Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Greece FAM Trip

Greece FAM Trip Hosted by Emirates Airline and Key Tours – October 2018

I would like to thank Emirates Airline for a wonderfully comfortable nonstop flight from Newark to Athens, and Key Tours for hosting an amazing Familiarization trip to Greece in October.  It was my first time flying with Emirates and they more than lived up to their reputation.  The seats were comfy with plenty of legroom even in coach, the service was flawless, there was an amazing array of entertainment choices, the food was restaurant quality and served with real utensils….and I actually slept which I have never been able to do on an overnight flight.  A heartfelt Thank You to all those involved in making this such an incredible and memorable experience xo

Upon arrival mid-afternoon, we were greeted and whisked off to the NJV Athens Plaza Hotel by our delightful Key Tours host Nichola, who arranged all our hotels, tours, transportation and guides, and accompanied us with his colleague Fillipa during our stay in Greece.  Everything was flawless and I am  delighted to highly recommend Key Tours, and notably their amazing personnel in Greece.

Athens Plaza Hotel 

The NJV Athens Plaza Hotel is one of the top luxury hotels in Athens, conveniently located on the historic Syntagma Square, very close to the Acropolis, the Parliament Building, and the pedestrian shopping and restaurant area of Plaka. The hotel features 162 contemporary rooms and 18 suites, some with views of the Acropolis, which are tastefully decorated with modern touches and first-class amenities.  The hotel has meeting and event facilities that can accommodate up to 350 people, with state-of-the-art equipment available for a conference, special event, board meeting or business luncheon.

 During our stay in Athens we visited several other hotels listed here, and I would be happy to share more details with anyone interested.

Hotel Electra Metropolis – central Athens
St. George - adjacent to the Athens Plaza Hotel
Royal Olympic – central Athens
Herodion Hotel – central Athens, lunch and tour
St. George Lycabettus Hotel – tour and dinner overlooking the city.

On our first full day in Athens, we enjoyed a drive through the most emblematic sites in Athens with our tour guide, visiting the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, the Greek Parliament where we saw the Changing of the Guard, the National Library, Academy and University, with a photo stop at the Panathenaic Stadium.

 We climbed the winding steps up to the Parthenon dedicated to Athena the goddess of Athens, passing through the Propylea to the Erechteum Temple, and reaching The Acropolis which stand 230 feet above the city.  Amazing to experience in person, and enjoy the incredible views of the city.  Finally we visited the New Acropolis Museum which was fascinating and well worth spending a couple of hours exploring.

Transfer from Athens to Paros
We boarded the Blue Star Ferry early the next morning for our 3.5 hour trip to Paros, which in itself was quite an experience.  The ferry was part car ferry and part cruise ship, accommodating as it did cars and trucks in its bowels, and passengers on the higher decks.  Seating options included outdoor benches and tables, and indoors a range of choices including high-backed seats with area TV’s, cafeteria-style table and chairs, a children’s play area, stores, coffee shops and bars.  Open seating and very reasonably priced.

The island of Paros is not quite as well known as other Greek Islands and therefore is more authentic – a true hidden gem.  It is considered one of the most beautiful of the Cyclades Islands with its many beaches and charming villages.  Parikia is the main town, Naoussa Port is to the North, and Lefkes, Marpissa, Piso Livadi, Drios, and Aliki are well worth a visit.

Naoussa is an old fishing village which is becoming more popular with tourists, but not so much that it take away from its charm. The village is characterized by its Venetian port and its many fish restaurants, and the local bar scene is growing as the number of visitors  increases.

We arrived at the port of Parikia and transferred to the Zefi Hotel & Suites where we would spend 3 nights.  This boutique hotel’s charm was outmatched only by the warmth and hospitality of the owners, manager and staff who took such great care of us, and even joined us on our sightseeing excursions sharing stories and adding local color.

Zefi Hotel & Suites, Naoussa, Paros
Zefi is a boutique 4 star hotel just a short walk from the town center of Naoussa, and close to the beach of Agioi Anargyroi.  The hotel features a restaurant, swimming pool, poolside bar and a hot tub.  Room categories are Superior Suites, and Superior, Standard and Basic Rooms, and all have air conditioning, a fridge and TV.  Rooms are individually decorated in Cycladic style, some with built-in beds, beamed ceilings and stone-paved flooring. 

After checking in, we had time before dinner to explore the charming port of Naoussa, stopping at an open air restaurant for a bite and a glass of wine, and taking many photographs of the picturesque fishing village as the sun began to set. 

On our first full day in Paros we toured the Moraitico Winery where I purchased some Ouzo along with a couple of bottles of their delicious wine.  Next it was off to explore the village of Lefkes, and a stroll around the narrow stone alleyways, with much picture-taking and some shopping for local souvenirs.

In the early afternoon we took a local ferry across to the sister and smaller island of Antiparos, where we traversed hundreds of steps down into the belly of a huge cave, which is the location of the oldest stalagmite in Europe.  There was even really old graffiti….! 

Lunch was on the pier watching the fishing boats come and go, and a huge plateful of fresh caught shrimp and locally produced wine certainly made moving on difficult.  But move we did, returning to Paros on the ferry, and stopping at Kolybithres Beach to see the amazing rock formations at sunset. 

The following day we headed to Parikia to tour the Panagia Ekantotapiliani Church, one of the most significant Orthodox churches in Greece.  The original church was constructed in the 4th century A.D. and was a three-aisled basilica. In the 6th century A.D. the Byzantine Emperor Justinian made reformations to the church and added a dome. More reformations were performed through centuries and today the church is a complex of Paleochristian, Byzantine and post-Byzantine elements. There is a museum on the site, with photographs of the earlier excavations.

After some meandering around narrow paths and passageways, we stopped for coffee and to show off our purchases before heading to the beach and amphitheater at the National Park….

 Our final dinner in Paros was at Axinos Restaurant in Naoussa Port, also owned by the Zefi Hotel family, and served on a long table family style.  There was much laughter, wine and great food shared and we all vowed we’d return to Paros some day!

Transfer from Paros to Santorini the following morning was by Blue Star Ferry which again took about 3.5 hours.


Santorini was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, which shaped its rugged landscape of sheer cliffs. The famed whitewashed houses in Fira and Oia cling to the cliffs, with spectacular views overlooking the underwater caldera.

Santorini Palace Hotel
The Santorini Palace Hotel was the first resort on Santorini Island, located in Firostefani village just 10 minutes walk from the capital of Santorini, the village of Fira.  The hotel combines the Cycladic surroundings with breathtaking views of the east side of the island and a panoramic view of the Caldera.  Rooms at Santorini Palace are bright and contemporary with air conditioning, flat-screen TV, fridge, private bathroom, balcony or veranda, double-glazed windows and safes. Categories are Standard and  Superior Rooms, and one and two-bedroom Suites. The hotel offers a combination of beautiful Cycladic architecture, open spaces, resort facilities and proximity to attractions, and has a restaurant, 2 bars, a spa services are available at their sister property, El Greco Resort and Spa a few minutes away via complimentary shuttle.   

El Greco Resort and Spa (Caldera side, sister property 5 minutes away)
The Belvedere -boutique, cliffside
Kafieris Blue – boutique, cliffside
Cliffside Suites - cliffside
Splendour Resort – affordable

On our first afternoon in Santorini, we followed a short path from the hotel over the hill to the town of Fira, where we explored the narrow alleyways, browsed the little stores, and took photographs of the village, the views and of course the sunset for which Santorini is so famous for. 

For dinner, the group split up and tried several different restaurants; some with amazing views, some with wonderful authentic food, and some with both!

 After touring several hotels the following day, we visited Pyrgos to explore this traditional village with its twisting pathways and many beautiful white churches, and the picturesque town of Firostefani, and then a visit to the local winery of Boutaris with a tour and wine tasting (of course!)

Next we stopped to stroll around the traditional settlement of Oia on the northern tip of the island, high on the cliff top with the most magnificent views on the island.

 On our last day we headed to the Bronze Age site of Akrotiri where we met out guide.  All guides must be professional, licensed archeologists with a PhD and its no wonder when you begin to understand the importance of this town and its history.

Akrotiri was originally a Minoan settlement and today is the most important archeological site in Santorini. The prehistoric town was destroyed due to a massive volcanic eruption around 1600 BC. Nowadays, the picturesque streets, the two-story buildings, the lovely frescoes and plenty of tools witness the way of life in the prehistoric times.  The people that built this port city, traveled and traded with North Africa and the Middle East, as is evidenced by the artifacts that have been unearthed.  No human remains have been found, and it is surmised they must have had some warning before the  volcano erupted and destroyed the whole island.

A few minutes away is Red Beach which is one of the most famous and beautiful beaches in Santorini. The beach is quite small and can get overcrowded in the summer, so I recommend instead of making the trek down to the beach, you can instead admire this unique landscape of red and black volcanic rocks from the headland. 

Upon our return to Fira and having worked up an appetite, we climbed three flights of stairs to find a great local restaurant with wonderful views, authentic food and wine from the winery we had visited the day before…highly recommended! 

Then we took the cable car from Fira down the cliffs to Old Port, but having just had lunch we decided to give the famed Santorini donkeys a break and returned to the top by cable car.

Our last meal together in Greece before heading home via Athens, was at one of Nichola’s favorite restaurants on the clifftop in Fira – delicious food and wine, amazing views, and wonderful company……..Yamas, until we meet again my friends J 

To Nichola and Fillipa, many congratulations on your engagement
………and beware of gatecrashers next September xo

Nikki Perkins, CTA

Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
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