Having just returned from my trip to Greece, I can say without a doubt that it was one of my best travel experiences ever. My only regret is not having more time, which seems to be the case with most places I visit, though that's especially true when it comes to Naxos.
What I didn't expect was such incredibly warm, welcoming people. Everywhere I went, people were kind - they don't treat tourists like dollar signs (or euro in this case). While I'm sure there are exceptions, everyone I met was genuinely friendly, willing to help and offer advice. It was the opposite of the experience I had in Rome last year, where the goal seemed to be draining each and every visitor of their last euro, and there were countless scams and even the potential of being robbed just about everywhere you went.
In Greece, things seemed almost entirely stress-free. The only bump in the road, if you will, was taking a fall trying to get down a cove for a swim. My GPS worked perfectly, the rides I'd scheduled met me on time, in fact one of the drivers insisted on walking me directly to the ferry office to pick up my tickets and then took me directly to the ship and helped me with my luggage. I kept being surprised by little kindnesses like this everywhere I went.
While Athens is a large, sprawling city, the main sights are in a small, very walkable area, and easy to find. Seeing the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis and wandering through the National Archaeological Museum was absolutely mind blowing. You read about these things in school, and see them in documentaries, but there is really nothing like seeing a temple, statues, and countless other artifacts that date back so many centuries, in person. It brings those ancient times to life.
It wasn't easy choosing which island, or islands I would go to from Athens, but I decided on Naxos and Santorni, with 10 and 2 days respectively on each. It turns out, that was a very good decision.
I know, you've probably seen those stunning photos of Santorini for years, and have possibly even dreamed of going there. It's on practically every travelers' bucket list. And while it is worth visiting, I think 2 or 3 days is more than enough time. In fact, it may even be a bit overrated. I was there in late September, which is supposed to be the less busy time, but getting to places like the popular Red Beach and OIa village, there were so many people, it looked like the crowds at Disneyland. To me, that really detracts from the experience. I actually spent most of my time at my hotel there, enjoying a spectacular view of the caldera - it truly felt as if it was something out of a dream. I chose a quieter area of the island, Akrotiri, for my stay, which was at Kalestesia Suites, away from the majority of popular attractions. That was a wise decision, allowing me to soak up the atmosphere and just relax. And, the staff there make you feel like royalty!
Naxos is the island I fell in love with. It has everything - it's far less expensive than Santorini, there were few crowds, it has the most beautiful beaches in the Greek Islands, soaring mountains dotted with whitewashed villages, miles and miles of hiking trails, and numerous ancient ruins too. There is so much to see and do, 10 days was not enough, which means I will definitely have to go back. I hiked to the top of Mt. Zeus (or Zas as it's called there), I swam in crystal-clear waters that were a shade of aquamarine like I've never seen before, snorkeled in a cave, visited a castle, wandered through beautiful Old Town Naxos with its marble streets, and enjoyed some of the most breathtaking sunsets I've ever seen, right from the patio of my apartment at Iliada Suites.
And the food! Fresh seafood galore, including one of my favorites, mussels steamed in a garlic wine sauce and some of the biggest shrimp I've ever seen. Often times, the lavish yet very inexpensive meals came with a free dessert, usually fruit and a slice of baklava. Good thing I was getting a lot of exercise.
The next time I head to Greece, I'd like to visit some of the other islands, including Crete and Paros, and maybe even stay on the tiny island of Iraklia, a spot I visited on a sailing trip. But I will definitely be going back to Naxos.
While Santorini is worth visiting to see the caldera, I highly recommend staying on Naxos as long as you can. You won't regret it.