The anticipation of travelling to Santorini had my stomach full of butterflies for days... even long after we arrived. Not only does it live up to it's name, but it was far more beautiful than what I had imagined. I'm not just talking about the signature caldera white villages and blue domed churches that Santorini conjures images of... We also met some of the warmest people there, and ate some of the most delicious food, which when served looked like art. You can't really compare it to any other place on earth, it's unique in it's own right. And although it's obviously a romantic destination, the best part of this trip was sharing this experience with our friends. Arrival
We flew in from Gatwick Airport, and had a chance to sleep a little on the plane. By the time I woke up and peered out the window, we were flying right above the gorgeous blue Aegean sea (a subdivision of the Mediterranean sea) and I could see we were passing little clusters of islands. With each passing island we were getting closer and closer to the island of Santorini, which isn't just an
island, but an actual volcano. The main towns that make up the ring of the volcano are Therasia, Fira, and Oia. We based ourselves in Fira, which is the principle city, and since it's essentially in the middle of the Island, you can easily get to the north or south sides of the island within half an hour or less. We stayed at a very beautiful and affordable boutique hotel called Rena's suites, which was just a short walk to the city center. I loved that it was quiet enough to relax in, but also close enough to the city to walk to restaurants and get easy access to amenities. The nice people at Rena's picked us up from Santorini's tiny airport in a van and right away gave us a very warm welcome. The new manager of the hotel probably talked to us for 30 minutes; he wanted to make sure we knew everything we needed to know about the Island.... and his personal life lol. Fira
As soon as we dropped off our belongings and changed into our sun friendly clothes, we set off to the city center. We were
warned to steer clear of the vehicles when we are walking; the streets here are very narrow, and there are a lot of very relaxed tourists and locals speeding by, who are probably not paying much attention to pedestrians. On each side of the main streets, there are many local businesses, shops, restaurants, and a few hotels and houses. You immediately start to notice that everything in Santorini is very photogenic; even a simple street corner, or a vase with a native plant. I remember hearing somewhere that even though Santorini has a dry desert-like Mediterranean climate, a mist comes in from the sea and covers Santorini at night which provides enough moisture for the plants to thrive in. We took our time and walked around, going up steep stone stairs and cute narrow pathways, and getting lost in all the options for food and stores. Our friends bought some hats, which is a smart purchase as it's incredibly sunny here. We began looking for restaurants, and were happy to see that all the menus are displayed outside near the entrance, which makes picking a restaurant much easier, especially when you're a vegetarian like Victor and I are. The place
we chose was Archipelagos Restaurant, which had the most amazing views of the Santorini volcano, and was the best and most delicious elegant meal we had in Fira. The garlic pasta I ordered tasted like heaven, and had everyone in our table reaching over and sneaking bites of it with their forks. Everyone loved this spot, especially the calming atmosphere and the nice people who served us there. Nothing compares to having these special moments right on the edge of the caldera overlooking the sea. The view in front of us was so surreal, and I couldn't help feeling blissful and blessed to be here.
After lunch, we grabbed some mango gelato and then spent the rest of the afternoon walking the whole path that curves up the edge of the cliffs, and got high enough to get the full view of beautiful Fira. From here, you can see the whole panorama of Fira, with it's white washed buildings and the cliffs that drop down into the sea. The sun shines upon the sea spreading flecks of light up making the water sparkle. Down below, a man leads a row of donkeys up
to the top of the caldera, a common sight to see here. Although many people think this is a traditional ride, it's actually very painful and abusive for the poor donkeys because their handlers mistreat them and are constantly whipping them and making them haul people who's weight exceed their carrying capacity. Not to mention, this is all going on all day, everyday, in the scorching hot Greek sun. There have been many reports of this animal abuse, that now even cruise ships discourage people from riding them. I'd never suggest you ride them either!
We found a nice little secluded bar and had some drinks as we awaited the sun set. It was our first of many sunsets that we witnessed on our stay. Seeing the sunset in Greece is quite an experience in itself. It's like the sky completely transforms, and in front of you is an amazing warm glowing sphere, displaying the most amazing orange colors you've ever seen. Everyone seems to be waiting for it, and seeing it is always just as amazing as the first time. Man, it just never gets old here! Night Life
Fira is actually known as the "party" center of Santorini. Luckily we were walking distance to all the cool areas and night life. First, we grabbed a late dinner, then we bar hopped around the downtown. This was super fun to do especially because we were here with our group of friends. Most of the places we stopped at were packed full of people dancing and having a good time. We went to Two Brothers and Murphys, and I can't remember the names of the other bars. Murphys has a reputation for having ridiculous priced drinks and not the best customer service, but to be honest, we actually had a pretty decent experience there, I guess it's because we liked the music playing there the best. They played a good mix of hip hop classics and groovy techno beats, and the variation had us moving and dancing all night. There were even surprise confetti napkins thrown in to complete the party atmosphere. We didn't even sit down once, we just kept on dancing into the early morning hours. At one point, Jose and I had a "dance off" competition which was so funny. Pretty soon we were
all in the dance competition together; those were some of the craziest dance moves I've ever seen! The craziest thing that almost
happened was that I tried to dance up on the bar! hahah... ya, that's what happens when you've had way too many mixed drinks. I'll have you know that it's a rare occurrence for me to try anything crazy like that, so everyone in our group was surprised at what had come over me. What had come over me was feeling on top of the world happy, because I was in Santorini. Needless to say, it was a really fun memorable night... ain't no shame in that! Head over heals in love with The Corner Crepes
I don't know why, but ever since we stumbled upon this locally owned Crepe place in Fira, it was like love at first bite. It's called the "Corner Restaurant" for crepes & waffles, and its not hard to find since it's right at the corner entrance of the city center. It is rare for me to go back to a restaurant more than once, but we were literally there every day, whether it was
for breakfast, lunch, or a late night chocolate craving. They have a great variety of sweet and savory crepes. The owners there were so sweet, and they started remembering us, and I'm sure that they even knew our order before we even sat down. It's just one of those cozy places that steals your heart, and the food will have you running back for seconds. They accommodated Victor and I by making us a special vegetarian crepe filled with a mix of veggies, lettuce, and their signature white sauce. Their sweet crepes were so cute because they were adorned with pretty fruit and little animal shaped cookies, and sometimes the owner would put extra cookies on them just for us. At the end of our stay, the owner gave our friends Jose and Erika a special "Corner" restaurant mug as a gift. I'm going to say that in general we were super happy with the food in Santorini, but this place goes beyond that and makes you feel at home. ATV ride around the Island
Most people say that their favorite activity to do in Santorini is to take an
ATV ride around the Island. My favorite part wasn't necessarily the ATV ride (I'll tell ya what it is soon) but the views we saw on our ride were still incredibly stunning. We passed several jaw dropping cliffs, and made several stops along the way to look out and take it all in. None of our pictures even come close to the reality of how gorgeous those caldera cliffs are. I truly felt small and insignificant in comparison to their size and beauty. We continued our ride around the Island and got to stop at a very cool beach with black sand called Perissa beach. On our stop, we lounged on some chairs and enjoyed some snacks and drinks. Next, we set off in search of a light house, which didn't turn out to be all that special, but we still enjoyed the challenge of finding places on the path, and of course the views were amazing.
The next day was really funny because we still had the ATVs for a couple extra hours, and our intentions were to go out and look for more beaches or sights around Santorini. We
decided to go search for Akrotori, which is a prehistoric town in Santorini. We drove south and knew we were close, but the path wasn't very obvious and there were hardly any signs. I don't know what happened exactly, but something kept happening to Jose's vehicle, and it started to only drive in reverse. We tried for a long time to fix it, with no luck. That wasn't even the worst part; by now we were in the middle of nowhere, miles from people. So we decided to drive back, and Jose drove his vehicle in reverse, far out enough to get some help. We stumbled upon a family run restaurant and farm called Kali Kardia in Faros
, and they were the most gracious people. They helped us get the tools we needed to fix the car, and even when that didn't work, they helped us get in touch with the ATV company so that they could meet us and get it fixed. We offered to pay a gratuity for their help, but they refused to accept any money from us. We wanted to show them how thankful we were for their kindness, so we had dinner at their restaurant.
It didn't take long for us to realize that Kali Kardia was such a special place. Their products are handmade with love, and they have a good quality restaurant with lots of special details. We may have had a rough start to the day, but finding this place made our day much more bright. My favorite thing to do in Santorini (drum roll)..... cruising!
We didn't quite plan ahead for this cruise, but we definitely knew we wanted to do some kind of activity that involved the sea in Santorini. Our friends Jose and Erika planned ahead and booked their cruise tour months in advance. Naty, David, Victor, and I booked ours with help from our hotel the day before. There are many boat/cruise tours offered in Santorini, and you can chose one that fits your budget and style. You can also decide whether you want to charter a private boat or get one that fits around 14-20 people like ours did. We were kind of bummed that Jose and Erika were going to be on a different cruise tour, but we were essentially going to be doing the same
thing, just not on the same boat. What makes this activity my favorite thing to do in Santorini is how connected you are to nature, riding over the waves of the sea and seeing the caldera cliffs from a lower perspective which is quite beautiful. We just sat back and relaxed as our boat cruised all around Santorini. Cruising around these amazing island landscapes, refreshing splashes of salt water upon our skin, calming breeze, sun shining in the clear blue sky... it was perfect. The boat made several stops, including a hot spring. Out of the 14 or so people on our boat, only three people jumped into the water because it was so cold. But the water looked so pretty, and it was clear enough to see the rocks at the bottom, so I jumped in! I'm so happy I did this, because now I can say I had the experience of jumping into the Aegean subdivision of the Mediterranean sea. This whole day at sea was quickly becoming the highlight of our trip for me!
This was probably the highlight for our friends Jose and Erika too! I will tell you why; Remember
how they were on a different cruise? Well, at one point during the cruising excursion, we recognized Jose's boat which had stopped near the volcano center, so we excitingly started shouting "Jose! Erika! Hey we are over here!" We finally got their attention and they waved and shouted back to us, which was great because we were so close by. Then all of a sudden, Jose got down on one knee and proposed to Erika right there on their boat, and we got the whole thing on camera! It was the best coincidence ever! I mean, it couldn't have gone better even if we had tried to plan it. I loved that now we can gift them footage of their proposal story, and we were witnesses of their lovely once in a lifetime moment. You could say that it was fate that led us to be on different boats, and then meet up at the most perfect time. Both our boat crew and their boat crew were so excited, everyone clapped and cheered, and both Naty and I shed some happy tears for them. It was such a happy day! Coincidently "Happy Day" is also the name of the boat
they were on during the proposal!
We didn't realize until later, that both our boats belonged to the same "sister" cruise company, so after the awesome proposal, the boats parked right next to each other, and got close enough so that everyone was able to hop over on to our boat for hugs and congratulations! Both our boat crews were really great, and started blasting music so that we could all dance and party. One crew member in particular, a hilarious Brazillian named Paulo, made us all dance in a game of follow the leader which was insanely fun. When it got late, and the time came for everyone to get back into their original boat to depart the stop area, we were served excellent food, which included lots of sea food and delicious Mediterranean veggie options for us. When we finished our dinner, we brought some wine up to the deck and watched the golden sun set. Like I said earlier, the sun sets never get old here, they are always "out of this world" beautiful. I let the waves hypnotize me as our boat sped back to the marina, and the last golden
light hit the horizon, it was so calming and surreal, I wished we never had to leave. Oia
Santorini conjures up images of white washed villages, nestled on top of the calderra cliffs. This is among the many unique characteristics that makes Santorini so special, and why its such a dreamy sought after destination. The archways, the narrow pathways and marble white floor, the beautiful pops of color from the potted plants, the blue domed churches... there's something so mesmerizing about the panorama of these images, and the best place to see it is in Oia. There's so much beauty here, you must reserve a memory card just for photos of Oia. It's like you are walking inside of a post card!
I couldn't believe it myself. Oia's legacy is very much protected, and only buildings with this same traditional Greek/Venitian architecture is allowed to be here. Loud music from bars or clubs are not allowed either, preserving Oia's peaceful allure. I loved the whole experience of visiting Oia with the exception of one little flaw: it gets really crowded! The crowds of people and the expensive high end prices of luxury hotels in
Our Vegetarian Gyro from Pito Gyros
Oia is what made us decide to stay in Fira versus staying in Oia. I am not a fan of crowds at all, and many people aren't either. So my advice is, visit Oia during the days and hours that cruise ships are not around, this will ensure a more peaceful less frantic visit. When the cruise ships come in, everyone goes straight to Oia of corse, so the already narrow pathways become twice as narrow. The Greek sun is bright here as it bounces back from the white washed buildings and marble floor, so sunglasses and sunblock is a must. If you are staying in Fira or any other town, you can get to Oia by bus, by car, or by ATV... and Victor and I tried all of these options once! The bus is extremely affordable at less than 2 Euros per person, and the ATVs/Cars can be rented anywhere from 20-30 Euros for the whole day. Pito Gyros
When in Greece, eat gyros! I found the best place in Oia to eat them called Pito Gyros
, this is a place worth going to for your gyro fix. Note, this is not
really a restaurant, it's more like an eat-in-diner. The ingredients, flavors, and style of their gyros are really really
good. So good in fact, that later on Victor and I had to return for seconds. Their vegetarian gyros were amazing! They have stellar reviews on TripAdvisor too, so people love this place. To our surprise, the owner is always playing salsa music, which immediately caught our attention because we are Colombian. If you do come here, be sure to try one of Greece's signature beers with your gyro, they are so refreshing! Oia is like a maze, so in order to find this place just look for the children's school (it has a sign that says "no photos of the children" on it) and go down that narrow stone path for a few feet, and it should be there on the corner, and it has bar stools on the outside sitting area. If you still feel lost, just ask a local, they should be able to point you in the right direction. Victor and My Date night at the Oia Windwill
Early on, when we were initially planning this trip, we all
decided that it would be a great idea for all the couple's to go out on their own romantic date night in Santorini. So on our last night, everyone got dressed up and made dinner reservations at a restaurant of their choosing. Victor and I decided that for our date night we wanted to catch the sunset near the Oia Windmill. This is an excellent date night idea because you are literally at the top end of the Island, with the interesting backdrop of the Windmill against the horizon and the golden sky. We were afraid we wouldn't be able to get a spot at the Windmill's restaurant without a reservation, but we were lucky. By this hour it was getting chilly, so we ordered some hot chocolates and embraced each other in a warm hug as we watched the beautiful sunset. This was literally our last sunset on our trip, and I was feeling so nostalgic already. I tried my best to preserve the moment in my memory. When only the last bits of light were left, Victor and I took some pretty photos. This is what photographers know as the "golden hour", which is that magic time right
after the sunset, when the sky is redder and the light is golden, which makes photos look softer and more elegant. Last Day & The Airport
Later on that night, all the couples met up again in Fira, and we went to none other than the Corner Crepe restaurant, where we enjoyed our last chocolate crepe and talked about our date night. The next day was our day to start packing and to buy any last minute souvenirs at the city center, and then we left by mid day to head back to London. Our last experience in Santorini was in the airport. We had been waiting forever in a line for the passport control/security, when a very lazy looking man finally arrived and nonchalantly let us all through one by one. Its obvious that the "easy breezy" calm attitude of the Island has seeped its way into the airport too... I've never seen such unconcerned airport workers in my life; a sharp contrast from the strict airport we were flying to in London. We were all giggling at the silliness of this tiny airport. As we were getting ready to start boarding the
plane, the women in charge of letting us through, started telling people to check in their carry on luggage. It was a horrible ordeal because more than half of the passengers had luggage that was appropriate size for carry on, so you can imagine the outrage that ensued after. Victor and I were saved from needing to check in our backpacks, but some of our friends weren't as lucky since they had wheeled luggage.
This concludes are amazing experience in Santorini, Greece. This is a magical place that is worth visiting with friends or family, for fun or for romance. The people are very hospitable, the food is so delicious, and the landscapes will take your breathe away. It has the whole package! Would we return? Heck yes. I think perhaps we'd try saving up enough to stay in Oia, but some place secluded where there aren't as many people. May was a perfect time for us to go there because the weather was right, and because the tour season had not yet started, so there were fewer people. We'll always have the fondest memories here and we'll always love Santorini. Our next blog takes
us to the beautiful country of Switzerland.
Once in a while, I'll make a blog dedication at the end of my blogs. This blog dedication goes out to none other than our newly engaged friends, Erika and Jose!
We are so happy for you both! This trip really gave us a chance to get to know you guys, and what we learned is that you are such lovely couple. We'll never forget our time with you on our Europe adventures, and all the funny amazing memories we shared! May God bless your love and bring you lots of wedded bliss, and long lasting happiness!
Tot: 3.785s; Tpl: 0.091s; cc: 38; qc: 148; dbt: 0.0935s; 3; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 2mb