"Thira of Dreams - Sun, Sea and Lava"
To visit the Santorini picture gallery - click HERE
We visited in June 2004.
Santorini is probably the most popular image the world has of Greece, whitewashed houses, blue domed churches, narrow alleys etc. Yet it is unlike anywhere else in Greece we have visited.
All around are sights that have been depicted on the pages of magazines, posters and books all over the world. It is dramatic, spectacular and cosmopolitan.
The island is officially known as Thira. The present name is derived from the island's church of St. Irene. It is said that foreign seamen used to call the Saint, 'Santa Irini', and in time this became Santorini.
It is an island of contrasts. The north is more rugged and quieter than the busier and more developed south. From east to west the island changes from conventional beach resorts to the magnificent plunge to the sea from the Caldera edge.
Arrival in Santorini
The airport is somewhat chaotic in the true tradition of all Greek airports. It seems there are only 37 taxis on the island and consequently when a number of flights land closely together demand can often be stretched to the limit. Outside the arrivals area there was much shouting, arm waving, hasty calls on the mobile and general chaos. Of course to the uninitiated this could be worrying but this is Greece and it was good to be back. We were concerned to see that there were long queues outside of the departure area. We were to find out later that the check-in area can only handle limited numbers at a time so people are kept outside until there is room for them inside. You have been warned !
We stayed in Imerovigli overlooking the Caldera. There is a price to pay for staying in such a location but the view is truly stunning and worth every penny (or euro or cent).
We arrived at the edge of the Caldera and just stared out at the view. Magnificent. Then we noticed the steps down to the hotel. Fortunately Hercules (not his real name but it should be !!) was on hand to help with the cases. Every item that the hotel consumes has to be carried down the steps and every bit of rubbish carried back up.
We were due to stay at the Regina Mare but actually ended up spending our 2 weeks in a neighbouring property named Kasimatis Studios, owned by Stella and Manolis who were the most friendly and generous of hosts. Highly recommended.
Amstel Cost of Living Index
Small bottle in Hotel 3.50€
Greek salad 5€
Most starters 3 - 5€
Main courses 8 - 15€
Bottle of Santorini wine 5€ at the supermarket may find it's way to your dining table at 9€ for half a bottle.
Basic meal at the Blue Note taverna came to 50€ (with view).
These prices could vary enormously - international dishes obviously costing more. All prices are displayed so you just need to check and use some common sense if you want to avoid paying too much. Santorini rightly has a reputation for being expensive compared to other Greek islands. However, it is possible to eat at quite reasonable prices. Just remember - if you have THAT view you will have to pay for it. I suspect because of factors like the Euro places such as Greece are just no longer the cheap holiday destinations that they once were.
Our holiday actually proved to be far less expensive than we had expected.
Santorini is quite rightly famed for its sunsets. This causes a certain preoccupation with watching the sun sink over the Aegean. There appears to be a whole industry built around it. Boats sail out into the caldera at sunset and people are bussed in from all over the island to Oia where it is reputed to be the best spot to watch the sun go down.
Referring to the sunset, one guidebook suggests that you should ‘not dare to turn your back on it - and stay even if you are not romantic!'
As with sunsets there is also a preoccupation with the view.
Unlike many places in Greece, where the visitors are predominantly from the UK, Germany and Scandinavia, this is a truly cosmopolitan destination.
The Cycladic islands are well served by fast and frequent ferries and catamarans. It is a popular area for island hopping and tends to make the visitor population very transient.
People seem to stay for 2 – 3 days and then head off to the next island.
Trips / Excursions
Roads get busy with coaches. If you want to go somewhere there will be an organised trip available.
Kamari Tours seem to have this particular business wrapped up.
Trip to Nea Kameni (Volcano)
We were taken to the port of Athinios via Fira (everything seems to go via Fira).
The descent to the port is not for the faint hearted. There is a constant stream of coaches all battling for the same piece of road. As you approach one of the many hairpin bends the land in front just disappears giving way to the deep blue of the sea below. The port is very busy - this is the main arrival point for the catamarans that operate from Athens and the other Cycladic islands. It was amusing to watch as the last person set foot on the catamaran it was off !! Tip - try not to be the last in the queue. This is also where the majority of excursion trips depart.
We set sail for Nea Kameni. After a short crossing to the island we arrived at midday - such a perfect time to walk up a volcano !! As usual with trips of this sort, one of the problems I encounter is making sure I keep with my group – too busy taking pictures! The walk to the summit is certainly an experience but not one that I could honestly say was pleasurable. The track is loose underfoot and in places quite steep. The day we visited it was not particularly hot. I dread to think what it must be like in the intense heat of mid summer. Not a trip for the seriously unfit.
Once at the top, the views back to Santorini are superb. The highlight on reaching the active area of the volcano is to observe puffs of smoke emitting from the side of the crater. This is the most effort I have ever made to witness a puff of smoke. But it seemed to excite quite a few of our companions for the day. Our guide was very good and her talk on how the islands were formed was fascinating. After slipping and sliding back down the volcano we returned to the boat for the next leg of the excursion. We now headed for the extinct volcano named Palea Kameni. The boat anchors about 60 metres from the coastline and if you wish you can swim to the hot springs. The water here is about 25 degrees and the mud is supposed to be very good for your skin. There was no shortage of people willing to brave the cold sea for the opportunity to test this claim I took the option of a cold beer - not perhaps good for the skin but certainly very nice. Wet inside was good enough for me. According to my companion as you approached the springs, the water turned a red/brown colour with brown things floating by; she said she felt she was swimming in a sewage plant. Many of the swimmers sat in the shallows spreading the mud over their arms and legs.
The next stop was at Thirasia. The island has about 100 inhabitants who mainly live in the village high above the harbour area. Numerous tavernas line the harbour area and I can only presume that their sole existence is to cater for the many excursion boats that arrive here every day. All of the tavernas seemed to be self service. However, given the short time that most people stop here this unusual arrangement worked very well.
The boat then returned to Athinios via the harbours of Armeni (steps up to Oia) and Skala Fira (Fira). This offered a different perspective of the towering cliffs now rising majestically in front of us.
For more information on the history and activity of the volcano try HERE.
Initial reconnaissance revealed that Imerovigli was comprised solely of numerous upmarket small hotels, smart apartments and rooms. All perched precariously on the side of the cliff and looking picture pretty.
For once the holiday brochures description appeared to be right - this really is a quiet and peaceful area. Some mornings we awoke to the eerie sight of cloud / mist passing right by us and almost complete silence. The peace and quiet was almost unbelievable. There seemed to be none of the usual noises from cockerels, dogs, goats, donkeys and mopeds that you would normally associate with Greece.
In the village there were just a couple of tavernas plus a very good supermarket and a car hire outlet. On the Caldera path the first taverna we reached was the Blue Note – you pay for the view! A few minutes further there were just 2 more – one of which was the Skaros. If you stay in Imerovigli you really need to head to Fira if you are looking for any kind of nightlife – taxi fare is about 4€.
Imerovigli is perched at the highest point of the Caldera. Using a good cobbled path it is possible to walk to Firostefani/Fira amidst hotels and neat complexes of apartments and studios. Walk to the point where Skaros is directly in front of you. This is a popular spot for watching the sunset, sat on the walls around the church of St George (just below the Blue Note taverna). From here the path descends steadily to Fira. However, just when you think you have reached Fira you are really in Firostefani. A taxi back is recommended.
The walk from Imerovigli to Oia is possible in about 2 hours and for the most part using a track/path that clings to the cliff face. There is a very handy cantina on the section where you use the road. The terrain is wild and beautiful and all the way the view is stunning.
We chose to visit Oia (pronounced E-ah) early morning while the village was still waking up. There is a steady influx of visitors through the day until it climaxes with the arrival of coachloads of people intent on viewing the famous sunset.
The village is very pretty and definitely worth a visit. Care has been taken to preserve traditional architectural style and the use of colours gives the whole village a picture postcard look. Everything is so pleasing on the eye. The constantly changing light enhances simple shapes and textures.
It can be very expensive – so beware. However, we noticed many places that seem to offer reasonably priced meals – they just didn’t have THAT view.
There are countless jewellery, art and craft shops. These are all very stylish and a magnet for the passengers off the cruise ships. Some of the larger items would need the services of a cruise ship to get them home !! You will be pleased to know, however, that most dealers seem to offer a worldwide delivery service.
There are quite a few dogs that roam the village - all seemed harmless. If you are lucky you may get one of them to take you on a guided tour of the village.
The island’s capital and hub of the road network. For instance the bus from Kamari to Perissa (next resort along the coast) goes via Fira.
It is busy and alive with people at all times of the day. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating and drinking. You can either stroll along the paths that overlook the Caldera or immerse yourself in the maze of narrow streets that are a shoppers paradise, particularly if you want to splash out on gold jewellery. You will often be approached by traders keen for your business. This is all done in a very friendly way - have fun - if you don't want to buy - you don't have to.
A visit to the "Old Port" of Fira seems to be a popular pastime. Here you have a choice – it is either 588 steps down or take the cable car. Both ways are wonderfully scenic but be warned the route via the steps is busy with mules that are used to bring people up. This introduces the added hazard of mule droppings, making the descent even more treacherous. The sensible choice would be to take the cable car. We did neither as we were told that there is little to see when you get to the bottom. However, the experience could live long in the memory (and the stains live long in your clothes).
Not really a village but a continuation of Fira. It consists of some nice looking tavernas but is predominantly stylish accommodation.
Once the main town of the island; a very pretty village with lots of narrow streets and alleys waiting to be explored. This is another location that is a draw for the coach tours.
The village offers commanding views of the whole island. However, for more dramatic views continue on past the village and follow the road to the OTE aerials on Prof. Ilias. The presence of an army outpost at the very top means that you are not allowed to take photographs in that area. Best to drive back down a short way before snapping away.
Although much of the coastline has a beach it is of poor quality and unattractive. We drove along this coastline and never saw anything that could be described as picturesque. I suspect that on a stormy day it would be rather more dramatic. It certainly looked rugged and more appealing when viewed from the hills above. Not the sort of beaches I would want to spend much time on. There is very little development until you reach Monolithos.
As you approach you sense that this is the major beach resort on the island. It is undoubtedly a full blown holiday resort.
It had a lively and vibrant feel. If you didn’t enjoy cooking on the long, wide expanse of black sand then I suspect that the nightlife would offer something for young and old alike.
The resort is very close to the airport. So not only do you get a short transfer but you also get to watch the planes land!!
However, if it wasn’t for the beach of black sand, I just felt that you could be anywhere in Greece.
Good selection of bars and tavernas. Quite a nice relaxed feel. Despite the lines of sunbeds as you head south there is more than enough space to get away from the crowd. The resort is spread out.
Seems to merge with Perissa. Less developed and even more space on the beach.
Busy little harbour area. Long beach backed by dramatic white cliffs. When we were there it was completely empty.
So called because of the deep red cliffs that tower over the beach. Seemed quite popular. A couple of Tavernas on the beach. Takes about 5 –10 minutes to walk from the car park.
Traditional village – worth a visit. If you bypass the village to the right, the road will take you to the Lighthouse.
It came as quite a surprise to find out how windy it could be. Although we were aware that in July and August the Meltemi blows it's merry way down the Aegean, we were not expecting such winds in June. During the second week of our stay there was much less wind which resulted in a significant increase in the temperature and far more frequent dips in the swimming pool.
It is a very dry island with very few sources of natural water. There is a desalination plant and water is distributed by large tanker lorries and then pumped into underground tanks to service the hotels etc.
Many magnificent cruise ships would make their way into the caldera and stop outside of the port of Fira. The water in the caldera is very, very deep. Consequently special mooring stations have been placed for the large ships that are unable to drop their anchors. The biggest of the cruise ships cannot even do this and have to keep station in the bay. Rather romantically some of the ships would depart Santorini in the evening and sail off into the sunset.
It is nothing less than hectic in and around Fira. Parking can be difficult and it is important that you pay heed to any parking restrictions.
The roads are just as bad as many other Greek islands presumably far less prosperous than Santorini. Not a relaxing place to drive - you definitely need to be alert at all times.
Santorini is a unique destination. The late Thomas Zannas of Skiathos once said to us that if we should go anywhere else in Greece we should visit Santorini. But just once and then only for one week!!
To get the best from the island and if your budget allows, I think you need to stay around the Caldera. If it is a beach holiday that you are after then there are so many other places in Greece with so much more to offer. Santorini is only place in the world where one can experience such stunning views. We just gazed in awe and wondered at the forces that created such dramatic scenery.
Fortunately for present day visitors, the volcano is continuously monitored. Seismic activity can be predicted a month in advance. We were safe in the knowledge that we would get the full 2 weeks of our holiday.
I had intended to organise the photographs by location but decided to display them in roughly the order they were taken. So click on the link to the pictures to discover Santorini the way we did.
To visit the Santorini picture gallery - click HERE
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