The last stop our European summer tour was the island of Santorini, also known as Thira. After being on the ‘road’ for almost a month we were looking very forward to some much needed R&R. Santorini, much like its Greek cousin, Mykonos, is amongst the most popular and idyllic of the Greek islands. Our host on the island told us that up to 70 flights land and depart the island daily. Add to this several cruise liners and do the math. As Murphy’s law would have it, Thane was called to work from Madrid, meaning he would miss the first two days on the island.
I spent two days on Santorini exploring it by myself just enough not to spoil the excitement of seeing everything with Thane. I rented a car ( very easy and affordable ) and decided to check places closer to the village of Pori where we were staying. I was shocked by the landscape of Santorini as I headed up the mountain on the windy roads to Fira – island’s main and busiest city. It is very conveniently located on the top of caldera ( large volcanic crater ), overlooking the south and north points and the islands in front – Nea Kameni and Thirasia. Although Fira is not a place Thane and I would ideally choose to stay at – due to the amount of tourists – it had a lovely atmosphere. People gathered for the sunset by the bar Franco and the view was spectacular.
The next day I vent to very low key Vourvoulous beach with a great taverna ( local Greek restaurant ). Most of people don’t know that Santorini beaches are volcanic, like in the part of Sicily we just visited. For those who expect white sand and turquoise sea Santorini is not a right place.
My last solo stop was the town of Oia. I sat down for a coffee ( Greek frappe ) in a quiet part of the town and I only saw couples walking around. Later on, I walked around in amazement of how stunning this place was with the whole town set on the slopes of caldera. Every corner ”screamed” romance.
Early the next morning I drove through the quiet sleepy towns to collect Thane. He was surprised (as always) by the relative size of the island thinking that it would be smaller. The early landing was a however a nice way to meet the island, watching the sunrise as we drove back to “our side”of the island. To hiss pleasant surprise he discovered our tranquil home, tucked away on the seaside of a quiet road. With mountains behind and nothing but sea to look at, it was perfect.
Later that day we drove to the southern end of Santorini, towards the town of Akrotiri . We found that driving the narrow country roads is a challenge. With overtaking nearly impossible we would often spend a drive staring into the sunburnt back of a tourist riding a quad bike. By the way, that mode of transport is extremely popular here .
We went to Red Beach, the red rocks of the surrounding cliffs giving it its name. Unlike the clear turquoise of much of the Med, the sea in Santorini was slightly opaque but still warm and inviting. Soon hunger set in and we set off search of food and to see the Akrotiri ruins, an ancient Minoan site. We found it interesting but the information available a bit unexciting (we thought). It could have been presented better and that time is better spent looking at the present day natural beauties on offer.
As you do in Santorini we stopped to watch the sunset. We pulled off the road in Imerovigli and found a hidden spot far removed from the crowds. With the entire western side of the island consisting of a steep cliff overlooking the small adjacent islands, it’s hard to find a bad place to view the sun go down. A restaurant near our view spot was welcoming a bride and groom for the evening. Being such a romantic destination, newlyweds and lovebirds are a common sight. With the advice from our host we managed, after several attempts, to find our spot for dinner . Hanging off the cliff below the road is an authentic Greek taverna and with a brilliant local band providing the soundtrack we ended day.
Through a connection of a friend we organised a morning of diving. An early drive down the quiet roads took us to Kamari where met the crew from Volcano Dive Tours. Their slick operation quickly found us on the rubber duck heading to our first dive sight. Visibility was better than we had expected. The waters in the area are very salty so we didn’t see much in terms of sea life, not to say that it isn’t there. That’s just how diving goes. But we had a great time and enjoyed two dives.
With a hunger that only diving can bring about we headed back north, stopping on Vourvoulous beach again. With only the small beach, car park, tiny harbour and one restaurant, it is the epitome of a chilled vibe with cold beers and great food to match.
That night we had invited our host, mr Zannes and his housekeeper over for a dinner. Much to our surprise we found out that this unassuming elderly gentleman had been a ship’s captain and spent his life seeing the world. We couldn’t name a destination where he couldn’t recount a story from (both adventurous and misadventurous). He imparted with some sage advice and in between tales he entertained us with his guitar skills and local tunes. To us this is one of the founding reasons that we enjoy travelling. An unexpected chance to really connect with a local and to have a truly enriching experience. Also another reason to stay away from the more commercial resorts.
Before we knew it our last day in this paradise had arrived. And as always just as we were starting to get used to this relaxed pace of life. We decided to spend the day in. Down the road on the closest beach we spent the morning bobbing on a lilo in the calm sea and then back home to relax around the pool.
We arrived to Oia early to avoid the rush and to snap a few pics with quieter scenes. The town is truly remarkable and the appreciation of the residence is noticeable, with a well maintained and friendly atmosphere. The idea of sharing this iconic sunset standing shoulder to shoulder with others didn’t appeal to us, so when we spotted an opportunity of a nearby, quieter spot we went for it. We won’t mention where this spot is but through the pics or video see if you can track it down. It will be worth it!
With our time in Santorini over we very slowly made our way to the airport. Stopping in Fira for a drink and to walk through the late night shops. The atmosphere is always very alive. We must say, Santorini hides the volume of tourists fairly well. The popular towns are busy but with enough attractions on the island we never felt overwhelmed.
With such heavy traffic flow the airport is tiny and crowded. We carried our sense of accumulated calm with us and managed to smile through the chaos. The airport is perhaps the Achilles heel of the island. Till next time Santorini!
Greece: 10 933 457 people (2016)
Santorini: 18,883 people (2011)
Best time to visit: April to late October as the sun shines all the time
Thanks to Thane Williams who wrote most of this article and thanks to our lovely host Zannes in Santorini. For info about his house in Santorini click here.