Postcards from Santorini | Travel Diary
Santorini – the Greek island with its whitewashed houses, blue domes, and breathtaking sunsets, had been on my bucket list forever. During our dreamlike trip to the picturesque island in the Aegean Sea, we not only had the most beautiful views of the Caldera, we also went on a catamaran tour that rather felt like a pretty wet rollercoaster, visited rocky beaches in all colors, and last but not least, tried lots of local wine. In this travel diary, I share with you all the details of our trip to Santorini in July 2021.
–– This travel diary was originally written in German.
July 23 – After spending some fascinating days in Mykonos, we took the ferry to visit another Cycladic island that had been on our bucket list forever: Santorini. Hence, we were super excited to finally see the dreamy island that has gained huge popularity with Instagram recently.
However, I have to admit that when we approached the port of Santorini, I was a tiny bit disappointed for the first seconds. Other than Mykonos, Santorini is a volcanic island. This means that instead of dreamy sand beaches, turquoise bays, and opulent flowers, that we had been spoiled with on the neighbor island, Santorini, first of all, comes off blank, white, and steep. There isn’t much to see from the waters, to say the least.
What also dampened our excitement was the massive number of busses, transporting companies and taxis, that had parked at the port to pick up all the ferry guests. This again makes sense, since there is only one street leaving the port, though it also meant that we were not flexible and ended up sharing a small transport bus with a few strangers, and––on top of that––had to wait for other vehicles, that had parked in front of “our” bus, to leave before we could move. However, once we left the port and drove up the switchbacks along with the steep costs, I was pretty thankful for the slow drive, as it would gift us with panoramic views onto the Cadera, the beautiful sea, and the port. And luckily, the drive wasn’t too long, since we were the first to get dropped off at the hotel which was located closest to the port.
For the unique Santorini experience, it is obligatory to sleep in one of the accommodations on the steep slopes of Fira, Imeflovi, or Oia. Since we had booked our trip only a couple of days earlier and were still in the midst of a global pandemic, we, unfortunately, didn’t have too much choice and were not willing to pay EUR 400+ for a night. So we, unfortunately, didn’t stay in one of those. It is, however, on my list for the next visit. The views of the bays, the coastal towns, and the sunset are so spectacular and unique that I feel that Santorini is not the right place to cut corners on the accommodation. And we pretty much spend every night at the coast anyway, spending crazy amounts of money on dinner and drinks to see the sunset… we could have as well splurged this on a room with the infamous infinity pool-view-combo and brought our bottle of wine, you know.
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Another disadvantage of large hotel resorts is that they can sometimes hardly react flexibly to check-in and check-out times due to the high throughput. While the service at our boutique hotel in Mykonos was super hospitable, helpful, and accommodating, we did get to feel the full Greek mentality at El Greco Resort & Spa: it was hectic and quite noncommittal.
Since we had to wait several hours for our room anyway, we ordered a glass of rosé and a Greek salad at the hotel’s pool bar and watched the hotel guests lying like sardines in the sun and blocking all the hotel loungers with towels. These could only be Germans, we thought 😉
Later, we grabbed two sunbeds and joined the other supposed compatriots to enjoy a few hours of the glistening afternoon sun. And we decided that in the future we would only book boutique hotels.
FIRA / THIRA
In the early evening, we strolled to Fira, the capital of Santorini. Later we learned that the island within the Cyclades is still called “Thira” (i.e. Fira in Greek), and only became known as Santorini during the last century due to the permanent misnomer. In any case, the capital Fira shows a very pristine and incredibly well preserved Santorini, which in its present form was created by a violent volcanic explosion 3,600 years ago. So, in truth, the kilometer-long, arch-shaped harbor of Santorini is a volcanic crater that has filled with water.
Due to Covid, Fira was as if deserted and we had the rare opportunity to have the narrow steps on the coast almost all to ourselves, which offered us spectacular views and great photo opportunities. I imagine it’s usually packed here. We let ourselves drift by the alleys (although the steep steps and narrow paths are not to be underestimated – summer sandals are definitely not the best shoe choice here!) and stopped every now and then to take a photo or just let the views work on us. Once at the top, a sensational view of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and the caldera, typical white houses with colorful windows and doors and the narrow streets with the many stores, souvenir stores, bars, taverns, and restaurants.
Also for us it was time to eat and so we went to the tavern DA COSTA. Daniel had reserved a table there in advance with the best view of the sunset and so we spent an incredibly beautiful evening with delicious Greek food and fantastic wine in a prime location, on the high at the cliffs of Santorini. By the way, I can really recommend this taverna to you. The prices are fair for the location, the view fantastic and the son of the restaurant owner, who – as he told us – works every evening in the restaurant of his parents, very warm and open-minded. The galaktoboureko – a kind of semolina pudding with filo dough, was from his mother’s home recipe and it tasted exactly the same. In any case, it was well worth coming to the restaurant for two more evenings.
DAY I: Black Beaches, Wine tastings, and picturesque Sunsets
For the next morning we had booked – just like on Mykonos – a 4×4 to be able to explore the island a little more flexibly. The Quad we have at the end of the day then directly Vaud extended the duration of the whole vacation – it is just too convenient to be able to explore the island with the small vehicle flexible. First, we drove to the east beach of the island, more precisely to Kamari Black Sand Beach.
KAMARI BLACK SAND BEACH
The long stretch of beach extends under the impressive Mesa Vouno mountain and features the volcanic activity of the island in the form of its unique black sand. Over the centuries, the molten rock from various volcanic eruptions has hardened and collapsed, which is why the beaches are made of black pebbles. The water, on the other hand, is a crystal clear blue, which looks spectacular in contrast to the color of the beach.
We conveniently parked our quad in front of some house in the neighborhood and walked to the beach. There we rented two sunbeds in the Front Row, which to our amazement were free of charge as long as we would eat in the attached taverna. Gladly, that saved us the search for another location for lunch. So for lunch, we ate at Ariale Restaurant Kamari and tried fava for the first time, a Santorini specialty made of beans and cooked into a puree similar to hummus, which is incredibly delicious.
WINE TASTING AT GAIA
After lunch, we head over to GAIA, a local offshoot of the great winery from Thessaloniki, which, located directly on the beach, offers its best wines with great description for 10 € to try. We basically love Greek wines and the wines from Gaia are no exception. However, Santorini is known for Assyrtilo, and at the wine tasting, I liked the Rosé 4-6H AGIORGITIKO, which, according to its name, is left on the mash for four to six hours and therefore develops a less intense red color than its “big brother”, the 14-18H AGIORGITIKO. Since we ended up exploring quite a few wineries in Santorini, I ended up writing a separate blog post about these where I share more information about the different wines of Santorini, and which venue has the most stunning views.
In the evening, we drove to Imerovigli, a village between Oia and Fira, which is very quiet and original in comparison to its neighbors. Also in Imerovigli, there are the world-famous white houses with their blue domes and winding streets and paths, Imerovigli is also the highest point on the edge of the caldera, so you have a fantastic, unobstructed panoramic view of the volcano crater, the surrounding islands, and of course the sea.
Perched on top is the Buddahbar, where we originally wanted to have a drink. However, we were turned down for lack of a Covid test (the Buddha bar was the only one in all of Santorini that seemed to control it). Instead, we ended up at the Kivotos, the bar of a hotel with probably the same stunning views.
DAY II: A wonderful Catamaran Tour, The SIGALAS Winery, and the famous Sunset in Oia
We had booked a sailing trip for the next day. We were actually inspired to do this on Mykonos when another restaurant guest raved one evening about his tour around the island and told us that it was the best thing he had done in a long time. Since we didn’t have that much time in Mykonos, we booked a tour for Santorini that same evening.
We purposely chose a catamaran that would sail us along the cliffs of Santoroni. The tour was so spectacular that I have to dedicate a separate post to it, because the photos that were taken on this need a little explanation and there are also just so many that I want to dedicate a separate place to them. Here already a small foretaste:
After our return from the catamaran tour in the afternoon and a short stop in the hotel room, get rid of the sea salt and change, we then took our quad again and drove towards the north of the island, which we had not yet explored at all.
Originally, we wanted to go as far as Oia to see the infamous sunset – a must-see when in Santorini. On the way there, we wanted to grab a bite to eat. In fact, most of the route led through dirt roads and stony streets and even though this offered new, breathtaking views of the sea around every bend, we only made slow progress and there was nothing to be seen of a restaurant far and wide.
How convenient that on the way was Domaine Sigalas, one of the most famous, exclusive and expensive wineries of Santorini. As you would imagine a typical winery, this one is located in the middle of nowhere, among vines and many, colorful plants, including great terrace with beautiful views of nature.
Unfortunately, the service here was really poor and we have to none of the (extremely expensive wines) so really what can learn. At least the food there was but really delicious not to say phenomenal (many of the products are grown in the surrounding area and harvested locally!) and so we could continue strengthened to Oia.
THE FAMOUS SUNSET IN OIA
Despite the pandemic, Oia was surprisingly crowded and the crowds meandered through the narrow streets to the place where one is supposed to have the best view of the setting sun. For us it was too bustling, so we stood in the somewhat elevated entrance of a well-located house and watched the sun from there. Afterward, we desperately searched for a nice bar, but since we didn’t find one, we went to our taverna in Imerovigli one more time. My mouth watered at the thought of the delicious dessert. The son of the owners was very happy to see us again and gave us a few tips for the next few days and told us his favorite local wineries.
DAY III: AKROTIRI, RED BEACH, and more Wineries
The next morning we skipped the meager hotel breakfast and drove our quad down to Akrotiri to explore the last little village on the island. There we ate a good breakfast and drank delicious smoothies and really good coffee at the Bistro Cafe & Cocktail Bar, which is right next to a whitewashed Orthodox church.
In the pharmacy next door, we quickly did a COVID test for the return flight the next day and then set off for the red beach, which we had already observed from our sailing trip the day before.
From breakfast, we headed south on the quad, near the red beach. This should not only be one of the most beautiful beaches of Santorini but is also a popular tourist attraction and therefore rather less suitable for hours of sunbathing. In addition, the way is the goal, because to get to the beach, you have to scramble over some rocks. From the different hills, you have a great view of the bay and the color contrast of the blue sea and the red rocks and can take unique photos here. On the beach itself, it is almost unspectacular and on top of that quite narrow and crowded. Among the locals, the Red Beach is also called Kokkini Ammos.
After about an hour on the red beach, we scrambled back over the rocks to our quad and drove to another winery that was recommended to us at the DA COSTA taverna.
At Gavalas Winery, we were again surprised by the variety of wineries. This was a real winery that seems to place less emphasis on stunning views and much more on good advice and the craft. In the shady courtyards here the wines are tasted for 10 euros and with events such as the joint Mosten wine lovers and islanders involved to contribute something to the wine production. The wines tasted incredibly good to us and we considered smoothly taking some with us, but our mind said – unlike in Austria – no this time. We couldn’t drink that much and the next international parade was already coming up.
From Gavalas Winery we drove to Venetsanos Winery. There, however, we did not do any more wine tasting, but instead, each ordered a small glass of wine and a Santorini salad for lunch and enjoyed the fabulous view of the caldera and the bay. It was relatively windy, making it hard to feel the sinking sun, which brought lasting color to our faces that day.
In the evening, we went to our taverna one last time, toasted to the excellent vacation and another item on the bucket list, and made plans nicely again for our next trip – because, we had a lot of time before we left for the US.
Anyway, I had a wonderful time in the Greek Cyclades. Even though Santorini in particular is almost omnipresent on Instagram and you think you’ve already seen the white houses on the cliffs, it’s still unique to have experienced it for yourself. For me as an absolute Greece lover, Santorini was definitely a great highlight that I will not forget so quickly.