Sunsets aplenty in the Greek Islands

The Greek islands were our last stop in Europe before moving on to tackle Egypt and the Middle East, Nepal and south-east Asia.  This was my third trip there, all within a year:  the first was a much-needed and thoroughly enjoyed holiday in the form of a sailing jaunt with my parents, the second a long-anticipated birthday celebration for an Australian friend.  Both of those occasions had been a blast, so I knew I was unlikely to find any way not to enjoy my time in the sun and the water and the whitewashed guesthouses and cafés and tavernas.

We had a week to relax and just enjoy where we were:  no big-ticket tourist sites to navigate, no running around with careful plans to fit the most we could into each and every day.  Just a nice spot to chill out.  That’s not to say that we didn’t do anything:  just that we didn’t have to.  The most detailed plan that we had for each day was typically “where should we watch the sunset from tonight?”.

A beach in Parikia (Paros) as the sun begins to set

We divided our time on the islands between Paros and Santorini.  For all our laziness, we actually explored each of them pretty thoroughly.  We spent a day hopping on and off local buses, making our way around the small, quaint white-walled villages and quiet sandy beaches all over Paros.  Through Lefkes, in the centre, with just enough time before the next bus came to walk a circle around town and fit in an iced coffee (or was it a milkshake?) and the most sugary-looking of the cakes in the bakery window.  On to Piso Livadi, to enjoy a lunch of fried seafood by the beach, in a scene that’s just begging to be called ‘splendid’.  On foot around the point to see what beaches we might find, before bussing a little farther around – again in search of beaches – and then back to Parikia for sunset.

See, ‘splendid’, no?

And we followed that up by then ferrying across to Paros’s smaller sibling, Antiparos, to explore its (not especially interesting) cave, to wander around its sleepy harbour, and to amuse ourselves watching the kitesurfers flitting back and forth between Paros and Antiparos.  (Note to self:  must learn to kitesurf, it looks awesome.  Note to self and everyone else:  if you’re looking for somewhere to put your feet up in the Greek islands for a week or so of doing not much, it looks like you could do a lot worse than the small resort-like places on the northern tip of Antiparos.  Not that we had any complaints about Parikia, which was also a great spot.)

One of many stunning vistas from the walking trail from Fira to Oia, on Santorini

Santorini we explored with quad bikes as our trusty steeds, roaming across the crater of an island, checking out the beaches (nothing special), the archaeological site at Akrotiri (pretty boring), and the various vantage points around the island (definitely worth hunting out).  And in my case, at least, the survey of Santorini also featured a decent chunk of footwork:  walking the trail from Fira to join my somewhat lazier comrades (they took the bus) at Oia for possibly the world’s most famous sunset.

A part of the walking trail from Fira to Oia, on Santorini

(This was the second time I’ve been to Santorini, and the second time I’ve wandered my way along that trail:  it’s a charming – and quiet – walk along the cliffs, through the towns, and over the hills, and it has easily the best views of the island, if you ask me.  A welcome escape from the tourist crowds across much of the rest of the island.  A few hours well spent, and I’ll happily do it again if I ever find myself back there.)

Sunset at Oia, Santorini

Other than that, all that really remained was to spend our evenings looking out across the sea, watching the sun disappear beneath the water, or behind the islands, or behind a town, depending on where we’d picked for our viewing spot that particular night.  Not a bad way to spend a week.

Yet another of many spectacular sunsets in the Greek Islands

Secluded monkery in Metéora

Some destinations you visit for the culture;  some you visit for natural beauty;  some you might visit for a particular activity or maybe for the nightlife or beach scene.  Some, you visit just because they’re something a little different and perhaps a little more obscure than most typical round-the-world big-ticket items.  So we found ourselves a few hours’ drive north of Athens, in the relatively unremarkable town of Kalambaka, for one night only, to spend a morning exploring the lonely monasteries of Metéora, atop their giant sandstone plinths.

Approaching Metéora: the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron perched atop its sandstone pillar

Evidently the monks of the area, centuries ago, decided that they weren’t really big fans of contact with the rest of us.  Escaping political and religious conflict, they built their new houses of God in the most inaccessible locations they could, and retreated to a life separate from the world below.  They weren’t completely cut off – monks could and did climb up ropes from the ground below, either directly on the rock face, or in a cage or net drawn up by a crane in the monastery.  (The story goes that they wouldn’t repair or replace the ropes when they frayed, even to mere threads, instead trusting to God to decide who should fall when they eventually broke.  Bunch of geniuses, it sounds like.)  But in their isolation, they built something quite special, which we thought were worth a look.

The net used to bring up supplies to the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, Metéora

While a number of the monasteries are still monastic (or now nunnified, or whatever the appropriate adjective is), others are open to the public, and some are both.  They seem to have become somewhat of a tourist magnet (albeit perhaps not for the type of tourists we normally run into on our ‘let’s go see the world’ gap-year-like travels) – and perfectly reasonably so.  They’re a good wander through, but really, it’s the location and the simple fact of their existence that’s the drawcard, rather than any particular detail of the monasteries themselves.  The views from one to the other, and out among the sandstone hills, make Metéora well worth a short trip, to see something that little bit different.

The Holy Monastery of Varlaam, as seen from the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, Metéora

The Holy Monastery of St Stephen in Metéora, looking out over the town of Kalambaka