Greece: Santorini Snapshot
Pre-covid we spent one glorious week in Santorini. For sunseekers and fun lovers this is THE place to be.
Where is Santorini?
Santorini is in Greece, a country in southeastern Europe. Greece is made up of a mountainous mainland and 227 inhabited islands grouped into seven island regions. Santorini and equally famous Mykonos are probably the most popular islands in the Cyclades region. The Cyclades region is an archipelago in southern Greece between Athens (on the mainland) and Crete.
What is Santorini famous for?
Undoubtedly, Santorini is renowned for its picture postcard white churches with blue domes, vertiginous cliffs and black-sand beaches. Think glorious sunsets and romantic villas with private pools hugging the cliff overlooking the caldera, a flooded volcanic crater.
What to do?
Santorini first timers head to the pretty village Oia (pronounced ‘eea’) situated above an impressive cliff overlooking the northern part of the caldera to watch the sun setting above the Aegean Sea. Depending on the time of year you are there, it can be hideously overcrowded. Ask the locals, they’ll whisper better alternative locations without the crowds which often have better breathtaking views of the sunset.
If you’re heading to Oia for the sunset, get there two hours before, make your claim and don’t move. A more comfortable alternative – book a restaurant and enjoy a drink on a terrace.
Eat, drink and soak up the Greek culture! Seek out local specialties such as capers and fava. If you have time, sign up to a wine-tasting; the local wines are very good and affordable. Seafood, on the other hand, can be quite expensive because the Aegeans have over fished and the greater bulk of the fish is exported. If you’re staying in Oia, Fira (also known as Thira) or Imerovigli, you’ll be paying a premium price for food with a view. If you don’t have cash to splash, head away from the tourist hub and venture to the quieter south to the charming villages Megalochori and Akrotiri. As for recommending a place to eat, it would be best to ask the locals as the restaurant scene has changed dramatically since Covid.
Sail to the hot springs. When we arrived at our accommodation, a local representative provided an overview of options to do from wine tasting tours to sailing to the hot springs. The latter is highly recommended. Catamaran is popular but we preferred to sail to the springs onboard a schooner; take the afternoon tour and watch the sun slowly disappear on the horizon. Magic.
Walk from Fira to Oia for the spectacular panoramic views. Tip: An early morning walk from Fira to Oia is about 2.5km and will take about 1.5 hours. Take a bottle of water, wear a hat and make sure your shoes are comfortable with good grip.
Visit the archaeological excavation site in Akrotiri. Associated with the Minoan civilization, Akrotiri was a small fishing and farming village before a huge volcano Thera erupted, blew the centre right out of Santorini Island creating the caldera and burying Akrotiri under a 60-metre layer of ash and debris.
Nicknamed Santorini’s Pompeii, the site has been preserved just as it would have been in 1500 BC. It’s easy to get there; simply jump on local bus from Fira’s central bus station. There is a 250-metre walk to the site.
Beach hop. While in Akrotiri, take a taxi boat to the Red, White and Black Beaches. Boats leave every 30-minutes from the small harbour to drop locals off at the various coloured beaches. Jump off at each beach for a quick dip or stay longer for a leisurely bake in the sun. We chose to stay on board, enjoy the round trip and take in the views from the boat. Tip: bring water, food, togs, towel etc. in a bag just in case you decide to stay on one of the beaches. We would have enjoyed a dip at one of the beaches if we had known in advance about the taxi boats.
There’s plenty of shops in each of the villages to indulge and fulfill your retail therapy needs, but a highlight is Atlantis Books in Oia. Located on the main street, this cave-like book shop is crammed top to bottom with books. It’s located down a steep, short flight of stairs off the main footpath that runs through Oia. To this day, Atlantis Books continues to hold its rightful spot on the “world’s best bookshops” list.
Best spot is Imerovigli, located at the top of the caldera, 300 metres above the sea. You’re far enough away from the tourist throng of Fira and Oia yet right in the heart of the caldera action.
We stayed at Andromeda Villas & Spa Resort in Imerovigli. Once there, it becomes blatantly clear why the beautiful village is often nicknamed the ‘balcony of Santorini’. Andromeda Villas were recommended by our travel agent. I was concerned it wasn’t in Fira or Oia, but it was the best place to stay. Watching the sunset from the comfort of our balcony without crowds, glass of wine in hand – it was better than an Oia sunset experience – on every level. The Andromeda Villas staff was accommodating. The breakfast spread of local produce was hearty and flavorsome. The location spot on. The price very reasonable and affordable. https://www.andromeda-santorini.com/
From Imerovigli, by taxi it’s 15 euro to Fira; 25 euro to Oia. The bus to Fira, for example, is every 20 minutes. Tip: head to Fira and take the bus to wherever you want to go. There’s a regular bus available to anywhere on the island.
How to get there?
The high speed World Champion SeaJet was our mode of transport from Mykonos to Santorini. The sea jet took less than two hours; it’s like travelling on the Eurostar, but on a monster scale. If you’re staying in Athens on the mainland, you could also choose the ferry; a 40-minute flight is another option. There are links between Santorini and the other islands too should you wish to island hop. We flew from Santorini to Athens.
When your SeaJet lands at Athinios Port, you have a couple of modes of transport to reach the villages and Santorini’s clifftop capital, Fira. Donkey is one option, but it is expensive and personally, I don’t support this type of tourism. It is well-documented the animals are mistreated, tied to a wall, and left in direct sunlight without water. The donkeys have been found to have spinal injuries, saddle sores and exhaustion and bear the brunt of overweight tourists. This situation, however, may have changed due to Covid.
Athinios Port (also known as ‘new port’) is on the south side of the island, about 8km by road, south of Fira. You can catch the public bus or it’s 30 minutes by taxi. When we were there, a taxi cost anywhere between 30 euros and 45 euros depending on your destination. Note: There are two ports in Santorini. The Old Port which is below Fira where the cruise ships dock and Santorini’s ‘new’ port Athinios, where the inter-island ferries dock.
Would you return to Santorini?
In a heartbeat! Five days is not long enough to adequately explore and experience Santorini. Extend your holiday, and island hop to neighbouring islands where the food is seriously cheaper and the welcome from locals is authentically warm and enticing.