When you hear the word “Santorini”, images instantly comes to mind. Cascading whitewashed buildings with perfectly sculpted walls and arches decorating the inside edge of the crater of an active, though presently dormant volcano. Views out over the Mediterranean blue of the mostly underwater caldera. When you arrive by water you are cruising across the inside of the volcano.
Have you ever watched a movie set on location and said “One day, I HAVE to go there!” This was how I fell in love with the idea of Santorini, long before I ever set foot on the volcanic island. The opening scenes of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life showing the wedding on the cliff top village of Oia cast a spell over me and I knew I wanted to walk those streets.
First visions of Santorini
After much longing for a return trip to Greece, my dream finally came true. As we arrived by ferry, the first sight we had of Santorini was the white buildings clinging to the tops of bare cliffs, like snow covering the tops of mountains. The closer we got to the port, the taller those cliffs became. As we disembarked on the wharf, the sheer cliffs towered above us. Then we saw the exit road zig-zagging up the side of one of those cliffs, with a steady progression of buses and minivans making their way up and down the road, and one of them was coming for us. Looked scary. Was scary. Just keep looking out at the ocean, and don’t look down.
Thankfully, our minivan made it to the top of the cliff without incident and then we started driving on our way to Fira. The country side was very dry and barren. We passed numerous tourists on quad bikes and scooters. Passed two car accidents with said quad bikes and scooters, and finally made it to our hotel. (Note: quad bikes and scooters are apparently the thing to do on Santorini, but I would question the safety of that idea)
Where we stayed
We stayed in Pansion Zaharoula in Fira, which was about a 1km walk to Fira. The hotel is beautifully decorated set out surrounding a central garden courtyard. The rooms are a generous size and perfectly maintained and cleaned. The price was right for my budget, and this was due to location being a little bit away from the main hotel area in Fira.
The tap water on this island tastes fairly limey, even through my filtered water bottle, so I had to buy water while I was here.
Heading off along the road from the hotel, we went for walk around town to see about catching the bus over to Oia. There were so many tourists on quad bikes tearing around the streets at a frantic pace. They were causing enough of a disturbance to evoke grumbling from peace-loving travellers.
About the public transport bus system
Having located the bus depot, we purchased our tickets at about €1.60 for the next bus and climbed aboard. So, in Australia, we have maximum seating and standing capacities on our buses. This is for safety so that the fully loaded bus doesn’t exceed the design specification of the vehicle. Yeah, so in Santorini, they think their buses are made by Dr Who, and if I could send a shout out to the Greek governing body, “it ain’t no Tardis” in those buses! We were crammed in literally like sardines. I was standing and you have to hang on to something. I reached up to the overhead handles and a random passenger squeezed in under my armpit. Gross.
So we’re in an overloaded bus, and we set off on the narrow winding roads around the Santorini countryside at a pace that any race car driver would be proud of. I’m not comfortable with strangers at the best of times. I was painfully uncomfortable being squeezed in check by jowl with them on a nerve wracking half hour bus ride from hell.
Expectations meet reality
I don’t know what I expected the countryside to look like on a volcanic island, but the reality of Santorini wasn’t what I had expected it to be. At first I was a little bit disappointed because I hadn’t seen any of the images that had been portrayed as being Santorini. It was noisy, so full of tourists that you were stepping on them, and the public transport system was my worst nightmare.
By the time I got to Oia I was pretty grumpy, and needed some comfort food. I set off to find something I could eat. Tried to buy a souvlaki stick, but it wasn’t nice. Fail. Santorini you are breaking my heart.
Taking a few deep breaths, I attempted to pull myself together and get on with the rest of the day. We started walking into the centre of the town. For all the people that came here on the bus with us, it didn’t seem that crowded in the streets as we were walking around, and I started to relax a bit.
Soon we reached the edge of the town at the top of the cliff and the view opened up.
Here were the iconic cascading buildings, with walls that were whitewashed, or painted in different pastel shades. The buildings all look like they are made of fondant, so smooth with rounded edges. And the view back around the coast to Fira is beautiful from this tip of the crescent shaped island.
We had planned to eat lunch at Amoudi Bay, which involved the descent of about 300 ancient stone pebble steps. Sloped steps. So steep that your feet want to bust out of your shoes at the toes, and your thighs are burning from trying to stop your feet from doing so. The views though! Worth every step.
There are tourist donkeys here that are made to haul people up and down those incredibly steep stairs. I couldn’t believe the ratio of person to donkey that was happening either. There should at least be a height/weight restriction in place. I felt so sad for the donkeys. There must be plenty of other ways to make a tourism dollar? All I can say, is if you go, give the donkeys a break and use your own steam to get up and down the stairs. Or call a taxi and take the service road.
Upon reaching the water’s edge we were very happy to find a nice little restaurant where we could sit and enjoy a relaxing lunch.
After lunch our group split up. Some went to swim off the famed rocks of Amoudi Bay, and the rest of us took the taxi back to the top of the hill on a mission to find a roof top bar in time for sunset.
Strogili – Rooftop Restaurant.
While the others were swimming, Mum and I wandered around the streets of Oia, and found this fantastic roof-top restaurant, reserved a table and cracked a bottle of wine. We were going to be there for a while so we were fully prepared to enjoy the view!
I highly recommend a visit to this restaurant for dinner and sunset. The views and the food were fabulous.
Our party was reunited for a very satisfying sunset dinner. And then we had to get the bus back to Fira. Let’s just say that after this blog post, I want to agree never to speak of bus travel on Santorini again. Next time I’m in Santorini, I’ll walk.
Our last day on Santorini was spent wandering the streets of Fira and exploring all the pathways we could follow. We had breakfast on the main street and then headed off towards the caldera into the tourist labyrinth.
Not that we wanted to see the tourist shops. We were actually hunting for the postcard image of the caldera with all the building layers on the side of the hills. We stopped for a coffee break in a café that overlooked the caldera and the views were great from there.
There are also a set of steep steps leading from the water’s edge to the top of the cliff in Fira. Right next to those steps they have built a cable car that goes down the side of the cliff. I’m actually not sure which one would be worse… That cable car looked like it had all the elements of a roller-coaster ride!
Climbing higher, we found a very long queue of people who were waiting for the cable car. In the narrow streets, pushing past the queue was becoming a problem and people started glaring at you, thinking that you were trying to cut in on the line. We actually saw a couple of men having an argument because of this. Crazy. Clearing the madness, we found our way to the top of the hill and took some memorable photos for our efforts.
Exploring the streets of Fira overlooking the caldera was another soul nourishing experience. That view is so unique, so iconic. I’m really glad I was able to see it myself. And in the end, while Santorini wasn’t exactly what I had expected, I still managed to enjoy its natural beauty.
Points to consider
Would I go back? – Yes, I feel like I didn’t really get to know Santorini because I arrived with some pre-conceived idea. There was a lot of the island that I didn’t see. I think I could go back and enjoy Santorini for what it is, not what I was thinking it should be.
We were there in the shoulder season and it was still busy. Don’t even bother going there in peak season, you won’t be able to move for tourists.
I’m usually an advocate for using public transport when travelling, but in this case I would really rather not have had to deal with that experience. Perhaps next time I will consider a smaller group tour.
Related Posts – Island Infatuation series
You can read about my other island infatuation posts here:
- Delos – Greek Island Infatuation
- Naxos – Greek Island Infatuation
- Koufonisi – Day Trip from Naxos – Greek Island Infatuation
- Chania Old Town – Western Crete
- Capri & the Blue Grotto – Italian Island Infatuation
- Oahu – Hawaiian Island Infatuation
- Maui – Hawaiian Island InfatuationMaui – Hawaiian Island Infatuation