After spending four full days in Santorini, I wish we had booked 2-3 weeks off to Island hop around Greece – recommend that you do the same.
Every May, it’s custom for us to go away and celebrate my birthday in a new Country. It takes away the hassle of knowing what to do when home and makes an excellent present to myself. I had planned on going to Lisbon for city and culture and then travel down to the Algarve, but it was proving a bit more complicated and I was quickly running out of time to get something booked. Where else was on the Bucket list? It’s endless but I didn’t want to exhaust myself, I needed a TLC relaxing break to recharge so why not one of Greece’s stunning super model islands.
We landed in the afternoon of 31st April to probably the smallest airport I have ever been to. Yes, I know it’s a small island, but the airport hasn’t grown with the expanding tourism number. I had pre-booked a hotel transfer, well I thought I had, but on checking my print out I had actually booked it for the day before – Doh! Slight admin error aside it’s really easy to either hire a car or book a hotel transfer at the airport, ours being €10 euros each.
We researched the main towns for hotels, Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, and Firostafani. We opted to be central and booked Ikastikies Suites which was on the Caldera rim in Firostafani. Our transfer dropped us off in a local car park (no door to door service when your hotel is on a cliff edge). We were greeted by our lovely hotel staff (I’m really sorry that I cannot remember your names) who very kindly took our bags and explained the area we were in. Some 77 steps later we were at our Suite, amazing views of Caldera and Oia in the distance, not to mention the pool and the marvellous suite we were staying in – our very own Hobbit Hole.
After settling in we headed to Fira town to figure out our bearings, Fira was full of beautiful shops and the windy pathways.
After dinner at our local Mamma Thira’s we decided to head for a few Saturday drinks, we discovered Kira Thira Jazz Bar, jazz music, quirky drinks menu on a newspaper and vintage decor – right up my street. I recommend that you check this place out for at least one cocktail.
Sunday: Church bells ring out as our hangover alarm clock. Maybe one too many cocktails (or was it the wine?). To our delight an amazing breakfast was bought to our room, at a time you can request. We’d decided that today would be a good day to hike to Oia – a 11km route recommended by our suite manager and every other blog/trip advisor site I’d read up on.
I would recommend hiking Fira to Oia and setting off early, the sun is on your back on the way there and you can walk back, or take the local bus back for a 20 minute journey. The views of all of the hike were amazing, all in all it probably took us well over the average as there were endless photo opportunities. I recommend that you divert to Skaros Rock, 300 stairs till you reach Skaros base and 200 till Theoskepasti church, and yes you do have to hike back up those steps. It is worth it I promise you, passing through each part of the Island, amazing views.
We hiked on, wondering how long it would take for the speck on the horizon that was Oia to be a stones throw away. We also enjoyed part of our hike with dog, following us a part of the way, I wanted to adopt him, he looked like my Jazz; black and tan, he certainly made me miss my pooch.
Oia is definitely honeymoon capital of Santorini. Firostfani’s cobbled streets had changed to Glossy Marble floors, designer shops and boutiques galore. The food and drink are a little bit more expensive here so we grabbed a panini and a drink before further exploring pathways before catching our public bus home to Fira. Tip, keep your bus ticket, someone sells you the ticket, and then another person checks it, it does state this on the ticket but some might just screw it up and bin it.
Monday: Another lazy yummy breakfast – so much choice and have you ever had a croissant hot dog? Today feeling a little bit tired from our previous days hike we decided to see the Old Port of Fira. We took the steps down, probably wouldn’t recommend this in flip-flops, cobbled steps and donkey mess/hay all the way down. There will be men offering you a donkey ride down to the port and I implore you to please do not ride a donkey down… or back up!
To be quite frank, walk down it, see if you find it easy on a hot day, and then imagine doing it with a weight on you, even if it’s a child’s weight on you and the odd whip to keep you moving. I cannot advocate that in this day and age it’s not needed for a tourist attraction. A few loops down there are more donkeys, tied, no visible food or water. They became a blockage that I couldn’t get past, I daren’t pass behind for fear of being kicked or pooped on. The views as you keep walking down the endless steps are stunning, but the state of some of the donkeys I saw was deeply upsetting and the Port? Well it’s an old Port. It has some restaurants and is a little rustic.
Now with midday sun we decided to take a romantic cable car back up (€6 each). Why is it you can never get the best cable car and what we thought would be just us in this cable car we were then joined by some local Greeks, shouting in Greek! How romantic!
We decided to then visit the pre-historic Thera museum, if you’re short on time in Santorini I would recommend that you perhaps skip this and make sure you see the excavations at Akrotiri. The museum itself is small, there are some visual descriptions to understand where the collections of collection of pottery, statues and some paintings. My favourite part of the whole museum were the murals.
We were recommended the oldest restaurant on the island; Aktaion. It’s in a great spot for the sunset with a great view if sitting outside. Given we weren’t in season it was a bit too windy and cold for us to sit outside (and they didn’t have tables) so we sat inside, its a small family run restaurant (since 1922) and would recommend you make a reservation. The food was yummy!
Tuesday: A familiar walk into Fira again, got to get those Fitbit steps up! We also wanted to look for some art for our bare living room wall back home, sadly we weren’t successful in bartering to a cheaper price. We grabbed some lunch, Matt at this point is really addicted to Santorini tomato balls, I’d recommend them. Matt also bought me a necklace and some really cute Turtle earrings as a birthday gift, we did barter the price down this time – success!
For the evening we had booked a yacht (Caldera Yachting). I often went on yacht/boat trips to see whales/dolphins when I visited my grandparents on holidays in Tenerife . No whales or dolphins to see in Santorini but it was Matt’s first experience on a catamaran and we were hoping for an amazing sunset. We were picked up from our local car park began our sail along the graceful coastline, seeing the Black Beach, Red Beach, White Beach and the Akrotiri lighthouse. We stopped off at the hot springs, warm volcanic water spots and were given swimming aids as the current just pulls you back in to the volcano. Whatever you do, don’t wear your best white bikini, the hot springs turn it a nice shade of brown and it will also destroy your jewellery/smart watches.
We continued sailing along the Caldera, to Thirassia island for a swim and a gorgeous meal of BBQ meats, Greek Salad and a lot of local Santorini white wine before sailing back to our hotel transfer. I’d recommend a sailing trip (€100 euros each, more in peak) you get amazing views of the island and yes we did get that amazing sunset. Off to the local bar for yet more wine.
Wednesday: Killing two birds with one store, we hired a car for us to drive around the Island for our last full day and then to return us to the airport for our flight home. Hiring a car for 24 hours was only €30 euros and a return to airport is around €15 – €20 euros each. We were totally pimping the Peugeot 1 litre, whilst Matt failed to remember that the gear stick and handbrake were on the right hand side of the vehicle.
Our first self-drive destination was the Akrotiri Excavations, which were a lot bigger than I had expected. The settlement was destroyed in the Theran volcanic eruption I’m told in 1627BC, this has preserved the remains and have since been excavated since 1967. The settlement could also be the one and only lost city of Atlantis. The site itself has a series of walkways where you can see the excavations, but there’s only one section when you can walk among the ruins, whatever you do don’t touch the ruins. There is minimal literature about each excavation so I’d recommend getting a tour guide.
We then took our pimp mobile to the Akrotiri lighthouse, amazing views of the Island but you’re not allowed to peek inside the lighthouse. We had wanted to go to the the traditional Greek Village of Akrotiri but didn’t fancy a hike in the heat and the roads were apparently very windy and single lane only. We decided to skip Red Beach and head straight to the Black Beach. Now, I say beach, it’s more like walking on hot rocks, the black volcanic sand is quite coarse and gets really hot – I couldn’t cope with more than 5 minutes of being bare foot. Many of the bars along the strip allow you to use their loungers in exchange for buying drinks so we made use of this.
We then headed back to our suite, had a lovely fresh fish that we shared with yummy greek salad and of course local Santorini wine, taking in the sunset for our final night in Santorini.
- Weather: We visited during late April / May – perfect out of season
- Transportation: To get the best of Santorini sights and sounds, it’s best to rent a (small) car
- Pack: Pack some comfy shoes you’ll need them for the steps / hikes and general exploring
- Food: All of it! Tomato balls, surprisingly good local wine, Santorini salad, Moussaka, it’s all yummy!
- DO: Say hi to the Donkeys
- Don’t: Ride them!
Thank you for reading, now to get planning the next European trip.
Taz – who scribbles