HOW TO TRAVEL THE GREEK ISLANDS: SANTORINI PART I


Santorini is my number one destination in the world! Not only because Basil and I got married there (although this is going to be an amazing excuse to get back, obviously) or because I am of Greek decent. Remove all of these factors and you have a breathtaking island that well - takes your breath away. Quite literally too. But I'll get to this a little later!

Sun-drenched shores, ocean that stretches as far as the eye can see, quaint little cobblestone pathways, white washed and pastel buildings, endless archways, amazing sunsets, relaxed balmy nights and not to mentioned the incredibly fresh seafood. Could you really ask for more in the one location?! Everywhere you turn you are in an ongoing battle with yourself, your camera and probably your partner! (Been there, done that...) You'll most likely have this sense of urgency to share what you are seeing with those who are not with you, but you'll quickly find that it's impossible to capture what you are seeing in real life, even if you are lugging your 5D Mark Canon and extra lens set around with you. So, to really enjoy the island and make the most of it, it's best to only carry your phone with you some of the days so that you can really take it all in, wonder, explore, remove the perfect photo anxiety and lose yourself in the moments. Do however, make a list in your phone of the places that you want to go back and capture, as the island is small and you'll thank yourself for those camera free days, and your back will too (I promise!). Allow yourself to forget what time it is, what you're wearing, how you look, how many gryos you've smashed or loukoumades you've consumed (hello food baby!) and save this for the last few days on the island.

Santorini just feels so far away and if you allow yourself you'll forget about everything. You'll forget you have a job, you'll forget to check the time, what even is real life? Just ensure you don't forget about check out day, because chances are you'll want to stay forever...

Images by Aenaon Villas in Imerovigli 

STAY

Imerovigli, Firostefani or Fira are my personal recommendations for accommodation. These areas are central and are also on the Caldera side (west coast) of the island with amazing views. Fira is the busiest town of the island and has a lots of resort style stores, restaurants and bars. Firostefani and Imerovigli are a little further north and are perfect if you are looking for something a little more quiet, romantic and luxurious. Caldera views can attract higher rates, so you can usually find more affordable options inland, or on the opposite side of the island. However, if you can afford to splurge on your trip, Santorini is the place to be doing it, and a pool overlooking the Caldera is something you won't regret.

Oia is a beautiful town in the north of the island with some of the most incredible hotels, restaurants and views. However, Basil and I have always chosen to visit Oia but not stay here as it isn't central and makes it more difficult to get around. We love experiencing a new area each time we visit, but below is a list of places we have stayed and loved in the past and would highly recommend!

Aenaon Villas in Imerovigli: The location of Aenaon is unique. It is situated at the top of a steep slope, at the northern part of the island where the land was carved to admire an endless horizon, the deep blue of the Aegean Sea, the caldera, the volcano and breathtaking sunsets. Right at the ancient path that connects Oia with Imerovigli and Fira, it overlooks the beautiful beaches spanning along the east cost of the island. Of all the amazing views I've enjoyed on the island, the view from Aenaon would have to be my favourite. Basil and I booked here for the start of our honeymoon, and we were in absolute bliss. The owners are the most gorgeous people you will meet, and were so accommodating to our every request. The rooms are whitewashed with high ceilings whilst the two pool areas feel surreal. An extremely romantic and quiet location, perfect for couples on their honeymoon. The location is closer to Oia than it is Fira, so if you are wanting to explore the entire island, this location will make it a little more difficult to get around, but worth the trouble!
Alta Vista Suites in Imerovigli: Alta Vista are five beautiful suites located in Imerovigli (on the side closest to Fira). Basil and I stayed in the 'Honeymoon Senses Suite' when we arrived to Santorini for our Wedding. We needed something in a convenient location close to our wedding planners and the vendors we needed to meet with to make final decisions. We felt like we were the only people staying here and had the pool all to ourselves, even though the other five suites were booked. The pool has amazing views of the Caldera, the owner will make you whatever you want for breakfast (or any time of the day) and the room was well air conditioned and had everything we needed! After a few days here we moved to our wedding villa for the night before and the night of the wedding, before moving to Aenaon Villas for the start of our 'honeymoon.
Chromata Hotel in Imerovigli: This exclusive hotel is set on the rim of the Caldera in Imerovigli, a twenty minute walk to Fira and faces the sea and the volcano. It is  perfect if you want to indulge - still to this day Basil and I speak of how comfortable their beds were!!! The service is amazing, and we loved the location. When we stayed at the hotel it had only just opened, had a beautiful upper and lower spa area and was fairly quiet. We visited friends who stayed here on our Wedding trip (based on the photos they saw of our previous trip) and we noticed the upper and lower spa had been removed to accomodate for more rooms, the new breakfast area had taken over the outdoor sitting area and it felt a lot busier. It had a more fun and relaxing vibe to it than the romantic experience we had, so for a normal trip I would highly recommend, but would look elsewhere for a honeymoon. The pool area is still as incredible as it ever was, however, you will have to get up very early to secure a spot! If you are going to stay here you'll want to spend time making the most of the poolside cocktail bar and lounge restaurant, as this is what you're paying for!
Aria Lito Mansion in Fira: A charming luxury hotel set amidst beautiful fragrant gardens in the quaint and vibrant Fira town. Set on the right edge of Fira back from the cliffs edge, this beautiful hotel with it's gorgeous pastel palettes offers a luxury stay with comfort and convenience. Whilst you don't see views directly from the hotel, it's a brisk walk to one of the most amazing views of the island - overlooking the Fira's cliff face.

Images (including opening image) by Steven Curti of the view from Palia Kameni 

DO

Whilst you probably want to relax by the pool all day long, here are a few of the things I love doing when visiting Santorini. Even though I have visited the island quite a few times now, this coming August I am still looking forward to doing these again!
A Sunset Drink at Palia Kameni: This is where Basil and I had our welcome cocktail party with our Wedding guests. We booked out the venue (it is packed in high season) so I would highly recommend booking a sunset drink here. Book an hour or two before sunset and enjoy their very large and refreshing cocktails, coffees or cigars before heading somewhere in Fira for dinner. Try to get a table on the upper level if you can! Oh and this is a place I would definitely recommend lugging the camera!
Hire Quad Bikes: One of our favourite things to do in Santorini, is just cruise the open roads on a quad bike, enjoying the sun, taking in the amazing views, and making stops at different beaches along the way. There's no better way to get around the island! We have always used Tony's, a great family run business in Imerovigli. 
Go on a Sunset Caldera Cruise: Experiencing and viewing the island from boat is absolutely amazing! This cruise takes you to the volcano, hot springs and finishes with a sunset in Oia. We hired a private boat for the day for our wedding guests, which is a great option if you have a group of you, but if it is just you and your family, partner or friend - it's best to jump on board with one of the daily cruises. A word of warning that if you do choose to swim in the hot springs, try to wear black bathers as whilst white bikinis in Santorini look incredible, the water will stain light colours and you'll end up with an unwanted new brown pair!
Spend a day in Oia:  Try to visit in the morning or spend the night here; afternoons and evenings often bring bucketloads of tourists from the cruise ships and boat tours. Just before sunset the town is a magnet for everyone on the island, but I would still recommend spending a half day here at least. Swim and enjoy the freshest seafood for lunch in Amoundi Bay, wonder the towns boutiques and enjoy some gelato to cool off. 
Beaches: White sand, red sand, black sand, no sand... Santorini is known for it's wide array of beaches, all completely different from each other. Whilst Santorini is not famous for it's crystal clear turquoise waters, they do have charm and are worth visiting. 
      • Kamari is a lovely beach town on the east coast with lots of beach bars and lounges and is great for families by day and partying at night. It has black sand, is about 10km from Fira and has a lot of water sports activities and facilities.
      • PerissaPerivolos and Agios Georgios are known as the black beaches of the island and they lead into one another along the one strip. With a lot of restaurants and activities and an enormous rock called Mesa Vouno that rises from the sea at the Perissa end, you'll find a few more beach lounges and bars at the Perivolos end.
      • The Red Beach is the most unique beach of the island and requires a climb down steep rocks to get to. It's usually a pretty crowded tourist attraction, but you have to see it! 
      • The White Beach is in a cove right next to the Red Beach, the surrounding cliffs are white and is accessible by boat or on foot from the Red Beach. It is relatively quiet with limited facilities other than sunbeds and umbrellas.
      • Vlychada and Eros Beach are the less packed beaches of the island and are a little more romantic. 

I personally prefer to hang by the hotel pool during the day and quad bike around the island doing stops at the beaches for a quick swim. A beach hop is a great way to spend a day, and enables you to explore as you drive around. Have a look at a map and pre-plan your days journey before heading off. Also try not to wear your white bathers this day, as they may get dirty and lather yourself in suncream!

 

EAT

For something romantic:

  • Kandouni in Oia - An intimate restaurant in a redecorated old house with traditional, delicious and rich Greek food. Adorned in bougainvillea, this cute restaurant is enchanting, romantic and has a perfect share menu.
  • Mylos in Firostefani - this bar and restaurant offers modern and sophisticated gastronomy at a beautifully renovated windmill. Basil and I fell in love with the vibe of this place, and we sat at the bar until the early hours of the morning. There are often local musicians who serenade the diners, so look out for the nights they are playing before booking.
  • Ambrosia in Oia - has dreamlike terrace views and fine Mediterranean and Modern Greek Cuisine. The tables are laced with red roses and the mood lighting is set with candles.

For casual dining:

  • Sea Side by Notos in Perivolos Beach - A beach lounge that finely balances its modern, cosmopolitan nature with an unpretentious gourmet atmosphere, being relaxed yet boasting excellent, informal service.
  • Ammoudi Fish Tavern in Oia - Ammoudi Bay is famous for it's traditional Greek taverns with the freshest seafood on the island. There are various other fish taverns closeby. It can get very busy around sunset, and the pricing high at dinner time.
  • To Perasma tou Horiou in Pyrgos - A traditional restaurant with recipes from Santorini and Crete, all made from superior quality products. Honest, full-flavoured food accompanied by Greek liquor and music.
  • Mc Daniels in Fira - is my number one pick for Gyros on the island, and believe me we've tried and tested a long list of them! Don't let the name fool you, these guys make the meanest gyros around. Ask for chips and order an extra because one won't be enough.
  • Lucky's Souvlaki in Fira - is my second pick for a quick, cheap and delicious Gyro on the island, and is located as you enter the town.
  • Anogi in Imerovigli - Rich and flavoursome Greek food. Worth visiting if you're staying in Imerovigli and don't want to venture too far at night.

For the sweet tooth:

If you come across a 'Zakaroplastio' on the island, go take a peek inside and buy some traditional sweets for the road. My personal favorites are Galaktoboureko, Katafi, Melomakarona and Bougatsa. I also can't go past some good Baklava! And don't leave island without trying some Loukoumades (you'll find them on most restaurants dessert list!) 

  • Loukoumadoupolis in Fira - A quick greek specialty! This place makes amazing loukoumades - a kind of Greek Donut, deep fried so its crispy on the outside, then injected with chocolate, jam or drizzled with honey & cinnamon. Heaaaaven.
  • Lolita's Gelato in Oia - A quick stop off to cool off, Lolita's has some delicious flavours in both gelato and sorbet for those who have to avoid diary like myself.

DRINK

There are so many bars on the island, so whilst it's great to explore and walk into bars you see on your travels, here is a list of our favourites on the island.

  • Tango in Fira - The place to be seen in Santorini. Dress well, start early and party into the night. Open from 8pm until 5am.
  • Palia Kameni in Fira - Our personal favourite! Cute outdoor terraces overlooking the sea from 380m above sea level and specialising in sunset cocktails.
  • V-Lounge in Fira - Located on the rooftop of the Panorama Boutique Hotel. Great fresh fruit and Champagne cocktails.
  • Anemos Beach Lounge in Perivolos Beach - Comfortable sun beds on the beach, great cocktails and good food.
  • Katharos Lounge in Oia - One of the best places on the island to have a coffee (frape`) or a cocktail and watch the sunset. Chill-out music in the early evening but can start pumping later in the evening, especially if they have a special event on.
  • Cafe del Mar e Sol in Perivolos Beach - Relaxed vibe with good hospitality and good music.
  • Wet Stories in Perivolos Beach - Often has famous European DJs and can be a good place to get loose.
  • Casablanca Soul in Fira - An absinthe bar/nightclub playing funk, soul and house. Greece's most successful DJ, Osunlade, rates this as his favourite club in Europe!

SHOPPING

Oia and Fira are full of an eclectic mix of shops, catering to tourists and locals. There are the most beautiful handmade jewellers, sandals and kaftans on the island and you'll find some gorgeous things you won't find back home. As Santorini is a huge tourist attraction there are a lot of Australian labels stocked in the boutiques with a large price increase so shop carefully in these! Make sure you buy yourself a 'mati' to bring home with you. I love the ones for the home, and find a unique one every trip!

There aren't many large supermarkets on the island (especially not in the main towns) so when you pass one on your travels, make a stop and grab snacks, water and any essentials you may have forgotten to pack. 

MAP OF THE ISLAND

You can find some of the places I've mentioned pinned on a map of Santorini here

THIS IS ONLY PART I ...

As I have been asked so many questions on how to travel the Greek Islands, I will be splitting this series up into a few parts. Have a questions on Santorini or how to travel the Greek islands? Comment below and I'll do my best to answer it for you! Next up in Part II - What to pack, what to wear, close by islands to visit, ferry vs plane and general tips you may not know about the island.

 

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6 comments


  • Bec from ASH & STONE

    I dream every day of shooting a wedding in Santorini. The white buildings with the grand entrances and the amazing views and the colors of the Greek Islands are everything a photographer lives for! I really love all the valuable information in this post too. It makes me want to fly over there just for the cocktails!


  • Laura

    Great post!! Thank you for sharing your Santorini experience. I find this blog post particularly interesting as my fiance and I are actually planning on getting married in Santorini – Summer of 2019!
    I was wondering if you had any reccomendations for a wedding planner, venue photographer, restaurant for the reception, etc. I am just starting to turn my attention to the wedding planning so would really appreciate your guidance! It will be a small affair, close familty & friends (approx 30 guests).


  • Olivia Vlachou

    Hi Elle,
    Thank you so much! I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it. Oh how exciting! Oia is beautiful but we prefer to stay somewhere more central, as we love getting around the whole island on Quads and it’s a pretty risky drive at night around the cliff face to Oia, and can get very windy! I think this time we will most likely be staying in Imerovigli again :) Dress is Thurley. A few seasons ago though! O x


  • Olivia Vlachou

    Hi Jess!
    Thanks so much for your comment and for reading! I haven’t visited Milos yet but it’s on the list for this coming trip along with Paros & Naxos. If you do visit Milos (which family and friends who have visited loved) I would highly reccomened visiting Crete also as it is close by and is absolutely amazing. I have driven around the island of Crete twice now, and my third time will be this August which I’m so excited about! What time of the year are you planning to visit, and is it this year or next? O x


  • Elle

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Thank you so much for sharing all your experiences with us. We are going next year and were looking into staying in Oia. Where are you staying when you go this year? Also love your dress, can you share where its from!?
    X


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