Santorini is one of those places, like Shangri-La, that always seems slightly unreal - somewhere you have heard about but which seems to good to be true. Now we know - it really exists, although like Shangri-La, not everything about it is idyllic.
We arrived by ferry into the busy and rather ugly port and were quickly whisked away in a minibus. The port is at the foot of a cliff and the bus zig-zags up the cliff until it reaches the main road which runs along the edge of the Santorini caldera. Our initial impression was that the island was a lot larger than we had anticipated and a lot less pretty.
We finally arrived at Oia (pronounced ee-ya) and we were met by the hotel porter who grabbed our luggage and took us DOWN over 100 steps to the Aris Caves, where we would stay for the next week.
Oia, from below
Aris Caves from above and looking across the hotel terrace to the Caldera
The Manager. Christa, quickly introduced herself and showed us to our "cave". The rock here is very soft and people have been digging caves for thousands of years. Ours was a bit more sophisticated, with running water and airconditioning, but still a cave, with a wonderful view.
The view from our terrace. We ate breakfast here every morning
Our "Aris Cave" in Santorini with a concrete base for the bed and small (but nicely equipped) bathroom and kitchen
We spent our first day in Santorini settling in and getting used to climbing UP 100 steps to get to the main street of Oia. We never did get used to climbing those steps and we always arrived at the top sweating and panting.
Next day, we took the local bus into Fira, the main town. Like Oia, Fira is built onto the side of the cliff wall and is quite pretty as well, but MUCH busier and perhaps a little less exclusive than Oia. We didn't like Fira as much as Oia but we did take the opportunity to do some shopping, including a souvenir of the trip for ourselves.
The town of Fira clinging to the cliff face and the old port (now used by cruise ship tenders) and the Caldera in the background
The narrow streets of Fira and the small statuette we bought which made it safely back to Orlando
The next day, our third day in Santorini, we took a "public" boat tour to the volcanic island of Nea Kaneni, the Hot Springs and to a small island called Thirasia for lunch. The "public" boat meant they crammed as many people as possible onto the boat and it was very crowded, to the point of being unpleasant at times.
The climb to the top of the Volcano was long, hard and very hot and most people were wearing flip-flops. We were wearing sandals, but I don't think anyone was really prepared for the difficulty of the climb. AND water was not provided ! It was a hard slog and to be honest, apart from the hazy views back to the main island, there wasn't a lot to see. Probably NOT a highlight of our trip.
The "public boat" waiting at the Volcano and the long hike up to the top
The crater of the still active volcano and the start of the long walk back to the boat
Next stop were the "hot springs" where slightly warm, sulpherated and iron rich water mixes bubbles up in a little cove. The water is supposed to be good for your skin, but it's doubtful if a quick dip would have much effect ! We stayed on board, although we did swim there on another trip later in the week.
Swimming in The Hot Springs - we stayed on the boat !
The last stop was the pretty little port of the island of Thirasia, which was also a lunch stop. We had a two hour stop there, so it was a LONG lunch ! Some people did swim, but we preferred to spin out our salads and drinks until it was time to go.
A LONG lunch stop at the port of Thirasia
Santorini is famous for it's sunsets and Oia is the place everyone comes to see it, so that evening, we thought we should see what all the fuss was about. The main problem that evening was there were no clouds, so it was just a plain old sunset, but there were a lot of people !
But the crowds come from all over the island to watch anyway
And once the sun had set, we sat on our terrace, as we did every evening and enjoyed the view while drinking a glass (or two) of the local wine.
Romantic wine and cheese on our terrace with the lights of Fira in the distance
On our fourth day, we hired a car and started to explore the island. We were looking for nice beaches, but Santorini really isn't a "beachy" island. The other problem is that when the wind is blowing from the north (which it was - the Meltemi Wind) the beaches can be very windy and the water very rough. We drove to the south end of the island and after driving down some very rough roads, on our third and final stop, we lucked out and found a totally deserted, sandy beach with calm water. We think the beach may have a name, but we never found out what it was.
A totally deserted beach on the south coast of Santorini - completely unexpected
Kris shelters from the sun because she burns so easily and Paul takes a walk along the beach wearing just his hat
Next morning, we watched the sun rise from our terrace and although it wasn't dramatic, the changing early morning light is very pretty.
Sunrise in Oia
On our fifth day, we wanted to explore the east coast of Santorini but the wind was whipping up the waves and the beaches were covered in water, so we drove to the resort town of Kamari for refreshments.
Kamari Beach with dramatic cliffs in the background
Kris takes it easy in Kamari and - OK - even WE agree that sometimes Speedos are inappropriate (no idea who this was !)
On the way back to Oia, we took some pictures from the landward side.
Oia from the landward side.
The pedestrian path which runs along the edge of the Caldera in Oia and another view of the cliff edge houses in Oia
Paul drove to Ammoudi, a small port nearby and went swimming from rocks nearby. It was a lovely spot and normally would have been a great place to snorkel, but the wind and the waves made swimming very difficult. Kris went shopping !
That evening we went back to Ammoudi (shown here in daylight) for dinner. It was a great location, but it was still very windy.
Ammoudi from the cliff above
Ammoudi port where we ate dinner at the Sunset restaurant, which you can see to the left of the blue roof)
On our last full day, we wanted to visit two of the most famous beaches in Santorini, Red Beach and White Beach. We drove to the little port nearby and took the water taxi. We thought it was going to Red Beach, but it went right past Red Beach and on to White Beach, which we assumed was the last stop. As the boat approached the beach, the boat captain said "take of your clothes" which caused a certain amount of confusion. What he meant was that the boat can't get right up to the beach and we would have to wade. As we assumed everyone was getting off Paul stripped down to his undies - Kristine was already in her bathing costume (fortunately) and we waded ashore. No pictures of us, but these pictures taken later will give you an idea.
Leaving the port on the water taxi (Kris is on the right) and the large white rock visible approaching White Beach
Hard to keep your clothes dry when you are walking on rocks and there are waves breaking over you
The boat was a long way out and the beach was rocky, but some of the passengers didn't seem to mind getting wet !
But it was a spectacular location and although it was very windy and the sea was rather rough, it was a unique place to enjoy the sun. At one point, everyone else on the beach left and we had the entire beach to ourselves, which allowed Paul to declare the beach clothing optional and then take advantage of this new freedom. Sorry - no pictures !
On the way back from White Beach, the water taxi did stop at a very busy Red Beach and although we didn't get off, we did get some good pictures.
Red Beach, Santorini
That evening, our last in Santorini, we went to a very exclusive (ie. expensive) restaurant called Ambrosia (the Food of the Gods) which overlooked the Caldera and by chance, it was a full moon. With the moon reflecting on the water and Andrea Bocelli playing in the background, it really was magically romantic.
Dinner at the Ambrosia Restaurant with the moon reflecting on the sea in the Santorini Caldera
On our very last day in Santorini, before taking the ferry to Crete, we went on a "semi-private" sailing tour on a 50' catamaran. After our "public boat" tour earlier in the week, we were very nervous, but this was a VERY diiferent experience - only sixteen people on a large boat with three crew members to take care of us.
The 50' "semi-private" catamaran. Lots of room on deck for sunbathing (that's Kris at the back of the boat keeping the captain company)
The ship's captain and a crew member preparing dinner
Plenty of room in the cabin for lunch (and our third crew member) and lunch - barbequed lamb
And when we weren't sailing or eating, we had several stops for swimming and snorkelling. We even got to swim at the Hot Springs that we had missed earlier in the week, but they weren't really "hot" - just warm and the mud didn't seem all that curative. Oh well !
Getting all wet in Santorini - I don't think I look too bad in a Speedo !
So five hours later, we were back in port. The boat tour was a great success and we thoroughly enjoyed our day. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, we were driven to the port to catch a ferry to our next destination, Heraklion in Crete.