The Greek Islands may just be the definition of a dream destination. In the Cyclades, a famous group of islands, you can find it all: beaches, mountains and villages filled with pristine whitewashed buildings. But if you plan your trip to Greece right, you’ll also be able to learn more about yourself.
In May, we had the opportunity to experience Mediterranean island life through an REI Adventures trip. Over the course of nine days, we visited Athens and the islands of Tinos, Naxos and Santorini. From a tour of the Acropolis of Athens to the Mediterranean beaches and stunning vistas from our hikes (and all of the delicious food in between), the Greek Islands Women’s Adventure offered an opportunity to explore the country’s history, culture and unrivaled natural beauty. We also had time to enjoy the company of the 14 other women on the trip.
Our REI guides, Nefeli and Anastasia, curated the adventure to showcase Greece through the eyes of a local, allowing us to venture beyond the typical tourist destinations.
Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from our experience.
Our trip began in Athens, the capital of Greece. We quickly fell in love with the city’s culture and enjoyed long lunches in the historic Plaka neighborhood, sipping cocktails on patios in Psyri and walking on Plexiglas instead of sidewalks to preserve the ancient ruins below the city.
One of our first adventures was a guided tour of the Acropolis of Athens, which gave us an overview of Greek history.
When you’re travelling in Europe, especially in Athens, it’s important that you have supportive and functional walking shoes. When we weren’t hiking, we spent the rest of our trip in our Sorel Ella sandals. Not only are they cute, but they were the perfect travel companion because of the comfortable straps, which made walking on marble or uneven cobblestone streets much easier.
From Athens, we took a ferry to Tinos, which is often considered a religious destination, instead of a tourist one. According to our guides, there are hundreds churches and chapels located on the island, which is home to around 10,000 residents, and many Greeks make a pilgrimage to the island to visit a shrine, Our Lady of Tinos.
On our first hike of the trip, we followed a trail that took us through the hills and villages of the island. The trail has been active since the era of the Byzantine Empire, according to our guides.
With the mountainside scenery, our hike was much more rewarding than challenging. We saw a side of the country that typically only locals experience; this part of Greece isn’t often on postcards or Pinterest.
For lunch, we hiked the home of Miss Nikoleta, a locally acclaimed chef, where we learned how to make ravioli from scratch. We experienced Tinos’ slow, simple lifestyle—spending hours making lunch with ingredients from the garden and enjoying the meal and a glass of homemade wine with friends.
Each of the islands we visited had its own distinct vibe, and we went from the small-town charm of Tinos to the sandy beaches and bustling island of Naxos. As we sailed on the Mediterranean Sea past the famous windmills of Mykonos, we breathed in the fresh air and prepared for our next stop.
Our hotel in Naxos was steps from the beach, and we had some free time to soak up the sun and dip our toes into the Mediterranean Sea.
When we weren’t hiking, you could find us in our Sorel sandals. We walked more than 120,000 steps on our trip, and didn’t get a single blister. They really are the perfect travel shoe because you can wear them to the beach, walk into town and then go out for a night of dancing.
Sorel arranged an evening of traditional Greek dancing, where we (attempted) to master the steps. What we lacked in performance we made up for in spirit.
Naxos is home to some incredible and diverse hikes. On our hardest hike, we were challenged but found comfort in following Karla, a fellow trip participant and retiree from Colorado. When we were feeling unsure of where to step during steep sections, we followed in Karla’s footsteps. Step by step, rock by rock, we were following the path of a woman who came before us and helping the women behind us.
The final leg of our trip took us to Santorini. The island was formed from a volcanic eruption, so it has a completely different landscape than the other places we visited.
Our 10km hike along the coast of Santorini has to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. You start by walking through the whitewashed village of Fira and make your way across the island, up and down the cliffs until you reach the village of Oia.
As we climbed our final uphill of the trip, we could feel the muscles in our legs burning. We were sore, sweating and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Following in Karla’s footsteps yet again, she gave us a simple reminder: “Look up.”
Like hiking, travel can be adventurous, challenging and rewarding, but it can also be very emotional and meditative. We stopped often on this last hike, to catch our breath, but also to take in all of the beauty around us that it’s important to take the time to look up.
All photos by Local Wanderer