The Greek Islands (Part 01): Santorini
Our big summer trip was a week in the Greek Islands split between Santorini and Crete. We could barely hold in our excitement the night before departure, but we did our best getting some rest since we had to get up early to get to Gatwick. After some minor delays, we were off and 4 hours later started our descent toward the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. The approach to Santorini was beautiful and a fitting introduction to the area! Once at the airport, we grabbed a cab and took the scenic drive to the island’s most famous and picturesque town of Oia where we would be spending three nights in a small cave studio clinging to the cliffs facing the caldera.
One of Oia’s claims to fame are its vivid, romantic sunsets, so we made sure to watch one unfold from the town’s main drag on our first night. Considering the intense crowds, we spent the other two nights watching the sunset from our private terrace. Though we didn’t have a direct line of sight to the sunset, it was still amazing to watch the sky fade through intense shades of orange, yellow and red around the sparkling sea.
Santorini is not that large of an island, so it’s actually pretty easy to hike from one end to the other. While we didn’t walk the length of the whole island, we did decide to do the 2-hour hike from Oia to the main town of Fira. The views were absolutely incredible throughout the hike and we found ourselves alone among the beautiful landscape quite a bit, though it was nice to cross paths with others along the way. The sun was relentless, so it’s recommended to do the hike early in the morning before and gets too hot--and don’t forget the water! There were some interesting stopping points along the walk, most notably an old church at one of the peaks that offered a place to take in the cool breeze and panoramic views. Once we got to Fira we found our way to the bus stop where we picked up the bus (air conditioned and inexpensive!) and made our way back to Oia.
Ammoudi Bay lies at the foot of Oia’s cliffs down hundreds of winding steps. The path is shared by many donkeys that carry tourists both ways, which is a fair way to navigate the steep terrain if you’re physically unable to otherwise, but we opted to walk and would recommend it as the donkeys did not seem to be treated well--plus, it’s more rewarding! The bay offers a swimming spot off of a collection of jagged rocks and about 50 feet from the shore lies a small, tall island topped with a church. More noteworthy about this small island though was a cliff jumping spot about 20 feet above the water which we had noticed from our terrace high above in the cliffs but doubted we would ever muster the courage to do it ourselves. However, with the opportunity right in our face and the support of the others swimming and jumping, we gingerly climbed up and took the plunge--and more than once!
The perfect way to cap off our visit to Santorini was a half-day excursion on a 74-foot catamaran with Sunset Oia. We set sail from Ammoudi Bay (the tour company was nice enough to drive us down from Oia to spare us from having to walk down those steps again) with sights set on the volcanic hot springs between the two small islands in the center of Santorini’s backward “C.” After soaking in the warm water and exfoliating mud we got back on the boat and made our way to Red Beach. The beach itself was closed due to dangerous rockslides so the skipper anchored 100 feet offshore and everyone jumped into the water for a free swim. Once we got back on the boat, we had a quick but delicious Greek barbecue (more on that and the rest of our meals below) and set off for White Beach. Similarly the skipper anchored offshore and offered us a chance to snorkel or just to swim freely in the sea or on the beach. After this last swim, the boat was directed back toward Oia and we spent the ride admiring the island’s and its environs’ beauty from the water.
As you would hope, we obviously made time for food in between all of these things, but the utter deliciousness of it all warrants a paragraph of its own. Terpsi N Oia was the first restaurant we went to upon arriving and it quickly found a place in our hearts and stomachs. The pita, hummus, tzatziki, olive paste, goat cheese and pear salad, lemon tart, and chocolate brownie all made regular appearances on our plates and it was all indescribably yummy, made all the better by the views. Skiza Cafe offered mouth-watering olives, bread, spicy prosciutto pizza and lemon sorbet, which was a great dessert to cool off with. The bread, tzatziki, chicken souvlaki and grilled shrimp at Skala also made our pallets dance with happiness especially since we washed it all down with baklava and vanilla ice cream. As mentioned above, the boat tour included a full Greek barbecue which did not disappoint and ended up being our best meals on Santorini--souvlaki, grilled vegetables, salad, pita and hummus. Lastly, we had some of the best chocolate truffles of our lives from Melenio Cafe!
The morning of the day we departed Santorini for Crete was spent walking around Oia one last time. We popped in and out of shops and one of them had paintings of the town which we thought would make a perfect souvenir. After spending a long lunch filling our bellies at Terpsi N Oia one last time and appreciating the blue and white dreamlike landscape, we grabbed a taxi to the port and boarded our ferry bound for Crete.