I did my research before I left, so I know this to be true: Every travel blogger who has ever graced this fine Internet has written a post on Santorini, Greece. I’m not adding any new information here, but Santorini is just the sort of place that you need to sing about. I may never get there again. I hope you might. So thank you in advance for allowing me to add another few sprinkles onto the giant chocolate fudge sundae that is Santorini blogging.
My two college girlfriends and I – representing Cologne, Germany, Portland, Oregon, and Sydney, Australia – met in Athens, where we spent a day and a half seeing the Acropolis, connecting with our theatre roots at the Theatre of Dionysus, eating all the feta, and drinking all the wine (and water because, oh my god, it was so hot). We rose early to take the ferry to Santorini. We’d agreed on the ferry there and flight back to Athens on the other end of the trip, which I think was the perfect arrangement, as we got to enjoy being on the water, seeing some of the islands, and gasping at the first views of Santorini as we entered the ferry wharf. But, at nearly 7 hours of sea travel, I’m glad we didn’t have to do it both ways.
We took the Blue Star Ferries, which I’d recommend. The boat is huge, so you don’t get much in the way of turbulence from the water (though, it was a nice and clear day when we went). The seats were comfortable – we sprang an extra 5 euros for assigned seats – and the boarding was seamless. There is food on board, but it’s not amazing, so bring a lunch, if you can (or fill your face with a giant donut and coffee, as we did – also an option).
The view coming into Santorini from the ferry was the best introduction. I’d always thought of the island in terms of all the white buildings, but it never crossed my mind that they’re actually up so high, and that the landscape is quite brown. The first view of Santorini looked like this:
We were picked up from the ferry wharf with some other travelers. It was about a 30 minute drive to Oia, where we were staying. This giant van twisted and turned uphill and around corners, hugging the cliff side, and though I’m a pretty hearty traveler, this drive – I’m sure coupled with the fact that we hadn’t really eaten in ages and that it was stifling hot – really got the better of me. It was a huge relief when we tumbled out into the fresh air to meet our “guy,” the delightful, feisty Bulgarian porter who would shepherd us and keep us laughing for the rest of the week.
He grabbed our bags and started at roadrunner speed down the narrow and slick laneways of Oia (pronounced ee-uh, by the way). We’d taken a cave house villa, and we could immediately see we had a challenge ahead of us, as our porter unlocked our gate and bolted down, without slowing speed, two flights of narrow, uneven stairs that led us to home. “Go slowly!,” he warned us – not that we needed to be told, “I’m used to this!” We were not, and it took a little doing.
It turned out our villa was divided into 3 different buildings with an adjoining courtyard. There were beds stuck in every crevice, as it technically slept 10, so we all had our choice of beds. None of us went for the loft beds, but I’ll bet if we’d had any kids with us, they would have been fighting for the rights. It was definitely not a 5 Star hotel, but here’s the thing that we’d been dreaming about since we settled on this place. The big balcony with this view. This view was all that mattered, and we’d watch it over late night noshes and bottles of wine and first light in the morning where we’d linger over our homemade breakfast for a couple of hours before starting our day. This balcony was our Santorini.
The funny thing was that our view was quite the popular one, and so at all hours, we had tourists just above our heads snapping shots of the vista, most of them never even realizing that they were about four steps away from being our breakfast guests (scratch that … actually, two very awkward flights of stairs away). We also had a whole compliment of brides taking wedding photos up there. Here’s something I haven’t read in any of the travel blogs – there’s a booming wedding industry in Santorini, which looked to cater primarily to brides from Asia. We must have seen 50 brides in their wedding dresses during our 4 days in Santorini.
On our first full day in Santorini, we agreed on treking down the 200 stairs to Ammoudi Bay and the small black rock beach. The stairs were, as promised, covered in donkey poo from the donkeys that tourists can hire to haul them up and down (don’t ride the donkeys. It’s kind of a jerk move).
We’d had our heart set on eating dinner at Dimitri’s, which is meant to have the best sunset views, and the proprietor of our hotel told us to put our name down a few hours ahead of time, as they don’t take reservations further ahead. But, they were booked for sunset by the time we got there, so we reserved a seat at the nearby Taverna Katina, whose views were not discernibly less spectacular than Dimitri’s, and by the way, had the most attractive wait staff I have ever seen in my life, not that that matters
Reservations secured, we took the sometimes treacherous path to the small black rock beach, which I think is the only beach you can reach from Oia. It’s not pretty, and it was fairly full of fellow tourists, but taking a dip in this water was heaven. Across the way, there’s a large cliff that’s popular for jumping off. If you’re 20. And don’t have a small child at home. But, we got a lot of entertainment watching the antics of the jumpers. There was one poor girl who was on top of the rock for nearly an hour, working up her bravery, and receiving coaching from a steady stream of helpful gents. It became quite the saga on our side of the bay, as almost everyone had turned their attention to her after half an hour or so. When she finally jumped, the whole beach let up a collective cheer.
And then there were the American frat boy-types who took turns filming each other as they did increasingly ridiculous poses as they jumped. They coined one of our favorite quips from the trip – “Go Pro, Bro!” You know the “Go Pro, Bro” type. I know you do. Back in Ammoudi Bay in the late afternoon, we ended up grabbing appetizers and drinks at Dimitri’s and having a chat with fellow-Yank abroad, the owner, Joy. I highly recommend the local Red Donkey beer, if you make to Santorini. Then, we snapped a few photos before grabbing our front row sunset seat for dinner at Katina’s. At Katina’s the (beautiful) waiters ask you to pick your own fish from the kitchen, and they cheerily helped us choose a red snapper that we could share amongst ourselves.
This was the best meal of the trip. They didn’t do anything fancy to the fish – just grilled with some lemon – but it was perfect. Just like the view.
The next day we had a sunset catamaran cruise. We went with Sunset Oia, which I’m happy to recommend. A van picked us up to take us down to Ammoudi Bay, and the trip down was the best adventure, as the vans apparently need to go into port backwards, so the van driver just turned that huge rig around at the top of the hill and went careening backwards the whole way, as if it was nothing (which is probably wasn’t to him). We were in hysterics, laughing the whole way, and joking that this was a real “Go Pro, Bro” moment.
Once on board the boat, we hustled to the front of the catamaran as soon as we were allowed, and our side of the boat was apparently the American tourist (plus one German friend) magnet. We had a lot of fun joking with the two other American couples next to us, especially once the complimentary white wine started flowing freely.
We had three stops for swimming off the boat, which was complete bliss. The first stop was a hot springs next to an island apparently inhabited by one man and a couple of mountain goats. The second was at the beautiful White Beach, and then finally a stop for snorkeling. The marine life wasn’t much to see, but it was still a good time.
After snorkeling, the highly trained and friendly (gorgeous) staff prepared a BBQ lunch with plenty of Greek sides and salads. It all tasted like perfection after a day of swimming. We got brave and followed lunch with a shot of ouzo, as we began sailing back. That Greek custom done, we never need to do it again.
We were fortunate to have a glowing Santorini sunset on the way back. It may have evoked actual tears from at least one member of our party. Santorini sunset with two of your oldest, dearest friends, all happily high on white wine, ouzo, saltwater, and laughter. I’m not using cliche when I suggest that life actually does not get better than those few moments.
We returned to the villa after our long day out to find a smidge of a problem … the power had gone out. Our lovely property manager felt awful and sent someone out to poke around and try to fix it, which he did long enough for us to get in quick showers and check the our respective Internets, before it went out again. Then, she sent over candles to get us through the night. It was an annoyance, but also an excuse to sleep with the doors open and enjoy, well… the sounds of partying Australian tourists right above us … And then at some point a peaceful calm and sea breeze.
The next day, we had to pack our bags, as we were scheduled to move houses for the last night, anyway. It was a good thing because the power hadn’t come back on, and when our favorite porter came over to check it out ahead of the electrician, he poked around for awhile, and then we heard him muttering, “Big problem. In the wall. Nice house. Big problem.” We loved it.
Breakfast was also a big problem, since we couldn’t brew coffee, heat water, or make toast, so we ventured out. Not much was open for breakfast, but we found a cafe that had a placard out advertising, among other things, “Breakfast.” We ordered coffees, then asked about breakfast. The waitress just lightly shook her head and said, “no.”
Mmmkay. Guess not!
German friend and I were off on a hike, so decided to find breakfast in Fira, and left Portland friend to manage her own morning. We hopped on the bus, which arrived about 15 minutes later than scheduled, and stopped for gas at the station along the way. Otherwise, an easy trip from Oia to Fira. We had our choice of restaurants in Fira, and picked a nearly deserted one with a table by the window and this view.
Our timing was impeccable, as about 10 minutes after we sat down, the entire restaurant was chockablock with tourists just departed from a cruise ship. We were quite pleased with our prime real estate, protien-rich breakfast, and Freddo coffee.
Freddo coffee! I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it until now. That cold and creamy concoction that I ordered at every turn. Since this trip, I’ve taken the liberty of ranking Greek inventions in order of greatness:
- Freddo Coffee
Suitably fed, coffee-ed, and plenty of water on hand, we set off for the walk from Fira to Oia. We’d read that it was about 3 hours, but it took us more like 3 and a half – maybe because I kept stopping for photos, and I’m sure nothing at all to do with either of our fitness level. All the guide books and blogs say it’s an “easy” hike, but, I’m going to tell you the truth. It’s probably easy if you’re a serious hiker, but if you’re an occasional day hiker like me, there are some challenging parts to it. For the first hour, you’re walking through towns, and that’s easy, but there are significant uphill and gravelly portions. And, there’s even a small section where you’re literally walking on the main road. So, listen, DO IT! It’s so good. But, wear great shoes, a hat and pack plenty of water, especially if you do it on a warm day like we did.
We huffed, puffed, chatted and saw all of these sights:
When we got back to our electricity-challenged abode, it was time to move villas. The good thing about the arrangement we’d agreed on was that we had three nights in the villa with the stunning caldera view, and we’d spend our last night in a cave house with a sunset view. Our favorite porter came to collect us, and settle us in. He also passed along a note from the proprietor with a refund for the previous day, as well as instructions that she’d moved us into a bigger and nicer house than the one we’d been scheduled for, plus left some groceries for the morning, as a way of making up for the electricity “big problem.” It was much more than enough, and certainly speaks to the famed Greek hospitality.
After one last afternoon ice cream run (we were committed to daily ice cream, and I favored a fig and ricotta variety), we settled ourselves onto the balcony with our final bottle of white wine. A number of Santorini cats joined us for the sunset, and we had a clear view of the ruins where hordes of tourist flock every night for the big show. We were in perfect comfort together on our perch, and were afforded one more brilliant end to a Santorini day.