This autumn, somewhere at the end of September, we had a one week vacation in Santorini. We chose this destination, as we were impressed of Greece when he had been in Athens a year before, and also because the place is so much promoted everywhere we looked.
The media all over the world promotes Santorini as a magical island, one of Greece’s finest with the most beautiful sunset in the world. The supermodel of the Cyclades Islands, Santorini is also known for being one of the most expensive Greek Islands.
For us, well, we’ve seen better, to be honest. It was a very nice and relaxing vacation, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of it, analyzing the whole week spent there, I came to the conclusion that this island is so much promoted online and has a way better image on the Internet than in reality.
What is Santorini?
Santorini, classically Thera, and officially Thira, is an island in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of Greece’s mainland. It is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera. It forms the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, with an area of approximately 73 km2 and a 2011 census population of 15,550. The municipality of Santorini includes the inhabited islands of Santorini and Therasia and the uninhabited islands of Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana.
Imerovigli (Oia in the back)
Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera.
Palea Kameni to the left, Nea Kameni to the right
The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption (sometimes called the Thera eruption), which occurred some 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of meters deep and may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km to the south, through a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.
Leaving Nea Kameni and the activ vulcano (Imerovigli up on the clifs)
During our stay there, we tried to check out as many beaches as possible, some more populated, some quite remote. One thing is for sure. As we are talking about a volcanic island, with a volcano that is pretty much active, it will be very hard (almost impossible, actually) to find the Greek turquoise waters that you see everywhere online.
Kamari seen from Messavouno Mountain
Still, in Santorini you will get the chance to see all sorts of sand, from red, to black and white.
On our first day in Santorini, we went to the Red Beach. A small beach, with red sand, but a bit crowded, to be honest. There are no sun-beds, or umbrellas, but you have plenty of room to put your towel. Right next to the beach there’s also a small bar where you can get some refreshments.
Next day, we spend half of our day at Perissa beach. It’s a black sand beach, one of the biggest of Santorini and close to where we had our accommodation. The beach looks very good, quite clean, with sun beds and umbrellas (for 7 EUR/day). It wasn’t very crowded, not so many people, and it was quite relaxing to stay on this beach. There are plenty of bars and restaurants next to the beach so you can chose where you spend your time.
Day 3 was the Vavulos Beach day. A remote small beach, as we got a bit lost when going there and we had to walk about 30 minutes on small path, but when getting there it was worth all the effort. A beach only for us, with the clearest water so far, just perfect for a swim. Right next to the beach there’s a small restaurant/bar with fresh food and cold Greek beer.
Kamari beach happened on our 5th day on the Island. It’s one of the most popular and of course one of the most crowded beaches in Santorini. I didn’t enjoy this beach that much, mostly because there were too many people around us. But still, it’s a very well preserved beach, with sun-beds, umbrellas, bars and restaurants, but everything is very expensive there.
On our last day, we got, by mistake, to a very small beach with only a few people around. The road to the Kambia beach, is a country-side road, very bumpy, but still it’s worth the effort. Clear waters, almost no waves, quiet, nice small family restaurant right next to the beach (where you can also pay for the umbrellas and sun-beds). It was the beach that we enjoyed the most, from this island.
On the Western part of the island there are lots of small beaches, with few people and a lot of space for relaxing. Driving around the island, you will most definitely see them.
When coming to Santorini, it’s a must to visit some of its lovely villages. Most of them are situated on cliffs on the edges of the island and have beautiful architecture, with white and blue houses than blend in perfectly with the cliffs.
Some of the most famous villages are Oia and Fira. They are indeed very beautiful, but expect to get there and not be able to move because of all the other tourists running around on all the small pedestrian streets in search of the perfect photo. Oia is also very well known for offering you the most beautiful sunset in the world, so in the evening, you will get the chance to see thousands of people blocking all the small streets to live this sunset experience.
We also walked around in Firastefani and Imervigli, which are as beautiful as Oia and Fira, but not that crowded. Also, the most famous villages are also the most expensive, food and accommodation have quite high prices compared to the smaller, not so famous places on the island.
What to do when on the island?
Laying all day on the beach is very relaxing indeed, but there are also other activities you can do while being on the island.
Scuba diving – we were very excited when we booked the scuba diving trip and we were expecting a really cool experience. Unfortunately we paid 85 EUR for diving at the shore and not seeing basically anything interesting. But it was a good start for someone who hasn’t dived before.
Swimming in the hot springs – On one of the neighbor islands, the one with the active vulcano (Nea Kameni), part of the Thira Caldera, has some hot iron and sulfur springs that go directly into the sea. We had a boat trip to these springs and swam in them for about 30 minutes. The feeling was very nice, as you would feel the refreshing waters of the sea and in the same time the hot waters of the springs. It’s not suited for people who can’t swim at all, as the water is quite deep.
Trip on the vulcano – in the center of the Thira Caldera lies the active vulcano that made the island have the shape it has today. The guided guided tour of the vulcano is included in the boat trip to the island included. There is a hiking trip going up on the vulcano for about 30 minutes, but you will have a few stops for the guide to give you useful information about the vulcano and the rock formation on this island.
Nea Kameni Volcanic Park
Visit some archeological sites – This island has traces of being inhabited some 9 centuries BC, and some evidences of these prehistoric civilizations are still to be found on the island. Ancient Thira is one archeological site, an antique city on a ridge of the steep, 360 m high Messavouno mountain. It was named after the mythical ruler of the island, Theras, and was inhabited from the 9th century BC until 726 AD. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to visit this site as it was closed when we got there, but going up on the mountain gave us a nice view of the island.
We did visit the Akrotiri Archeological Site. It is a Minoan Bronze Age settlement. The settlement was destroyed in the Theran eruption about 1627 BC and buried in volcanic ash, which preserved the remains of fine Frescoes and many objects and artworks. The settlement has been suggested as a possible inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis. The earliest evidence for human habitation of Akrotiri can be traced back as early as the fifth millennium BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By the end of the third millennium, this community developed and expanded significantly.
Restaurants and traditional food
As I am a true gourmand and I love to taste the real local flavors of a place I visit, I did a quite deep research on what to eat and where in Santorini.
I would suggest you go for restaurants and taverns outside the main touristic attractions, as these are mostly for tourists and tend to lose the local flavor.
Being next to the sea, of course the main dishes of most of the restaurants are based on sea food and fish, but moussakas, eggplants, lamb, tzatziki are not to be missed.
Our first stop was Taverna Simos in Firostefani. Although the location is not really the best, the food there is very good. From the sea food to the eggplant salad, everything was delicious.
God’s Garden was our favorite restaurant, by far. Close to the place we stayed, we went there 3 times for dinner and never left disappointed. Here we didn’t go for sea food, but instead, we had the most delicious lamb dishes, mezze and the best moussaka I have ever eaten in my life.
For sea food and fish, but also for a delicious eggplant dish, we went 2 times to the To Psaraki Tavern. Perfect location, on the sea side, with a beautiful view, but also excellent food. Everything cooked with fresh fish, I had the best tuna carpaccio and the best tuna souvlaki, combined with tasty local wines. Not to mention the mussels and octopus, we just couldn’t stop saying how tasty everything was.
Away from Santorini – one day on the IOS Island
This trip to the Ios Island was not planned, but it was one of the best days we had during this vacation. Getting to Ios is just one hour boat trip, and we decided to spend all day on of the Mylopotas beach. We were finally experiencing the Greek turquoise and we just couldn’t stay out of the water.
You can also chose to take a tour of the island, but for us, the beautiful blue water was everything we wanted to see in front of our eyes for that day.
The Santorini Sunset is overrated
While doing the research for this trip, I found in many places on the internet that you have to enjoy the sunset in Oia, otherwise you had come to Santorini for nothing. They say this is the most beautiful and romantic sunset in the whole wide world.
We went in Oia for a quick visit and we were preparing to leave somewhere around 7PM, when we saw that all the small streets were beginning to get more and more crowded. So it seems that every evening, around sunset, this little village gets packed with people in search of this amazing sunset everybody is talking about.
For us, well, seeing so many people around us, got us a bit nervous, so we decided to Run for our lives before someone would step on us, trying to take a photo of the sun going into the sea. Because that’s what it is, a sun going into the sea, something you could see in many other places where there’s a sun and a sea. As for the romantic in this sunset, not sure if that’s actually possible when there are thousands of people around you clicking their phone or camera for pictures.
If you really want to try having a romantic sunset, go away from Oia. You will see plenty of belvedere points on the island where you can enjoy a quiet and relaxed sunset.
Practical tips while on the Island
Santorini is more expensive than other islands in Greece, even more expensive than Athens, so expect to pay more while on the island.
The island can get very crowded during summer months, so if you want to actually have some breathable air while there, try booking you trip somewhere end of spring or beginning of autumn. We went there at the end of September, the outside temperature and the water temperature were just perfect.
Exploring the island from scratch to toe would require renting a car. We got one as a bonus from the place we stayed and it was very helpful for us, as we drove around the island with no worries. There are also lots of buses that connect the main villages of the island, but you depend on their schedule.
Accommodation – The Birds Villa (breakfast included, pool just in front of the villa, car offered as a bonus for the entire stay there).
Scuba Diving – Mediteranean Dive Club in Perissa (quite expensive, and not what we had actually expected)
Boat trips to the hot springs and vulcano – Kamari Tours
As a personal conclusion regarding this trip, I would say that if you’re in search of a quiet place to enjoy a nice vacation, Santorini for sure, it not what you are looking for. Still, it has a lot too offer (not as much as it is promoted online), but it can be a very nice destination, enjoying the sea and having lots of other activities to do while not on the beach. Also, with a good research, you can find some hidden gems of this island just for you and the people you are with.