The white washed buildings and blue rooftops that sprawl down the hillside of Oia, Santorini, are one of the most instagrammed places in the world. An absolute tourist hotspot, for being such a tiny little place, Santorini is top of a lot of bucket lists. A while ago I did two insta-blogs to share some of my photos, and since then I’ve also had a few people ask me about going on holiday there. Over the past week I’ve been helping my mum and dad plan their trip next year, so while I originally hadn’t planned to do any more posts on the place, (as I went with an ex four years ago – ick), I’ve decided I will as to be honest, the photos I got are worth sharing.
I think people have this really romantic idea of what Santorini is like, but actually the reality is quite different. I was going to call this post ‘Santorini – the good, the bad and the ugly’, but that actually makes it sound a lot worse than it is. Of course, it’s absolutely beautiful, traditionally Greek and the infamous sight of the Oia cliffside is as stunning as it looks on photos.
What the photos don’t show you though, are the glimpses of imperfection that do exist on this tiny island. Going through all the brochures (yes, Viv is old school) with my parents, and telling them some tips, suggestions and general observations, I found I actually have quite a few to share that you might find useful too.
Don’t be surprised when you arrive and the airport feels like you’ve gone back in time. It is literally the smallest airport, and it’s complete chaos. There are a lot of internal Greek flights leaving frequently, so travellers and backpackers are there in their groups. There is no real order, and there just isn’t space for everyone. Check in to go home is complete carnage. You could find yourself standing in a queue outside for quite some time!
A taxi from the airport to wherever you’re staying is likely to be one of the only times you will be in an actual car during your stay. There aren’t many roadworthy roads, the island is very steep, and many of the little towns are just too small for cars. If you want the freedom to get about, hire a scooter or a quad bike as it really will be the best form of transport, and the easiest to park up. There are plenty places to hire from, and they will negotiate the cost the longer you take it for. Just for God’s sake be safe and wear the bloody helmets.
It’s windier than you will expect. Due to the shape of the island, most of the towns and hotels are high up on the cliffside, so the elevated position naturally means there’s more wind. It’s not cold, or strong, more a nice summer breeze but it’s enough to make you not realise how strong the sun actually is. This was particularly true for Firostefani, I think a lot of the hotels in Oia are more sheltered as they’re on the opposite side of the island. Also keep it in mind when asking for that lovely looking table right out on the terrace overlooking the sea – one gust of wind and you’ll be covered in your souvlaki skewer.
There are churches, religious monuments and shrines everywhere, literally everywhere. You will pass them on the sides of the road in the middle of nowhere, or in the busier towns even find yourself actually stood on top of them. The buildings are so packed in across Oia that it can’t be helped, and plenty of people want to photography them, but just remember the locals actually use these churches, so be respectful. They are absolutely gorgeous though.
Oia is so crowded, be prepared to battle through a lot of people crammed into the tiny streets, and don’t expect to go anywhere quickly. You can easily find yourself carried along with the current of people when you get into the heart of the town. Weekends are definitely busier, but there will be people taking photos everywhere you look and you might just have to be patient. Restaurants, tavernas, cafes and bars are definitely not as busy, and have that relaxed Greek feel to them, but navigating the streets can be slightly stressful.
I used to think of Greece and the Greek islands as having long stretches of golden sandy beaches, or white pebble beaches with crystal clear water. Santorini was formed from a volcano, which is why it is curved around in a half moon crescent shape, and the terrain is rugged with steep cliffs down to the crater in the sea. Because of this, the beaches aren’t this typical. There are volcanic black and red beaches, but they’re rocky and very hard to get to. If you can stand the heat, and have appropriate footwear then explore this rugged side to the island. Get off the beaten track on your quad bike and see what you find.
It’s this environment which led to the incredible cliffside cave hotels, and small turquoise pools you imagine when Santorini is mentioned. It is all about the beautiful swimming pools, overlooking the caldera and the sunsets. Of course, with views like that the hotels offering such suites and experiences cost a fortune. For a less expensive stay, try somewhere outside of Oia. I stayed in Firostefani which was cheaper, and you could still get private pools. Imerovigli is another one to consider. One day I’d love to splash out on a white washed cave stay with infinity pool though!
Each tiny little town dotted along the island has something worth finding among it’s tiny little streets, even if it doesn’t appear to. Firostefani was so small, and it seemed as though it was just made up of local inhabitants.
A lunchtime visit one day led me to discover an amazing sushi restaurant, called Ginger Lounge, a spa hidden down a side street, and a very inviting ice cream parlour. The locals enjoy the simple life in all of the little villages, but there are some hidden gems to be discovered at different times of day throughout the whole island.
Being an island in the middle of the Agean Sea, the seafood is some of the nicest and freshest I’ve had in Greece. Amoudi is a restaurant I would definitely recommend, it’s at the bottom of the hill in Oia, in the cove. Most people tend to stay at the top of the hill, as the restaurants up there offer the perfect view of the sunset, but Amoudi’s seafood is unbeatable. Next to a row of tiny fishing boats, and built into the red rock of the cliff, they sun dry the catch of the day to serve fresh that night. Best calamari I’ve ever had!
Thanks to restaurants like Amoudi, the bottom of the hill where Oia is located is just as beautiful as the top, with it’s white windmills and blue churches. It’s far less busy though, as you either have to quad bike the very long way around the coast to the bottom, or climb down a LOT of steps. It’s worth the effort, and a lovely spot for some lunch while the waves lap up next to you.
It’s down all these steps that you will find the donkeys. They stand in line on the steps, and I’ve been told for a fee you can ride one back up to the top. Personally, I would never do it and would encourage you not to either. It’s so steep, hot and tiring and they’re already used by the locals for carrying crates of bottled drinks, poor things. They do look well looked after, and they appear all over the island owned by locals, but I feel bad for them!
Oia is actually very unique, and full of character. Like most Greek towns there are a lot of leather shops, jewellery stores and tavernas, but Oia has a lot more to it when you wander it’s streets and can actually look about. The locals run all sorts of little businesses, and they go to a lot of effort to decorate their store fronts, open gates and caves selling their creations.
Even the bigger restaurants and hotels, which can’t really be seen off the side of the cliff from the top, or restaurants on rooftops above you, go the extra mile to make their gated entrances stand out from the rest. The gates and doorways appear to lead to nowhere, but they’re all guaranteed to lead off to some corner or rooftop worth the exploration.
Just like the restaurants and small local businesses, the locals love to show off their homes, and really put a lot of effort in with their white washed buildings and blue decorations to fit in with the rest of the town.
Every night, everyone comes out for the sunset. Sweeping right across the caldera, the entire island is bathed in deep orange and red as the sun sets, and it’s a sight you would never tire of. Locals and visitors alike come out to see it.
Santorini really is simply beautiful, and despite the little stresses you might have due to the landscape, or the bustling crowds, it is absolutely worth a visit. Be prepared that even if you fork out for the most incredible luxurious stay, there are unavoidable aspects of the island that will be less relaxing. The airport for one! The views, the food, the beauty of it, and the lovely people will make it worthwhile.
Other posts on Santorini:
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