Santorini Travel Diary
Updated: Sep 12
After a 4-hour flight from London reached Santorini in the late afternoon. Even as the flight started descent, it became apparent that was going to be one spectacular holiday! The glistening blue waters was enough to arouse the childlike curiosity to stick our faces at the window and stare outside in amazement! And the excitement mounted when we stepped on the ground and the warm air blew on our faces – this was definitely one of those holidays where the ‘good feeling’ was kicking in super-fast and strong!
We were picked up from the airport by the Villa owner where we had booked our stay (Aerino Villa). It had a breath-taking view of the caldera at Firostefani. After checking in we went straight for lunch at a taverna called Vanilia – just a minute walk from the villa. As the sun shone on our faces, we sipped wine and ate olives and warm bread while waiting for the food to be served, the intense aroma of grilled food filled the air. The combination of the lovely sea breeze, the intense aroma of grilled food just added to the drama and magic of the heavenly Mediterranean food. Happy and fed, we walked back to the villa and relaxed at the balcony and watched the sun go down. There is nothing like watching sunset with some wine and company of the ones you love! We then headed out for a walk in the local area in Firostefani. We tool the hiking path Firostefani and Fira, stopping every now and then to take in the beauty.
Sunset from our villa balcony in Firostefani
As the night drew in, we headed back to Vanilia for dinner – this time on the roof top and to our surprise there was a magical display of fireworks! We really couldn’t have asked for a better start!
We started our day with a filling breakfast on our balcony. We hired a car of the next 4 days. We drove to the following destinations south of the island. As always, we tuned onto the local radio station – there is nothing like local music filling the air while you explore the roads of a new place, it just adds souls to the place and makes it easier to relive those memories.
Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Akrotiri Archaeological Site at Akrotiri village – This is a perfectly preserved ancient city. Though it looks like a huge-covered area with tonnes of rubble on a quick glance but its significance can be understood from the fact that it is called the Pompeii of Greece but is in fact is much older than Pompeii. But much like Pompeii, which was destroyed and buried by a massive eruption from Mount Vesuvius, Akrotiri met the same fate and after a series of earthquakes and a gigantic Theran eruption got buried under mountains of volcanic ash. It was discovered in 1860 but took another 100 odd years for the major excavations to start and it continues till date.
The people were fairly advanced for their times and there were multi storey buildings with plumbing- they had toilets, baths, hot and cold running water, and an underfloor heating system! They also had wall paintings, pottery and other artefacts – though quite a few have been moved to Athens which is a shame as we strongly feel that it is quite disappointing to not see original pieces at the original site!
Anyway, other interesting facts are that that they made wine too- and were ruled by a government and not monarchy. Surprisingly no human or animal remains have been found which may mean that they had time to evacuate before Thera erupted and burying within its lava the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean!
The lack of audio guides may be a turn off for archaeological enthusiasts considering you pay a 12 Euro entry ticket (plus 5 Euros car park).
Red beach gets it name from the rich mineral rich soil
Red beach – The view of the towering red (or brownish to be more specific) rock and deep blue waters is dramatic but you cannot really put it into your typical ‘beach’ category. The drive wasn’t bad and there were plenty of spaces in the free carpark, but the beach is a good 10-15 mins walk from there and the way is rocky and steep. So, you better not turn up in flip flops! A set of trainers is what you need. There is a nice view from a cliff and panoramic views are great for getting some stunning shots! Like some other magic moments, there was this old man playing music on his violin which just added to the experience! We lingered around for a bit before trying to descent down the rocky path to the beach but turned around half-way as the beach itself is tiny with pebbles and in a slight cove but to be honest not a place where you can sit and relax for hours
Also, there are warning signs of danger and frequent landslides, but people visit this place nonetheless! In our opinion, the visit is worth for the scenery and but not a typical ‘beach’ destination…
Tranquilo bar at Perissa Beach
Perissa Beach – After a 20 minute drive from the Red Beach we arrived at the Perissa beach. This is more of a beach destination but has black coarse sand. The beach is well organized and is lined by bars and if you take drinks or lunch you get to access the sun beds for free. Through we were not sure how easy the swim would have been as there were large slippery stones in the water. We were craving more for some drinks and bites and so headed to a Caribbean themed Tranquilo bar and relaxed and refuelled our tums.
Pictursque village of Megalochori
Megalochori village – This charming little vineyard village is full of character and is extremely picturesque with its well-restored old traditional mansions with high walls and inner courtyards, and churches and chapels. There are old cave houses that take back to the centuries old lifestyle. There is a wonderful traditional square at its heart lined with taverns, restaurants and trees. The cobbled pathways add to the charm.
There are two remote beaches – Plaka beach and Thermes (Thermi) beach on the Caldera side (west) but are accessible only on foot or by boat and not by car. From the caldera cliffs the view of the sunset is amazing and the valley on the east has some amazing wineries with tours and tastings. All in all it is worth spending a lazy evening in this village
We focussed on the central part of the Island covering the following:
Ancient Thira at the top of the mountain
Ancient Thira – As the name suggests it is an ancient city and capital on a ridge of Messa Vouno mountain in Santorini. The mountain is about 360m tall and can be reached through the village of Kamari or through the village Perissa on the other side of the mountain. We drove up the highest point in Santorini – quite a ride with sharp hairpin turns in our not so powerful rental car! (There are also minibus services available). From the car park it is quite a walk to the ruins but the walk is nice as you get an amazing 360 degrees panoramic view around and then hiking to the top of the mountain to the Ancient Thira.
The first inhabitation of this city dates back to the 9th century BC initially by the Dorians led by their leader Theras (and hence the name) and later occupied by the Romans and Byzantines.
The main areas are:
Agora: The main square of the city
Basilike Stoa: A portico extending along the agora for communal activities
Theater: Was built along slope for performances and had massive seating capacity
The sacred area: on the mountain ridge projection- containing temples for Greek and later Egyptian Gods and also had Roman baths and gyms. The inscriptions here are the oldest known examples of the use of the Greek alphabet, which evolved from the Phoenician alphabet
Black sand of Kamari beach
Kamari beach – Quite a long black sandy beach lined with restaurants, and sunbeds, was nice but too touristic and commercial for our liking, so we strolled for a bit and headed for lunch at local tavern in Thera.
Wine barrels in Santo Winery
Tour of the Santo Wines Winery (Wine production and Wine testing) – The interesting thing about vineyards in Santorini is that due to various natural factors like volcanic soil, dry climate with very little rainfall, and sea breeze which also carries sand capable of damaging the grapes, hence the vines are ‘nestled’ in a kind of basket shape (called kouloura) on the ground by the farmers in contrast to standing straight as we see in traditional vineyards in Europe. Also terraces are created to maximize water absorption and provide access to steep areas. The plants thereby get their water from the natural humidity and the sea mist which is absorbed by the volcanic soil – a process called as dry farming. The dry volcanic soil imparts the distinctive taste to the wines and also said to have protected the vineyards from the notorious phylloxera – a severe blight of the mid-19th century that led to the destruction of wineries in much of Europe, most notably France.
Local wine tasting in Santo Winery
We visited Santo Wines (https://santowines.gr) – quite a popular modern winery which is also apparently a wedding destination. We did witness a wedding photoshoot which unfortunately obstructed (for long enough) the view from where we sat for some tasting! The place is sprawling, the views the caldera and cliffs are stunning and the wines are amazing – white, red, sparkling and dessert wines. There is an on-site restaurant and regular tours and logistics in place to ship your precious bottles home.
After a nice relaxing day, we ate dinner at a very small but extremely popular family run tavern in Firostefani – Aktaion. We had to book a table 2 days in advance due to demand, but was well worth the wait!
It was time to explore the north of the Island, we covered the following areas
Colourful and picture perfect Oia
Oia – We started early in the morning before sunrise and headed to Oia for a sunrise over the caldera. We enjoined the breath-taking sunrise before going back to our villa for a shower and breakfast. Fed well we returned to Oia before the crowds started arriving. Oia place was once inhabited by wealthy sea merchants but was destroyed by an earthquake. It was later rebuilt and now is home to trendy shops, high end restaurants and hotels. We walked through the narrow streets and took pictures.
Driving through the costal road in the north or the island – As crowd started to build up we left Oia and drove to the north tip of the island through the costal roads that run from the top of the island along the east side of the island via Baxedes beach, koloumbus beach and Pori port. This part of the island is off the beaten tourist track and there hardly any tourists there. We stopped at a few random locations to enjoy the landscape and the stunning sceneries, listening to the sound of the wind and the water bouncing back from the shores…and of course playing local music in the car! We came to Fira area for lunch at a local restaurant.
Turquoise blue sea, high cliff and rugged yet beautiful landscape
Archeological Museum of Prehistoric Thera – The Museum of Prehistoric Thira located close to the Cathedral and the Bus station is well worth a visit. It has a lot of the finds from the excavations and frescoes from the ancient city of Akrotiri, The museum is roughly 20 years old, no audio guides but with a timeline route and plenty of descriptions and information in English, it is easy to follow. Please remember that there is also a small archaeological museum located close to the cable car in Fira and it can be confusing
The displays follow a chronological order starting with the late Stone Age (Neolithic) over 6000 years ago through to the Bronze Age and the early and late Cycladic Era when the massive Theran volcanic eruption took place in the 17th century BC. The inhabitants were aware these eruptions and maybe had a system in place for timely evacuation taking everything they could carry with them. The actual frescos that once decorated the walls are phenomenal and also the pottery which shows a high level of sophistication for its time. There is a model of the Akrotiri excavation at the museum and in hindsight we think it would have been better to have visited this museum before visiting the Akrotiri excavation!
Breath-taking view of sunset over Mediterranean and calder of Oia
Sunset at Oia – We went back to Oia by late afternoon to catch the most amazing sunset over Oia. People start flocking the viewpoint and even in the crowd it is like watching a natural spectacle together. There is an aura of fascination and if you have a good spot with a place to rest your back for the long wait then you are sorted! If not, you are late but that means you didn’t have to wait that long to bother about your back! And of course, like other places in Santorini, there is no dearth of long wedding photoshoots hogging the good spots!
Our Villa in Firostefani
After witnessing the magical sunset and wandering around a bit more in Oia we headed back to our villa to relax. Our Villa owner’s father runs a small tavern in Firostefani area. Our villa owner told us if we would like to go there or takeaway dinner – we would also get 15% off and free drinks if we mentioned we were the Villa residents. It was within walking distance from the villa so we took up the offer, and weren’t disappointed – got treated to some complimentary local delicious starters while waiting. The food portions were substantial and with 2 big bottles of beer.
It was our last day in the island. We relaxed all morning in the villa and enjoyed the pool, went back to return the car and on the way bough some local pastries. It would have been a crime to not have our final lunch at our very favourite tavern – Valinia, where we had our first lunch! We had yet another round of magical Mediterranean food savouring every bite!
Our host was very kind to drop us back to the airport post lunch in the afternoon for our return flight to London.