In September we headed off for some late summer sun in Greece. Our first holiday pit stop was the stunning island of Santorini. Being summer, every day was magnificently warm, sunny, and cloudless.
A million dollar view
The caldera of Santorini was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions many thousands of years ago. While it’s a bit scary to think about the devastation caused by the eruptions, the caldera these days certainly offers a spectacular view. From the main town of Fira we watched the cruise ships and small boats sailing around the central lagoon. One lunchtime we ate delicious food at Galini Cafe and basked in the glorious view. Jase indulged in his favourite local brew: Yellow Donkey!
If you want to soak up this view 24/7, it comes with a large price tag – hotels perched on the edge were often charging £1000 per night for a room! The closer your accommodation is to the caldera, the more expensive it is. We chose a really nice but much cheaper hotel in Karterados, a small village which is a 15 minute walk away from Fira. Our hotel had an outdoor pool, and that in itself was amazing. We definitely made use of the pool.
The old town of Fira was very picturesque, with white washed buildings perched on top of one another and lots of purple flowers. There were many tourist shops selling a wide range of trinkets, and clothing and jewelry in particular.
Sailing around the island
We were very lucky to be able to book a semiprivate cruise around Santorini on a traditional Greek ‘medusa’ boat. It was a half day cruise and we were picked up after lunch and driven to the port at Oia. We weren’t given any specific time-frame for the pick up and when the driver arrived earlier than expected we were in a rush to get out the door!
The captain of our boat was a Greek sailor. He liked to joke around, and we found it hard to understand his thick accent!
Our first stop was in a large bay by Thiraissa (little Thira). Here we jumped off the boat and went snorkeling. There were lots of small fish swimming around. The water was nice and warm, and almost impossibly blue like the Greek flag. Not like the blue-green water back in New Zealand.
For our second stop, we cruised over to the volcano vent in the middle of the caldera. At this stop there are restrictions on the boats saying they’re only allowed to stay for a maximum of 20 minutes. We arrived just as two of the huge pirate-like boats were leaving. These boats were crowded, with likely about 200 people on each of them! Seeing this made us glad that there were only 8 of us on our boat. It was much more relaxing.
When the anchor was dropped, we quickly jumped in the water and swam over to where the volcano vent was. The water there was a little warmer and very sulfuric. Luckily we were warned in advance not to wear white. Back on the boat they hosed us down and we sailed away to our dinner stop.
For dinner we were well fed, with a traditional Greek meal cooked for us on board. It came with lots of delicious bread and local wine. They kept topping up our glasses!
After dinner, we made our way to our final swimming spot near the red beach. The beach didn’t get its name for nothing. Behind the beach were huge red volcanic cliffs. Due to the impending sunset, our boat was joined by a few catamarans.
When it was time to go we set sail back to the port. They’d planned it so that we had to sail east to get home. This meant that we had a perfect view out the rear of the boat to see the sun setting over the horizon. They say that Santorini has one of the world’s best sunsets, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The long hot hike
Oia is said to be the location of the best sunset in the world. We thought we’d compare it to the previous night’s sunset on the water, so embarked upon the well trodden Fira to Oia hike.
It’s about a 3 hour walk between Fira and Oia. The trail isn’t well marked but luckily there are people around to follow around the caldera. Since the island is volcanic, the terrain is a very barren, and there is little to no greenery or shade. We were very grateful for the occasional church or building along the way, which provided some welcome shade.
At one point we saw somebody offering donkey rides along part of the route. Some tourists did ride the poor donkeys (donkeys are also available for people to ride along the long zig zag path to the ferry port). They didn’t look very happy. The strange thing is that, while riding means you don’t have to walk, the pace is slower than walking and you are still not protected from the sun.
One important pit stop on our way to Oia was the Domaine Sigalas winery. This small detour was for the purpose of trying a wide range of local wines through their wine tasting flight. We tried 12 different wines, all locally grown. They even provided a booklet about each one which was very informative. While at the winery, we also had their delicious BBQ’d octopus. It’s not something that we’d normally order but it had an amazing texture and great smokey flavour. Overall, a much appreciated break!
The final stretch was either flat or downhill, which was quite a relief!
After trekking the final stretch it was a relief to finally reach Oia. It was good to escape from the sun and the dust. Oia has the buildings with the blue domes that you see in the tourist pictures. It is quite touristy, with lots of upmarket expensive souvenir shops and hotels, much more high end in style than Fira.
When it was finally nearing the time to see the sunset, we tried to make our way to the best known vantage points. However, by this time it was quite busy, and there were big crowds queuing along the streets to try and get to somewhere to view the sunset. Giving up, we made our way around some side streets and ended up on a concrete ledge by a car park, above what looked like a small zoo. At least we could see the sunset, but the atmosphere was a bit disrupted by people trying to push us out of the way to take a selfie and there were also stray dogs howling and chickens clucking nearby. The sunset from our cruise the day before was much better!
What added to the less-than-romantic atmosphere was the fact that after the sun had dipped below the horizon everyone was hurrying to the buses to get back to Fira. We only just managed to be let onto a bus, but we had to stand. The bus ride was a bit scary as the bus made many tight turns along the thin windy roads.
What was very pretty to witness though was the sparkling lights of Fira at night. We definitely recommend a romantic evening stroll with your loved one!
Delicious Greek food!
We had some amazing food while we were on Santorini. Our favourite dish was the BBQ octopus we tasted while sampling our wines at the Domaine Sigalas winery. However, a close second was Lucky’s Souvlakis for some epic Greek comfort food! There were also lots of great local tavernas, an amazing Cretan bakery we came to frequently enjoy, and the coffee at Coffee Lab was very satisfying.
Is Santorini as good as it is hyped up to be?
Well, as you can see, we certainly enjoyed ourselves. We were in Santorini for five days, and we thought this was a good amount of time. We managed to fit in some shopping and all the other activities we wanted to do as well.
While the sunset at Oia did not live up to our expectations, the sunset from our cruise was amazing and totally worth it! We 100% recommend a semi-private cruise around the caldera as it was the activity highlight of our trip.
Next stop: Athens.
Jase and Kimmie