Santorini: synonymous with perfectly white washed buildings that contrast the glistening blue of the sea, and picture-perfect Instagrams. And that is exactly what you get on the small Greek island. Fresh from our very successful trip to Tivat in June, Becca and I were excited to explore and catch the last of the sun.
We arrived at about 1pm local time on Sunday 28th October, one very turbulent flight and two very nearly spilt hot chocolates later!
From the airport in the east of the island, we were heading to the capital, Fira, about a twenty minute drive away on the west of the island.
Whilst there was a lot to do in Fira, Oia to the north is also worth a visit (this is where that infamous sunset can be seen properly)! You can easily get around the whole island however, as it’s only 28 square miles and about a 40 minutes drive from one end to the other!
We were staying at the Fira Backpackers Place, which was in the perfect location- slightly out of town, but still only a ten minute walk to the hub of restaurants, shops, and bars, and also very close to the bus station. It was also reasonably priced and well equipped for the money; including fresh towels everyday and a balcony with gorgeous views of the sea.
We spent the afternoon getting to know the area, and for dinner we selected a little Italian restaurant overlooking the sea. Classy gals that we are, we both opted for spritzers to drink. The waitress didn’t quite understand that we wanted rosé with lemonade in it. However this was probably very lucky as when the drinks arrived we realised we had made a classic mistake: lemonade is not just a Sprite equivalent in Europe is it! We should have asked for Sprite as what appeared was two glasses of wine, followed by two bottles of a lemon Fanta type beverage- no wonder she thought we were mental trying to get them mixed! We enjoyed both our drinks, and a pizza. But before we were ready to leave, the staff decided that they fancied leaving. A waiter came over to inform us that they were all off home and shutting down the bar, but not to worry because we could just stay and leave our empties on the bar when we were finished.
After realising it was just us and a table of drunk men, we quickly followed the staff out, and moved on to a picturesque bar a bit further down the road: PK Cocktail Bar. Like a lot of places in Santorini, this bar was built into the cliff, through a doorway. I would recommend everything about this establishment- but mostly the snacks!!! These were completely free of charge to be enjoyed with the drinks. Such a simple idea, but one that played a huge part in us going back again.
Any Google search of ‘things to do in Santorini’ offers up the same must do ‘walk’ from Fira to Oia as a top tourist activity. So, after a quick look through various websites that had information about the route, we decided we too, must do.
However, it soon became clear this was more than the casual stroll, featuring good times and good views that was advertised. It also soon became apparent that it was not going to be the quick two hour jobby it was made out to be.
The walk starts off wandering through the town, gradually weaving upwards. The most simple part, and yet I had already managed to hurt my ankle: which we should have definitely taken as a sign.
Gradually, you are as much as 350 meters high, but at this point (around 120 meters high) other than the path being fairly steep there is nothing untoward. The views are stunning from this viewpoint over the island. You are lured into a false sense of security.
It isn’t until you reach the next village of Imerovigli, around a half an hour later that it becomes obvious what this walk really entails. This is when you are offered the first glimpse of the distance to Oia (just look at the map above for some perspective!) and the only way it looks like you will be able to walk: on the mountains.
At this point (too far in to turn back), the intensity of what we had actually signed up for dawned on us: a cross country seven mile hike, featuring loose gravel paths right on the edge of the caldera cliffs. What could possibly go wrong?
The intensity reaally increases after Imerovigli. With no warning you suddenly find yourself climbing up the mountain on a gravel path with loose stones of all sizes: which we were constantly either tripping over or whacking our feet into.
At this point we had to start reminding ourselves what the website said: ‘Most 7 year-olds would have no trouble completing the walk in terms of difficulty (i.e. the quality of the path)’ (santorinidave.com). This served as good motivation for us to carry on, as much we started to doubt it. I cannot imagine any seven year old walking seven miles over a mountain, can you?
After a particularly steep incline, situated on a bend that seemed to go on forever, we made it to the half way stage. But after a very brief celebration for making it up the mountain alive, our joy was soon shattered as we saw how far we still had to go.
It was actually a blessing that we had no idea what was really coming next on this walk. I would have been terrified knowing that I had to scale the mountainside on this dodgy path: right on the edge, with no barriers between you, one wrong foot, and the sea. But survival kicked in and we just had to go for it. A lady struggling equally in front said that her friend did this walk in flip flops: a testament to how uninformed everyone that starts this walk is.
As we started down a very steep and sharp descent, I’m talking vertical, there was a road that we were heading for. The thought of this civilisation made it much easier to attempt this descent, as this was without a doubt the worst part of the entire walk. There was barbed wire to avoid, and it was hard to get a proper grip without slipping down on loose gravel.
A few slips, and a few heart attacks later, we made it onto the road! A little further down, there was a roadside cafe (built I’m guessing specifically for victims of this walk). We stopped for a Lemon Fanta, and had a look at the rest of the route. Good news! Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it was up a second mountain. This one was taller than the first and at some points the path was incredibly thin. I also really wanted to look at the views had suddenly became a sufferer of vertigo. The aim of the walk was no longer to get pictures and admire the view anyway: it was all about getting to Oia. In one piece preferably. Finally, about an hour into this second leg Oia became clear- and we finally saw the end to this hell!
We arrived in a respectable three hours (it turns out it should take between two and five), but we were just happy to arrive at all. I have never been so relieved! Upon reflection, I am so proud of us. We had a good time and it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time, but I’m definitely not in any hurry to do it again!
Having not eaten all day, and with the adrenaline wearing off, we suddenly realised how hungry we were. We quickly found a traditional looking Greek restaurant, called Melitini and enjoyed some Greek tapas. This was delicious, and included feta, olives, and baked aubergine. Having this traditional Greek cuisine on a rooftop overlooking the sea was just perfect.
We treated ourselves and got the bus home. The last people to board, there were no seats left, so we were left to stand. Just us: typical. I thought we might get asked to get off, but then I remembered we were in Greece and not the UK and not to be so silly. A few minutes into the journey, the ticket man came down the bus to collect money. As a result we edged further and further up, until we reached the back. My bag was hitting a girl in the face as I did my best to move out the way, and as we moved down to move out of her way, I fell right into a lady’s lap. Funnily enough, she didn’t appreciate this, but didn’t even seem sympathetic as she shot me the dirtiest look. At this point I think I would rather have hiked back. But luckily the journey was only about twenty minutes and we were soon home.
To congratulate ourselves for still being alive, we hunted down the best moussaka in Santorini for dinner.
Google told us this was in a restaurant called Naoussa (not sure why we trusted Google after the hike fiasco, but there you go). As soon as we sat down we were bought a jug of something that looked like a cross between wine and toilet cleaner. As nice as this gesture was, the wine was not. We wanted to order our own, a) so we knew what it was and where it had been and b) so we didn’t get an after taste of cleaning supplies.
Unfortunately, we were served by the only waiter in the world who didn’t jump at the chance to let us spend more money. When we tried to order some decent wine along with some water, he motioned towards the jug. At this point he could’ve been saying anything about it (‘sorry you didn’t like this shit one we tried to palm off on you’), and he still appeared to write our order down. It was only about ten minutes later when he had bought the water but still hadn’t returned with any wine that it clicked. He was literally telling us if we wanted wine, we had wine. Drink the shit one. Seeing as we had asked for a bottle, we thought they would find us weird if we didn’t at least pretend to drink this one, so we forced to take a sip every now and again when they walked past. Why are we so awkward and British??
On the brightside, we had high hopes for this moussaka. It was definitely everything we had dreamed of and more.
Soon after we asked to pay. The waiter acknowledged this, but didn’t action it, instead just stood around staring. He eventually came over with it about ten minutes later, but it was then another long and painful wait for the change. Finally, taking what was left of the bottle of water we had ordered, we ventured out to find some nightlife.
We heard the bar we went in before we saw it; it’s music was blaring out down the whole street and it seemed the only place around with any atmosphere. It’s called The Highlander, and is apparently Scottish themed (although other than the name and the kilt on the wall there is nothing remotely Scottish about it). After a good dance, a good cocktail (or four) and a good realisation of how old we suddenly were (did we not know the latest rap because we are ancient, or because it hadn’t made it over to the UK yet?), we headed home. It was about midnight and yet I felt completely safe.
The following day started a lot more chilled, as we embarked on a boat trip. I bloody love a boat.
As Santorini is built into the cliff edges, the port is a long way down (260 meters to be exact), and so the easiest way to reach it is by cable car. This runs every twenty minutes, and is €6 per journey (you can’t get a return ticket). You can also walk down, but obviously that was absolutely not an option, and we opted for the cable car. The journey is only two minutes, but this is enough time to appreciate the stunning views coming down the caldera, and also enough to feel worried at the car breaking (it was a very shaky journey).
Once down in the port, we boarded our boat. This would take us to the volcano just off the coast of the island, and then to hot springs. For some reason it wasn’t until we were about to climb to the crater that we realised going to visit a volcano might actually include some climbing similar to the day before: something we had both said we were glad we never had to do again.
But here we were, accidental hike round two.
This one was in a lot of ways easier than the day before: we were clearly professionals now and the paths weren’t as risky (although at some points it was very thin with a crater either side). But most importantly the promise of hot springs got us through.
It was pretty special being on the top of the volcano, with 360 views of Santorini. We mostly used this time to look at the distance that we could now clearly see between Oia and Fira and marvel at the fact we had walked it.
Another highlight was being recommended Tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters) by another hiker, a Santorinian speciality and something which we later hunted down- a big thank you to the lady that suggested them!
After a talk by the guide (about how the volcano erupted, creating the separate island of Santorini from what used to be one big island, and how it is still active today ~but don’t worry you are definitely safe~), the time came to descend the volcano and go to the hot spring. And we. were. ready. We envisaged little jacuzzi style pools that the boat would pull up next to and we would just hop into and enjoy the ultimate relaxation.
But, when has something been what we thought it would be on this trip so far? What actually commenced was a better-late-than-never warning that the hot springs will dye our swimwear brown. Oh good. But what they also failed to mention was that the boat couldn’t pull up right by the hot springs and so we would have to swim to reach them. The guide pointed to where they were. Well vaguely because we couldn’t even see them from the boat. They were over the horizon at least sixty meters away. Oh well, we had paid for them and we had convinced ourselves we were adventurers, so were up for the swim.
We were told the sea would be eighteen degrees, and it was made out to be a very pleasant swim. So when we jumped in to what felt like three degrees, it was a bit of a shock!
Nevertheless, we were in now, and the promise of hot water kept us going towards the springs. It was unfortunate then, that when we got to what we assumed was the hot spring (basically just where the rest of our group had convened and where the water looked slightly browner), that it was lukewarm at best. At first we swam further and further in, thinking that we just weren’t quite there yet and soon the warmth would suddenly hit us.
But the others that had already explored this promised us that we were in the hot springs already. Underwhelming at best, and we had swam all this way and dyed our bikinis for them. All that was left to do was psyche ourselves up for the trip back through the freezing water to the boat.
If you are thinking of going to any hot springs, please wear clothes you don’t care about. Although we waited until back to shore half an hour later to put our clothes back on, we both returned home with brown stains over them from the sulphur. Although I was lucky and my shorts have cleaned up, I was wearing a white top which is now a stunning shade of grey. I wouldn’t have worn that if I had known about the sulphur dye!
We arrived back at the port around lunch time, soaking wet, stained brown, and starving from our biathlon. There are three options to go back up the 260m from the port: you can walk (don’t be silly), get the cable car, or ride a donkey some of the way. The donkeys are the traditional way of getting up from the port. There has been a fair bit about them in the news recently as they are putting a weight limit on tourists riding them. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend the donkeys, they do look well looked after as donkeys go, and are certainly a tourist staple to see.
They are also fiercely independent. It shocked me that once they have a passenger they are let loose on their way all on their own, and they know exactly where to go: terrifying for the rider as their life is completely in the donkey’s hands. But once on, you can’t get off until the end, and so are stuck sitting on this donkey, who goes about his own business at his own pace; zigzagging across the path, walking into pedestrians, and stopping when he fancies. For five euros, we took the donkeys up. It was a bad decision all round, for the donkeys (we did look into the welfare side after, and luckily they seem looked after, with weight restrictions, and a restriction on the amount of times they can safely do the journey a day), and for us. It was completely terrifying the whole ride, made worse by the fact we were by the edge of the path, where I could have easily been tipped over the wall. The worst part though, was when my donkey stopped next to a few others. One of these kicked him in the face. I thought that was it for me, I was absolutely shitting myself. Luckily he stayed calm and just moved on, and in contrast, that next bit was the best bit of the ride. Once we reached the top, some passenger-less donkeys were running down towards us, causing a stampede. Even the men in charge seemed concerned by this, and again my life flashed before me eyes. Luckily, my donkey again stayed calm, and we reached the end. Once here, one of the men informed me I had to get off. But offered no help in doing so. I literally had no idea what to do, and a random tourist had to help me down!!
The donkey experience was nothing like I thought it would be: I thought they would be led by the owner the whole time (who would be in control of it). But what was this trip without yet another unnerving experience.
This night was our last one, and we made the most of it. After a quick shower, we headed back out with hopes of seeing the sunset.
Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy evening, but the views were still stunning…
Our trip was soon coming to an end, and we spent the remainder of our time in the perfect way; eating, drinking, and relaxing.
The hostel called us a taxi to the airport, and when we arrived it was clear we hadn’t fully appreciated how small it was before. Only six flights a day maximum depart from it, and there is only one room the size of a school hall. This room contains security, the gates, a shop, and a general waiting area all in one place: tiny! There was nothing to do but queue next to the gate (which of course the Brits did perfectly), so it amazed me when there was three or four final calls for the flight to Athens before ours, because WHERE were the missing people and how had they missed the original call??!
Before we got on the plane, the staff at the gate insisted on tagging everyone’s cabin suitcase to put in the hold (which is usually reserved for the last few people on as the overhead lockers are full). This was completely baffling to everyone, who simply got on the shuttle bus and ripped the tags off, so that we were able to just walk onto the plane and put our luggage in the (empty) overheads as planned. This was hilarious, as out the window we could see the ground staff looking at people’s cases completely stumped as to why there weren’t many with tags, and start trying to take people’s cases without tags. I’m so glad I ripped my tag off as the overheads STILL ended up half empty so there was clearly plenty of room. That seemed the perfect way to round off this trip though, as it had been eventful from start to finish.
I would say Santorini is the perfect place to go in September/October to catch the last bit of sun, as the temperature was around 22 degrees, and very pleasant to partake in all the activities that are available.
Santorini out of 5:
The Island: 4
Things to Do: 3
The Food: 5