I am sitting outside writing this on a perfect December day in Bahrain – blue skies scattered with just a few faint, fluffy clouds, sun shining, birds singing (yes, literally), not too hot or too cold. And a butterfly just landed on the table right in front of me. I know, sounds like I’m making it up, but these beautiful days are our pay off for enduring endless days of scorching heat during the long Middle Eastern summer!
Anyway, I digress. I’m meant to be telling you all about sunsets and tzatziki – two things we saw and ate plenty of on our recent trip to Greece – Athens and then Naxos and Santorini in the Cyclades to be more precise. After postponing our original honeymoon plans we finally managed to squeeze it in not long before out first anniversary!
Athens was pleasantly different from what we had expected. We may have had a different view if we’d got caught up in the protests but what we found was a vibrant and interesting city, modern yet oozing with history everywhere we went. It’s virtually impossible to go anywhere in the city centre without stumbling across several reminders of Greece’s rich cultural past – most obvious are the Acropolis and Parthenon towering over the bustling streets below.
History lover or not it’s hard not be impressed. The other great thing about Athens is that you can cover most of the main sites: the Acropolis, the hourly changing of the guards at Syntagma Square, Plaka and Monastiraki Square and Flea Market all on foot in one day. Definitely worth stopping off on your way to or from the islands and if you’re short on time the hop on hop off bus is a quick and easy way to see the sights and goes all the way down to the Piraeus port.
The modern Acropolis museum is worth a visit and if the artifacts don’t interest you the cafe is a great lunch spot!
For the perfect end to a long day of shopping and sightseeing, kick back with a cocktail at the funky A for Athens Cocktail Bar just off Monastiraki Square. This rooftop terrace has a great vibe, an even better cocktail list and – the pièce de résistance - spectacular uninterrupted views of the Acropolis and Parthenon and other historical sights that are beautifully lit up at night. We had no idea when we stayed at the hotel of the same name that this little gem was just a few floors above and found out the hard way (a long line of people queuing for the lift) that you need to get there early to bag yourself a table. My suggestion – get there late afternoon just in time to take in one of many stunning Greek sunsets.
After getting sea sick on the ferry from the port of Rafina to Naxos, my next piece of advice would be to opt for the bigger, slower ferries or to fly from Athens out to the islands. The high speed ferries (or Flying Cats as they are also called) can get extremely rocky and although I’m generally a big fan of ferries that’s one Greek experience I could have done without!
Thankfully we weren’t long in Naxos before I forgotten all about the bumpy ride. Naxos is famous in Europe for it’s white sandy beaches and they certainly did live up to their reputation – soft, white sand and the clearest blue water I have ever seen.
Food featured heavily in our trip (of course!) but especially in Naxos where we developed an addiction to thick Greek yoghurt and fresh figs (that were growing wild everywhere!) and also enjoyed picking and cooking vegetables straight out of the gardens at the hotel we were staying at. When I got home I was happy to discover a cheap and easy way to make my own Greek-style yoghurt which can be expensive and hard to find in Bahrain.
The rest of our days were spent lazing by the pool or exploring pockets of stereotypically Greek beauty scattered across the island; the quaint Mamma-Mia-esque alleyways of Halki, windmills and churches and the charming old town and Naxos port.
Our next stop was Santorini. Wow. What a place. To be honest, I had heard so much about Santorini before we got there, I was a little concerned that my expectations were too high and that I might end up being disappointed when we got there. Thankfully not.
The views from both of the places we stayed at were like no other I’ve seen before – just a huge expanse of bright blue sea everywhere I looked. Taking it all in with your eyes is hard enough, let alone the challenge of trying to capture it on film and come anywhere close to doing it justice. Magic.
We stayed in the cute little village of Oia and constantly found ourselves wondering how, despite the crowds (at one point we counted 8 cruise ships in the main port), the island has still managed to maintain its undeniable charm. Sitting on your balcony, taking in the view you might as well be the only person there.
We were lucky enough to arrive on the same day as the annual fireworks and that was an amazing sight too – we sat out on the balcony with a blanket of stars above us and prime seats for the fireworks display!
We did a little bit of exploring in Santorini, driving to the south of the island to visit the black volcanic beaches and some of the more traditional inland villages, and also went on a beautiful sunset cruise around the island during which the deck hand gave us a live demo on how to make Tzatziki, revealing the ‘secret’ ingredient I had been missing out all these years!
The rest of the time we spent swimming, soaking up the view and the famous Santorini sunsets, exploring the little shops, oh, and eating!
We had a beautiful dinner on our last night, probably the best overall dining experience I’ve ever had, out on the cliffs at our hotel. There were only four tables and the view, food and service were amazing.
Both islands were beautiful but, for me, Santorini took the cake. With Athens just a 4 hour flight away from Bahrain we are sure we will return and next time hope to be in Santorini during a full moon which we were told is an extra special sight.
Until then, the mini olive tree we brought home with us is a small but fitting reminder of our Grecian getaway. Not that you need reminding of an unforgettable journey.
Tzatziki (makes one small bowl)
INGREDIENTS250g Greek-style yoghurt (about 1 cup)
1/2 small cucumber (about 100g)
3/4 tsp red wine vinegar (the secret ingredient!)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp garlic powder (or 1 clove fresh garlic, crushed)
Dried oregano (to decorate)
Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Dice in to small cubes and then pat in a clean tea towel or paper towel to soak up the excess juice. In a bowl mix the cucumber and yoghurt together and then add the other ingredients and stir well. Chill in the fridge preferably overnight but at least for 1-2 hours to allow the flavours to soak in. If you feel it needs some extra salt or vinegar wait until after it has been in the fridge as the flavour will change. Sprinkle with dried oregano to serve.
Tzatziki is a great accompaniment for lamb dishes or barbecued meat but you can also serve it as a dip with crudités, pita bread or chips.