Islands to Athens - Greece in Spring. Part 1: Santorini

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April 3rd 2010
Published: April 18th 2010
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Church bell, Oia, SantoriniChurch bell, Oia, SantoriniChurch bell, Oia, Santorini

It just great to eventually make it to the Greek Islands.
Twenty five Euros for twenty four hours of car hire? Bargain - let’s do it. A quick word with our hotel owner and half an hour later there’s a little red Matiz hatch parked out the front of our Santorini hotel. After signing the obligatory paperwork with a friendly Greek bloke from the local hire company, we’re off.

From our hotel we head north. The road skirts around the edge of the island’s main town, Fira, before winding (and we do mean winding) around the cliffs towards the village of Oia. The road on average is about one and a quarter lanes wide but luckily for us being Easter Sunday it’s not too busy.

Oia is our first glimpse of postcard Greece and it catches us quite unaware. We’re negotiating our way through the narrow road on the way into town when the buildings on the left hand side of the road disappear and we’re treated to a spectacular view of cascading white washed houses perched high above the blue sea beneath. Wow!

We eventually find a place to park the Matiz and set off on foot to explore the cliffside village. It is truly spectacular and at
Oia, SantoriniOia, SantoriniOia, Santorini

The stuff of postcards...
the same time it seems a little surreal. Yesterday we set off from Nottingham and after one high speed train trip, one cross London tube, one BA flight, one Olympic airways flight, and one night’s sleep - here we are...

Little blue domed churches are scattered throughout the village, and at the northern end of town (and the northern most tip Santorini) there’s a pair of oh-so-Greek windmills. Amazing.

Oia is known for its sunset panoramas so we make a plan to return this afternoon. In the meantime, given that the island is only 36km long, we decide to make the most of the hire car so it’s back on the road we go.

From Oia we head through Fira, past the vineyards which cover Santorini’s centre, and down to the black sand beach of Kamari on the island’s flat eastern coast.

We’re after somewhere good for lunch and after at first being a little concerned that Kamari might be closed for the off season we find a local restaurant with simple tables set out in the shade right by the beach. There’s a lamb-on-a-spit out the front, a pair of traditional musicians playing, and with
Oia WindmillsOia WindmillsOia Windmills

Oh yes, we did love Oia
not many seats left, we waste no time in asking for a table.

There’re no menus, but after we’re seated the waiter saunters up, notebook in hand.
“What would like to eat? Meat?”
“Yes please!”
“Fish? Lamb?...”
“Lamb please.”
“Lamb chops? Lamb...”? (motioning over his shoulder)

It’s an easy choice. After spending the morning seeing just about every Santorini household with a lamb-on-the-spit (it is the Greek Orthodox tradition to not eat meat for the 40 days before Easter Sunday, so today is meat feast day) - we want to have what they’re having.

“Lamb, like that please” (pointing at the rotating roast a few metres away).

With that noted, he disappears only to re-emerge a minute or so later with a basket of bread and a pair of dyed red eggs. Ariana, reliably informed by the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ explains that this is a very traditional custom and what we’ve got to do is crack them together. When we do, Ariana’s egg shatters making Lachlan the winner, which apparently also means he will have good luck for the rest of the year.

This keeps us occupied until our Greek salad and
Santorini VineyardsSantorini VineyardsSantorini Vineyards

Apparently the grapes are grown in these coil shapes to stop the wind knocking them off! Fair enough.
Tsatsiki is bought out and just when we think we’re in Greek food heaven, a basket of roasted lamb ribs is placed on the centre of our table. They smell amazing and taste ever better.

Making a valiant effort we finish off the mountain of food and ask for the bill. The proprietors don’t seem to think that we’ve had enough to eat yet so out comes two scoops of the creamiest Greek yogurt drizzled with honey, then the bill.

Feeling completely satisfied we head back to the little red car and hit the road again. From Kamari we check out more black sand beaches at Perissa before skirting the cliffs on the western side of Santorini en route to the lighthouse at the bottom of the Island. Along the way, the roadside stopping bays provide us with some spectacular views.

Santorini started life as the round conical top of a volcano poking out of the sea, but after a massive 2000BC eruption, the top of the volcano was blown off leaving behind the main island (Thira) in a reverse ‘C’ shape and a scattering of smaller islands. The cliffs of Thira’s western coastline, called the Caldera,
Clifftop viewsClifftop viewsClifftop views

Looking over the volcano's crater to Oia and Fira in the north
rise to almost 300 meters in parts and from our vantage point in the south we can easily make out the white washed townships of Fira and Oia to the north. It is truly spectacular.

After checking out the lighthouse, we turn the Matiz around and head for the the red sand beaches outside the village of Akrotiri. Trundling along in this direction we observe quite a curious sight.

Riding on horseback on the road in front of us is a group of four locals, one of them leading a mule with a scarecrow like dummy roped upright into the saddle. After a double-take what we’re seeing actually sinks in- apparently another Greek Orthodox Easter tradition is to torch effigies of Judas on the evening of Easter Sunday (i.e. tonight).

While it would have been interesting to see the mule mounted Judas’ fate, the horsemen trot off into a field and we, respecting their privacy, continue to Akrotiri. We really do feel lucky to be Greece at this time of year and see so many of the traditions which are still so widely embraced by the Greek people.

After checking out the red beach, we return
Oia in the early morningOia in the early morningOia in the early morning

Not another tourist in sight... so peaceful
briefly to the hotel to freshen up before making it to Oia for sunset. Watching the sun sink into the Aegean Sea off the coast of Oia is very beautiful, but at the same time it is hardly Santorini’s best kept secret. In an effort to find a more private experience we decide that before we drop the car back in the morning we should make an effort to catch sunrise here.

Monday morning we make it to Oia around 7am just after the sun has broken the horizon. The only comings and goings we see is the garbage collection; a bloke loading rubbish bags (and even an old mattress) onto a donkey and leading him downhill. Apart from that, the only other activity is a friendly fat labrador who decides to follow us everywhere we go.

The beautiful views of the village are complemented by the soft light and are made even more special by the quietness. Every now and again the distant sound of the sea lapping the shore at the base of the cliff is interrupted by the little blue domed churches taking turns to ring their bells. Magic - just what we were after.
Satorini CoastlineSatorini CoastlineSatorini Coastline

The view north from Fira

Back at the hotel, the same friendly bloke from the car hire company comes to collect the little red beast and with that sorted we set off strolling towards Fira. Fira is the largest town on Santorini and it’s much busier than any of the other villages that we visited yesterday. It’s also on one of the highest parts of the whole island and when we reach the town centre we’re instantly impressed by the views in all directions. In parts it is easily possible to see the sea on both sides of Santorini.

We spend the next couple of hours exploring the narrow white washed streets before stopping for lunch at one of the many restaurants that Fira boasts. With all the walking we’re quite hungry so we order Greek salad to start, a carafe of local house wine, and mains of calamari and octopus.

Octopus is something that we had associated with Greek Island cuisine and we are very excited about trying it. When our mains arrive, we’re surprised first to find that the octopus comes as a 15cm long single tentacle, and then again by how flavoursome and non-rubbery it is.

After lunch
Fira sunsetFira sunsetFira sunset

Looking out over the volcano crater
we explore Fira a little more before we grab a Greek coffee at a cliff front cafe and write on some postcards to send home. We while away the rest of the afternoon by heading back to the hotel, stopping along the way at a supermarket to pick up some snacks for tomorrow’s ferry ride.

As the sun sinks low in the sky we return to Fira. After seeing the gorgeous sunset last night from Oia, we settle ourselves in to a terrace bar to see it from Fira’s perspective and aren’t disappointed.

Choosing to eat locally, we return to the district we’re staying in to try out the fish platter at a family run open air restaurant. It seems like a good choice as when our main arrives it is absolutely massive. Piled onto a serving plate are four whole sardines, two whole small snapper, a whole small groper and a swordfish steak- all grilled and served with huge wedges of lemon. It’s a mean feat but we manage to finish off the whole plate. Our reward? On the house dessert!

Tuesday is our last morning on Santorini. We make one final quick trip back to Fira before our hotel owner drops us off at the Port. At the ferry office we quote our booking reference and the friendly attendant (everyone in Greece seems so friendly) prints out our tickets for our three upcoming ferry journeys.

This was a huge relief because in preparing for our trip we had to re-arrange our accommodation (swapping the island of Hydra for the island of Paros) after the on-line ferry schedule changed. But with the tickets in our hands it doesn’t look like we’re in for any more ferry related surprises, and we wait patiently for our boat to turn up.

When it does it’s very impressive. The ‘Flying Cat 4‘ is a massive high speed catamaran which, unlike the other Greek ferries which we had seen so far, is a passenger only boat. So rather than backing up to the Port to allow vehicles on/off, it pulls in parallel and we’re allowed to board from both the back and the side gangways.

Once onboard the interior seems more akin to an aircraft than a boat with plush seating and (as a sign for what we’re in for) seat belts. We’re only have to wait for a few minutes and then we’re off. The boat is fairly steady in the water, and as we set off from Santorini overtaking everything else around we see get our last look at the Caldera - this time from the water.

In no time Santorini is gone, but we’ve still got two more Islands to go so we feel lucky to have seen what we have and look forward to what the next few days have in store for us.


19th April 2010

Just like in the books..
16th May 2010

That food!!!!
Amazing! I want some.....

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