This is possibly the hardest EuroTips blog I'm going to have to write, because I really don't know what I can tell you about this place that you couldn't find out from a Google Image search. It's stunning. It's like wandering around in a computer desktop background. It's more than a little surreal.
However, as beautiful as it is, Santorini is also the one place for which we would really like a re-do. There are a lot of things we learned about visiting there (namely, location) that would have made a big difference on our trip. Do as we say, not as we do, dear readers.
**This is a long post, but the pics make it worth it. I took the majority of these pictures, and they still stun me. It took forever to edit them, but I was like a kid in a candy store.
Where to Stay/Not to Stay
1 // Do not stay in Oia // You'll never hear me say Oia isn't beautiful, because it is. It's the oldest village on Santorini, and the most famous. It's ridiculously picturesque. And for that reason, 3,576,219 people will be staying there with you. (Side note: do not travel to Santorini in August. Do not travel anywhere in Europe in August). You will be shoulder-to-shoulder with these people constantly. And many of these aforementioned people take a very dim view of "Private" or "Do Not Enter" signs - on multiple occasions we saw folks climbing onto someone's roof that was clearly marked "Private" (three guesses as to their nationality). Visit Oia by all means. Come see the sunset, if you don't mind crowds. Buy some jewelry or a scarf at the shops. Grab dinner here, or down at Ammoudi Harbor (make reservations). But for the love of God, do not stay here.
*Also, do not book an Airbnb in Oia with "Maria" - she is extremely sketchy and non-communicative, and it was kind of, well, a complete dump (despite how nice the pictures looked). I would use stronger language, but my mother reads this.
2 // Stay in Imerovigli // We wound up staying in Imerovigli our last night because our Airbnb in Oia was only available for two nights. This turned out to be a huge blessing. Our crappy Airbnb in Oia didn't have AC, so I didn't sleep for two nights, but this second one did. Also, Imerovigli itself? A hundred thousand times better than Oia. Loads. Tons. It's still cute and picturesque with all the little whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches, but without all the tourists. We were able to watch the sun set with only about 25 others, not 25,000. We wandered and explored, and it was so quiet and so peaceful and so serene that it felt like a fairy tale. Bonus points: Imerovigli is cheaper than Oia, too.
*Book an Airbnb with Stefanos. His assistant, Zachos, is wonderful, and gave us the best restaurant recommendation. He met us at 6 a.m. to help us carry our luggage on the day we left (because Santorini stairs are out. of. control). And he called a cab, and waited with us for 15 minutes until it came. And Stefanos/Zachos believe in A.C. We love them.
What to Do
1 // Swim off Ammoudi Bay // The water is amazing. You have to do a little rock climbing to get to the swimming area, but it's worth it. The water is extremely clear, which I loved, although apparently not clear enough to keep me from stepping on a spiny sea urchin as I tried to get my balance on the rocks.
And no, I did not jump off that cliff. B did, though.
2 // Hang out on Red Beach // Wear some kind of shoes you can climb in, because yes, it's kind of a hike here, too. Worth it, though. Grab a huge hunk of watermelon from the fruit stand before you mountain climb to the beach. I had never seen red/black sand before, so this was fascinating for me.
3 // Rent an ATV and explore // Santorini is a "small" island, but it's not that easy to get around unless you have transport. You could take the bus, but having your own way to get around is much better. Just try not to rear-end a Toyota Yaris full of Swiss people. Never mind how I know this.
4 // Visit a winery // Disclaimer: Greek wine is nowhere near as good as French or Italian wine (yes, we're spoiled). But we found a winery with a view that more than made up for the wine - and turns out the wine was pretty good, anyway. We bought a bottle of Nykteri to take back to our Airbnb and eat with our takeout Greek salads (the only thing you want to eat in that heat). Basically, we've never met a winery we didn't like, this one included.
5 // Watch the sunset // I hope to God I don't have to explain this to you any further than these pictures.
Where to Eat
1 // With a stunning view // When we first inquired about our (ill-fated) ATV, it was nearly lunchtime. So instead of subjecting ourselves to tourist drivel, we asked the ATV rental guy what he recommended. His recommendation, Skala, went better than our ATV experience. The Greek salad and stuffed grape leaves were great. But that view. It was our first day in Santorini, and we were already a little bug-eyed at our surroundings, but this was something else entirely.
We also got our first taste of Santorini Brewing Company's beer - B had Red Donkey and I had Yellow Donkey. We both agreed mine was better than his. Hee-haw.
2 // For fresh seafood (& another great view) // So we kind of snuck our way into getting a table at Ammoudi Fish Tavern. At around 5:00ish, after an afternoon swimming around Ammoudi Bay (and stepping on that @#$%ing sea urchin), we were only looking for beverages. As we sipped our sangria, we noticed the menu looked good. But the waiter told us it got really packed down here for the sunset, and in an hour or so we wouldn't be able to get a table.
Um, haaaave you met us? Challenge accepted. We drank sangria for an hour and a half until all the tables filled up around us. We finally ordered the seafood platter to split and...wow. It contained bream, octopus, calamari and shrimp, along with veggies. I've never seen my dinner drying on a clothesline before I eat it, but you know, when in Rome (errr...Santorini). This seafood was so good - it came straight off the boats to the kitchen to our table. It was pricey - but beyond worth it for a treat meal. And the sunset pictures were to die for. We'll definitely be back here if we come to Santorini again. We might even make a reservation.
3 // For real Greek food // God bless Zachos. There was a list of restaurants in our Airbnb (something lacking in our first Airbnb, btw), but he gave us another suggestion: Bella Thira. He said the quality was the same, if not better, but the prices were much lower because it didn't have a "Caldera view." That night, we watched the sun set from a church in Imerovigli, so we had seen enough of the Caldera. We wanted to eat. And boy, was it amazing. We split the stuffed grape leaves appetizer, a Greek salad, and seafood spaghetti. That was the most interesting pasta dish I've ever had. It was a red sauce, but the flavor was almost...nutty, not tomato-y. And the fresh seafood - don't get me started. Oh, and the baklava and ice cream for dessert. If we make it back to Santorini, this will be our first stop.
4 // For baklava // Disclaimer (I seem to have a lot of these): Of all the baklava we had in Greece, none was as good as my mother's. I find this considerably entertaining, seeing as how we have absolutely no Greek heritage whatsoever, but my mother can make some seriously good baklava; so good, in fact, that my husband and friends request her to make it for my birthday. This was as close as we came to Mama Payne quality. It was the best balance between crispiness and gooeyness. All the other desserts we tried were amazing, too: caramel cake, pistachio cake, tiramisu. Don't be shy about getting baklava and pistachio cake for breakfast, either. You know you wanna.
Tips and Tricks
1 // Do not stay in Oia. Have I made myself clear?
2 // Watch out for sea urchins. I'm not kidding about this, either. I had little black splinter-like spikes embedded in my big toe for two weeks. That little bugger hurt.
3 // Take tons of pictures. Because the only bad picture you'll take in Santorini is the one you don't take.
4 // Greek salads. If you go to Santorini in the summer, it's almost all you'll want to eat. And the Greeks do it right - no lettuce at all, just tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, red onions, olives, capers, and a giant brick of feta cheese. We split a lot of meals, and mostly just ate Greek salads.
5 // Santorini is not for the physically impaired. The stairs are a bloody nightmare. They do have donkeys that can take you up and down, but no matter where you go, there's no avoiding steps entirely. They're worst when you first wake up in the morning; they're a hell of a lot better after a bottle of wine. Pretty sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere...
6 // If you're looking for wide, sandy, easy-access North or South Carolina-type beaches, Santorini might not be for you. This wasn't a big deal for us because we're both too ADD to just sit on a beach. We didn't even make it to Black Beach or White Beach, but Red Beach was really rocky. Santorini is built on the remains of a volcano. All the beaches/swimming areas we visited required hiking up and down over rocks on the side of the cliffs (see Tip #5). I'd rather lie out on the upper deck of our Airbnb in Imerovigli anyway, but if you want to lie out on a powdery beach, pick another destination.
This place truly was paradise. It was the most difficult place we stayed (for several reasons), but also the most worth it. I took the most pictures in Santorini of any other destination we visited, and it's clear why. Just do your homework and follow our tips, and you'll be fine.
E & B