I really didn’t think I would enjoy Santorini. To me, it seemed like one big tourist trap. But as the departure point on our one-week sailing trip, we decided to stay two nights and see what all the hype was about… and it may have just changed my mind.
We landed late and went straight to our hotel. It wasn’t a bargain by any means (nothing is a bargain in August) but simple, clean and set back inland from the main town of Thira by a 6-minute walk. We set our stuff down and promptly walked into town to find souvlaki for dinner. In town, people crammed into the small alleyways and narrow passages. Cheap souvenirs spilled over into the streets. And right next door, high-end clothing and jewellery shops sparkled in the bright lighting. Perched up high on the cliff of Santorini island, hotels, bars and restaurants seemed to be stacked on top of one another. We (literally) brushed shoulders with backpackers and yacht-owning tycoons. It seems like people from all walks of life go to Santorini. A small town full of contrasts where you’re welcome to spend all your money.
It was lively with party-goers getting ready for a big night out, families picking out gelato flavours and honeymooners hand-in-hand taking selfies. Us, on the other hand, had enough of the craziness after a short stroll and quickly appreciated the fact our hotel was 6 minutes away. It was hectic and glitzy and tacky but also romantic and special.
The next morning before breakfast, we walked back into town where the scene was much different. It was quiet. Calm. Barely a handful of people in sight… except for six young Greek guys still partying the morning away. As the town was starting to wake up, we walked around taking in the breathtaking views of the blue Aegean Sea, the surrounding caldera, the white washed houses and blue domed churches. At that moment I understood why people flock and fall in love with this place.
The Best Decision Ever
After breakfast, we rented an ATV through our hotel. It was the best. decision. ever. For only about 30 euros in rental cost and fuel, we cruised the island at our own speed and enjoyment. Even though the ATV stalled one out of every two times. Even though the odometer and gas level indicators were broken. Even though the drivers are generally crazy in Greece, it was still the best way to see the island. And provided a full day of laughs. Sporting the worst helmet hair of my life was bonus.
We started our drive down south toward Akrotiri lighthouse, stopping first for a coffee in a café overlooking the caldera just outside of Akrotiri town. We asked our waiter for a frappe from the menu and he said, “I recommend you the freddo cappuccino. It is better.” And indeed it was. We were hooked on these things for the remainder of our trip.
We had lunch in a little snack bar and ordered two XL gyros. It brought back memories of our first trip to Greece, to the island of Corfu on our European whirlwind over 10 years ago. Crazy how time flies!
We then started on the rocky path heading toward Red Beach thinking we could spend some time in the sun there. But the perilously shaky cliff side path and hordes of people laying towels on a rocky beach, just inches from each other, quickly deterred us. Instead, we found another rocky beach next to the snack bar where we planted ourselves a healthy distance (some meters) away from the only other couple there. It was well over 35C by then, and our sweaty bodies were in need of a refreshing dip in the sea. It felt so good to swim, float and cool off in the salty sea.
Cruising to Oia
We cruised all the way back north, past Thira, taking the scenic route at sea level, along the northern edge of Santorini island toward Oia. We stopped at a beach because it was called Paradisos. Naturally we had high hopes for a beach with that kind of name, but found out it wasn’t quite like paradise.
We continued on.
Upon arriving in and strolling through Oia, I immediately found it more charming than Thira. Like Thira, the buildings here hugged the cliff, stacked neatly and haphazardly on top of each other. Shops seemed more unique and inviting. Flower beds adorning the houses made it feel quaint. The iconic windmills and glistening white buildings reflected the golden rays of the sun. However, by 6pm, about 2.5 hours from sunset, people already crowded the streets and vantage points. We didn’t get why people would wait in the blistering heat to see a sunset over the ocean. David put it best: “La-di-freakin’-da. The sun sets over the ocean.”
I couldn’t disagree. Call me spoiled but I’ve seen sunsets over the ocean before. It is my favourite way to spend the later hours of the afternoon but not if I have to wait for hours dodging people with cameras for a good viewing spot along a rock wall. Instead of spoiling our evening with a frustrating 2-hour wait and potential underwhelming sunset, we hopped back on the ATV toward Thira, stopping at the quiet village of Imerovigli.
We grabbed a table at Blue Note restaurant with a view of the setting sun over the ocean. We had a fantastic meal and good wine as we watched the sun dip below the clouds on the horizon, changing the colours in the sky. Lights slowly flickered on in the town. The turquoise waters of the private pools dotted the hillside. The serenity was a sharp contrast to the craziness we could only imagine going on at Oia. We were happy to escape the hordes of people trying to leave Oia just after sunset.
If we were ever to come back to Santorini, Imerovigli is where we would stay. We could see why people pay hundreds of dollars to visit and stay here.
A breakfast picnic
The next day, we still had the ATV (it was a 24 hour rental), so we drove back to Oia to find, yet again, a very different scene. The same rock ledge that was full of people just 12 hours prior was completely empty. So we ate our breakfast picnic as the sun rose higher into the sky and walked around the town at ease. To us, that was the best way to enjoy the sights.
Later that afternoon, we boarded a public bus to take us down to the south, to the Port of Vlychada, to meet our skipper and fellow sailors. It was a relatively easy and pleasant ride in the air-conditioned coach.
We had a good laugh when an old man who didn’t seem like he worked for the transport company ushered and shuffled people along in the bus. I suppose he tried to organize where people wanted to get off, because at one point, he yelled and pointed to a lady (who I couldn’t see): “Where you going? Where you going?” She replied, “I don’t know.” Obviously confused by this answer, he asked again, “Lady, where you going?” The desperation in her voice was obvious, “I don’t knoooow.” He breathed out through his mouth in frustration. It ended there.
We couldn’t help but laugh at this comical, potentially existential nature of this conversation. But why you’d get on a bus in a foreign country and not know where you are going or where you want to go is beyond me. I guess some people travel like that.
We knew exactly where we were going: a 7-day sailing journey toward Mykonos with Off the Beaten Tack.
I wonder if she ever found our where she was going…