Stunning Santorini

I fell in love with my favorite place in the world, the island of Santorini in Greece, when I was 14 years old and I watched the movie Summer Lovers.  Right there and then, I decided that this idyllic island would (hopefully) be my honeymoon destination (regardless of where my future husband would want to visit).  Well, 14 years later, my wish came true. When my husband and I were planning our wedding and he suggested Hawaii as a place to honeymoon, I very sweetly suggested the Greek Islands instead, and the rest as they say, is history.  Our honeymoon included a few days in Athens and also in Mykonos (click here for my Mykonos blog post).  Santorini went above and beyond all of my expectations, it is simply breathtaking.  It is so beautiful, that most of the photos and postcards that you will see of Greece, will typically be of Santorini…it is the most photographed of the Greek Islands. And trust me, the postcards don’t do it justice!  Luckily I have had the opportunity to visit Santorini many more times, and I always leave with the feeling that I can’t wait to visit again!

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

There are so many things to see and do on this special island that this blog post could go on for days…LOL!  So, I have decided to round-up my Top 5 experiences on all of my visits!

Fira. Fira is the largest town on Santorini, and is also the first town many travelers experience, as Santorini’s ferry and cruise ports are located in Fira.  While most of the pictures you will see are of the town of Oia, I actually prefer to stay in Fira, the island’s capital. Fira also has a thriving night life, something for everyone, clubs, bars, restaurants, and shops stay open past midnight.  Nothing like walking around at 11PM having some gelato, and feeling like it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I love places that stay open late when I’m on vacation.  I also find that there is a larger selection of hotels to choose from in Fira, extending to Firostefani and Imerovigli, the two towns immediately north of Fira.  This past summer we stayed at the Adamis Majesty Suites, which we loved, a spacious cave house with a perfect location, and million dollar views!  Fira also boasts great shopping with many boutiques and local designer shops. Make sure to visit some of the gold and jewelry stores, with amazingly beautiful 18 karat gold jewelry, showcasing the very distinctive Greek designs.  Also not to be missed are the delicious restaurants Fira has to offer.  Sphinx and Archipelagos among my favorites, and if you’re looking for amazing gelato and homemade Greek desserts and pastries, make sure to stop in at Zotos Cafe & Bakery, on the main pedestrian path.

A view of Fira

A view of Fira

Delicious homemade Greek pastries at Zotos Cafe

Delicious homemade Greek pastries at Zotos Cafe

A Visit to Oia.  Having said this, the village of Oia, located on the northwestern end of Santorini, is magical. I always like to visit during the day and also in the evenings.  Oia is special (fun fact: the house that the Summer Lovers characters lived in is located in Oia, not Fira).  Oia is a sleepier, quieter version of Fira. Here you’ll find those red cliffs, white windmills, and blue-domed churches from the postcards.  It’s famous for its sunsets and great for honeymooners.  You can find smaller art galleries and many unique shops in Oia. Oia is a short bus ride away from Fira, a must see.

Beautiful Oia

Beautiful Oia

Summer Lovers house...

Summer Lovers house…

Breakfast with a View.  Many of the hotels in Fira and Oia have rooms with a view to the caldera.  There are many other areas in Santorini where you can stay as well, such as Perissa or Kamari, if you prefer to stay near the beach.  But in my humble opinion, there is nothing quite like opening up your window and seeing the beautiful blue waters and the gorgeous views of the caldera and the cliffside town.  Many of the hotels will serve you breakfast on the terrace outside of your room, so you can enjoy these views, while having your meal.  My husband always says that he could spend an entire day just sitting in a café or in one of the hotel balconies, overlooking the caldera and taking in this view. Absolutely magnificent!

Breakfast on our terrace, priceless.

Breakfast on our terrace, priceless.

Dinner at Sunset.  Similar to the views in the morning, Santorini is famous for its gorgeous sunsets.  Fira and Oia both have plenty of cafes and restaurants that advertise their sunsets. Many people flock to the old Kasteli (Castle) of Agios Nikolaos in Oia, which has become the most desired spot for sunset watching.  It can also get pretty crowded, so get there early to claim a spot.  You can also catch the sunset with no obstructions, by walking the northwest end of the village above the steps leading down to Amoudi and find a place to park yourself.   While most folks prefer to watch the sunset in Oia, I have also seen the sunsets in Fira, and they are just as amazing. And watching the sunset while enjoying your dinner with a glass of wine is an experience all on its own!

Our daughter taking in the view...

Our daughter taking in the view…

The beautiful sunset...

The beautiful sunset…

The crowds forming to watch the sunset...

The crowds forming to watch the sunset…

Blue Domes Everywhere.  And then of course…there are the numerous, beautiful, blue domed churches that the island is famously known for.  Almost everywhere you look, in every town throughout the island you can’t miss these brilliant, blue domes!  Most of these churches are open during the day, stop in and take a look, they are just as beautiful inside as well.  One of my favorites is the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in the center of Fira.

Dome Collage

The many domes of Santorini!

Some more fun things to do while visiting Santorini:

  • Visit Akrotiri, the ancient and fascinating archaeological site.
  • Spend a day at one of the beaches, Perissa and Red Beach are my favorites.
  • Take a donkey ride or cable car from the port up to town.
  • Rent a scooter or ATV and spend the day cruising the island.
  • Relax with a kissing fish spa pedicure (yes folks I tried this and actually liked it).
  • Visit one of the island’s wineries, Boutari is my favorite.
  • Visit the traditional village of Megalochori.
  • Visit the Argyros Mansion in the town of Messaria.
  • Take a boat ride out to the volcano, Santorini should be viewed from the water.
  • And for those of you traveling with small kids, you can always spend an afternoon at the Perissa Water Park, although it’s just a very large pool with a few water slides!

Here are a few more photos for your enjoyment:

Our hotel this year...Adamis Majesty Suites, perfect location!

Our hotel this year…Adamis Majesty Suites, perfect location!

The largest church of Santorini, the Orthodox Cathedral located at the center of Fira.

The largest church in Santorini, the Orthodox Cathedral located at the center of Fira.

Hubby and daughter taking off on their ATV adventure!

Hubby and daughter taking off on their ATV adventure!

One of their stops...Red Beach!

One of their stops…Red Beach!

Beautiful shop in Oia.

Beautiful shop in Oia.

More of Oia...

Oia…

Fira at midnight...

Fira at midnight…

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

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More of Oia

The colorful ceramics sold on the island, hard to choose...

The colorful ceramics sold on the island, hard to choose…but of course I purchased a few…

Strolling through Fira

Strolling through Fira

Is Santorini on your travel bucket list?  If it’s not, it should be.  Have you visited this gorgeous island, I would love to know what you thought of it…

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Magical Mijas

Mijas is renowned as one of the most beautiful pueblos blancos (white towns) in the Andalusian province. Situated between Marbella and Málaga and high up above Fuengirola, Mijas is a beautiful picturesque typical Spanish village. When you wander through the narrow streets of Mijas you can understand what attracts people here. Despite its huge popularity with tourists, Mijas Pueblo has somehow managed to retain much of its traditional Andalusian way of life, along with all of its charm.

What a view!

What a view!

From the moment you arrive at the main plaza, Plaza de la Virgen de la Peña, across from the tourism office, you will immediately notice the donkey taxi station. Also available are donkey pulled carts and horse carriages. Needless to say, our daughter wanted to ride one of the donkeys. But you see, it’s not truly a ride, but rather a tour through some of the town’s streets, except you’re taking the tour on a donkey ride. And the worst part was, that my husband and I had no interest in riding these donkeys, so we had to put our trust in two American, sweet ladies that were going along with our daughter. Now for those of you that know me, being the most overprotective mother on Earth, this was a tough pill for me to swallow….but, hubby decided that it would be alright. And it was, our daughter had a delightful tour of Mijas riding a donkey, being guided by a total stranger, who assured me this was safe (I’ve noticed that I allow myself and my family to experience things on vacation that I would never try here at home in a million years!)

Donkey Taxi Ride

Donkey Taxi Ride

One of my favorite sites in Mijas was the Santuario de la Virgen de la Peña, (sanctuary of the Virgin of the Rock) built in 1586, a cross between a cave and a chapel carved out of the mountainside, dedicated to the patron saint of Mijas. Legend has it that the image was buried there for five centuries and unearthed by a builder whose children, who were shepherds, were brought to the spot by a dove. Nearby the chapel, lies the Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace, offering phenomenal panoramic views across the Costa that form the backdrop to the shrine.

Santuario dela Virgen de la Peña

Santuario de la Virgen de la Peña

Inside of the shrine

Inside of the shrine

Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace

Mirador El Compás, viewpoint and terrace.

La Plaza de la Constitución, situated in the heart of the village, is lined with artisanal shops, full of ceramics and souvenirs, as well as some cafes and bars. One of the shops we visited was Mayan Monkey Mijas (Plaza de la Constitución 421, but they recently opened another location at 15 Plaza Virgén de la Peña), the smallest chocolate factory in the world. This shop sells handmade chocolate and delicious ice cream produced in their very own factory in Mijas. We sampled a few pieces and they were mouth-watering. If you have time, they also give tours of the factory and allow you to create your own chocolate flavors. A great activity for both kids and adults. Definitely a place to checkout if you’re in the area.

La Plaza de la Constitución

La Plaza de la Constitución

Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory on Plaza de la Constitución

Another great spot in town is Plaza de la Libertad, where you can find San Sebastián Church, a beautiful 17th century church, located on the street of the same name, Calle San Sebastián. This street has become one of the most photographed streets on the Costa del Sol, as visitors find both the church and the typical street so pretty.

San Sebastian Church on Plaza de la Libertad

San Sebastián Church on Plaza de la Libertad

Inside of San Sebastián Church

Mijas offers many shops selling beautiful and authentic Spanish souvenirs, but my favorite shop was Lo Artesano de Mijas (Plaza Libertad, 3). This tiny store had the most beautiful ceramic pottery and plates, and of course I had to add a few pieces to my collection back home.

Lo Artesano de Mijas on Plaza de la Libertad

Here are a few more photos of magical Mijas for your enjoyment.

 

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Another quaint plaza

 

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Carromato de Max, the miniatures museum , we didn’t stop in but this made for a great photo!

 

Typical Spanish souvenirs.

Typical Spanish souvenirs.

 

Calle San Sebastián

 

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Enjoying the donkey tour.

 

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Typical shop selling souvenirs.

 

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Ayuntamiento de Mijas (Town Hall)

 

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Another typical storefront.

Have you visited Mijas, and if you have, what was your favorite spot in this tiny, magical white washed town?

The Island Cow

Whenever we’re visiting a new place, we like to try unusual or local restaurants. Every time we visit Sanibel Island, we make it a point to eat at The Island Cow. We like everything about this casual, beachy, cow-themed (hence the name) eatery. My husband always says this place makes him feel happy!

Fun for kids outside!

Fun for kids outside!

This quirky family restaurant has a fun vibe, with its cow decorations, funny signs, and claims that the food is “udderly great”. I especially LOVE this sign:

The menu here can only be described as extensive with items such as Seafood Fajitas, Steak and Cake (NY strip steak and their famous crab cakes), Moolicious Meatloaf, and Po’ boys. Let’s not forget the extensive breakfast menu, and the appetizers, soups, salads and desserts! We love to start with the basket of muffins they put on your table. They are really yummy, but don’t overdo it, you want to make sure you have room for the main dish.

Yummy muffins!

Yummy muffins!

For my main meal, I had the Islander’s Crab Cakes (I always order this), and hubby chose the “Fish’in Rules”, pick a fish from one of three groups:

Then choose how you want it prepared, however you want from broiled to barbequed, and then pick sides like cheese grits, island yellow rice or hush puppies. Whatever you eat, make sure you leave room for their famous Key Lime Pie, one of the best I’ve eaten in Florida!

Delicious Key Lime Pie!

Delicious Key Lime Pie!

The Island Cow is right in the middle of Sanibel on Periwinkle Way. Be prepared to wait a bit for a table, the place is usually quite busy, especially during the high season. However, the service is pretty good and fast, and if you get tired of waiting, there are plenty of games, activities and photo-taking opportunities available while you pass the time.

Here are a few more photos of this cute little place:

The Island Cow

The Island Cow

Colorful Adirondack Chairs outside

Restaurant Interior

Restaurant Interior Photo Courtesy of The Island Cow

More colorful chairs…

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The Island Cow
2163 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel Island, FL 33957

http://www.SanibelIslandCow.com

Have you ever been to The Island Cow…and if you have, what has been your favorite dish?

Marvelous Marbella

Costa del Sol…just the name makes you want to hop on a plane and go there! I’ve had the opportunity to visit Spain several times, even lived in Madrid for a short while when I was very young. However, I had never truly ventured into the Costa del Sol. My husband and I have visited Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Nerja, but we had never stayed at any of the beach towns in Andalucía before.  This past summer we finally decided to visit Marbella, and we were not disappointed!

Old Town

Old Town

Marbella is typically associated with millionaire beach mansions, crowded beaches and celebrity sightings. My Marbella experience was quite different…a maze of typically Andalusian streets with palatial facades, intricate wrought-iron balconies and a series of shrines and chapels, especially the old town (Casco Antiguo). Marbella’s old white washed streets and cobbled squares are among the most beautiful on Spain’s Costa del Sol. You can spend hours just wandering through the little pedestrian streets, full of boutique shops, cafes, and gorgeous buildings with balconies full of beautiful, colorful potted plants. It’s definitely an area suited for long strolls, and as always, do not forget your camera!

We stayed at the Marriott Marbella Beach Resort, and I highly recommend this hotel, especially if you’re traveling with kids. The rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable, we actually had a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment, with a large balcony.  The outdoor area is beautiful, with several restaurants, and a very large pool with slides.  Our daughter made several friends during our stay, and we all enjoyed all of the amenities throughout the property. The resort is about a 15 minute drive into the old town, but we had a rental car and there are various parking garages in town.  The resort also provides a shuttle into the old town various times a day.

Marriott Marbella Beach Resort

Marriott Marbella Beach Resort

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Buttered pasta for Carolina, pan-fried codfish with potatoes, calamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and white wine for hubby and risotto with stracchino for me!

At the heart of the old town is Plaza de los Naranjos, very picturesque, and full of shops and restaurants.  We got caught up in the liveliness of the plaza and decided to have dinner there one night.  Big mistake…as with most main squares in these towns, the food was not great, and the service even worse.  Marbella does have a great selection of diverse amazing restaurants, but make sure you do your research, and stay away from all the tourist traps. The cosmopolitan nature of Marbella means you will encounter people from all parts of the world. Dinner at Stuzzikini, a little Italian restaurant, was amazing with great food and very friendly owners. They actually came by our table and chatted with us, telling us all about their family business! We also had another great meal at Tempora Restaurante, right around the corner.

Stuzzikini Cocina Italiana

Stuzzikini Cocina Italiana

In Marbella, as with most European cities we have visited, residents praise the quality of life.  One afternoon, I was shopping in a little jewelry store with my daughter, just as the famous “siesta” was about to start.  The store owner was practically rushing me, because he had to close up for his 4 hour rest, and then proceeded to tell me that Europeans were not like Americans in that they work to live, not live to work (not the first time I  have been told this in Europe). I realized at that moment, that these are some of the reasons why we travel abroad.  We like to experience the differences in cultures, and in Spain, that includes getting your shopping done in the morning, as they will close the town down between the hours of 1-5PM! So, we happily headed back to our hotel and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon by the gorgeous pool area. Later that evening we returned to town for some more strolling and dinner.

While staying in Marbella, it is also very easy to take day trips to the other nearby towns of Torremolinos, Mijas, Fuengirola, Benalmádena, Puerto Banús, and of course, Málaga, which has the nearest international airport.

Here are some more pictures of our Marbella trip.  Have you been to Marbella?  I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

Tiled bench at Parque de la Alameda

Tiled bench at Parque de la Alameda

Typical street in the old town

Typical street in the old town

Typical square in the center of old town, with the beautiful Iglesia de la Encarnación in the background

Square in the center of the old town, with the beautiful Iglesia de la Encarnación in the background

Typical souvenir shops selling Sevillana dolls and cermaics

Souvenir shops selling Sevillana dolls and ceramics

Ermita del Santo Cristo de la Vera Cruz

Ermita del Santo Cristo de la Vera Cruz

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Sevillana dresses hanging from the balconies on Plaza de los Naranjos

Beautiful potted flowers

More beautiful balconies

Dinner at Plaza de los Naranjos

Dinner at Plaza de los Naranjos

A street named after me...

A street named after me…