Unlike most visitors, we were dreading heading over to Santorini. Having landed ourselves a perfect island with Milos and after hearing horror stories about the number of tourists all over the place we were seriously worried that our new-found zen would be rapidly destroyed. We decided to change our plans to get the minimum time over there as we could, and had we not had Airbnb reservations I doubt we would have gone over at all…what a mistake that would have been!
After emailing the owner of one of the places we were staying at on the island, the decision was made to leave the bikes at the campsite in Milos and return there for a night before heading to some other islands. Hills and lack of storage space in our cave houses would have made it pretty tough apparently.
On boarding the fast boat over to Santorini it became apparent that we would probably not like it over there. High maintenance people I had never seen on Milos before came out of the woodwork to board in their high heels; dragging their wheelie cases behind them. Lots of botox and false lips surrounded us on the crowded vessel. It would have been a stunning trip if we could have seen anything but, as is the case with the catamaran style boats, you have to stay inside.
Santorini is basically what remains after a massive volcano, it and the surrounding islands form the caldera (or crater), most of which is buried under the sea. As a result, the whole place is effectively on a cliff top; no gradual, meandering hills but a full blown cliff that rises out of the water. All I could think of as I looked at the snaking pretty much vertical road rising from the port was thank god we did not bring the bikes!
We decided to let the coaches escorting all the other tourists head off whilst I got an overpriced cheese toastie and Andy went and scouted out a hire car. He came back with one offer that he had pretty much accepted for €150. I thought we could get better so sent him off again, 5 minutes later he came back with a deal for a car for the 3 days for €100 – good work! It was pretty bashed up (as most of the cars on the island seemed to be) but was ideal for our little traipse around the place. First stop was the capital city of Fira -not something we were looking forward to, but with the influx of cruise trips and Chinese tourists to the island, cheap accommodation was hard to find and we just couldn’t afford more than 2 nights in a bed, so were forced to head to the island’s only campsite.
Driving up the hill was interesting, as was heading into the town which basically was grid-locked with dawdling tourists of all ages and races giving off more of a Marbs style vibe than a relaxed Greek island one. Eventually we found the street to the campsite and parked up. I felt like I had gone back in time to my gap year, visiting skanky hostels with campsites in Australia. The place was overflowing with young, scruffy types (not that I can talk) who were reeking of alcohol from the night before and on their phones rinsing the wifi in the café (if you can call the self-service disgrace to Greek cuisine a café), which was by the pool that was probably rife with bodily fluids. It looked like a proper party place…not quite suited to us oldies, but we went in search of a pitch and found one near a family. Our logic was that we would prefer the sound of screaming children at dawn break than drunken party-goers at 2am. After a walk to town, not at all worth visiting, we went for a drive up to the stunning Santo Wines.
Our plan was to be there for sunset but we were so desperate to get out of the campsite that we ended up arriving in the mid-afternoon sun. Desperate to get a good spot outside we perched ourselves on the terrace. It became quickly apparent why so many of the seats were free, as with a lack of shade there was no escaping the sun. We tried to just drink water, well Andy was driving so he had no choice, but being in a winery and not having wine was just stupid…I couldn’t hold off any longer so naturally I ordered the wine tasting menu (I am pretty sure none of these were meant to be enjoyed in 45˚C). In all honesty they were ok wines…nothing special compared to some of the others we had sampled since arriving in Greece, and nowhere near as cheap, but the setting was amazing. We watched a few wedding shoots take place (these happen all over the island by the way) then off we headed back to the campsite. Andy by now was clearly gagging for a drink after watching me neck about 5 glasses of the good stuff, so we decided to sit by the pool and have a couple of beers. The tunes were pumping and we actually had a really nice night, appreciative of the atmosphere and young vibe. Surprisingly, we had a great sleep.
That morning we headed off to Firostefani to have breakfast at a wee spot recommended by a friend; Galini café. This was part of a boutique hotel and a little out-with the reach of our budget but well worth the amazing views and delicious food.
From here we drove on to Oia along the coast, passing quad bikes driven by topless youths (I really do sound so old). Eventually we arrived in town and managed to find a parking spot in some sandy ground by the bus stop. Here we were met by a friend of our Airbnb host, who showed us through the tiny streets up to our cave house. This was a real splash out for us but something we just had to do. Carrying our bags up the alleyways of beautiful Oia we eventually hit the cliff edge; looking out onto the inky ocean and hillside covered in teeny, multi-coloured houses. Eventually we reached ours and pushed through the tiny little gate. The house was a beautiful white and red number and ridiculously spacious and cool inside, not that we were planning on spending much time there. We had a little patio space with views over the bay and after a mooch around the little shops that lined the cobbled streets, we settled in for an evening of good food and a bottle of vino.
Oia is extremely famous for it’s sunsets. People come from all over the island to head to the highpoint fortress for a stunning view of the sun heading into the Aegean, and from around 5pm it started to get busy. Luckily for us there only seemed to be one cruise ship in the bay so it didn’t look like it would be too bad, but then we saw the little hill fill with more and more people. There must have been hundreds of them crammed behind walls, waiting for that perfect shot. We were planning on heading up there to get some photos, but then we thought what a crazy idea…here we are with our own space for the first time in a while, with an amazing view of the sunset (ok we couldn’t actually see the sun but we could see the sky), wine in hand…why would we leave? So we sparked up a cigar and sat back enjoying the view, the change of light bouncing off of the buildings, the wealth of personal space and went to bed.
We awoke at 5am ready to get out and snap some sunrise shots, something again recommended by a friend in order to avoid the crowds. Off we trotted in search of the infamous blue roof shots and up to the fortress, which had been teeming with crowds the night before. Apart from 3 people the place was literally deserted; litter from the night before being the only clue that this was such a popular spot on a daily basis. It was a beautiful serene morning and as we enjoyed the chilly breeze and watched the sun poke it’s head up over the hill, we breathed in the moment…soaking up the calmness. Until…what sounded like a rather loud wasp starting buzzing around. I flicked my hair. No it was still there. Strange, I thought, for this time of day. The buzzing got louder and louder until it literally sounded like some kind of flying creature was lodged in my ear. Out of the corner of my eye I saw what looked like a mini helicopter head off over the cliff face. Turning to my right I saw the cause of this ‘zen-ruiner’ was a young man, his laptop and his remote controlled drone. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a drone. They are amazing machines and excellent for action shots but here is the thing…5:50am on a peaceful island, as the sun rises with only whispers and the sound of the sea and breeze is not drone time! I felt my shoulders rise up, teeth clench and all of the peace I had been feeling flow out of me. After a few minutes we left and headed off to get some pictures on the way back. Slightly grumpy by now, we decided it would be a good idea for me to have a little nap.
So, there I was at 8am, snug as a bug in the comfiest bed I had slept on this whole trip (not hard considering most of it was on a thermarest but you get the idea), drooling over the plush, white pillows when…bzzzzzzzzzzzzz. My eyes opened. “What the *&^$ is that?” I shouted (I am not at all pleasant when I get woken up I will just add). Bzzzzzzzz, getting louder this time BZZZZZZZ, then ebbing away and returning again…BZZZZZZZ. The bloody drone!!!!! I could not believe it…he was still going for it 2 hours later?! Surely he had enough pictures by now?! There cannot have been one person that was not woken by the sound of that thing in the whole of Oia that morning. He had better get some kind of award for those shots I tell you. Technology has gone totally mad when it absolutely ruins the whole atmosphere of a place for the sake of a photograph/video. I felt so sorry for the locals (not that there were many of them living in what has effectively become a Walt Disney attraction on the island). We passed one such old lady shuffling down the steps from the church that morning. Poor thing. I bet she can’t do a single thing without being papped or bearing witness to the climbing on roof, trespassing into peoples’ homes to get the best angle posing that goes on all over Oia. Needless to say, we got a few good shots but nothing we were going to kill ourselves or ruin the moment for.
We headed off late morning to drive a bit more around the island on our way to our next accommodation. We had been recommended a little tavern in the middle of nowhere so booked a table for lunch. Wow – what an amazing place! Metaxi Mas is tucked away from the tourist towns along the other side of the island in Exo Gonia. We had the most delicious traditional, home cooked Greek food (such as their mouth-watering pomegranate salad) all served with their amazing wines and free-flowing raki! Their deck area outside is stunning but the heat was too cumbersome for us to bear out there so instead we opted for the shaded terrace. It was a real treat of place!
Fuelled by raki and honey liquor (well, just me) we drove to our final pit-stop on the island – Emporio. Emporio is in the south of Santorini and was only a planned destination for us after I struggled to find much last minute accommodation on Airbnb. One amazing place stood out to me in this old city; a little studio that was actually housed in an old castle! Katerina, the host, and her husband could not have been more welcoming! They met us by the old town square, carried our bags for us up the winding streets and showed us into their lovely place. It was fantastic – small but fantastic. In the tiny town there was a quaint coffee shop tucked away at the foot of a cobbled alley, from which we enjoyed a Greek coffee and a game of cards surrounded by locals and the charm of the owner. After enjoying the sunset from the little balcony in the castle and admiring the blood-red moon we witnessed that night, we ate a lovely home-cooked meal before retiring for the night in our bunk bed above the kitchen ready for our early ferry the next morning back to Milos.
What a great end to a great little part of the journey. Santorini was not all as bad as we expected and despite us only being there a short while, we definitely got around and experienced a lot of the place. Yes it is overpriced and overrun with tourists, especially in summer, but if you are prepared to head away from the main places and find yourself a little special somewhere like we did in Emporia then there is a lot to see, vineyards to visit, bakeries to devour yummy treats in…not to mention the amazing history such as the ancient civilization of Akrotiri! We would definitely go back and explore more of the stunning island to learn more about it’s past and to sample yet more of it’s delicious food and wine.
Where we stayed and where we ate and drank:
- Santorini Camping: http://www.santorinicamping.gr
- The White Cave House in Oia: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5337468
- The studio in a castle, Emporio: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4943753?s=cQbOg_hs
- Café Galini, Firostefani: http://www.galinicafesantorini.com
- Metaxi Mas, Exo Gonia: http://www.santorini-metaximas.gr/en/
- Santo Wines, Pyrgos: http://www.santowines.gr/en