Discovering the beautiful city of Porto

Chapel of Souls

Setting off for the city of Porto was the most unprepared I’d felt for an upcoming trip in a long time. Being pre-occupied with work and some recent family issues had meant I’d not done my usual research on a city. I had no idea what there was to see or do, no activities booked – my friend had even booked the hotel so I had no idea where we were staying even!

Annoyingly – but perhaps conveniently – we had plenty of time to research things at the airport that morning as we found ourselves in the now expected lengthy queues to get through security. Leaving us with little time to grab breakfast and a couple of essentials from departures, it did, at least give us plenty of opportunity to flick through a Porto guidebook a friend had lent us and to look up how to get from the airport to our pretty central hotel once we arrived.

After a quick flick through tripadvisor and a few travel blogs, we also made a hasty booking for a highly-recommended walking tour of the city for the morning of our first full day there in the hope that this would throw up some ideas for places to visit or return to in more detail.

Five minutes after finally clearing security, our gate was being called and we were soon on board and ready to go. A speedy 2-hours later, we were landing. Clearing passport control quickly, we soon found ourselves in arrivals and easily navigated our way to the station to pick up the metro line which would take us to the Bolhao area of the city where our hotel was situated. Once checked in, we took a stroll, heading straight away to a nearby church which had caught our eye as soon as we exited the metro station earlier. What made the Chapel of Souls church so striking was the blue and white tiles covering its exterior. The church was just as stunning inside and definitely worth a visit.

After visiting the pretty church, we wandered down Rua Santa Catarina, a pedestrianised street lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. Here, we couldn’t resist stopping at Fabrica da Nata, supposedly one of the best pastry shops in the city to get a Pastel de Nata – the popular Portuguese custard tart-style treat – from. After enjoying our sweet snack, we continued to explore Rua Santa Catarina. Turning right further down the road, we found ourselves stumbling across the entrance to Mercado do Bolhao, a huge food market with stall selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to cooked meats, pastries, traditional sweets and much more. We spent a bit of time enjoying the hustle and bustle of the market and picking up some healthy fruit snacks for later before continuing our walk, heading south towards the Douro River.

Tired from our early start and travelling, once riverside, we found a cafe bar to sit outside at for drinks watching the World go by for a bit before making our way back towards our hotel. From the riverfront, we walked towards the Luis I Bridge before turning away from the river to climb a series of steps tucked away up the narrow back streets passing small local cafes and bars hidden from the tourist trail along the way. From here, we wound our way back to Rua Santa Catarina.

After a bit of time relaxing and freshening up at our hotel, we went looking for somewhere to eat, settling on a nearby Italian restaurant for a pizza dinner followed by gelato from one of the many dessert stores along Rua Santa Catarina.

We awoke the next morning to rain. Armed with umbrellas, we set out anyway to find the meet point of the walking tour we had booked.

Above, and below, Bolsa Palace and Infante Dom Henrique Square

We made it as far as Sao Bento station before having to turn around as the rain became torrential and despite our umbrellas, we were soaked to the skin. Deciding we probably wouldn’t enjoy a walking tour in this weather, we contacted the tour guide to apologise for our absence and transfer our booking to the next day then sheltered in a local cafe grabbing chocolate croissants and hot drinks for breakfast before a quick return to our hotel to change into dry clothes and rethink our plans for the day!

Typically, at this point the rain stopped but worried more wasn’t far behind, we decided to take a tour of Bolsa Palace, Porto’s impressive stock exchange building. Luckily, despite nt pre-booking, there were tickets left for the upcoming English-speaking tour. With a bit of time to spare before the tour began, we took a stroll around the pretty Infante Dom Henrique Square in front of the building and across to St Nicholas Church, another pretty tiled church we had spotted from the steps of Bolsa Palace.

After a quick look around the church, it was time to make our way back to Bolsa Palace to begin our tour. We were taken in a group of about 50 around the building by an informative English guide who told us a bit about the building, its architecture and its uses over the years. Our guide also gave us a bit of background on some of the history of Portugal and the city of Porto.

Sampling a Franceshino

The tour lasted about 45 minutes and after, we made our way towards another, larger church we had seen nearby, the Monument Church of St Francis. Entrance to this church and its museum was ticketed but after stepping inside, we could see it was worth every cent! The church’s ornate, intricate interiors, gilded in gold (and giving the church its nickname “The Golden Church”), are breath-taking.

After our visit to the church and its museum, we were pleased to see the sun was now shining so we walked the short distance back to the River Douro to find somewhere to sit and have lunch.

Above, riverside again, and below, on the Six Bridges river cruise

We had decided that today would be the day we tried Franceshino, a (rather large) Portuguese sandwich which originated in Porto and, traditionally, contains layers of meat including ham, bacon, sausage and steak. The meat is topped with a fried egg then sandwiched between 2 pieces of white sliced bread before being wrapped in cheese and served in a bowl of a spicy tomato sauce!

Finding a local cafe with some outdoor seating, I ordered a traditional Franceshino and my friend a vegetarian version. While I’m glad I tried it, and managed to eat a large portion of mine, it definitely sounded better than it tasted, the spicy tomato sauce especially not being to my tastes!

Full from lunch, we took a slow stroll along the riverside towards the Ribeira area and with the weather now being so beautiful, decided to take a Six Bridges River Cruise along the Douro River. This short sightseeing cruise was offered by numerous companies with booths along the river front, all selling the cruises at similar prices. Some companies offered combo tickets including Port tasting or cellar tours but we opted to just buy a ticket for the cruise.

St Ildefenso Church

Despite not pre-booking, we were sold tickets for a cruise departing in the next 5 minutes and hurried from the ticket counter to board the awaiting boat. As we sailed along the river, there was a commentary telling us about the various bridges spanning the Douro in Porto as well as some information about Porto and the city of Gaia which lies on the other side of the river. The views of Porto with its colourful buildings were really pretty from the river.

Having walked up a long flight of stairs from the river front back into the city centre the previous day, today we decided to take the Ribeira inclined railway to the top of the hill. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped to visit the Church of Saint Ildefenso, another pretty church with a blue and white tiled facade. There was a small fee to enter the church but this gave us access to the church museum as well.

After a bit of down time back at the hotel, we went for a walk towards Praca do Municipio, a square overlooked by Porto’s impressive town hall then on to Rua de Galeria de Paris, a street famed for its nightlife. Being a Thursday night and not particularly late yet, it was quite quiet out and we found a nice cocktail bar to sit inside at for a few drinks before calling it a night.

The following day, we finally made it onto the walking tour we had delayed our attendance on from the previous day.

Passing through Jardim das Oliveiras on our walking tour

Our excellent guide took us on a detailed 3-hour-plus tour of the city, showing us many places we probably wouldn’t have thought to have known about or visited otherwise – such as a McDonald’s set in a former grand art deco cafe and now said to be the most beautiful McDonald’s in the World and Sao Bento station which we had passed a few times but not though to go inside – and gave us some ideas for places to return to later including the so-called “Harry Potter” bookstore, Livaria Lello.

There was also a lot of interesting information about the city, its buildings and UNESCO World Heritage status and about the history of Portugal itself.

The tour finished back by the river and after a snack from a nearby cafe, we decided to walk back to Livaria Lello bookstore. Along the way, we made a quick call into another beautiful church, St Antonio Church just across from Sao Bento station before hiking up a steep hill to reach the bookstore again. There was a huge queue outside the store with a 2-hour wait to enter but staff explained that if we booked online, we could probably get a timed ticket to enter within the next half an hour. Luckily, we had some phone reception and managed to get online and book tickets quickly; 10 minutes later we were showing our barcodes and entering the store!

A Pastel de Nata from Manteigaria

The store was really beautiful inside and its carved wood staircase is especially worth seeing. However, it was so busy inside, it was at times, difficult to move around the store, especially along its narrow upstairs corridors.

Following our visit to the bookstore, we returned to our hotel via a stop at Manteigaria, another patisserie whose Pastel de Nata came highly recommended.

With one final day in Porto, we still had lots to fit in, including returning to a few more places we had stopped at on our walking tour and now wanted to see in more detail.

Above, making our way to the cathedral tower, and below, enjoying views over the city.

After stopping at Mercado do Bolhao to grab some fresh pastries and fruit for breakfast, we made our way back to Se Cathedral. We had stopped outside the Cathedral on our city tour but wanted to see inside. With it being a Saturday morning, everywhere was a bit busier and there was a bit of a queue for entrance tickets but this moved quickly and we were soon entering the Cloisters.

From here we climbed some stairs up one of the towers for views over the city and looked around the small museum before entering the main chapel of the Cathedral.

Above, and below, Douro River views crossing Luis I Bridge into Gaia

Next up was a walk back towards the river where we finally crossed Luis I Bridge from Porto to the city of Gaia on the other side of the Douro River. The bridge has two pedestrian walkways, one at ground level and one higher up. As advised on our tour, we chose the higher walkway and this offered stunning river views as we made our way across although we did have to be careful of the trams which also used this level to whizz back and forth.

Once in Gaia, we took a walk along the river front from where there were beautiful views across to Porto with its colourful building facades.

Porto view from Gaia

Gaia is home to most of the region’s Port Houses and we had hoped to do a tour of one the cellars but we hadn’t thought to book in advance and with it being a busy weekend, everywhere was sold out.

Above, looking across to Porto from Gaia, and below, at Sandemans Port House

Instead, we popped into the foyer of Sandemans, one of the most famous Port Houses where there was a small museum which was free to look around before visiting its bar where we sat outside in its large courtyard area overlooking the river to purchase a glass of Port to sample for ourselves.

Crossing back to Porto along the lower level of Luis I Bridge, we walked to Clergios Church and Tower. The tower is visible from points across the city and for a fee, it is possible to climb a series of steps to the top to enjoy the views.

The joined churches of Carmo and Carmelitas

As we had been to the top of the Cathedral tower earlier that day, we decided against climbing this tower but the church was free to enter so we did have a quick look inside.

Not far from here was another church which had caught our attention on our walking tour, the Churches of Carmo and Carmelitas so we stopped by for a look in here as well.

The churches of Porto had all been so beautiful and this one didn’t disappoint either. Like many of the others we had visited, there was a small museum of church treasures to look around inside too.

Having eaten a large dinner in Gaia earlier that day, we decided to visit Majestic Cafe that evening for a smaller bite to eat. Not too far from our hotel, on Rua Santa Catarina, this cafe is said to be one of the most beautiful in the World with its decor reminiscent of Parisian Cafes from the early 1900s. It is also one of the oldest cafes in the city.

Being a popular tourist attraction, the prices inside are not cheap with a tea and a slice of cake costing me as much as a full meal in many Porto restaurants but you’re paying for the experience of dining there as much as the food so as a one off, it was worth it.

I was sad to say goodbye to Porto the next day. Having no expectations of the city before my visit, I was more than impressed by what I found and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a city break.

The Greek Cyclades – Exploring Central Crete

After 2 weeks, we were nearing the end of our first ever trip to Greece. Wanting to see as much as possible of this beautiful and history-filled country, we’d certainly packed a lot in. Starting in the Sporades Islands where we’d made flying visits to both Skiathos and Skopelos, we’d then spent 3 days exploring the fascinating city of Athens, sailed to the Saronic Islands and then moved on to the Cyclades making stops on Naxos, Iraklia, Koufonissi and Santorini.

Aposelimi Dam

Now on our final island destination, Crete – the largest of the Greek Islands – we had already made trips out to Chania and Rethymnom in the West and to Agios Nikolaus, Elounda and Spinalonga Island to the East of our base in the city of Heraklion. Today, we would be heading inland to Crete’s Lassithi Plateau.

Another escorted tour but this time with a difference – instead of boarding a huge coach, we would be travelling in a small group on a Jeep Safari with Crete’s Safari Club company.

Ancient Aquaduct

Meeting our guide outside our city apartments, we were once again driven out to the resorts to the east of us stopping to pick up two couples staying in the pretty resort of Analipsi. We’d be just a small group of 6 as another couple had cancelled last minute and with room in the jeep already quite sparse, we were quite glad about this!

Our guide outlined the day explaining that we’d regularly swap seats between the front and back of the jeep throughout the day to make it fair before we began our adventure.

After stopping at a viewpoint overlooking Aposelimi Dam and watching huge vultures circling overhead, we began to make our ascent upwards.

Views over Crete

Pulling over again, our guide pointed out the remnants of an ancient Roman aquaduct before we continued our climb to the traditional village of Kastamonitsa. Here, we learnt how laundry would have been done in ancient times before visiting a local cafe to sample olive oil and raki – a rather potent alcoholic beverage.

Above, the view as we made our way up the mountain, and below, visiting a goat farm

Despite it being way too early in the morning and despite not really being much of a drinker, I felt obliged to knock back the shot to accept the host’s hospitality but one was definitely enough!!

Back in the land rover and now sat up the back after a seat switch, we continued our climb driving up narrow roads with a sheer drop on the one side. This made for some spectacular views.

Our destination, at the top of the mountain, was an alpine goat farm and as we parked up and jumped out of the jeep, we were met by some friendly goats wanting to say hello! As well as greeting the goats, we learnt a bit about the farm and after seeing some of the home-made wheels of cheese produced on the farm, we got to sample some. We were even offered some more raki to wash it down with which, this time, I politely declined!

Leaving the farm, we continued along some of the ancient Minoan Trail and began our descent back down the mountain, stopping again to take in the views and get some photos.

Reaching the Lassithi Plateau, our next stop was at Vidiani Monastery where we had a bit of time to visit the 19th century church. Next up was our lunch stop and we were taken to a local restaurant where a buffet style lunch was served giving us time to chat with the rest of the group and swap stories of our time in Greece and on the island of Crete so far.

After lunch, we made our way to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Lassithi Plateau, the Cave of Diktaion Andron, also referred to as the Psychro Cave or Cave of Zeus as legend has it that this was the cave where Zeus, the king of the ancient Greek gods, was born.

Above, views over Lassithi Plateau from the entrance to the Cave of Zeus, and below, inside the cave.

After hearing the rather grisly story of his birth, we were dropped in the car park for the cave from where we had to climb a steep, uneven path to the cave’s entrance. After paying a small entrance fee, we headed down the steps into the dark cave, following a well lit path to look around before walking back downhill to our awaiting guide and land rover.

Birds in the fields of the Lassithi Plateau

The day now almost at an end, we drove through the Lassithi Plateau past farms and fields and even some old Greek windmills before reaching our final stop of the day in the town of Krasi.

Here, as well as finding yet another ancient laundry, we saw the oldest Plain Tree on the island, thought to have stood there for almost 2500 years.

Another ancient laundry

After taking photos with and of the tree, it was back into the land rover one last time as we were taken back to our various resorts.

The day had been really fun and it was interesting to see another side of Crete away from it’s resorts and Venetian port cities and towns.

Once back in Heraklion, we made our now daily trek into the main town finding a local restaurant to have dinner at followed by an ice cream and a wander down to the sea front as the sun started to set.

The following day, we would be flying out of Crete – and Greece – and returning to the UK but as our flights weren’t until late evening, we had the day free to explore more in the local area.

Above, and below, visiting the Archaeological site of the Palace of Knossos

We began our day with a walk to the local bus station where we caught the bus out to the Palace of Knossos. After reading advice on line, we had pre-booked tickets into the site and after seeing the huge line at the entrance, were glad we had. The Palace of Knossos is famous for it’s links to Greek mythology as beneath it, is where the labyrinth containing the Minotaur is said to have been.

The site was discovered in the late 19th century and excavated in the early 20th century. Unlike other archaeological sites we’d seen while in Greece, parts of the palace had been restored to show what they could have looked like in ancient Minoan times. We actually felt this took away from the site a bit although at the same time, it was interesting to see how it would have been. We were surprised at how busy the site was and it reminded us of our visit to the Acropolis in Athens a week or so before.

Despite booking an early timeslot, we had to queue to see some of the indoor areas and often had long waits to get the front of a viewing platform to see some of the ruins which spoilt our visit a bit. A late afternoon or early evening visit might have been a quieter time to go if we had had the time to fit it in then.

Artefacts at Heraklion Archaeological Museum

We had booked a combo ticket for the Palace of Knossos which also included entrance to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum so after leaving the Palace of Knossos, we caught the bus back into Heraklion city. The museum contains many of the artefacts found during excavations of the Palace of Knossos and gives a bit more background to the site so it’s definitely worth visiting both.

There were also plenty of other relics from archaeological sites around Crete including some from the Cave of Zeus we had visited the previous day.

Above, and below, exploring Heraklion

We still had some time left before needing to make our way to the airport that evening so following our visit to the museum, we spent some time walking through the streets of Heraklion city, stopping for some lunch at one of the many cafes tucked away down its backstreets, souvenir shopping at its markets and admiring its fountains and churches.

Above, Rocca a Mare Fortress, and below, wandering along the Venetian harbour of Heraklion

Our stay in Heraklion wouldn’t be complete without a walk to its Venetian Harbour so before making our way to the airport, we battled the howling wind to walk along the sea wall to Rocca a Mare Fortress and back.

Then, it was time to say goodbye to Heraklion, the island of Crete and Greece itself as our summer adventure came to an end. We had packed a lot into our 2-and-a-bit weeks in this amazing country but there is still so much to see and I hope to return one day.

The Greek Cyclades – East Crete and Spinalonga Island

The lake at Agios Nikolaus

We were coming to an end of our 2-and-a-bit weeks exploring Greece. But after island hopping in the Sporades, visiting archaeological sites aplenty in Athens, a day in the Saronic Gulf, enjoying the beautiful islands of Naxos, Iraklia and Koufonissi, hiking around Santorini and a day spent on the West coast of Crete, we still had much to pack in.

With a few more nights left on our final destination, the largest of the Greek islands, Crete, we would today be heading to the east of the island on another organised excursion on which we would eventually get the chance to explore the former leper colony of Spinalonga Island.

The town’s seafront

Our island base in the city of Heraklion was the first pick up of the day for the trip meaning a rather early start followed by a long morning sat on board the coach as we picked up passengers from the many popular coastal resorts east of us – multiple stops at hotels in the resorts of Gouves, Analipsi, Heronissos and, of course, Malia.

Having never been to Crete before, this did at least give me chance to size up the different towns and resorts and see which I might consider should I return to Crete for a more relaxing break one day!

Pick ups done and our tour guide for the day on board the coach, we finally got on our way towards out first stop of the day, the picturesque town of Agios Nikolaus. Along the way our guide explained that the coastal town’s main attraction was its lake which is now joined to the sea via a canal and that the bridge spanning the canal is the most photographed place in town.

The bridge across the canal connecting the lake to the sea

Having not had anything except a small bowl of cereal for breakfast hours and hours ago, we were rather hungry by the time we arrived so after being dropped by the small port, we spent the first part of our free time in the town looking for a cafe or bakery to grab a pastry or sweet snack from.

Mission accomplished, we made our way to the pretty lake where we sat eating our pastries before walking back towards the seafront.

The canal connecting the lake to the sea

After walking along the seafront, we returned to the port and taking photos with the canal bridge before wandering through the town eventually finding ourselves at a small but popular pebbly cove.

Then, taking photos with a couple of unusual sculptures which our tour guide had pointed out to us on the way in, we made our way back to the coach.

Above, and below, in the town of Elounda

Next up was the town of Elounda from where we would later be taking the boat to Spinalonga Island. First though, some free time to get some lunch. We chose a small cafe overlooking the front offering reasonably priced sandwiches and toasties and opted to sit inside to take advantage of some aircon for a bit.

After lunch, we had a quick walk around town before meeting back up with our guide and the rest of the group in time to make our boat’s departure time.

It was a short trip across the sea to Spinalonga Island, our guide giving us some background information along the way and I was surprised to learn just how recently it had been an active leper colony – the last inhabitant not leaving the island until 1962.

After docking at the island, we joined the short queue to buy entrance tickets and, at the advice of our guide, made our way around in a clockwise direction. While there were some information boards along the way round, we felt there could have been more along with a suggested route as there were a few paths leading off the main one up to view points and other buildings along the way.

On Spinalonga Island

We chose to stay on the main path to ensure we’d complete the full loop in the hour time frame we had before needing to be back on the boat but as this turned out to be more than enough time, we then used our tickets to re-enter and take some of the paths to see other parts of the island.

It was definitely an interesting place to visit and a bit different from the ancient archaeological sites we’d mainly seen on our trip to Greece.

On our way back to Elounda, our boat docked out at sea for anyone who wanted to do a spot of open sea swimming. Luckily, I’d remembered my swim suit so took a quick dip to cool off.

Once back in Elounda, we were given a bit of time to get any refreshments we needed for the trip back then it was back on the coach to once again drive through the various resorts dropping off passengers until we finally reached Heraklion again.

We spent the evening again wandering up into town for dinner followed by a walk along the main shopping street looking for souvenirs and an ice cream from one of the many delicious-looking dessert stores in town.

Tomorrow would be our last full day of our holiday and we had yet another excursion planned, this time into the centre of the island on a jeep safari and then with late flights home meaning we’ had most of the following day to spend have most of the day to spare, we planned to spend the following day in Heraklion and the surrounding area exploring a bit more.

The Greek Cyclades – Santorini

The view looking south over Santorini from Fira

Santorini was the island in the Cyclades that I’d heard most about and I was really looking forward to visiting. We were now over half way through the island-hopping trip to Greece we had planned having already visited islands in the Sporades and spent some time in the capital city of Athens – taking a day to island hop in the Saronic Gulf while we were there. We had now just completed a stay on the island of Naxos which had been my favourite location we’d spent time in so far and were boarding a ferry from here to Santorini.

Views from Fira

The ferry was much larger than the one we’d taken from Athens to Naxos and this time, there were no set seats, we could sit anywhere in the economy area. With a lot more options for food – multiple cafes and a fast food burger restaurant, we spent most of our time on board trying to decide what to get for a snack.

Once we’d arrived at the main ferry port in Santorini, we quickly found our pre-arranged transfer to our hotel which was just down a (rather steep) hill from the town of Fira. All checked in, we made our way into town having to stop multiple times to get our breath back as we climbed one hill after another in the blistering heat!

Not really knowing exactly where we were going, we wandered along the streets deciding to just see what we’d find. And what we found were people and plenty of them! The streets were crowded making it difficult to pass through many of the narrower streets or get near any of the stores – not that that really mattered as many of them were touristy souvenir stores all selling the same thing at slightly differing prices.

View of the Fira cable cars from the steps down to the old port

As one of the streets lead us out to a view point, we could see one of the reasons for the number of people around – three large cruise ships were docked near the island. After the peace and quiet of Naxos, it was a bit of a shock to the system to find ourselves fighting for space on Santorini and it didn’t endear me to the town of Fira at all.

Still, the views from the lookout points were pretty and we had plenty planned to see more of the island over the next few days so I was sure my opinion would change over time.

Arriving on the island of Nea Kameni

After a disappointing dinner – a pizza that tasted like the kind you buy frozen at a supermarket – we returned to our hotel to spend the last hour of sunshine cooling down in the pool followed by a relaxing night in ready for the next day.

We were up bright and early the next morning to ensure we had time to grab some breakfast in town before walking to the old port. Deciding McDonalds might be a safe bet, we were surprised to find it didn’t have any breakfast options instead selling burgers and fries even at 8am! Luckily, we came across a bakery nearby where we found plenty of bread and pastry options.

After gobbling these down, we began our descent down the clifftop town of Fira to the old port, navigating almost 600 steps and trying to avoid the hoards of poor donkeys and mules carrying tourists back up. It took a long time to make it all the way down and I was thankful that there was a cable car option to bring us back up to the town at the end of the day!

Volcanic landscape

At the old port, we met our tour guide for the day and boarded our pirate-style boat which would be taking us out to the nearby ‘caldera’ – Santorini’s volcano on the island of Nea Kameni.

It didn’t take very long to sail there and once we were docked alongside the many other boats also taking trips there, we had some free time to make our way to the top of the island, enjoy the views, see some volcanic activity and make our way back down again.

The hotsprings of Palea island in the distance

The walk to the top of the island, which is made completely of black lava, was easier than we had expected and the views of the volcanic landscape, the crater at the top and out across the sea from the island really were beautiful.

On the way, we could see steam rising from the ground due to the volcanic activity still going on there.

Back on the boat, our guide gave us a bit more information about the island as we made our way to the second stop of the day, the island of Palea. We wouldn’t actually be stopping on the island itself, instead, the boat docked a short distance out from where we could see the waters change to a rusty orange colour where the islands’ hot springs were. We had the chance to swim out from the boat to the hot springs – an opportunity I jumped at although, not literally, as many people decided to jump into the sea from the side of the boat, I chose to climb down a ladder into the water! ‘Noodle’ float aids were supplied to anyone who wanted them.

Looking out from the steps up to Thirassia town

It was an easy swim out to the hot springs and the water did feel noticeably warmer once I reached them. As I was one of the last off the boat, by the time I reached the hot springs, it was almost time to swim back again.

This was a lot more difficult as we were swimming again the current and I was relieved when I finally managed to grab the ladder off the side of the boat and begin my climb back aboard!

It didn’t take long to dry out in the warm sun and breeze as we set sail for our final stop of the day, the island of Thirassia. Here, we had more free time to spend. The main town was at the top of a cliff up a steep zig-zagging path similar to that in Fira on Santorini island but there were plenty of restaurants – both sit-down and fast food places – in the port area for anyone that didn’t want the trek up. Having found somewhere to purchase drinks and sat by the sea to eat the picnic lunch we had brought with us, we decided we didn’t have the time or inclination to walk up to town so after climbing the first section of stairs to take some photos of the view, we made our way back down to the port again grabbing an ice cream and walking along the coast a bit until it was time to board the boat again.

Enjoying the view from the cable car

Although we had no more stops to make, the day was not over yet as we took the scenic route back to Santorini sailing up to the town on Oia at the north of the island and making our way down the east coast of the island back to Fira enjoying the views of the white-washed houses and blue-domed churches on the cliffs above.

Once back on dry land, we took the cable car back up to Fira town and had a much more enjoyable meal – chicken souvlaki – at another one of the restaurants in town before returning to our hotel for another late evening dip in the pool.

For our final full day in Santorini, we had a coastal walk from Fira to Oia planned.

Above, the town of Imerovigli, and below, more views on the coastal walk from Fira To Oia

Heading into town, we quickly picked up the coastal path and began the 10km-or-so walk. Despite the 30-something degree heat, the beautiful views, especially in the town of Imerovigli with its white-washed hotels and houses built into the cliffs, kept us going and made some of the more brutal hills worthwhile in the end!

A well-deserved treat in Oia

When we reached Oia, almost 6 hours later, we were exhausted and decided to treat ourselves to a sweet treat of crepes covered in hazelnut sauce and with a dollop of ice cream from a local cafe.

Feet rested and fuelled up on sugar, we then spent some time exploring Oia.

With its mainly wider streets and white footpaths and buildings, first impressions of Oia were a lot more favourable than Fira. It was busy but didn’t feel quite as crowded. We found a viewpoint for its famous three blue-domes churches and grabbed photos, saw the castle from a distance and walked to some windmills too. We had originally planned to stay in Oia until sunset but had read that it got ridiculously busy around this time of day and could be extremely difficult to get a bus back to Fira at the end of the night. So instead, we decided to catch the bus back to Fira late afternoon, grab dinner there then watch the sunset from somewhere along the coast path near there.

The buses were already busy, even in the middle of the afternoon but we managed to get a seat on the second one that came along and were soon back in Fira. After dinner in Fira’s main square, we took a stroll to one of the many viewpoints over the coast to watch the sunset.

Exploring ancient ruins at Akrotiri

The next day we would be taking a ferry to our final island stop of Crete but as our ferry wasn’t scheduled until 4pm, we still had plenty of time that morning for some sightseeing. We had decided to use public transport to head to the south of the island and see the archaeological site at Akrotiri.

Having arrived back to chaotic scene at Fira bus station the night before, we should have been prepared for what would await us this morning. The bus station was more like a large car park with buses coming and going while people stood around here there and everywhere, walking out behind reversing buses and in front of buses about to pull away not knowing where they should be going. None of the bays were labelled and none of the buses or routes seemed to be numbered. Instead, whenever a bus pulled up and parked, the driver would just yell out its destination and there be a mad scramble to get on before all the seats went!

Despite the chaos and disorganisation surrounding us, we somehow managed to board the bus to Akrotiri. Once there we took the short walk to the archaeological site and spent some time exploring the ancient ruins.

The seafront at Akrotiri

While interesting to see, the museum didn’t take us very long to go round. It is possible to take taxi boats out from the small, pebbly beach at Akrotiri to visit Red Beach and White Beach, two popular Santorini attractions but unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time if we were going to make our ferry to Crete.

After my initial reservations, the island of Santorini definitely grew on me. It’s certainly very beautiful but I feel tourism has spoilt it slightly and the complete contrast to the slower paced Naxos island we had just come from made the busy, crowded streets of Fira a shock to the system at first. If I was to return I think I’d consider choosing a different part of the island than Fira to stay in and would definitely choose a quieter time of the year than the middle of August to visit! But there was plenty to enjoy and I was glad to have finally ticked it off my list of places to go!

The Greek Cyclades – Naxos, Iraklia and Koufonissi

On the ferry to Naxos island

Stop number 3 on our 16-day vacation to Greece was the island of Naxos in the popular Cyclades island group. It was an island I hadn’t even heard of before starting to plan this trip but one I was looking forward to visiting after reading lots of positive things about it.

Our lovely guesthouse in Naxos

Having started our Greek adventure in the Sporades Islands, we were currently in Athens and after a long daytrip sailing to three of the Saronic Islands yesterday, we were now on our way to another marina, or rather, the city’s main ferry port, Piraeus to board the first of three passenger ferries we’d be taking this trip.

Church in old Naxos town

The journey to the ferry port was pretty straight forward, taking just one metro line from near our hotel all the way to the Piraeus stop. Arriving in plenty of time, we grabbed breakfast from a cafe near the station before setting off to find our ferry.

This was a little less straightforward, the information on our ticket not being enough to identify our boat from all of those docked nearby. Eventually, we found someone to ask who pointed us in the right direction and find that point forward, we boarded without problems, a staff member helping us to load our luggage in the correct compartment for our port of call.

The remains of a Venetian Castle in Naxos town

Finding our seats – like on a plane, we’d all been allocated seat numbers! – we settled down ready for the journey only to find ourselves in the middle of chaotic scenes as other couples, groups of friends and even families with young children found they hadn’t been allocated seats together.

What ensued was like a game of musical chairs crossed with a jigsaw puzzle as we all tried to move around to accommodate those that had been separated. Realising it was a bit of an impossible task, we at were at least able to make sure that the young children were as close to their parents as possible.

The ferry ride was not what I had expected. I thought we’d be able to freely road the boat and that there’d be an outside deck we could maybe stand on if we wanted similar to when I’d used the ferries between the Scottish islands. Instead, we were encouraged to mainly stay in our seats – at one point told not to move around the boat at all as we hit rough seas – and while we could walk from one end of the boat to the other to visit the shop or cafes on board, many areas were out of bounds.

The sun starts to set with the Temple of Apollo on the hill in the distance

Naxos was the second stop after the island of Poros. The rough seas had delayed our arrival time by about an hour but upon arrival, we were still met by the owner of the guesthouse we’d be staying at who had offered us free transfers from the port.

We were actually staying within walking distance from the port but with it being on a slight uphill gradient to the guesthouse and as we were armed with our luggage, we appreciated being transported the short journey.

Walking back to town after watching the sunset

Once settled in and armed with the maps and information given to us by the guesthouse owners, we set out to start exploring. We followed the instructions given us to walk to the elevator which would take us up the hill to the old Venetian Castle at the top of Naxos old town.

The elevator actually led to the Archaeological Museum of Naxos – which was unfortunately closed during our visit – or to a rooftop cafe bar with pretty views over the island. Despite us not purchasing anything from the bar, no one seemed to mind us and other visitors stopping to take a few photos before we made our way out via the museum shop to the narrow paths old the old town.

Artefacts in the small museum for the Temple of Demeter

Unsure exactly where we were, we wandered through the pretty, winding streets, up and down steps and along narrow alleyways passing churches, guesthouses and galleries along the way. Being high up, we could often see views of the sea or the port so just kept turning in that direction and going downhill until we eventually reached the main street running along the sea front.

After stopping for an ice cream from one of the many cafes and restaurants lining the front, we decided to walk away from the main port following the coast path and we eventually found ourselves at the busy Agios Georgios beach. Stopping to rest for a while, we then retraced our steps back into town and followed the road from the port around the hilly old town back to our guesthouse to cool down in the air con for a bit.

That evening, we walked back into town choosing one of the many restaurants along the front for dinner and both ordering a delicious chicken souvlaki meal. Then we took a walk up to the Temple of Apollo, ancient ruins stood on a hill along the coast and a popular spot for seeing the sunset. While it was already busy when we arrived, we managed to find a spot to sit just before more crowds of people made their way up there. It really was a beautiful sunset and a beautiful spot to watch it from!

The next day, we had booked a rather reasonable day tour of the highlights of Naxos island. Meeting our coach by the ferry port, we set off for our first stop, the Temple of Demeter where we had a bit of free time to see the ruins and explore the small museum.

Next stop was out in the countryside in the small town of Damalas where we visited a small pottery store to see a traditional Naxos ceramic wine decanter being made and then stopped by a small museum to see a traditional olive press as our guide explained the process that would have been used to make olive oil.

Above, Monastery Panagia Drossiani, and below, exploring the marble town of Apeiranthos

After stopping at the beautiful church of the Monastery Panagia Drossiani, we were taken to the pretty town of Chalkio where we visited a distillery and had the opportunity to try citron liquor.

A ‘coffee stop’ in the village of Apeiranthos was next. Apeiranthos is known as the ‘marble village’ as most of the buildings and roads here were built out of marble. We spent the free time we had here wandering through the narrow streets and stopping for ice cream to keep us going until lunch.

The seaside resort of Apollon

The final two stops of the day were in Apollon, a seaside resort on the North-East coast of the island. First we stopped in the town itself where we chose one of the seafront cafes to sit and have lunch before taking a stroll through the town and along the popular beach.

Apollon Kouros

Then we stopped up the hill just outside the of the town to visit Apollonas Kouros, a huge, ancient statue which still lies flat on the ground having never been moved to where it may have been intended to end up!

Our tour ended with a drive along the scenic coast road back to Naxos town and after dinner at another of the seafront restaurants, we walked back to our guesthouse exhausted.

Arriving on the island of Iraklia

For our final full day on Naxos island, we had actually booked a trip to the nearby islands of Delos and Mykonos, Delos because it was home of another archaeological site we wanted to visit and Mykonos because while we felt we shouldn’t come to the Cyclades without visiting, an afternoon there would be more than long enough.

Above, and below, a blue-domes church on the island of Iraklia

Making our way down to the pier where our boat would depart from, we were confused to see it about to depart 45 minutes before the time we had been told. Racing down the jetty, we spoke with the crew who told us the trip we had been booked on had been cancelled ‘weeks ago’.

As we had had confirmation from the tour company with instructions on how to find the boat within the last 24 hours, this seemed strange to us but the crew told us it was nothing to do with them and we’d need to speak to the operator to sort it out.

Above, and below, on the beach at Iraklia

Googling the tour company’s name, we found it had a branch along the seafront in Naxos so walked the short distance there to explain to the assistant what had happened. It turned out the boat to Delos had been cancelled the day before and we just hadn’t been informed. The assistant looked into other options for us but it was impossible to get to Delos or Mykonos that day and back and still have enough time there.

Seeing we were at a bit of a loss with how to spend our day, instead, she suggested a boat trip out to the islands of Iraklia and Koufonissi.

Above, arriving on the island of Koufonissi, and below, lunch with a view

While many of the day trips had already left for the day, this one was yet to depart and we’d still have time to make the boat. So, unsure where we were really going or what there was to do there but needing something to do, we exchanged our tickets and made our way back to the jetty to board our new boat!

Above, the clear sea of Koufonissi, and below, walking along the coast

With everyone on board the boat in their swimwear, we had a feeling there wouldn’t be a huge amount to do to keep us occupied at either island and we were completely unprepared for a beach day ourselves having expected to be exploring the ruins of Delos that morning.

Arriving onto the island of Iraklia, we decided to walk up a rather steep hill to a viewpoint that was marked on google maps then returned back into the small town and wandered towards a blue-domed church we had spotted before returning towards the sea front, stopping to buy a drink to cool us down. We spent the last half hour of our time there sat in the shade at the back of the pretty beach until it was time to make our way back to board the boat. Iraklia seemed a lovely quiet spot to spend a relaxing holiday away from it all or a few hours on the beach and we wished we’d been more prepared to enjoy it a bit more.

Beautiful Koufinissi

Pulling up at the larger island of Koufonissi, we could see the large sandy beach in front of us but were hopeful that there’d be more to do in the town here to occupy us, starting with finding a spot of lunch.

Heading inland, we soon settled on a pretty cafe-restaurant sat up on a hill with a patio offering beautiful views over the bay and ordered sandwiches and drinks before wandering through the quiet streets past shops, galleries and more pretty blue-domed churches.

View of the marina

Leaving the town behind, we then walked down to the beach and followed the coast path past some rocky coves where we sat paddling our feet before continuing on to another beach further along the coast. The walk offered some really pretty views.

Returning back to the town, we had another walk around and up to another viewpoint before it was time to return to board the boat back to Naxos. Koufonissi was another really beautiful island and another place you could spend a really relaxing holiday getting away from it all.

Arriving back in Naxos late evening, we again ate dinner at one of the restaurants along the front before returning to our accommodation ready to pack to leave the next day.

With our ferry being early afternoon, we had the morning to spend in Naxos town. The owners of the guesthouse we were staying in very generously offered to look after our luggage and to meet us down at the ferry port with it later meaning that we could stay in town all morning and walk straight to the port without having to return to our accommodation to pick anything up. We spent the morning again wandering through the old town, getting lost in its narrow alleyways knowing that eventually all roads lead back to either the old Venetian castle walls or the seafront. Then after lunch at a cafe overlooking the seafront, we made our way to the main port to pick up our luggage and board our ferry to Santorini.

I’d really loved Naxos Island with its relaxed vibe, friendly locals and authentic feel and would definitely like to return there one day in the future.

A day trip to the Saronic Islands of Greece

Having never visited Greece before, I was eager to see as much of it as possible. Beginning our (mainly) island-hopping adventure in the Sporades islands and finishing in the Cyclades, we were currently at the end of 4 days in the country’s capital city, Athens, and having spent the last few days fitting in as much sight-seeing and archaeological sites as possible, we decided to spend our final day based there on day trip out to some of the nearby Saronic Islands.

Off to sea!

We had found an organised tour including hotel pick-up, transfers to the marina and lunch which would visit the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina all over the course of one day – a rather long day in which, being one of the first pick-ups, we had to be up at the crack of dawn to meet our coach transfer and were then not back til late evening.

Our coach was pretty much on time and having handed over our prepaid voucher, we settled in for the journey around Athens and its outskirts picking up more groups and individuals before dropping us at marina where we – and coach loads of other tourists – boarded a rather large boat!

Above, Kavos Castle on the island of Hydra, and below, views from and of the castle

By the time we were on board, space on the deck was running short but we freed a couple of chairs from a stack lying around and squeezed them in to a spot in the shade before settling sown ready to depart.

Donkeys and mules on the carless island of Hydra

The excursion was one of the most expensive daytrips we had planned while in Greece but what we hadn’t expected were the attempts to constantly upsell us. First, was the option to upgrade for access to a ‘VIP area’ – a quieter outdoor area and a more luxurious interior area.

Then, not long after departing Athens, we were all called, by the language we spoke, to a meeting in a downstairs room where we were told the day would be outlined and we’d find out the lunch arrangements. This was actually just a brief part of the meeting and could have been explained over the tannoy system. The main point of the meeting was to try and sell us a variety of on shore excursions including an over priced walking tour on Hydra and multiple, similarly overpriced options for the island of Aegina.

Having read that there was little to do around the port of Aegina where we’d be docking, we reluctantly parted with 25 euros each for a ‘scenic’ coach tour of the island, the other options being a visit to an ancient temple (we felt we needed a rest from ancient ruins) or a boat trip out to another nearby island for some beach and swimming time (we didn’t have any swimwear with us).

Meeting over, we headed back to the top deck where luckily, our seats still sat unoccupied and spent the next hour or so relaxing and admiring the scenery en route to Hydra.

Docking at Hydra, we planned to spend our hour or so there just wandering around and seeing what we’d find. We began by walking to Kavos Castle, a fortress and viewpoint on the sea front, before retracing our steps and walking along the seafront towards its clock tower, grabbing an ice cream from one of the many cafes. We then turned up one of the narrow side streets and wandered up steep steps, through winding passageways and up hills exploring.

At a viewpoint over Hydra

Hydra is a car free island and donkeys are used by the locals to transport good around the town. As we wandered, we passed donkeys carrying goods up to local stores as well as luggage belonging to tourists staying in town. We ended up at a viewpoint over the island and after admiring the scenery, made our way back down to the seafront and marina ready to board the boat in time to depart for Poros.

Back at the marina on the island of Hydra

Before arriving at Poros, it was lunch time. As we boarded the boat in Hydra, we were all given coloured cards indicating where on the boat we needed to go for dinner. Finding the correct room, we managed to grab a couple of seats together at a table and jump in the queue for the buffet. There was bread and a choice of fish, chicken, pasta and rice available, all of which was served to you rather than you being able to help yourself to as much as you wanted. You could then collect a sticky pastry-type dessert on the way back to your tables. Drinks were at your own expense. While what we had was enough, we felt there could have been a bit more choice.

Above, arriving into the island of Poros, and below, a quick stroll on the island

After lunch, we headed back to the top deck where we sat out in the sunshine as we sailed closer to the island of Poros. Poros was to be the shortest island stop of the day so there were no pricey excusrions on offer. We had been told there would be time to wither wander along the seafront or to head uphill to a viewpoint.

In desperate need of something to cool us down, we walked along the seafront buying an ice cream each by which time it was about time to be back on board the boat.

Our final island stop of the day was on Aegina where we had booked the scenic tour of the island. Disembarking the boat, we followed guides to a coach and we soon took off on a clockwise route around the island.

Above, pecan trees out of the coach window, and below, other ‘sights’ on our scenic tour of the island of Aegina

As we would our way along the coast, the driver started to narrate what we were looking at but not stopping and not always finding ourselves on the right side of the bus, it wasn’t always easy to see what we were supposed to be looking at and more often than not it wasn’t anything particularly interesting anyway – houses in residential areas are hardly must see tourist spots!

Views over Aegina

As we headed inland and uphill, the views did at least get prettier and the coach pulled over for a brief moment so we could take pictures from the car park the hill top. Shortly after, the coach pulled in at the car park for The Monastery of Agios Nektarios, a really beautiful church and religious monument of Aegina.

We were given time to go inside the church and look around before re-boarding the coach to complete our tour, driving back downhill towards the seafront and marina.

Stopping at the monastery on the island of Aegina

The coach dropped us in Aegina’s old town, a short walk from the marina where we were taken to a small, local restaurant to sample the seafood. From here, we made our own way back to the boat and with a bit of time to kill, we wandered a bit further through the pretty old town before returning to board the boat one last time.

The sun going down, it was another relaxing and slightly cooler trip back to Athens and we arrived just as the sun was about to set. Finding our coach in the marina car park, we had a long journey back to our hotel as we dropped off almost every other passenger before reaching our stop. It had been a long, but mainly enjoyable day and it had been nice to spend a bit of time in some of the Saronic Islands but the time in each place was often very rushed and I’m not sure the trip was completely worth the money.

If we were to plan it again, we’d maybe look into just doing a day trip out to Hydra ourselves using public transport to the marina and then the ferry there and back but at least doing it this way it was all completely organised for us and we got to see a few more places.

The following day we’d be leaving Athens some more island-hopping adventures, this time in the Cyclades where our first stop would be the island of Naxos!

A summer city break in Athens

Strolling through the Plaka district

After planning a summer island-hopping trip to Greece, we could see the only way of making our way between the Sporades islands we were starting at and the Cyclades islands where we would be spending most of our time in would involve passing through the country’s capital city, Athens. With it being a city neither of us had visited before and one that had long been on my ‘must-do’ list, it seemed silly not to extend our stay there to a few nights.

Crowds lining up to get ticlets for the Acropolis Museum

We both knew that temperature and crowds-wise, late July/early August was probably not the best time to visit this city but weren’t sure when else we’d get the opportunity so we planned in 4 nights there, staying in a budget hotel in the Omonia district – walkable from many of the main attractions and also near a metro line.

Taking a flight out of Skiathos to Athens at the break of dawn, we arrived in the city early and were surprised and extremely pleased to find that our room was ready for us to check in.

After freshening up and dropping our bags, we set straight out, walking towards the Plaka area stopping at a local cafe along the way for a pastry snack.

The narrow, bustling streets of the Plaka district were perfect for a spot of souvenir shopping and – with temperatures reaching their late 30s – grabbing an ice cream.

Passing by the Panthenaic Stadium on our evening segway tour of the city

We eventually found ourselves in the shadow of Athen’s most famous attraction, the Acropolis where we had our first glimpse of the Parthenon perched on top of the hill. Opposite, was the Acropolis Museum, a long queue of tourists winding its way out of the museum grounds and onto the main thoroughfare.

Luckily, we had pre-booked timed entry tickets to the museum and were able to waltz past the hoards of people waiting and straight through the main doors into the lovely, cool air-conditioned building.

The museum houses artefacts found on the archaeological site of the Acropolis as well as providing background information on the site making it well worthwhile visiting before heading up the Acropolis hill itself.

Views of both Mount Lycabettus and Acropolis Hill at sunset

After spending some time exploring, we exited the museum and walked down to the visit the ruins of a Roman village being excavated beneath the museum – something included in the museum ticket price.

Above, and below, exploring the ancient cemetery Kerameikos

That evening, we had a segway tour of the city booked which we hoped would help us to get our bearings and possibly give us some ideas on things to do and see in the city. Being unfamiliar with the city still and short on time before our tour, we opted to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe rather than hunt around for restaurants. Then we went to meet our segway tour guide.

Despite it being high season, we found ourselves to be the only people to have booked meaning we got a private tour. As it was just us, our guide asked us what we were interested in seeing, how long we’d spent in the city so far and tailored the tour to us rather than following the usual route.

The sprawling archaeological site of the Ancient Agora

Segways were a quick and easy way to get around the city and highlight of the extensive tour was riding uphill to a viewpoint over the Acropolis that we would never have found or thought of seeking out otherwise! Taking the tour in the evening meant we didn’t have the sun beating down on us although it was still uncomfortably hot at times.

Exhausted from a long day by the time the tour finished just after 10pm, we decided to head straight back to the hotel and continue our exploration of the city bright and early the next day.

In the museum of the Ancient Agora

Day 2 we ate breakfast at the hotel and caught the metro to the Monastiraki area of the city from where we would be spending most of the day visiting the city’s many archaeological sites. We had pre-purchased a combo-ticket giving us access to a variety of sites and we began with a visit to Kerameikos, the site of an ancient cemetery and well worth a visit if you have plenty of time in the city.

After spending some time exploring the ruins here, we walked the short distance to the Ancient Agora, one of the most important – and larger – archaeological sites in the city and a must see. The site includes a small – and thankfully air-conditioned – museum on its site and we spent a good few hours wandering through ruins of the old market area and up to the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best preserved temples in the city, still with its roof intact.

The Temple of Hephaestus at the Ancient Agora

There was little shade from the midday sun at the Ancient Agora site so when we left, we decided it was time for an ice cream from one of the many cafes and stores lining the streets of the Monastiraki district.

Once we’d cooled down a bit, we walked to the third site on our combo ticket, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman ruins of a library created by Roman Emperor Hadrian. This was much smaller site than the Ancient Agora and didn’t take long to walk around. Close by was the site of the Roman Agora, another smaller but still interesting archaeological site.

Needing a break from exploring Greek and Roman ruins, we made our way back to the Plaka district where we came across the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, one of the oldest churches in Athens. From here, we found ourselves in a more modern area of Athens, Ermou Street, a typical high street lined with all the usual stores. After visiting a few stores – mainly for the aircon! – and grabbing a drink from McDonalds, we found ourselves at the other end of Ermou Street in Syntagma Square.

Above, one of the oldest churches in Athens, and below, watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Passing the pretty square with its central fountain, we made our way towards the Old Royal Palace where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies. Traditionally-dressed palace guards constantly stand in front of the war memorial and on the hour, every hour, crowds gather as the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard takes place.

It was interesting to watch the solemn ceremony and as we wilted in our flimsy summer attire, I wondered how the soldiers coped stood in the summer heat in their heavy ceremonial garb.

Indulging in a peinirli at SMAK

After watching the Changing of the Guards ceremony, we wandered back through the Syntagma area towards Monastiraki stopping at SMAK cafe for a Peinirli or ‘pizza boat’ snack before heading back to our hotel for a few hours to rest our feet, cool down and freshen up.

Traditional entertainment at Greek night

That evening, we had booked a ‘Greek night’ – a dinner accompanied by traditional entertainment – in the Plaka district. Making our way back to Monastiraki, we wandered through the pretty, narrow streets of the Plaka and up a set of winding steps to the restaurant indicated on our dinner confirmation. Showing our confirmation to the host outside, there seemed to be some confusion after which we were eventually led up some stairs to a rooftop veranda where we were seated at a table with Acropolis views. It was not what we had expected – we had imagined the night to be some kind of group thing with everyone sat at group tables for the meal and entertainment – and when we were brought over our menus, we again showed our confirmation to check we were in the right place and to check what we could order.

Above, beginning our climb up Acropolis Hill, and below, visitng the site of the Acropolis

We were told what drinks we could have as included in our package and that we would be brought a selection of traditional starters then asked to order a main off the menu, both going with the pork souvlaki. The starters were all delicious but as our mains arrived, we could see into another part of the restaurant below where cheers and singing made us notice some kind of entertainment already going on.

Confused, we finished our mains before attracting the attention of a waiter and again questioning that we were in the right place for the package we had bought and specifically pointing out the ‘show’ part of our itinerary. After going to speak to someone, we were asked to move and lead back down the stairs and into the room where the dinner show we should have been in attendance at was in full swing! There was an empty table in the corner where we were told to sit but as we’d already eaten and food was just being served here and with everyone else at communal tables where they’d already had time to chat and get to know each other, we felt a bit out of it. We stayed for a while as traditional Greek songs were played and various dances including Zorba’s dance were performed with some audience participation (the one moment we were glad to be seated in the corner at the back out of the way!) and when we enquired about the dessert we had not yet had, we were bought a couple of baklava-style pastries on a plate but after a while, decided to leave feeling a bit like gate-crashers of a party we hadn’t been invited to!

Views from Acropolis Hill

An earlier night than planned did at least mean we were up bright and early again the next day and after another adequate hotel breakfast, we were up and out ready for a final day of sightseeing in the city. With it being early, we decided to head straight to the Acropolis thinking we might beat the crowds. We thought wrong as it turns out 9am is when most of the tour groups from the cruises come in and it was absolute mayhem!

A heavily scaffolded Temple of Olympian Zeus

Our archaeological sites combo ticket did at least mean we got to skip the lines and walk straight through the main entrance at the base of the hill and the walk up to the top wasn’t too crowded either but we soon reached the spot where the crowds entering at the ‘groups’ entrance merged with the rest of the visitors and the last few metres up to the Parthenon involved just being swept along in a throng of people while being barked at by the staff to ‘keep moving’ in a variety of languages.

Visiting the Panathenaic Stadium

The main site itself was at least large enough for the crowds to disperse across the space available so it was still easy enough to access the information boards available, get close to the ruins and take photos although there was a bit of a wait to find spaces at the viewpoints over the city below.

We then had to queue to exit the area and make our way back down the hill. It wasn’t quite what I expected and if I was to visit again I think I’d either aim for the very moment the site opens in the morning or at the very end of the day.

We still had a few archaeological sites to visit on our combo ticket so from the Acropolis we walked to the Olympieion or the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Unfortunately, the remains of the main temple here were under renovation and heavily scaffolded with just a few lone columns standing freely.

Visiting the Lyceum of Aristotles

Nearby was the Panathenaic Olympic Stadium, not included on our combo ticket but somewhere we had passed on our segway tour a few days earlier which looked interesting and worth a visit. The entrance fee to the stadium included an audio guide and rather than follow the instructions to look around the stadium as we listened, we instead found some shade to site in at the very back of the stadium and listened to the guide in one go enjoying the views over the impressive structure, site of an ancient Greek race course and host to the first modern Olympic games. The ticket also included entrance to a small on-site museum containing paraphernalia from the modern Olympics.

The Alice in Wonderland themed Little Kook cafe

The final site on our combo ticket was the Lyceum of Aristoles, a site which although it has a lot of historic significance, did not have much to see! After a quick stroll around, we caught the metro back to the Monastiraki district and from here took the short walk to the neighbourhood of Psiri, where we wanted to visit another place that had caught our eye on our segway tour of the city, Little Kook cafe.

Tucked away up a back street, this cafe spread out over multiple buildings is covered in Alice in Wonderland decorations with staff dressed as either the Mad Hatter or Alice herself. It was not the kind of place we expected to come across in the historic centre of Athens but it looked a fun place for a sweet treat. With ice cream, waffles, crepes, American-style pancakes and various delicious looking cakes on offer, it took a while to decide what to order but eventually, I went for a crepe with hazelnut spread and strawberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. What came when the order was served was that and so much more, marshmallows and colourful wafer pieces scattered over the creation.

Full of sugar, we waddled away from the cafe and back to Monastiraki. We had one more ‘must do’ sight on our list, a trip to the top of Mount Lycabettus, the summit of which is the highest point in the city. We had seen the hill from afar from various viewpoints around the city and now we wanted to see the city from here.

Above, the Mount Lycabettus funicular, and below, views from the top

Catching the metro to Evangelismos, the closest stop to Lycabettus, we then began our initial ascent uphill through a residential area of the city. We had no intention of hiking all the way to the top in the blistering heat but instead would be taking the funicular that ran at regular interval to the summit and back. Unfortunately, it was still quite a long, uphill walk to this point but we made it with plenty of rest stops along the way.

Once aboard the funicular railway, we were at the top in no time. It was relatively quiet at the summit and easy to find room to sit and admire the 360 degree views. Also at the top was a small church which we visited and a restaurant and bar for anyone that wanted to extend their stay.

Having taken all our photos of the city from above, we caught then funicular back down to the station and walked back downhill to the station, catching the metro back to our hotel for a well-deserved rest before heading back out for dinner in the Monastiriaki area.

The next day, although we would once again be staying in Athens, we would be taking an excursion out to the Saronic Islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina and the following day we had an early ferry out to our next stop, the island of Naxos so for now, our time in Athens had come to an end. Despite the often stifling heat, we had managed to cram a lot into our stay. I had really liked the city of Athens and would love to visit again some day.

A day in Monaco…

… and an evening in Antibes

Having won a 5* trip to Cannes in the South of France, it wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the most luxurious and expensive places in the World – the Principality of Monaco. Sandwiched between the French resorts of Cap d’Ail and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera, Monaco is actually its own country.

View of Monaco

Leaving our Cannes’ hotel bright and early after another delicious breakfast, we walked to the station and caught a train along the same line as we had to reach the city of Nice the day before. This time we continued a few stops further on until we reached the sprawling Monaco station.

From here we followed signposts pointing in the direction of the Prince’s Palace, stopping along the way to gawp in the windows of the various airplane, super-yacht and mansion-selling stores along the street – prices all on request, of course, because if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it!

The Prince’s Palace, Monaco

We soon reached a pretty and rather bustling square with a range of cafes where we crossed the busy road to the bottom of the hill leading up to the palace. As we made our way up the hill, we stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the picturesque views over Monaco’s waterfront, the built up city rising up into the hills behind it.

Crowds gathering for the Changing of the Guard

Along the way we passed the statue of the late Prince Rainier III, who famously married Hollywood star Grace Kelly before the path opened out into the courtyard. We arrived just in time to witness the changing of the guard, a daily ceremony held in the palace courtyard although with just 15 minutes to go til this began, it was difficult to find a place to stand from where we could get a clear view.

After watching the guards march and change places, the crowds started to disperse and we spent a bit of time in the courtyard from where there were more pretty views over the country. Leading off the courtyard were a series of narrow roads leading into Monaco-Ville, Monaco’s Old Town. The streets were lined with souvenir stores, cafes and restaurants – it was a shame we were still full from our breakfast as this would have been a perfect place to grab something to eat and drink, especially as the prices here seemed quite reasonable.

After weaving through some of the old streets, we followed signposts to Monaco Cathedral which stands across from the interesting building of the Palace of Justice. Although it was a Sunday, we arrived at a time when there were no services on so were able to have a look around the inside of the Cathedral.

The Palace of Justice and Monaco Cathedral either side of Rue d’Eglise
The Palace of Justice

The Cathedral faced out towards the sea so from here we crossed the road to the clifftop path and followed it in the direction of Monte Carlo, leaving the path to enter Jardins de Sant-Martin, a clifftop park with pretty views over the Mediterranean Sea, sculptures, ponds and fountains which lead out to the popular Monaco Museum of Oceanography.

Above, Monaco Cathedral, and below, wandering through Jardins de Sant-Martin

Unfortunately, we did not have time to pay the museum a visit and instead continued to follow the path back down to sea level and the Monaco marina.

Public toilets, Monaco-style!

With our visit being just a few weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix, preparations were already being made for that and the preceding E-Prix with many roads cordoned off to vehicles and bleachers already set up for fans to watch from.

This meant we were able to walk along part of the Grand Prix track as we made our way down to the marina area.

Above, and below, super yachts and views at the Monaco marina

The walk along the seafront was most notable for the abundance of super yachts docked in the marina. We thought the boats docked in Cannes looked expensive but they were tiny compared to some of the mansion-sized boats we saw docked here!!

Designer stores in Monte Carlo

From the marina, we found our way into the city of Monte Carlo where the streets were lined with designer stores.

After a bit of window-shopping, we found our way to the famous Casino of Monte Carlo, the setting of many a Hollywood film including a couple of James Bond films.

Outside the Casino of Monte Carlo

Unfortunately, we didn’t have our passports with us, a requirement of entry into the main casino, so instead we had to settle with a look round its grand foyer.

The infamous Fairmont Hairpin bend of the Monaco Grand Prix race track

With my friend’s husband being a big Formula 1 fan, he had requested photos of the infamous hairpin bend on the Monte Carlo racetrack. The bend was just a short walk from the casino and it was fun to watch cars carefully wind their way around the sharp turn.

Hungry by this point, we failed to find anything affordable restaurants in the area or any cafes at all so, not wanting to walk all the way back to the old town, we instead headed back to the station, grabbing some snacks from a store there to tide us over.

The city gates, part of the city ramparts

Instead of going straight back to Cannes, we decided to stop off at the town of Antibes, just a few stops before. From the train station, we wandered until we reached the Old Town where we found more narrow cafe and boutique store-lined streets opening out onto busy squares. Finding ourselves at Place Nationale, and hungrier by the minute, we decided to take a seat in the sunshine at one of the restaurants spilling into the square for drinks and pizza before walking down to the seafront.

While the restaurants here were squarely aimed at the tourists, there was a good atmosphere as everyone sat out enjoying their Sunday evening.

Dinner eaten, we continued our look around the Old Town stopping to browse in the stores and for ice cream along the way.

Walking along the city ramparts – view of Plage de la Gravette

Eventually, we found ourselves at the old city walls and walked through the city gate out towards the marina where more expensive (but slightly more modest than what Monaco had to offer) looking boats were docked. We followed a pathway along the front and up onto the city ramparts where we found ourselves overlooking the pretty beach Plage de la Gravette, still busy despite the sun starting to disappear.

Above, the Picasso Museum, and below, Antibes Cathedral

Continuing to walk along the city walls, we reached the former Chateau Grimaldi, which now houses the town’s Picasso Museum, and Antibes Cathedral.

As it was starting to get dark, we decided we should probably return to the station and make our way back to our Cannes’ hotel but we both wished we had had more time to spend in Antibes.

The next morning, due to another British Airways cancellation leaving us on an earlier flight than originally planned, we were up early for one last 5* hotel breakfast before being met by our private car driver returning us to Nice Airport. Here, our business class flights once again gave us access to the lounge before our flight was called for boarding and despite it not being long since breakfast, we certainly made the most of the buffet food on offer! It had certainly been an experience getting the 5-star experience on our trip and the attentive service, super-comfy beds, business class flights and delicious food was something I could definitely get used too.

Visiting the South of France – a day trip to Nice

Won back in 2019, our prize of a 5* trip of a lifetime to Cannes in the South of France had been a long time coming with various lockdowns and travel bans forcing us to cancel and reschedule multiple times in the intervening years but we had finally made it and after walking up in our luxurious 5* hotel room at the Five Seas Hotel, we were excited to see what was on offer at our included breakfast.

Once up in the rooftop breakfast room, we were not disappointed as we were greeted enthusiastically by courteous staff, shown to a table with views across to the Cannes sign in Le Suquet district, poured fresh juices and handed a menu each. On our table already lay two baskets, one full of fresh bread – crusty chunks of white French stick and slices of a seeded bread – the other filled with delicious pastries. Further to this, the menu contained a wide range of options from cereals to cheeses and meats, fruit and hot, egg-based options. Not wanting to come across greedy, we ordered a selection of cheeses between us to eat with our bread and a cheese omelette each with a side of bacon. The staff seemed surprised that this was all we wanted so my friend added an order of the salmon to eat with her bread and I added a bowl of fruit to my order along with a pot of tea.

The bright blue sea

Waiting for our choices to arrive, we munched on the light, flaky Pain au Chocolate pastries. As each of our courses arrived, we were running out of room on our table. Everything that arrived was just as delicious as the course before it from the tasty selection of hard and soft cheeses to what we both agreed was the best cheese omelette we had ever tasted. The fruit salad that followed, full to the brim with fruits including apple, kiwi and pineapple finished it off perfectly.

Fontaine de Soleil

We were on a schedule that morning having booked onto a walking tour of Nice, a 40-minute train ride from where we were staying in Cannes. With the Cannes train station being just a short stroll from our hotel, we had just enough time to return to our room and grab what we needed for the day before heading straight out.

Above, Nice Opera House, and below, my travel mascot, Mr Ted, visits the old sweet shop, Henri Auer

At the station, the ticket machines were easy to navigate and the station platforms well-signposted. The train followed the coastline offering beautiful views of sandy beaches and blue seas as we made our way into Nice. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day with rain forecast later. Pulling into Nice station, we followed google maps to the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, from where it was about a 20 minute walk down to the seafront.

Arriving early for our tour, we took at stroll through Jardin de Albert 1er, a small urban park dotted with sculptures, and along the sea front where I was surprised by the bright blue colour of the sea, before making our way back to the Fontaine du Soleil meeting point.

After admiring the fountain, which is dedicated to Greek god Apollo, we followed our guide into Nice’s old town stopping to hear about the old sweet store, Henri Auer, and the Nice Opera House before continuing to Marche Aux Fleurs, a bustling market selling flowers and food. From here we made our way to Place du Palais de Justice, a square in the old town in front of the courthouse and then to Place Rosetti where Nice Cathedral stands.

Enjoying views from Castle Hill

Our guides then led us along some more of the winding, narrow old town streets until we were back out at the far end of the seafront. Here, we took an elevator up Colline du Chateau or Castle Hill where the Castle of Nice once stood. Now, the hill is parkland with a cafe, children’s playgrounds and beautiful views over Nice.

Unfortunately, the occasional drizzle had now turned to heavy showers but while the views did not look much like the blue-skied picture in a complimentary postcard we were given, it was still pretty spectacular and our guides explained that the bright turquoise colour of the sea was caused by large grey stones on its seabed.

Above, and below, the man-made waterfall on Castle Hill

After visiting three viewpoints on Castle Hill, one of which looked across to the port on the east side of the town, our tour came to an end leaving us to find our own way back down to the centre of Nice. Before taking the elevator back down, we took the short walk to see the man-made waterfall built into the hill and visible from the fountain we started at.

Back down at the seafront

Back down on the seafront, the rain was getting heavier so we decided to shelter at one of the bars along the promenade ordering a few snacks to keep us going. The rain stopping again, we headed back out walking back through the old town and exploring more of its narrow streets lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Eventually, we ended up back out in the main town where we walked along Promenade du Paillon back to Fontaine du Soleil. With the rain once again getting heavier, we headed back into the old town and found a cafe to sit in and have drinks before looking for somewhere to eat dinner.

Place Massena, the square that is home to Fontaine du Soleil

With Nice once being part of Italy before joining France, there is a heavy Italian influence in the restaurants there. We had passed many lovely looking restaurants in the old town over the course of the day but now found many of them to be closed until around 7pm – by which time we had to be making our way back to the train station – so unfortunately, we had to settle for one of the more touristy restaurants near to the market area.

After dinner, we started our walk back to the train station only for a heavy rainstorm to set in. We arrived at the station soaking wet and were glad when we got back to Cannes and our hotel to dry out and warm up! It was a shame the weather had not been on our side today but we had still enjoyed our trip to Nice and our walking tour of the city. We had one full day of our trip to the South of France left and planned to use it to visit Monaco and we were both hoping that the weather forecast for a return to sunshine the next day would be correct!

A 5* weekend in the South of France

Cannes

Way back in 2019, I was lucky enough to win an online competition I’d entered for a trip to the French Riviera. The prize consisted of a three-night break in a 5* hotel in Cannes, business class flights with British Airways, private transfers and spending money. Inviting one of my friends along as my plus one, we arranged the trip for the following April.

In the BA lounge at Heathrow awaiting our flight

Spoilt for choice, we were given the pick of a range of luxury Cannes hotels and after a bit of googling, decided to go for the Five Seas hotel, a small, boutique hotel tucked away down a back street of Cannes rather than one of the larger hotels lining the sea front.

All set to go, things, of course, did not go to plan and with lockdowns and travel bans suddenly in place everywhere for the first half of 2020, we ended up having to cancel our plans.

Drinks on offer in the lounge

Thankfully, the prize promoters were willing to honour the prize and, naively expecting things to have returned to normal within a few months, we rescheduled for September 2020. And then, with PCR testing, travel bans, lock downs etc etc still being a threat to travel abroad, we rescheduled again to April 2021. And then to September 2021. And then to April 2022.

We were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it there but it was fifth time lucky and the other weekend, we finally got to the point of packing our suitcases ready to head to Heathrow airport!

Even at this point, things were not plain sailing. We had booked an early afternoon flight back from Nice which would give us the morning in Cannes but just weeks before we were due to travel, the promoters informed us that this flight had been cancelled by BA and we had been put on a morning flight, our transfer from the hotel to the airport now scheduled for a disappointing 8.30am.

Above, a late night arrival in Nice, and below, transferring to our luxury hotel the next morning

But being a freebie, we couldn’t really complain and we had at least booked the early morning flight into Nice giving us most of that day there to get to and explore Cannes.

Or at least that was the plan. With flight cancellations amongst other problems at UK airports being heavily in the news during the school Easter holidays, and BA often being mentioned as an airline cutting flights, I was keeping a close eye on the flights we were booked on.

On the Wednesday, just 2 days before we were due to fly on the Friday morning, and a day before we departed for London to stay in an airport hotel overnight, I happened to check on the status of our outbound flight only to see it listed as cancelled. Not only that but when we signed into the BA website, we had been bumped onto the 9pm flight which didn’t arrive in Nice until 00:05 Saturday morning.

Managing to get hold of the promoters, we came up with a plan to transfer onto the 9pm flight but on the Thursday night. We would then cancel our London airport hotel, instead booking a similarly priced hotel at Nice airport before transferring to our Cannes hotel on Friday morning as originally planned. It was a long night as we wondered if the promoters would successfully be able to arrange this with their flight providers but the next morning, just hours before we left for London, we got a phone call back saying it had all been arranged!

Strolling along La Croisette in Cannes

Since my friend and I were travelling from different parts of the UK, we’d decided to use our UK transfers allowance on trains instead of private transfers, opting to upgrade to first class in line with the theme of the weekend. Once in London, we used the tube to travel to the airport, deciding to put the remainder of the UK transfer money in with our spending money for Cannes.

After using the self-service bag drop off machines at Terminal 5, our business class tickets came with fast track security passes and we were soon in the departures lounge a full 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. We had done a bit of research on the airport lounges available to us and decided to follow the signs to the BA South Galleries Lounge.

We were surprised at how large the lounge was, with a range of seating options many next to a charge point for phones or laptops etc. Food was being served from a central kitchen and a variety of snacks including crisps, pretzels and biscuits lay at self-service areas alongside bar areas with champagne, wine, beers and soft drinks which were also all ‘help yourself’. Self-service hot drinks machines also sat in every section of the lounge so you never had far to walk to get what you wanted.

At the market

Finding a quiet, cosy corner to sit in, we scanned the QR code on the table to access the menu ordering the steak and ale pie with mash each before helping ourselves to drinks. Within minutes, our food was delivered to our table. We spend the next few hours eating our way through the menu and the tasty treats dotted around the lounge before deciding to take a walk to check out some of the other lounges available to us.

We ended up in the BA North Galleries Lounge, smaller version of the the South Galleries but with a better view of the runways so we spent some time sat watching the planes come in to land as the sun set until it was time to board.

Above, down by the beach in Cannes, and below, on a hilltop in Le Suquet district enjoying the views

Expecting to get just a snack on board as part of our business class ticket, we were surprised to find it was a full meal. I was quite pleased that neither of the choices – salmon or quinoa, were things I ate or I’d have probably eaten it despite being full from the offerings in the lounge. Instead, I politely declined, settling for drink.

Once at Nice airport, we quickly passed through immigration and collected our luggage before crossing the road to our hastily booked airport hotel. The room at the Campanile was cheap but cheerful and fine for the few hours we needed before our transfer to Cannes the next day.

The next morning, we were promptly met outside the hotel by our driver to take us to our Cannes hotel. Luggage taken off us and lifted into the car, doors held open for us and complimentary bottles of water placed before us, this was very different to our usual experience of dragging our luggage to the nearest station or shuttle stop, jumping on a busy train and trying to find our own way through an unfamiliar city to a budget hotel!

Back in Le Suquet admiring the views

Instead, 45 minutes later, we pulled up at the door of the Five Seas Hotel. Before we could even undo our seatbelts, various staff members were surrounding the car emptying it of our luggage and holding doors open for us. As we walked into the foyer, we could see our luggage safely lined up against the wall waiting to be taken to our room.

We were greeted by a series of friendly faces, invited to take a seat on cosy furniture in the foyer and offered complimentary water or juices as someone checked us in. Despite it not even being 11am, we were then told our room was ready. Expecting to be given our room number, key and be sent on our way, we were surprised when we were instead led to the lift – which was called for us, doors held open when it arrived – and taken to our room, given a tour of its facilities and having all the hotel facilities explained to us.

The room was lovely with a free minibar containing snacks and soft drinks, a large bathroom and separate wardrobes amongst other features. Once settled in, we headed out to explore. We had a vague plan for the trip to try and see as much as possible of Cannes that day then to use the local trains to visit Nice, Monaco and Antibes on the other two days.

The Cannes sign in Le Suquet district

Making our way down to La Croisette, the long promenade, we strolled along the front for a bit before deciding to head back into the town to find some lunch. Here, we stumbled across Marche Forville, an indoor market which today was filled with various street food vendors. Grabbing some homemade bruschetta and a savoury pie to eat on the go, we continued to walk through the town, soon finding ourselves on the main high street.

Resting from the steep walk up to the hilltop viewpoint

After some window shopping, we returned to the seafront grabbing an ice cream from one of the many gelato vendors on offer before deciding to hop on to Le Petit Train de Cannes, a cute land train that takes tourists around the main parts of the town while a pre-recorded commentary plays.

The train took us down the far end of La Croisette, the commentary pointing out the many famous hotels which various celebrities have frequented over the years.

Back down by the sea front

Much of La Croisette promenade looked like a construction site during our stay as the town raced to make itself presentable in time for the upcoming film festival and as we passed churned up pavement after churned up pavement, we wondered how it would ever be ready on time! Even some of the famous hotels and venues such as the iconic Carlton Hotel and the infamous Palm Club, were currently closed for renovations.

It was a shame the train didn’t have a hop on/off option like tourist buses but it was still fun to get a glimpse of the highlights of Cannes and learn something about what we were seeing.

Down by the beach

The train did make one stop, at the top of the hill in Le Suquet district – the old town with winding, narrow roads and colourful houses – outside L’Eglise Notre-Dame d’Esperance. Given 10 minutes until we were told the train would depart for the rest of the tour, this was long enough to visit the church and walk up to the walled viewpoint for beautiful views across Cannes.

Hopping back onto the train at the sound of its bell being rang, we both agreed we would walk back to Le Suquet district after the tour and explore further so after we pulled up back at the seafront station, this is exactly what we did.

Above, the famous Carlton Hotel, and below, drinks at its rather pricey beach club

Finding a bar in one of the street’s there, we sat and had drinks, people watching for a while before continuing to wander, eventually finding ourselves back on the hilltop. With more time to spare, this time we walked up to the higher viewpoint by a sculpture of huge letters spelling out Cannes and then into the gardens of the neighbouring Musee de l’explorations du Monde before heading back downhill taking narrow street after narrow street until we happened to see the sea glistening in front of us.

Passing by Palais des Festivals, site if the Cannes Film Festival

Finding ourselves at the western end of the bay by the Port of Cannes, we strolled out along on of the jetties, looking back at the town and enjoying the views before walking back into town to look for somewhere to have dinner. Menus at the more touristy restaurants were not too badly priced although a bit more than I was used to and at over 20 euros each for a margarita pizza and soft drink, I was still glad we had been given spending money for our trip as part of the prize!

Posing on the red carpet

After dinner, we walked back to La Croisette and walked further east along the promenade as far as the Carlton Hotel. It was a nice evening and the sun was starting to set so we decided to look for somewhere outside to sit and have drinks. With the Carlton Hotel closed for renovations, its beach bar was open to all. Glancing at the over-priced menu, we immediately dismissed it and continued to walk before stopping and turning around. Being used to travelling on a budget, if this was our own money, there’s no way we’d ever consider visiting such an expensive bar but we’d been given spending money to live the life on this trip so we decided maybe, as a one off, we should just forget the cost of the drinks and go for the experience.

Ending the evening at our hotel’s rooftop bar

After taking seats on the cosy loungers on the beach, we perused the menu and ordered. There was a good atmosphere with mellow trance music being played from the main bar area and a few groups of people sat dotted around at the various tables or at the bar and it was nice to relax with drinks as the sun started to go down. The ambience was spoiled slightly by pigeons jumping onto our table and stealing the complimentary nuts we’d been brought with our drinks and we noticed other tables having a similar problem. While we sat, some of the bar’s patrons got up to walk along the jetty and take photos and once we’d finished our drinks, we decided to do the same.

Back at our hotel, we freshened up before visiting its rooftop bar. With prices not far off those at the Carlton Beach Bar, we didn’t stay for long but the service from the staff serving, like everything else at the hotel, was impeccable.

It’d been a fun first day in the South of France and after all the walking we were more than ready to take to our uber-comfy beds, ready to see what the next two days – which we planned to spend in Nice and Monaco – would bring.