Blue and White in Santorini
I know I know, every Blogger and her dog (read: boyfriend) has been to Santorini lately (I’m another in line to snap an outfit post with a coastal town lying peacefully behind me), so apologies if you’re all Greeked-out! To be fair though, when my boyfriend’s parents messaged us to ask if we’d like to join them for a few days after their trekking trip, we kind of couldn’t say no. Even if you’ve seen a few other articles, fingers crossed my two posts will have you learning something new about this popular Greek get-away.
The volcanic island of Santorini in south-east Greece has been applauded for being one of the most romantic places to visit (it’s number 18 in Lonely Planet’s top 500 Ultimate Travelist book) and whilst it offered some incredible views and memorable escapades, it wasn’t somewhere I’d necessarily go back to. I’m personally not big on pebbly beaches and hoards of tourists but luckily parts of Santorini allowed Miss Anti-social over here to escape the crowds and discover the countryside and quiet villages too.
Here’s what I got up to and what I’d recommend popping in your itinerary should you be taking the flight to Santorini soon. And when I say flight, that’s a nod to not taking the notoriously unreliable ferries!
Spot Fira’s chapels
Just for context, we stayed in Santorini’s capital Fira on the west coast in a modest hotel on the outskirts. Whilst most people choose to reside in the more picturesque Oia (pronounced ee-ya) to the north, Fira was more affordable, had a larger selection of all amenities and was closer and better-connected to other destinations.
Want the best views of the colourful and iconic chapel roof tops? Follow the well-dressed girls, they’ll lead you to the most Instagrammable spots looking over the sea high-up on the cliffs. You can pop into the chapels but we didn’t do so, instead walking into the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in the town centre in the evening where the gilding and brightly painted frescoes twinkled from above.
Get a taste of Megalochori
With Fira the central ‘bus’ (well, coach) depot, you can get almost anywhere on the island relatively quickly and easily for around 2 euros. Much of the countryside on the island is reserved for the ancient practice of grape-growing and several wineries are peppered around each town. (Cue happy dance up on discovering this fact).
Megalochori, one such settlement on the west of Santorini, is home to a vineyard owned by the Gavalas family and a visit there was high on my priority list. We hopped off a coach and ambled the empty whitewashed streets (all beautifully restored to remain faithful to 17th century architecture) up to the vineyard, pausing for door snaps like these and finally rewarding ourselves with a 5-part wine tasting.
What’s great about wine tasting in Santorini is that you can simply walk in and be served like in a bar, plus the wine here is made in such small yields that barely any is exported so you can only really taste it on the very Earth it was grown on. Whites are the specialty here due to the aridity of the climate and acidity of the volcanic soils. These may be great but the clear winner was a syrupy-sweet desert wine, produced in very limited quantities called Vinsanto which is made from sundried grapes. Be sure to try some on your trip!
As for the vineyards themselves, don’t expect to see rows upon rows of tall lush vines. Santorini vines are trained to coil round in bundles on the ground so that they’re protected from harsh winds. Some plants have laid there for hundreds of years! Once they’ve called it a day, wineries often dry out the vine hoops to create ornaments that are reminiscent of Jesus’s crown of thorns.
Trek the volcanic crater
A major activity in Santorini is boat tours. Each trip lasts anything from 3 hours to a whole day and takes a route so that that you can get a proper look-in on that volcano plug in the centre of the caldera. I was chuffed to re-live my Cos ’06 days with a trip in an authentic-looking wooden sailing boat which says ‘oceanic adventure’ rather than ‘island party yaht tour’.
Our trip’s first stop-off was at the base of Neo Kameni where you pay 5 euros to scale the 130 meter-high crater rim. Our tour guide quickly got us scrambling up the rocky paths, stopping at look-out points to explain the geology (my dream) and history with notes including the fact that the last volcanic activity on the island was in 1950. *Gulp* Remember to hold your nose around the sulphur vents and to hold your phone tightly as you peer over edges into the crater.
If trekking up a massive pile of black rocks doesn’t float your boat, perhaps plunging off the side of said boat will be more your jam. Swim up to the orange-coloured waters in a small bay of the island and you’ll quickly feel the temperature rise. Warm air bubbles popping out of the shallow water could have you thinking you’re in a Jacuzzi if it wasn’t for the minerals in the water staining your bikini so be sure to wear last-years’ swimsuit! We were really lucky in being the first boat of the day to stop-off at the hot springs meaning the water was its warmest and least churned up.
Climb Thirasia’s Steps (If you dare)
Back on-board our boat we headed towards Thirasia, another island of the caldera which is apparently home to 270 people (and what must be around 1,246 cats). There’s not much infrastructure here but a few restaurants clinging to the cliff, waiting for the daily deposit of tourists. Here we grabbed a Greek salad and Cafe Freddo (an iced cappuccino of sorts) which became a daily guilty pleasure.
Looking for something to do in our 3-hour stop over, we foolishly took to Thiras’s long, zig-zagging north-bound steps which we realised are certainly not for the faint-hearted (or gym-slackers like Yours Truly). They were HARD in the heat (we of course refused to sit on the back on a Donkey) but seeing a chequerboard house, the views over Santorini and the resident kitties amongst the ruins at the top made the sweat worth it. Kinda.
Bask in Santorini’s sunset
The biggie, the finale, the final bow – Santorini’s sunsets are spectacular. If you’re on the west coast then they’re impossible to miss, if only for the the fact that everyone just stops and stares towards the west no matter where they’re happened to be stood.
We saw one sunset in Oia whilst sipping cocktails at Lioyerma Lounge Cafe Pool Bar and another in Fira overlooking Ellis restaurant. The former was a great shout as it was relatively tucked away with just a few people there and latter gave us a beautiful view in the foreground (Ellis was a great place to eat afterwards too).
There are of course so many other things to do in Northern Santorini including Fira’s port cable cars and Oia’s scary port steps and diving rocks. There are museums and walks and other small towns to be discovered so be sure to do more research before you travel!
Thinking of visiting Santorini? Let me know and keep an eye out on my next post where I’ll be showing you my favourite spots in the South.
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