotel.

The beaches of Mykonos each have their own personality. There is the “wild” beach of Sostis and party beaches with names like Paradise and Super Paradise. Stephanos is a family beach that fills up with locals on the weekend and has three very good restaurants, each more simple, yet delicious than the next. It was a great base for our trip.

After a relaxing swim and a late lunch at the beach, we were ready to hit the town. I don’t do well with hoards of tourists, which is pretty ironic for someone living in the most visited city on earth, so I was rather apprehensive about Mykonos. In the end, its like every where, it only takes a right (or left) turn to get off the beaten path. Which is what we did, by sticking to side streets and keeping our hours slightly earlier than everyone else.

The town strikes me as a very charming, high-end shopping mall. There were jewelry stores selling gems the size of my fist, art galleries asking 5 figures for a piece, and basically anything a jetsetter would need in an emergency (Alaïa dresses, Louboutins, LV bags, Patek Phillip…). Not exactly my scene (except for the sandals. I was very tempted by the hand-made in Mykonos sandal shops, even if I did walk away empty footed).

I loved seeing the windmills and strolling the white washed alley ways with Mr French. I was thrilled that the chapels welcomed visitors, and their cameras, and we got excited each time we saw see traditional women chatting away in their kitchens, or a group of local men hanging out at the kebab joint by the bus stop. Even the large group of millionaires dining at the table behind one evening was authentic; they were Greek millionaires enjoying a night out with their age appropriate wives. While not really my style, the place quickly grew on me, and we even ended up taking advantage of their infamous nightclub scene, enjoying exotic cocktails with a sunset view before the maddening crowds flooded in.

We had two meals in town. An extraordinary traditional dinner at the quaint To Maereio taverna. The room was cool and dark, just like a Greek home and our dinner included zucchini fritters, a pork stew with feta and sautéed mushrooms. It was so good I didn’t have to look at my notes to remember what we ate. The second meal was at Interni, an über-chic, jetset address, in a gorgeous cactus-scaped courtyard that included a chapel and two bars with surprisingly reasonable prices and excellent cocktails for some really fun people watching. It may be your scene, it may not, but one thing is for sure, you’re not in Kansas, Dorothy. This could very well be the land of Oz.


Still on Santorini

My yoga studio

After a day of hiking up and down and down and up, our calves were achy. So sore that we were both walking like primates, our knees, hips and ankles all bent to 45°. Its not an attractive look. Yoga seemed a great way try and ease the pain, so I spread out the mat  in the churchyard of the little chapel that was in front of our room, and got busy sun saluting the Aegean seas at dawn, feeling very thankful to those Greek gods for having created such a unique place.

A chapel at the edge of the world

Being in all that pain from walking inspired more hiking. Crazy, but true. We’d loved the previous day’s walk so much, we decided to hike the down the cliff that was outside our front door to visit an isolated chapel that dangles there, just above the sea.

We then had a 40 minutes hike to Fira, the island’s capital and the departure point of our afternoon sailing trip. Before getting all the way to town I needed lunch. Mr French kept trying to encourage me on, but Madame was hungry. It was either feed her, or risk loosing his head. An elderly Greek lady, wearing all black and worrying away at her prayer beads saw me looking at a menu. “This place is good,” she noded, “very good.” Looking up, I realized it was a windmill. The design-y, trend-y interior didn’t inspire much confidence, but But Kiria (Greek for Madame) knew her stuff and the food was excellent.

Fira, like Oia, is on a cliff, with the habour below, and like Oia, donkeys are an option for getting down. But Mr French hadn’t changed his mind from the previous evening. It was not an option. There is also a cable car, but we were feeling adventurous. So we headed down, slipping on donkey crap, gagging from the stench and dodging the beasts as they charged us, under the blistering sun.

A stunning vessel, with a great crew, welcomed us below. We were soon aboard the Thalassa, a replice of a 19th century schooner that we shared with about 50 other tourists from across globe. It wasn’t a big group given the size of the boat and there was shade for everyone. First stop an active volcano and a one hour hike to feel the heat of its the rocks, smell its sulfur and learn its history. At this point my legs were, as the French say, gone (je n’ai plus de jambe).

Next stop a small bay with warm water springs and iron ore that stains your swimsuit red. We jumped from the ship directly into the sea. It was delicious after the heat of the day and exactly what the doctor ordered for my missing legs. We were soon back on board headed for Thirassia for another swim on the crystal clear waters. If I ever come back to Santorini, I’ll be visiting this island. NOTE TO SELF; If I ever return, spend a day here to photographing the local color and try a local tarverna.

A simple dinner was served, then as the sky turned to a golden amber, a sailor took out his saxophone and serenaded us into the sunset…



On the third day she rested…

Not that I’m comparing myself to the Great Creator, but s/he created the world in 6 days before taking a break, where as on holiday in Santorini, Greece last week, I only made it to three before needing a holiday from our holidays.

When I told a friend our destination she gave me a rather dry look, adding, “You know, you can’t wear heels.” The map of the nearest big city had a “No Heels” logo on its legend.  What wasn’t explained, and what I didn’t ask, is why. I had no idea that everything, absolutely everywhere in Santorini involves a steep slope. We didn’t stop going up and down. To give you an idea of just how extreme things can be; from the breakfast deck to our room, there were 80 stairs. The same 80 for the pool and at least double that to leave the hotel. After two days of steps and long (yet glorious) hikes, I needed a day off! So, Mr French and I set ourselves up with faux-jitos to spend the morning by the infinity pool, above the sapphire tinted Aegean Sea, while I wrote this post;

Our first day we were eager to hike the 2.5 hours from our hotel in the village of Imerovigli to Oia (pronouced Ee-a). It was a long, glorious walk, the sea to our right and our left, blue domed chapels spotting the way. There were rustic, open air cafés where locals gathered to chat and escape the heat of the day, there were remote hotels and a satisfying series of photo ops. Drying wild flowers perfumed the air.

We arrived at pristine, sparkling white Oia ready for some hydration, some shade and a bite of lunch. The first fairly decent looking place we came to was Thalami, which claimed to serve local specialties. I was skeptical; with its prime tourist location, wind-kissed terasse and seductive shade, it seemed too perfect to be true, but I needed a break from the relentless sun and was too hungry to start looking for something “better”. What a stroke of luck that was! Everything was seasoned with local herbs making for exciting flavors in all the dishes we tried; tomato fritters (was that a bit of tarragon they put in the batter?), fava bean puree, Santorini salad with caper leaves and grilled octopus.

We were soon back on the street, exploring Oia, a charming town with lots of hotels, plenty of souvenir shops, a school, an active church and more scenery than you can shake a donkey stick at. They also have the most magical bookshop I have ever wandered across. Atlantis Books was founded by a group of young people who used to work at Shakespeare & Company here in Paris, so they are definitely kindred spirits! Volunteers come from across the globe to work in this little piece of heaven, surrounded by books, amazing friends, and the shining sea (you’ll hear more about this shop soon…)

A tote bag full of booklets later, we left Atlantis and returned to Oia. That donkey stick that was shaking at the scenery? It was for all the donkeys that were lined up to take people down the cliff to Ammoudi harbour. Mr French has a moral objection to using these beasts of burden for tourist traffic, so we walked down. 45 minutes, with even more stunning views under the afternoon sun. Mr French had heard there was a beach down here and after 18 hours on an island, the man was itching to swim. A brief hike on what was no longer a trail and we’d arrived. It was more a small outcropping of rocks than a beach, but the water was perfect and it was the ideal place for a well deserved, refreshing swim, well off the beaten path.

This is a working fisherman’s bay, with a small collection of restaurants that grill the catch of the day, inviting clients to select their own fish before cooking them to perfect. Mr French was getting hungry, so he asked for a table at the first fish place we came across. We later found out that this fish place, Dimitiris is one of the most famous in all of Santorini, but in the moment, we didn’t realize how lucky we were that they had had a cancellation and that we were enjoying a table with a sunset view.

When our waitress invited us into the kitchen to select our catch, I asked Mr French to select a fish for the two of us. The man does not like being told what to do and rarely follows directions, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started to smell the aroma of grilled lobster wafting our way.  Caviar… Foie gras…. not my thing, but a good lobster makes me go weak at the knees and this one must have been touched by the Greek gods, because it was divine.

Walking by our table a woman exclaimed, “Someone’s not shy…” A few minutes later another walked past exclaiming, “OMG!!!” And finally a third, “Wow! You’re SO lucky!”

“Lady,” I thought, “you’ve got no idea…”

Atlantis Books

Dimitris – Ammoudi, tel. 22860 71606

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