Earlier this year I embarked on a European holiday with my husband. We began in Italy and in the last few weeks I've taken you to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, our favourite part of Italy (so far). After farewelling my beloved Sorrento we travelled up to Rome where we were boarding a cruise ship for ten nights on the Mediterranean.

I've always been reluctant to book a cruise, believing it's not my sort of holiday. But despite my reservations I was excited about the adventure ahead (I'll give you the lowdown on cruising in a later post).

Our first excursion - Mykonos.

After thirty-six hours at sea sailing from the south of Italy to the Greek Islands we were looking forward to disembarking for a day in the Greek sunshine.

This was not my first time to the Greek Islands – it’s a favourite destination for a holiday in the sun. But it was the first time my husband and I had been to Mykonos. For this reason we decided to book ourselves on a tour. Can’t say in general I’m a great fan of guided tours. I like to find my own way and discover a place for myself – even it means getting a little lost along the way.

Confession time – there is no way we would have seen the things we did had we not been on a guided tour.

Our bus took us first to Kalafatis Beach, one of the largest bays on the island. Apparently it’s rather popular with windsurfers when the breeze gets up but on the morning we were there it was quiet and peaceful; a beautiful spot that epitomised the best of the Greek Islands’ beaches.

We then moved on to the small town of Ano Mera, a village more traditional than the tourist hotspots that are full of restaurants and nightlife. On arriving in the village, we first visited the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani. The monastery was originally built in 1542 and then restored in 1767 at which time it took on its present-day name. Stepping into the outer courtyard the outside world immediately faded – a beautiful and tranquil place.

As we stood admiring our surroundings we were lucky enough to briefly meet the sole resident monk along with one of the local women who volunteer to help with the upkeep. There was a lovely sense of community and real village life.

Inside the monastery was surprising. Immediately my eye was drawn to the massive ornate altar screen with its many icons that dates back to the eighteenth century. Very impressive.

After leaving the monastery we spent a little more time in Ano Mera. Our guide took us on a scheduled stop to a local café where we were served coffee with traditional Greek pastries. Our guide explained that according to Greek tradition if you come into someone’s home and are offered food or drink your host would be offended if you declined. In other words – “not for me, thanks” – was out of the question. But always happy to try something new I had no intention of declining in any case. The coffee was good and the pastries deliciously sweet and dripping with honey.

I consider our time spent at Ano Mera was where we benefited most from being on a tour. Left to our own devices we would never had made it to this charming village. What a shame it would have been to miss it.

After leaving Ano Mera it was time to head into Mykonos town for a walking tour. The main town is more reminiscent of Greek holidays in the sun – whitewashed buildings, narrow and twisting cobbled streets, shops, restaurants, cafes. It had a great vibe. You could easily while away a few hours exploring, ducking in and out of shops, stopping for delicious Greek cuisine.

Our guide led us through the streets to the Old Harbour, which was once again bustling and lively. Lined with restaurants there was plenty of al fresco eating. He also showed us the area known as Little Venice. The buildings sit directly on the sea’s edge, their balconies overhanging the water. I loved the vibrant colours of the shutters.

Our last stop was the Church of Panagia Paraportiani. This is apparently the most photographed structure in Mykonos. The church was begun in 1425 but it took almost 300 years before it was finally finished. It’s unique by the fact that it consists of five churches that were built on top of or next to each other. The whitewashed structure is stunning against the backdrop of the Aegean.

After parting with our guide, who incidentally had been excellent, it was time to do some exploring of our own. I do love the towns and villages of the Greek Islands. They have a beauty and atmosphere that is all their own. And on such a glistening cloudless day it seemed a perfect place to be.

When it was time for a refreshment stop I ordered a glass of the local white – a tradition of mine whenever I’m abroad. Cold and crisp, it was just the ticket as we sat at a small table outside and watched the world go by.

Neither of us were particularly hungry – perhaps it was the heat or perhaps it was those delicious Greek pastries we’d had for morning tea – so we didn’t order but I can tell you that the food being delivered to the tables around us looked fantastic. By the time we returned to the ship I had major regrets about missing out on the local cuisine.

But what a fantastic day and what a great first excursion.

When we returned home to New Zealand I got busy in the kitchen recreating some of the amazing food we'd eaten. First up was a delicious Greek salad with spiced lamb loins.

Click below to see my post for this delicious recipe.


Published by Tracey O'Brien