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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The best way to visit Meteora from Athens or Thessaloniki, including a stay at the Larissa Imperial



In Greece for the ninth time, living a Travelife, I finally decided to visit Meteora.

Meteora is not very well known to most tourists to Greece, as many people tend to focus their visits on Athens and the islands.

However, to me, Meteora is one of the most amazing sights in Greece.


I'd always wanted to visit Meteora, but the long drive from Athens or from Thessaloniki, which is the second largest city in Greece, always put me off.

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METEORA, FINALLY.
THE TRAVELIFE WAY

But finally, I made up my mind to visit Meteora on this trip.

After looking at this "project" from every angle, I finally found what seemed to be the best and most painless way to visit Meteora from Athens.

Or at least the Travelife way to visit Metora.

ATHENS TO THESSALONIKI
OVER THREE DAYS


Thessaloniki, Greece
If you're like me -- meaning you dislike long drives and you prefer to travel in comfort and stay somewhere in some kind of style -- then this is the best way to do a trip to Meteora, including Thessaloniki into the picture as well.



First, we hired a private car and driver to take us from Athens to Thessaloniki via the city of Larissa and then Meteora.

This entire driving trip took two nights and three days.

THE COST OF A CAR AND DRIVER 
IN GREECE


One of the monasteries in Meteora, Greece
Depending on whom you talk to, the rates of this car hire can range from about 280 euros a day to 350 euros a day, and you will have to negotiate the driver's hotel stays as well.

It's not very cheap, but if you want to visit Meteora privately, on your own time and pace, this is the only way to do it.

And if you are okay with these rates, this is definitely the best way to visit Meteora.



You can also self-drive, of course, as the roads are very good for the most part. However, navigating Meteora in particular can be a challenge, but not impossible.

In our case, however, we preferred to have a driver.

FROM THE SOFITEL ATHENS
TO THE LARISSA IMPERIAL



From Athens, our driver picked us up at the Sofitel Athens Airport hotel, where we stayed overnight upon our evening arrival in Athens.

The Sofitel Athens Airport hotel is so convenient for late arrivals, especially if you are headed onwards elsewhere in Greece, as it's adjacent to the airport.

The healthy breakfast at the Sofitel Athens Airport
was just wonderful.

The rooms are comfortable, the food is good, breakfast is wonderful, and the staff is very friendly.

Breakfast at the Sofitel Athens Airport had everything close to my heart, including Greek yoghurt, raw honey, fresh figs and freshly-boiled sage tea.

Wow, was I happy.

More on this in a later blog entry.

A STAY AT THE LARISSA IMPERIAL
WAS THE PERFECT BASE FOR METEORA


Anyhow, the drive from Athens to Larissa takes about 3.5 hours.

In Larissa, which is a pretty city with a nice pedestrian shopping street, we booked rooms at the Larissa Imperial Hotel

The Classic Larissa Imperial Hotel

This is the best hotel in the city, and it's done in a very classic, old-fashioned way.

It was the perfect base for our trip to Meteora, as Meteora is only about an hour's drive from Larissa.

AN EARLY START FOR METEORA

Breakfast at the Larissa Imperial Hotel

On Day 2, after a good night's sleep and a wonderful healthy breakfast at the Larissa Imperial Hotel, we had an early start for Meteora.

We'd read about a Friday market that seemed very interesting to visit, so we went straight here first to buy raw honey and herbs.



Farmers in Greece are big on organic food and few use chemicals and pesticides. We saw beautiful vegetables and fruits everywhere.

And then we headed off to visit the monasteries perched on top of the mountains.

Read more about this in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine.

A PAINLESS DRIVE TO THESSALONIKI

After exploring the monasteries of Meteora, we headed back to Larissa to spend one more night. This enabled us to avoid too much driving around in a car in one day.

And from Larissa,  the next morning it was a painless two-and-a-half hours to Thessaloniki.

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Thessaloniki is a nice relaxing city by the sea, and you can definitely spend a day or two sightseeing here before heading out elsewhere.

And if you do stop here, stay at the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki which is such a nice hotel to chill out in, after so much sightseeing and walking.

At the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is one of Greece's secret gems, by the way, especially as it is near one of the most important archeological discoveries in Greece.

I'm referring to the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, in Vergina, about an hour away from Thessaloniki.

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Many tourists do tiring day trips to Meteroa from Athens or Thessaloniki. Or else they stay in the small hotels and pensions around Meteora for one night.

But if you want to visit Meteora the Travelife way, well, this is certainly what we would highly recommend.




The best hotel suite in Thessaloniki is at the Hyatt Regency



In Thessaloniki, Greece, a few days ago, living a Travelife, I checked into what is undoubtedly the best suite in the city.

This is the presidential suite of the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki, which is just the right size for a presidential suite and decorated ever so tastefully with Greek art.

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TERRACES WITH VIEWS.
AND THREE OF THEM.

It also had three terraces so I was spoiled for choice, especially as each terrace had a lovely view of the hotel gardens.




As for the rooms, like with all presidential suites of top luxury hotels, this one had its own kitchen, dining room, living room and study area.

I really like having my own kitchen, as I like making herbal tea before I go to sleep, without having to bother room service for hot water and tea cups. I always bring a tin of TWG Tea's vintage Pu-erh tea with me when I travel.

I also like having a proper dining room as I do a lot of ordering from room service.

JUST LIKE SOMEONE'S VERY ELEGANT
AND GRAND APARTMENT

A healthy breakfast of Greek yoghurt and organic honey
one very early morning in my suite

The presidential suite of the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki was really elegant and comfortable at the same time.
  
Hyatt Hotels the world over are always so good
with warm welcomes and handwritten notes.
I felt like I was staying in someone's very nice and grand apartment, and what a pain it was to leave -- especially since the Indian therapist at the hotel's spa is so good at some kind of reflexology massage.




THE PIECE DE RESISTANCE

But, if I have to be honest with you, what really, really took my breath away -- or, what stole my heart, to be more accurate -- was the fact that this presidential suite basically had its own self-contained spa.

It had a lovely circular dressing room and a very spacious bathroom, with its own steam room on one side and its own wood sauna on the other side.



If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I'm very much a big spa person.

So the fact that I had my own private steam room and sauna room in my suite was like one big Christmas gift.

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TRAVELIFE WITH US

MOROCCO


LAST CALL


I swear my heart did a double take when I saw the spa facilities of this presidential suite.

Moreover, both the steam room and the sauna were very proper rooms just like what you find in a luxury spa.

JUST LOVED COMING HOME

Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki,
living a Travelife

And at the end of each long, interesting and wonderful day in Thessaloniki, there was nothing I looked forward to more than coming home to the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki, having a long soak in the wonderful bathtub, and then spending time in the sauna and the steam room.

Living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Meeting Governor Stavros Arnaoutakis of Crete and about the excellent archeological museum of Heraklion

Regional Governor Stavros Arnaoutakis of Greece

One of the highlights of my day in Greece today, living a Travelife, was a meeting with the Regional Governor of Crete, the honourable Stavros Arnaoutakis.

Governor Arnaoutakis is a dynamic and very popular political figure who has just been re-elected to another five-year term.

He holds office in the heart of downtown Heraklion, in a charming low-rise yellow building humming with activity.

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AN OFFICE FULL OF ACTIVITY

When I walked in to see him, I passed his office anteroom filled with people waiting for an audience with him. I even saw a Greek Orthodox priest in one corner.

We had a very nice chat about Crete including about his ambitious plans for his beloved island. They're planning to expand their airport to accommodate more direct flights from around the world, including from Asia.

That's me, being interviewed today by the Greek media
about tourism and Asia


At the moment, Heraklion airport mainly deals with domestic flights and certain charter flights from around Europe. There are no direct flights from Asia.

And they're also looking to do more business with Asian countries, including China and the Philippines.

TWO WEEKS OF SPECTACULAR VIEWS LAST TIME,
MORE SIGHTSEEING THIS TIME

We also talked about the charms of Crete, and he was very happy to note that I had once spent two weeks in Crete, in the beautiful Elounda area of the island, famous for its amazing coastline views.

The Governor gave me this lithograph of
a 17th century map of Crete as a present today

On that visit, we'd hardly left our villa as the views from our terrace were simply spectacular and it was just so nice to relax on the terrace with a good book and a glass of wine.

So on this visit, I was glad to do more sightseeing, including visiting the Palace of Knossos and the newly-renovated archaeological museum of Heraklion.

THE MAMMOTH PALACE OF KNOSSOS



The Palace of Knossos, which is the second most visited attraction in the whole of Greece and an important UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must-visit if you are an antiquities buff.

At the Palace of Knossos

Meanwhile, the archeological museum of Heraklion was excellent, filled with fascinating objects from the ancient Minoan culture.

You must visit the Palace of Knossos first, to get a background on Minoan culture. And then it's good to head for the museum to see the objects they used in their lives.

That's our guide, explaining in details
the intricacies and practices of the Minoan society,

at the archeological museum of Heraklion

I've been to so many archeological museums all over the world by now, but the museum of Heraklion was truly a surprise in terms of quality, and definitely worth a visit.

More on this in a later blog entry.


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TRAVELIFE WITH US

MOROCCO


LAST CALL


AN ENJOYABLE AL FRESCO DINNER
AT THE GALAXY HOTEL

I just loved this breakfast
We ended the day with a wonderful dinner, al fresco by the pool, at the Galaxy Hotel, which is the best hotel in Heraklion.

The rooms are modern and comfortable, breakfast is an organic food lover's dream, and all the staff are so friendly and helpful.

Again, this hotel deserves a separate blog entry.

A delicious Greek salad for the first course
at dinner tonight

And tonight, we feasted on Cretan specialties including Greek salad as usual plus an excellent Greek-style rack of lamb -- and way too many bottles of Cretan wine.

There was live music, the weather was perfect, and there we were, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.