7 days in Santorini

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Oia (photo courtesy of James)

Chris and Laura returned from their five and a half month round-the-world adventure on 13th June and 5 days later spent a fabulous week in the gorgeous volcanic island of Santorini with our son (James) and daughters (Annabelle, Charlotte and Zoe) and Tom, Charlottes boyfriend.

Santorini is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea to the north of Crete in a group of islands called the ‘Cyclades’. There are some beaches but most people visit Santorini for its amazing views across the white washed buildings towards the azure blue sea. Santorini is also known as ‘Thira’.

We stayed in the Hotel Babis just outside Fira where we experienced the most incredible hospitality from Mr Babis and his family. The hotel is centrally located and as well as free airport transfers Mr Babis also provides a free shuttle bus every hour into Fira. Nothing was too much trouble and the family work so hard to ensure all guests have a great time.

This is an outline of our week in Santorini and the various activities we got up to:

Day 1: arrived at 9.30 pm and as many Greek restaurants open until late in the high season we had a Greek meal the nearby Tabasco restaurant.

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Fira

Day 2: after breakfast in the hotel we took the free shuttle bus to Fira. Fira is the capital of Santorini and is perched on the top of a dramatic cliff. During the summer months (June to August) the town is bustling with many tourists and at busy times you end up in a people traffic jam in the narrow streets, particularly when one of the many tour groups snakes its way through!

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The port at Fira

We took the cable car down the steep cliff to the port which, for a ride which lasts a couple of minutes we felt was rather expensive at 5 euros for a single journey. There isn’t much to see there either and its probably only really worth going down and back up in the cable car if you are going on a boat trip, as this is where they depart from.

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Lunch in Fira

Lunch in Fira was an expensive affair… we should have known better but we decided it would be lovely to have lunch overlooking the fantastic view… Fantastic view it was but we were charged a super-inflated price. Lesson learned: before ordering anything, check the cost of all extra and additional items. We were charged 20 Euros for a bowl of BREAD!!! Yes… we kid you not…

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Oia

Day 3: From the main bus stop in Fira we took a local bus to Oia. Buses to Oia run every 20 minutes and are a bargain with a fare of only 1.80 Euros each for the 25 minute journey. The views were spectacular as the bus drove along the top ridge of the island towards the very western tip where Oia is located. Oia is particularly famous for its views across the Aegean and stunning sunsets and was just as crowded as Fira.

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A rare uncrowded street in Oia

We wandered around the tiny narrow streets through the white washed buildings and souvenir shops. Full with the usual holiday souvenirs these shops did seem somewhat more upmarket than many you may usually find in seaside towns. Stunning views were to be had at every street turn and there was an abundance of the famous Santorini blue roofs here in Oia.

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Oia port

We made our way down the steep cliff path with its cobbled stones, past the poor unfortunate donkeys, standing waiting to lug tourists up and down the hill in 32 degrees and then took the path to the left towards Amoudie Bay. There is no beach here but people come to swim in the sea and jump off the small cliff (as per the two people on the left below).

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Amoudi Bay was fairly crowded although we managed to find a spot which became our base for an hour or so while we cooled off in the sea. James and Tom did actually jump off the small cliff and landed in the deep water below.

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Kipos Wine Cellar

Day 4: wine tasting in Fira

As a volcanic island there is no soil in Santorini so the wine originates from vines planted in volcanic ash. The Alkatashi grape variety is unique to Santorini and bottles labelled ‘Santorini’ only use this grape. Santorini produces mostly white wine. The Kipos wine cellar is located underneath the garden restaurant and is a natural constant 16-18 degrees which is perfect for storing the wines.

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Chris and Laura participated in a highly recommended wine tasting session at the Kipos Cafe and Wine Restaurant in Fira. For only 15 Euros each we had the opportunity to taste 6 different wines which were washed down with a plate full of home made bread and locally produced cheese.

This was a private session conducted by the lovely Maria who was knowledgeable and passionate about the wines and as well as making the whole experience fun we also learned a few wine tasting tips! Maria even took the time afterwards to take Annabelle, Charlotte, James, Tom and Zoe down to the cellar to give them a brief intro to Santorini wines at no extra cost!

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Family selfie: (L to R) Chris, James, Laura, Zoe, Annabelle, Charlotte, Tom

Day 5: today for 80 Euros (inc insurance) we hired an 8 seater mini bus to explore the island. Santorini is a small island so it is easy to cover much of it in a day. Having visited Oia in the west and Fira in the middle we focussed on the north and eastern side.

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View from Pyrgos
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View from Pyrgos (photo courtesy of James)

We began with a trip to Pyrgos a small, quiet village which sits on the top of a hill. From here you can see most of the island. There was only a handful of other tourists which meant the streets were quiet and mostly deserted. We would definitely recommend popping in to Pyrgos for a visit.

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Perissa Beach

We headed out to Perissa where we had lunch in a beach bar which overlooked the black sand. Perissa is a resort with a stunning mountain backdrop and several restaurants overlooking the beach.

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Red Beach (photo courtesy of James)

During the afternoon we drove from Perissa to Red Beach which is near to Akrotiri. You park your car in the free car park which stretches along the coast and then walk for approximately 20 minutes around the side of the cliff. This is fairly steep with loose slippery stones in places so probably not a good idea for pushchairs or those with walking difficulties.

On the way back through Akrotiri we stopped to visit the Venetian castle and had one of the most surreal yet fun experiences of our holiday. The castle had previously been a ruin however it was carefully restored by a couple called Yannis and Argy and in 2012 it opened as La Ponta, a museum and workshop of traditional musical instruments.

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There is free admission to the La Ponta exhibition and tours usually take place at midday and 6 pm each day. These are musical tours which cost 7 Euros each (which includes a cup of Santorini wine). We sat in a room in the castle where, for just over an hour, a range of historic Greek flutes and percussion instruments were played to us by Yannis. We listened as the music was interwoven with stories of Greek history and mythology with a bit of Yannis’s humour added in…

We had great fun trying out our instruments and playing along as Yannis played Greek bagpipes! As with the wine tasting it was great to participate in an interactive cultural awareness event to learn more about the history of Santorini in a fun and enjoyable way. And hey… guess what! You can click on the link below to hear a recording of our music 🙂

 

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Sunset meal… maybe a favourable option than crowded Oia…
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The Go-Pro in action… (photo courtesy of James)

Our Santorini road trip ended with a fabulous sunset in a Mexican restaurant just outside of Fira. Santorini is legendary for its sunsets and most tourists flock to Oia. Locals told us however there are equally fabulous views right along the coast from Akrotiri to Oia so there is no need to jostle for a space with the Oia crowds. Relaxing at this front row table watching the incredible sunset was certainly a better choice in our view. We set up our phones/cameras/Go-Pro taking photos and recording time lapses. The meal wasn’t expensive either and was around 12 Euros each, a pleasant surprise after the rip-off lunch a few days before…

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Pots dating back to 17th c. BC

Day 6: for a change this morning we had our breakfast in a local cake shop. Chris, Laura and Annabelle visited the archaeological museum in Fira which was fascinating. The exhibits ranged from 20th to 17th centuries BC. It was interesting to learn how advanced the Greeks were so long ago with artefacts and cooking utensils such as funnels, tongs, weights, scales and pots on display. Entry to the museum was 6 Euros each.

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The 7 of us took the local bus from Fira to Kamari which is another beach resort on the east of the island. James and Tom had a swim in the sea and we all had lunch in a pleasant and relaxed seafront restaurant. Kamari’s beach consists of black pebbles and is the longest beach on the island. It is lined with a string of hotels, bars and restaurants.

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We returned to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel pool before setting off to Fira to watch another sunset. There is a coastal path which runs along the top of the cliff for the length of Fira and west towards the cliffs. Many people take the well known 3 hour hike from Fira to Oia with the intention of arriving at Oia in time for the sunset (although we decided it was too hot for this in June).

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Day 7: Part of our last full day in Santorini was spent on a 3 hour boat trip for 20 Euros each. The boat departed from Fira port meaning we had to get down from Fira at the top of the cliff to the port at the bottom. In hindsight we wouldn’t have taken the cable car on day 2 but would have saved it for today. Instead we decided that, rather than spend 35 Euros on the 2 minute cable car ride, the 7 of us would walk down to the port… It is probably fair to say that this down-the-cliff walk seemed much longer that the one in Oia and walking past many many donkeys, walking through continuous stinky donkey droppings which lasted the entire length of the path is not really recommended… by the end of the cliff we felt that paying 5 Euro’s each for the cable car down may indeed have been preferable.

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Swimming towards the hot springs!

The boat departed at 11.00 and after 25 minutes or so stopped at Palea Kameni island where you can disembark from the boat and swim for 50 meters to bathe in hot springs. These were formed as a result of volcanic eruptions and is where hot spring water mixes with sea water.

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After 30 minutes the boat continued to Erinia is the small volcanic bay where you disembark for a crater hike. You have over an hour here which gives you enough time to hike around the entire island to explore the volcano craters. The volcano had an additional admittance fee of 2.5 Euros each. A hat and a bottle of water is recommended as there are no provisions and little shade on this uninhabited island. The boat takes around 15 minutes to return to Fira port.

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This was an enjoyable boat trip (complete with its repertoire of 80’s music) although we would have preferred to have done the volcano hike first and enjoyed a dip in the sea afterwards…

 

Summary: we had a wonderful week in Santorini and would definitely recommend a holiday there. We found a week to be enough and had we stayed any longer we would consider moving to another Greek island.

We found Fira to be a good base from which to explore Santorini. Local buses go from the middle of Fira to all other towns across the island so it is easy to explore if you don’t want to hire a car. Before booking the Babis Hotel we considered staying in Oia. We are pleased we didn’t stay there as it is completely full of tourists and while is good for a day, it would be a more difficult base from which to see the rest of the island.

There are several hiking trails in Santorini but towards the end of June the temperatures for us were at least 30 degrees each day with cloudless blue skies for the whole week. We felt that with no shade it was too hot to do much hiking. If you enjoy hiking it may be preferable to visit in May or September.

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