I’m writing this on the plane home, *sob*, heading back to the UK after a week in sunny Santorini. It’s a truly beautiful island, and there’s so much to see and do, so just a few quick facts before I get into it! We went on a package holiday with Thomson, which has its pros and cons. Transfers and everything sorted, but little say over timings etc. I think for our first time visiting Santorini, it was a good idea. Were we to go again, I think we’d go it alone. Santorini is one of the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea belonging to Greece. The weather is sunny but often mild, the perfect weather for a holiday for relaxing and for activities. We averaged about 26/27 degrees this past week, with clouds one day and a few hours on some days of scorching sun. The airport is not good – if you’re not travelling with a company, don’t arrive for your return flight until about an hour before, or risk having to trek out of the airport again and sit in a cafe until you can go through security! However, this was I think the only problem with Santorini! The whole island is amazing so let’s get into it.
The hotel we stayed at was so pretty. Quite basic but it had everything we needed. Our room itself was a bit like a cave, but in a good way… Honestly, it was really cool, I promise! The hotel had a lovely swimming pool area, was quite small so there weren’t too many guests, and also served a pretty decent breakfast, which can be difficult to find.
In terms of location, we stayed in the town of Perissa, one of four or so major towns on the island. It’s a lot quieter than the main town of Fira, and although not as beautiful as the hillside coastal town Oia, it is a lot more affordable and generally better value. Overall, I think we blindly chose well! If you can afford it, definitely stay in Oia, it is stunning! Otherwise I think Perissa and Kamari are great small coastal towns with beaches, as is Akrotiri with it’s Red Beach, and Fira is an option if you’re not worried about having the beach nearby.
We were lucky in that our hotel was extremely close to the beach, although having spent time there I was equally as happy by the pool, so I don’t think this was a deal breaker. The sand is quite stony and is very dark, stemming from Santorini being an old volcanic island, and the sea is fairly salty. It is warm though and is great for swimming. On the plus side, at Perissa Beach each hotel or restaurant on the seafront has it’s own set of sunbeds on the sand, so if you grab lunch somewhere down there, you have free use of the sunbeds for the day. Some of them are really unique too – one of my favourites had beanbag-type beds to lounge on!
Staying in Perissa, we primarily ate there. In the region of our hotel there were more than enough seafront restaurants and also a couple of places a road or two inland. I would highly advise visiting a Creperia on your trip here – the crepes are insane(ly huge) and the ice cream is excellent as a whole. If you’re ever in Perissa, the strawberry ice cream at Creperia Vienna is something else! In terms of restaurants, the majority had very interchangeable menus – there were a few big touristy places which went out of their way to be ‘Greek’, called Apollon, Aphrodite, and similar. Some of these are actually pretty good, you just need to find the right ones! Generally if you find somewhere with really friendly staff then the experience is never going to be that bad. I’d recommend Acropolis in Perissa. Then there’s the restaurants that still have similar menus but aren’t quite as bedecked with faux-marble statues and multiple Greek flags. Same story to be honest, we found Visanto to be good. Finally, you have the stand-out places. In parts of the island like Oia, there are far more of these. In Perissa, we only found one, Ntomatini, that was really something special. They did the usual mixture of food types (Italian, seafood, salads), but also served hot a cold mezedes based around traditional Greek dishes, sort of like Greek tapas. They also had excellent customer service and this was the place with the bean bag sun loungers!! Another tip – drinks are expensive, so you’ve got two options. Either go somewhere which serves cheap cocktails, which are hard to find but they do exist. Dorians Pub in Perissa has them, but the downside is that they don’t serve food, although you can order it in from next door! This was also set further back from the beach. Alternatively, you can order the house wine. In all but one of the restaurants to we went to (and the exception was in Oia), you could order a half or full litre of white, red, and often rose house wine, which would set you back no more than around 6 euros for the half litre and 12 euros for a whole litre of wine. In a restaurant. We cottoned on to that quite quickly and basically had that for every evening meal!
^cocktails at dorians^
^the house white^
What to do…
Santorini is one of those great places where you can have a totally relaxed holiday, sunbathing by the pool or relaxing on the beach, and that’s perfect. Or, there are also tons of things to keep you entertained away from the sun worshippers. We saw plenty of people doing watersports, especially parasailing (it can get pretty windy just off the coast). Both times we left Perissa, we rented transport to get about rather than joining excursions. I know there are a lot of excursions which Thomson offer, and I think if you wanted to go on one of the boat trips round the island, either to hike the volcano on Nea Kameni or see the sunset at Oia, these would be an excellent option. However, for what we wanted to do, I don’t think booking through the travel company was necessary. One day we hired a quad bike from a place just down the road in Perissa. It took a bit of getting used to but it was great fun. We went along the beach and around the town, and then took it over to Kamari and up to the ancient ruins of Thira, on top of the mountain which dominates the landscape surrounding Perissa. These ruins are definitely worth the visit of you are at all interested in history, artefacts, or just learning more about the island, as is the museum in Fira housing all too the archaeological finds from the excavations. A word of warning though – ancient Thira can be approached from Perissa or from Kamari, Perissa by foot and Kamari by vehicle, hence the quad bike. The road from Kamari is insanely windy and although not dangerous, it was much easier on a quad than I expect it would be in a car! The trek from Perissa didn’t seem that bad, but once you reach the ‘base camp’ there is still a significant climb to actually get to the top. I barely made it! We of course made the mistake of getting there just around noon, so we were hiking during the hottest part of the day. However, it was worth it, being able to walk among the ancient ruins enhanced by the phenomenal view of much of the island.
^the view from ancient thira^
^me being let loose on the quadbike^
^the ruins at thira^
^view from the quadbike^
^ruins of the ancient theatre at thira^
^me struggling (obviously!)^
^on the bike^
Our second outing involved hiring a car – I know, eek – which was mostly fine. We had a little Nissan with a soft top, which was amazing for cruising round in 30 degree heat! We were out for the whole day, doing a circuit around the island. First stop was the point of the crescent and Akrotiri Lighthouse, where you could climb the cliffs – safely or not – and get some amazing views. We then drove back down into Akrotiri itself, which has a great beach, port, and archaeological excavations. Unfortunately the excavations were extremely busy and we didn’t have the time to spend queuing, so we headed out. However, if you are visiting for the culture this could be worth the wait. Next stop was Fira, about 20 minutes up the coast from Akrotiri. This is the main town on the island and you can definitely tell! It was unbelievably difficult to park, and then we had to trek up some winding alleys, dodging people on mopeds, to get to the main road through the town. Again, however, so worth it. There were some great little shops to buy memorabilia, along with a few surprising ones I didn’t expect – they had a MAC, and a Sephora! The Archaeological Museum of Thira is also here in Fira (yup), and if you walk up to the coast there are amazing views out onto the ‘bay’ of the island. We stopped here for a drink and lunch and, although of course more expensive, it was amazing to sit in front of such a beautiful view.
^view from akrotiri lighthouse^
^view from some random place we stopped on our road trip!^
^…and another one^
^view from fira^
^the vines at domaine sigalas^
^i’ll just have the one^
^this was honestly before any wine was consumed^
Our final stop on the road trip was Oia, and as we were a bit earlier than we wanted to be, we decided to stop at a winery on the way in. Domaine Sigalas is a little outside of Oia, and has the most relaxed, picturesque wine tastings. We sat out on a verandah, right next to the vines, under a light canopy. We had a full selection of the dry wines to share, which was only 19 euros. It was the most unique and relaxing afternoon we had in Santorini and I’m so glad that we stopped by. There are wineries all over the island and I think most do tastings, so it’s worth popping in as you’re passing to check them out!
And finally, to Oia. This is without a doubt where you are imagining when you think of Santorini. Bleached white buildings and blue-roofed churches stretching down towards the sea, the volcanic islands of the archipelago, the tiny winding streets leading to some of the most luxurious accommodation that Greece has to offer. It’s also the infamous spot to see the sunset, which was, right on cue, pretty beautiful. However, the place is also packed with tourists! I know, I know, I was one. But it is insane. This is definitely something to bear in mind before you stay in Oia, and definitely before you venture out around the time of sunset. We settled ourselves in a little restaurant on the terrace to watch, so we were out of the way, and whilst we couldn’t see the sun sinking down over the sea, we did get the sunset over the mountains and islands of Santorini – equally as mesmerising. If you’re going to do it, time it well and don’t try and leave straight away afterwards (because, basically, you can’t get out). I’d also like to mention Atlantis Books, literally the bookshop of my dreams. Down in a basement in Oia was the last place I expected to find an independent, English-based bookshop, but there it was. They specialise in binding small books and selling rare ones, although they have normally-priced books in around five different languages too. I picked up some Greek posters and some of their tiny bound books, more as keepsakes than anything else. I couldn’t help but notice the 1899 limited Christmas edition of Sense & Sensibility selling for a few thousand euros though….!
^oia by day^
^oia by sunset^
As you can tell, there’s plenty of things to do in Santorini, and I’m sure there’s so many more that I haven’t mentioned and don’t even know about! We had an amazing week away here – and I do think a week was the perfect amount of time for us – and I’m sad to be leaving it all behind. If I was ever going to go travelling or spend the summer somewhere, I would make sure Santorini was on the cards. Rent a bike, go exploring, have fun in the sun. If you want an interesting, unique holiday which also allows for the poolside sunbathing which us Brits love so much, Santorini is perfect. It’s definitely made me want to visit more of the beautiful islands which Greece is famous for!