Europe, Greece, Travel

A week in Santorini

November 11, 2010

We spent a week on the island of Santorini in the Greek Cyclades and loved every minute of it.  It’s beautiful, scenic, romantic, culturally-rich and has great food.

When we first arrived we were blown away by the view.  We stayed in Oia, a small town at the tip of the island, with a beautiful view of the caldera, that looks out to the ocean, the volcano and other small islands.  The other side of Oia boasts a sunset view, but our favorite was the caldera side, with the town built into the cliffside.

Here’s the video from our trip:

You can easily walk from one end of Oia to the other, as it’s very small.  There’s a main pedestrian walkway, made of marble with shops and restaurants lining it.

Then there are various sets of stairs that go down from the main walkway, where hotels and villas are built into the hillside.

First couple of days

We stayed at a small boutique hotel, Atrina, for 2 nights. We had a wonderful house called Tholos.

Our first sunset in Santorini from our terrace

One of the greatest things about this hotel is that they bring you breakfast on your terrace. You can sit in the bathrobes they provide and you call them when you are ready for it. Rolls, pastries, Greek yogurt, fruit, orange juice, coffee or tea. And, most of all, the beautiful view of the caldera.

The night views from here were beautiful.

Ifestio Villas

After two nights, we moved on to Ifestio Villas.  Ifestio consists of three villas, one where the Katerina (the owner) lives, and two to rent out.  Katerina was the most gracious, informative hostess and by the time we left, she felt like an old friend.  Our villa was magnificent and included a large living area with a kitchen, that Katerina had stocked for us.  Wine, water, champagne, turkey, bread, cheese, coffee, etc.   This was such a nice touch.  She also explained the history of the island to us, helped us make reservations for dining and sailing and renting the car.  She made us an itinerary and map.  She service was unparalleled and the villa was wonderful.

On our balcony

The Dogs

One morning we got up really early to take some pictures with early morning light (and no people).  There are dogs all over Oia, some with tags and some not, but they all roam the town.  On this particular day, as soon as we set out, a dog came with us and followed us.  That was fine with us because we love dogs.  Soon, a dog would join here and there and before we knew it, we had slowly picked up a whole pack of dogs.  It was quite comical.

Fira

Katerina recommended that we go visit Fira, the main town, so we did.  We took the local bus, which was pretty nice and cheap.  Fira is a larger town, similar to Oia in that it’s built on the side of the cliff.  But, different in that it didn’t seem quite as upscale or romantic.

From here we could see Skaros rock in Imerovigli and Oia in the background.

We went to the Museum of Pre-historic Thira. Its highlights include pre-historic vases from Akrotiri, wall paintings and marble figurines from the early 17th century BC.

We had lunch at a great place called Rastoni.

And, I found my new favorite meze, baked feta.

Ammoudi Bay

Ammoudi Bay is main port in Oia and it looks like it’s straight out of the movies because it’s so picturesque and beautiful.  We walked part way down and took some pictures and then visited it by car.

Here’s a picture we took from the sailboat at sunset.  It looks beautiful lit up in red.

We had dinner at Sunset Tavern one night and it was such a wonderful experience.  Our table was literally right on the water.  The food was great and we had a front row seat to the sunset.

Sailing

We went a sunset sailing trip with Triantafillou Brothers and it was a wonderful experience.  They pick you up at 3 pm and take you to Ammoudi Bay where you board the catamaran.  It’s an open bar, so I immediately got a glass of white wine.

There were like 8 couples total.  They take you to Nea Kameni, the volcano, to swim in the thermal water.  We didn’t actually do this, as we were there for a nice ride, dinner and the sunset.  Others said we didn’t miss much and it wasn’t that hot.   Later they took us to another spot and stopped so you could snorkel if you wanted.

Then, they fixed a wonderful dinner–Greek salad, chicken, shrimp, pasta salad. We ate and enjoyed talking with several Aussie couples during dinner.

After dinner, I decided to have an Ouzo.  I don’t like Ouzo, but damn it, I was in Greece, so I was going to do it. It was pretty terrible and wasn’t what I expected.  They serve in on ice and it wasn’t clear, it was cloudy?  I took like three sips and then decided that was all I could take.

After eating, we headed to an ideal spot on the edge of Santorini to watch the sun set.   This was the most beautiful sunset we saw the entire time we were there.  The sky lit up with beautiful shades of orange and red and a beautiful pirate-looking ship sailed into our view, which made a stunning foreground for the sunset.

Exploring the Island

We highly recommend renting a car so you can get out and see the island.   It’s a small island and you can see everything this way.  We payed a little extra and got a Smart Car, which Erick was thrilled about.

We set out on the first day to see the many beaches, towns and wineries that Santorini has to offer.  Here are a few photos.

Our first stop was Red Beach, which you have to access from above.  It’s absolutely gorgeous and yes, everything is red.

Vlichada Beach seems like it should be a beach on the moon, with all of the bizarre white rock.  Erick had the unfortunate experience of seeing a topless grandma here.

Perivolos Beach is the best swimming beach on the island and is a black sand beach.  We went to place called Notos Seaside Lounge.  You have to pay to rent their chairs, but we didn’t mind.

Katerina suggested that we go to a little place called Maria’s.  It’s just a little building on the side of the road near the lighthouse and when you arrive, they offer you samples of all of the products, including the vinsanto.  Vinsanto is a local sweet wine, typically served after dinner in small shot glass.

I fell in love with the fresh tomato sauce and brought some back with me.

We were able to see beautiful views of the whole island from the lighthouse.

We visited Sigalas winery, which isn’t far from Oia.

We got to enjoy the view of vineyards while tasting some of their wines.

We went to another winery called Art Space, which is a winery that doubles as an art gallery.  It was a very cool concept.

We went to great old town called Pyrgos in the center of the island.   It was very quaint and lots of of narrow pebble stone pathways and lots of arches.

Santorini Mou

Make sure to check out Santorini Mou when you’re in Oia.  It’s kind of on the way into Oia and I guess it would be within walking distance, but quite a long walk.  We had the car, so we drove. It’s a restaurant, but it’s more than that, it’s a attraction.  This place was so casual, relaxed and fun.  The owner, Michalis, sings and plays with musicians and guests.  It’s like a jam session, Greek style.  At one point, they passed around shots of raki on the house. Raki is like Italian grappa, and it’s very strong.  After that, everyone got up and danced and we had a blast watching everyone.

Our names in the sand

It has become a tradition for us to write something in the sand when we travel.  This time, we decided to try to write our names in Greek.  This is how it turned out.

Armeni Bay

On our last day, we decided to visit Armeni Bay.  Armeni is the smaller of the 2 ports in Oia and only accessible by a long, winding staircase built into the mountain.  It was a very hot day and took forever to get down there.  Once we got there, there was a great little tavern that we went to.

We had a drink and a snack.   The old woman cooked and the husband served.  He was so nice and at the end of our meal, brought us a vinsanto on the house.  He was so nice that even Erick couldn’t refuse and tasted the wine.

After lunch, we put our feet in the water and took a few pictures.

Then, we were desperately looking for the donkeys that were supposed to be there to take us back up the mountain.  I was so exhausted and so hot that I was freaking out about walking back up.  Luckily the donkeys were just coming down as we were ready to ascend.

This was quite an experience.  It was hard to hang on and they went a lot faster than I expected.  My donkey started out first, with Erick’s behind me.  Then Erick’s donkey passed mine and my donkey thought it was his mission in life to move back to the front.  However, the steps are so narrow that it was hard for him to pass and all he did was scrape my leg against the side of the wall trying to squeeze in.

It’s kind of scary being so high on the donkey, not being able to hold on and looking down over the side of the mountain.  It’s not something I would want to do every day, but while scary, it was fun too.  And, I certainly didn’t want to climb all of those steps myself.   It’s something everyone should do at least once during their life.

Santorini Travel Tips

  • Stay on the caldera side.  You’ll be able to view the sunset from restaurants and bars, but you want to wake up to this view.
  • Oia Sunset- Make a reservation during the day at the Sun Spirit Cocktail Bar for that evening’s sunset.  They charge you 20 euros and then if you show up, they return it to you.  This is a beautiful spot to see the sunset and have a drink.   If you just show up at sunset time, all of the good table will be taken or reserved.
  • Rent a car!  We had so much fun driving around the island and it’s easy because the island is so small.  You get the opportunity to see many great beaches and towns.
  • Go sailing – It’s a great way to see the island from the water and experience a beautiful sunset.
  • Also see our Santorini restaurant advice.

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  • Patricia

    I am so envious of your trip. Greece is one of the places I really want to visit. Your pictures and comments made me feel like I was there – almost. (The baked feta sounds so delicious.)
    From Cory’s Mom

  • Paul

    Hi!

    Love your description of Santonrini trip! and the pics are beautiful!

    We are also going there for our prewedding day and staying there for another 4 days in coming May

    Paul

  • Julie

    Hi,

    We are looking forward to our holiday in Santorini in 2 weeks time. I really enjoyed reading about your holiday and viewing your pics. I am so looking forward to the food now too after your wonderful descriptions and recommendations. Thank you, and sending you best wishes.

    Julie

    • Whitney

      Have fun, Julie! You’ll have a blast!

  • Jill

    Found your blog while googling things to do in Santorini. We are also staying in the Tholos House. Thanks for posting photos of the inside and your view. Looking forward to our trip in 2 weeks.

    • Have fun!!! I’m so jealous! We’d love to go back!