Arriving in Santorini took me instantly back to my childhood. There is something so wonderful about that wave of heat that hits you when taking the first step off the plane. Even at 11pm on a mid-September night that dry, hot, Mediterranean heat is present. It had been a bit wet and overcast in the UK so this was a welcome change.
The airport was tiny. In fact, I think it was probably the smallest airport I’ve ever been to. It had one arrival point and one departure point. Our luggage arrived quickly and we were escorted to our transport to the apartment complex. We boarded the large, air conditioned coach and suffered the long wait for everyone else to join us. I don’t understand how it took people 35 minutes to get their luggage and walk the small distance to the coach, but it did. I was on holiday though. I wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff.
We set off about 11.45. I was struggling to keep my eyes open but Cerrys, who had never visited the Mediterranean before was wide eyed, trying to see through the darkness. Like most of the Greek islands, Santorini is quite dusty and houses seem to pop out of nowhere, most of them seemingly unfinished, large steel rods rising from the top of them. I remembered hearing that this was the case as the Greek’s don’t pay tax on houses if they aren’t finished and those steel rods suggest another story is to be built on the property. Cerrys didn’t find it brilliantly interesting. We passed three of four small windmills that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and each time, either Cerrys or I would simply say “windmill”. This became a theme of the holiday every single time we saw one. We saw the outline of a mountain, neon signs advertising bakeries and pharmacies and as we neared the town of Perissa, where we were staying, we saw bars and hotels.
The bus pulled up directly outside of our apartment. We’d picked Meltemi Village because although it was a fairly simple affair, it had a large pool and seemed a little bit quieter and more relaxed than some of the other apartments and hotels. It was next to a quiet bar and, though giving the feel of being isolated, was in the dead centre of the strip. We entered through a set of large wooden doors and headed to reception. Bright lights and marble greeted us. Marbled floors, pillars and a marble reception desk. As nice as it was, it seemed a far cry from the dusty street we’d just walked in from.
The receptionist was beyond polite, offering us not just our keys but a host of pamphlets and telephone numbers as well as explaining where local amenities were. By now, Cerrys and I were both excited. We’d agreed we weren’t going straight to bed, but instead were going to do a spot of exploring, so we rushed to our room, past the beautifully lit pool and down the winding alleyway to our room.
Inside was basic, but we were both expecting as much. Having stayed in self-catering apartments before, I had dulled down Cerrys’ expectations of what to expect. The bed was comfy and the shower worked and, in my experience, that’s as much as one can hope for in a low-end apartment. The only real drawback was a strange orange liquid that occasionally dripped from the light in the bathroom. It didn’t seem to do any harm and was generally cleaned either by us in the morning or by the cleaners who visited our rooms daily whilst we were out.
After dropping off our luggage, we ventured out into Perissa. We were both pretty hungry so decided to try and source some food. We walked down the strip, past a variety of bars. Some were showing sports games, others pumping out loud pop music. I wasn’t really in the mood for a drink, so we wandered past these and ended up in a side street following the sound of waves in the distance. Only a few minutes later, we arrived. The beach front was full of bars and restaurants. It was almost midnight and most were closed, but they, along with the moon, shone just enough light on the beach for us to see the pebbles. We strolled along the beach front for a few minutes before sitting down on the wall that ran the length of it. The moon, high in the sky, lit up the sea and the sound of the waves relaxed us both. We sat there for ten minutes or so before we realised just how hungry we were. Another side street in the direction of the apartment was pretty close by so we ventured down there and at the end we found a small restaurant named Gecko. The menu suggested they had both vegetarian and vegan food so we took a seat for a better look. The vegetarian section of this menu was faultless. They served fries, falafel and veggie burgers. However, there was a slight issue with their ‘vegan’ club sandwich which was advertised as being filled with egg and cheese. Either way, it sounded pretty good so I ordered that with a side of fries and Cerrys bought her own round of fries too. It arrived quickly and there was a lot of it. We could have easily shared one portion.
The fries were crisp, well cooked and perfectly golden and the cheese in my vegan club was stringy and the fillings plentiful. It was all fairly simple, but well-seasoned and well cooked. To be honest, I think we were so tired and hungry by this point, anything would have tasted good.
We took the five minute walk back to our apartment and after looking more closely at our pool and counting at least seven cats on the way to the room, we climbed into bed for the night.
We awoke at around 7am and stepped on to patio outside our apartment. Having arrived in the middle of the night, we weren’t entirely prepared for what we saw. Right outside our door was a pretty large mountain. I’d looked online and seen that ‘Ancient Thira’ – an old Greek ruin on top of a mountain – was pretty near our apartment, but I had no idea it was on our doorstep. It was an incredible site.
The holiday rep had told us not to wander too far on the first morning as there was a meeting in the bar next door in which we could book our excursions and ask any questions we may have, so we decided to stay in Perissa until that was over. We showered and dressed and made our way to the nearest bakery.
I feel the need to, at this point, explain Cerrys’ lactose intolerance as to some of you, it will seem like a plot hole when I say that she eats certain things with milk in. Now, Cerrys is definitely lactose/dairy intolerant. Give her raw milk or cheese and she’s sick, she gets hives on her legs and her stomach goes into meltdown. However, with cooked milk she’s a little better. There’s no sickness and minimal stomach pain. The hives still pop up, but they aren’t as bad nor as itchy. I argue that a dairy free diet would be far superior for her health, but Cerrys’ argument is that cake and chocolate is, in her words, ‘totally worth it’.
We bought our own body weight in biscuits, cakes and bread which were all amazing and I bought a thoroughly disappointing black coffee to go with it. We ate back at the apartment and afterwards, decided to take a walk along the beach front in the morning sun. We noted some of the restaurants that looked good, bought some sunglasses and visited the local church. As in most pictures I’ve seen of Santorini, the church roof was a gorgeous blue dome. I think I’ve gone so many years seeing that typical Santorini style in pictures that when it came to it, it was a little surreal. It was also a Sunday, so the local area was pretty hectic with the locals attending their Sunday services. Bikes and scooters sped past us, quads raced by and old, Greek women shook their heads disapprovingly at each of them.
By now, it was nearing 11am, so we took a stroll to the bar and awaited our rep’s arrival, sipping on coke and beer. The other holiday makers began to arrive and we realised that we were the youngest couple there. Our rep went through all possible excursions and we picked a few that really took our fancy. The first was a boat trip to the volcano just off the island and also to the hot springs. The second was a tour of the island, finishing up in Oia, reputed for its amazing sunsets. We were growing increasingly excited.
Cerrys isn’t great on the water and she recalled, over some drinks on the beach, her story of the ferry crossing to France where, if it’s as bad she would have me believe, Cerrys nearly died. She was worried about the boat trip the following morning, so I tried to explain how the Aegean sea would be far calmer, especially given we weren’t venturing that far out. Cerrys wouldn’t listen. To allay her fears entirely, I decided the best thing for her was to jump on the water taxi. We wanted to visit Kamari anyway, and the water taxi would have us there in ten minutes. Reluctantly, Cerrys agreed and within half an hour, we were jumping aboard the taxi. Cerrys gripped my hand tightly, almost vicelike, and we set off. I always panic, and I’m sure one day it will happen, that when I convince Cerrys there is nothing be afraid of, the opposite will be true and the boat will sink or the plane will crash land, but in this case, I was right. The water taxi sailed smoothly and without incident and Cerrys felt no nausea whatsoever. The only issue was getting off the boat where both Cerrys and I nearly fell into the water.
We docked on Kamari beach, which had shops and restaurants on its front and decided to stop in the Irini Taverna for lunch. Cerrys had pasta with fresh, crunchy salad leaves, loaded with pesto and I had a Greek Salad. Four large chunks of feta cheese, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, strips of red onion and healthy portion of olive oil still can’t make olives taste good. I wish I liked them, but I don’t get olives. They are just balls of salty bitterness.
After a brief walk along Kamari’s beach front, which is far better maintained that that of Perissa, we hopped on board the bus to Fira. We’d heard terrible things about the bus service, but aside from arriving pretty much whenever it feels like, the service is fine. It’s cheap, fast and generally well air-conditioned. It does get busy, but that’s to be expected. In saying that, we only had to stand twice the entire time we were there.
We were dropped off at the main bus depot in Fira, though that might be giving it too much grandeur. It’s a small car park, rammed with busses. Large, sweaty men shout random destinations and drivers chain smoke next to their busses until it’s time to leave. That being said, tourists are ushered quickly and safely on to the busses and as confusing as it seems, we didn’t get on to any wrong busses. I think being from the UK has kind of spoilt me in that most of the bus stops I go to are now digitally displayed. I quite liked the more laid back, rustic charm that Santorini had.
Fira is a tourist town. It’s lined with shops, bars and restaurants and serves little other purpose. The reason is quite obvious. As we climbed the steps, looking in the shops selling tourist tat (which we bought far too much of), we were working out way up to the edge of the island. The views from the edge are astounding. Red, volcanic rock lines the edge and jagged edges look set to fall into the sea at any time. Oia sits proudly, highest of all the towns, on the edge of the island and in front sits the active volcano, the sun burning bright behind it. It truly is incredible. We took in the view for some time before heading towards the famous cable car.
We waited in line for fifteen minutes before being ushered on the rickety looking cable car. As it set off, I felt my stomach turn. We lurched forward before dropping suddenly over the edge of a cliff. The view was fantastic, but what took more of my attention was how quickly the cable car was descending. I thought it would be a slow, leisurely drop but I barely got to appreciate the view. We alighted on the dock in Fira. There were a few more bars and restaurants, but not a huge amount else seemed to happening along the bottom. It offered some incredible views of Fira from below and the option was available to ride a donkey back to the top of the city. The thought of forcing a donkey to walk up the steps in the really hot weather appealed to neither me nor Cerrys so we chose to walk. However, around a quarter of the way up we began to wane. The heat was too much and there was no shade to be found. We fought the urge to turn back for five or ten minutes (though it felt a lot longer) before admitting defeat and turning back to get the cable car back up to the top of Fira.
We made our way back to Perissa on the bus, grabbed a couple of drinks from the local shop and pottered around the town for a little while, taking it in. We ended up on the beach front and picked up some food in a really good vegan restaurant (and this time, vegan meant vegan) called Tranquilo. Back at our apartment, we sat around the pool, listening to the crickets and making friends with the local cats. One particularly friendly cat adored the fuss we gave it. He ended up on our laps and followed us round the complex for the rest of the holiday. We named him Dave.
Day three began early. We woke up before the sun and were on the coach just as it was rising. Much like the sunset’s we had seen, the Greek sunrise is hard to beat. As the sun rose, we made our way around windy roads before getting off the coach on the waterfront. Our ship, named ‘Afroditi’ was a classic Greek sailboat. Our tour guide gave us a little history of the island before we boarded and began our journey to Nea Kameni, an active volcano. The sea was fairly smooth and Cerrys and I sat on the deck, staring in awe at the volcano and the Caldera. It truly is a spectacular sight.
After around half an hour, we docked at the Nea Kameni and began our journey to its peak. The tour guide stopped along the way to give us information but it was still a pretty tiring trek. Along the way, we saw steam rising from the pit and added to small rock piles which were supposed to bring us luck. Once we’d finally reached the summit of the volcano, our tour guide told us that hundreds of years ago, many believe the volcano erupted and sank a big chunk of Santorini into the sea and that this may have been the origin of the story of Atlantis. It was all very interesting.
We took in the sights for a short while before making our way back down and on to the boat where we set off to another smaller island next the volcano called Palea Kameni to visit the hot springs. The boat stopped a way back from the shore and if we wanted to enjoy the hot springs, we had to jump into the chilly Aegean Sea. It was colder than I expected, but we managed and paddled over to the hot springs. It’s an odd sensation. Every part of my body expected it to be cold, but as we entered that green, muddy water, I began to feel jets of heat and the closer we go to shore, the warmer the water became. I lathered myself in the mud which supposedly has healing properties and we sat, the warm water on our skin, taking in the Santorini sunshine.
The voyage back allowed us some fantastic views of the Caldera. Cerrys and I managed a to find a quiet spot and we sat together, away from the rest of the world to fully appreciate the view and we stayed put until it was time to get off the boat.
That evening we decided to visit the open-air cinema in Kamari. I’ve never been to one before and was quite excited by the prospect of it. I’d had a quick look online and the film that was showing was ‘Bad Moms’. Not ideal, but it would do the job. We got the bus to Kamari and grabbed some fries in a local bar before heading to the cinema. Once inside, we bought drinks, nachos and popcorn before settling in under the warm, star-laden sky and watching Bad Moms which, in all honesty, wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. The surroundings definitely helped.
Once the film was over, we hopped on the first bus back to Fira. It was getting late. We knew the last bus to Perissa was due to leave the depot at midnight. It was 11.58 when we saw the bright lights of Fira. Panic was beginning to set in. As we pulled in to the run down depot, we ran off the bus, frantically looking for our ride home but to no avail. It had left. We discussed our options before decided we needed to get a taxi back to our apartment. The taxi rank was right next to the bus stop, so we made our way up and waited in line. The queue was made up mainly of drunk British people but there were a whole lot of drunk Greeks as well. Around five minutes after joining the queue, there was a call for two passengers. We were asked where we were going and told to jump in. Two drunk Greeks, a man and a woman, were already in the taxi and we set off on our journey a little reluctantly. Although we tried to make conversation, the language barrier proved an issue. After around ten minutes, we dropped off our random friends and began the journey home. It was a pretty expensive journey and one with no speed limits, but we made it back to the apartment in one piece.
The following morning, we picked up breakfast from the bakery and I also picked up a slice of Baklava. It was flaky, chewy and full of flavour. As we were heading out on the tour a little later, we decided to spend a couple of hours around the pool. Though we’re not generally in to relaxing holidays and prefer to explore and adventure, it was nice to calm down for a little while.
We were picked up in a minivan with a host of others who were joining the tour. There was some confusion as we were under the impression we were being picked up in a coach but we all seemed to do the British thing and just hopped on, no questions asked. After this, we were driven to the middle of nowhere where we were told to get off the minivan and ushered on to a coach. It was all very strange and there was panic and confusion on many of the faces when our tour guide began speaking in German. Luckily for everyone, she followed this by speaking in English. We were on the right trip. The crisis was averted.
We began by visiting the oldest cathedral in Santorini. It’s called Panagia Episkopi and dates back to the end of the 11th Century. We lit some candles and were lucky enough to see part of a service taking place at the time. We also met a lovely little dog with an under bite which was insanely cute.
We then headed to Mesa Gonia, a village left abandoned following a volcanic eruption in 1956 which devastated the area. The shells of many empty homes remain. It’s quite strange to see, but there is still pottery, tables and remnants of belongings strewn around many of the empty houses. People really did just up and leave to create new lives elsewhere on the island.
Back on the coach, we headed to jewel of Santorini. Oia. A place where the sunsets have been crowned some of the best in the world. It was still pretty early when we got off the coach, so we looked around for a little while before finding a bar, tucked away on the corner of the town. I ordered a large glass of red wine and we took a spot on a table, right on the edge. We watched the sunset and it was far better than I could have imagined. I wold try to describe it, bit would be too difficult. The pictures don’t do it justice. It truly is something that you have to see for yourself.
We arrived back in Perissa and it was already dark, so we headed to Gecko for a quick bite to eat. Learning from our mistake, we ordered one portion of fries. This time, Cerrys bought a falafel burger and I got another ‘vegan’ club sandwich. We were both pretty tired, so decided to get an early night.
The following morning, we woke up early and ventured to Tranquilo for some breakfast. We’d decided that we were going to get the bus to Akrotiri, which is famed for its deep red rock cliffs and beach. It was a bit of a trek to the beach itself and we had to climb over a few rocks. We didn’t get right the way down to the beach as we knew we weren’t staying in the area all that long, so we got a couple of photos and decided to head back into Fira. When we arrived, we decided to have a little look around some of the back streets. It was fairly uneventful, but we got a glimpse of life for the Greeks who live in Santorini.
We ended up back in the town and ended up looking through the shops and picking up some bits and pieces for friends and family. After this, we found an Italian restaurant called Rastoni, which had an amazing view of the Caldera. Cerrys had fajitas and I ate a pasta with a vegetable medley loaded with parmesan. Though both meals were tasty, they were made far better by the astounding view of the volcano and the perfect weather.
Then it was time to wait. The town was beginning to pick up a little. There was a live band setting up and locals and tourists alike were beginning to line to streets. Cerrys and I had been told by our rep that there was to be a fireworks display to commemorate the volcano’s many eruptions and that in order to get a good view, we should arrive early. With little else to do, we picked a spot with a perfect view and got comfy. We had to wait for a good few hours, but were glad we picked the area we did. The live music began around 8.30pm and we were treated to another awesome sunset. Once the sun had set, the crowds really began to flock. By 9.30pm we were packed in tight. It was claustrophobic and not much fun. Then we saw a red light, almost like a flare on the volcano itself. For long minutes it burnt alone, but then another. And another. And another, until large semi-circle had been formed. For a while longer we waited, unsure of what to expect. A firework darted off into the sky and nothing followed for long minutes, but then two shot up. The atmosphere built and built until the volcano looked as if it was truly erupting. Hundreds of fireworks shot into the sky and flares erupted from the volcano, truly like lava. It was a fantastic spectacle and one we managed to glimpse only by chance. We didn’t film anything or take any pictures at the time, but I’ve added some drone footage of the occasion. Not our work and credit goes to the videographer:
There was a bit of a crush on the way back to the bus, but we made it and though busy, we did manage to get a seat for the ride back to Perissa. We ended up going straight to bed. We knew we had a long morning ahead of us.
We woke to more glorious sunshine and sat out on the balcony. We took a healthy breakfast of leftover bakery biscuits and soft drinks and got ourselves ready for the long walk up the mountain to Ancient Thira. We were at the foot of the mountain after just a ten minute walk and the thought of climbing it was pretty daunting. We pushed those fears to the back of our minds and began the hour-and-a-half long climb. Leaving early had worked to our advantage as the sun had not peered over the mountain yet, meaning that although warm, we weren’t being hit by direct sunlight. It wasn’t a particularly physical climb, but did remain almost constantly uphill which began taking a toll on our legs a short way up. We are not experienced climbers.
We reached the top of the mountain, tired and panting for breath but what we saw atop it was worth the effort. A true Greek ruin. A century’s old cathedral still stood and rock carvings, strewn around the floor bore memories of a time long since passed. We wandered through the ruins and saw the remnants of an old theatre, houses and dining areas. There were podiums where statues once stood and incredible views over the whole of Santorini.
There was a small shop at the top of the mountain, so Cerrys and I picked up some supplies and began our journey back down. The sun was beating down on us and had made its way over the mountain by now. The trek down, though easier on our feet, was far, far warmer. We passed a couple of people on the way down and judging their faces, we decided that we’d made the right decision to leave as early as we did. Despite a couple of trips and slips, we made it down in one piece and headed back to the apartment for a shower. The trek had really taken it out of us and it was the hottest day we’d had, so we decided to try and take it easy. We sat around the pool for a few hours and then went for a walk around the back streets of Perissa. We ended walking for a couple of hours and ended up passing the church and wandering along the beach front. It was our last night in Santorini and for the first time it felt like it. We’d been so wrapped up in keeping busy, that we hadn’t had time to really consider it. We watched the sun set over the sea and felt a little sad that we wouldn’t be seeing it again.
We decided to venture back to the local bar and grab a couple of drinks. Around 9pm, we were both getting a little hungry. We didn’t fancy more of the same from Gecko but hadn’t the money left over for a meal in an upmarket restaurant so we decided to go for a walk and see if anything piqued our interest. We eventually found a place serving oven-fired pizza. We had the option of eating in the restaurant, but they also offered take away and, for some reason, the thought of eating in our pyjamas on the bed was hugely appealing. Now, unfortunately for me, Cerrys’ lactose intolerance does mean that on this occasion, we were unable to have cheese on the pizza and we also asked for the pizza without olives, but they were included anyway. With that being said, once the olives were pulled off, this pizza was incredible. The dough was soft everywhere but the crust which was crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside and the flavourings were incredible. The tomato sauce was beautifully seasoned and each of the toppings, which included mushroom and spinach tasted fresh. Yes, it would have been better with cheese, but we couldn’t afford two pizzas. Still, it was a good last meal in Santorini.
We awoke early and went for a wander via the bakery (obviously) for breakfast where we picked up a couple of cakes. One was a dense, rich chocolate cake and the other a sponge with an orange glaze, drenched in honey. Our plan for the final day was to visit a water park near the apartment, but upon arrival we discovered that it was shut. It was pretty late in September, so I assume they were done for the season. Broke and with nothing to do, we ended up wandering the streets again, taking in the sunshine and walking along the beach front, stopping for some drinks in local bars and growing more and more depressed that we had to leave this little island.
The final day went by in a blur. There was a lot of sitting around waiting for the inevitable. Around 1pm, we packed up the last of our stuff and dropped our bags off in the reception area of Meltemi Village. We sat around the pool and used the last of our money to buy some drinks. Dave seemed to know and spent the afternoon either playing games with our feet or sitting on our laps.
The coach came around 7pm and we made our way back to the tiny airport, passing the tiny windmills that we’d grown so fond of, the small towns, lights just starting to come on. Twilight was approaching and as we looked at the window, we saw the most glorious sunset. It was a wonderful view to end this short experience and one that we won’t forget in a hurry.
We had the obligatory two hour wait in the airport, so when we took off it was dark. Santorini is a remarkable little island from above. Tiny lights, almost like stars, twinkle in the darkness and then, seemingly randomly, there are a cluster where a town sits. It’s beautiful and very different to flying over a city like London or Paris.
We landed around 1am, exhausted and depressed. It was cold and threatening rain. I think for maybe a week or two afterwards, both Cerrys and I had pretty bad post-holiday blues. We’ve both decided that we’d like to go back to Santorini at some point. I think as it was our first proper holiday away together, it will always be a special place for us but aside from that it is an island of spectacular beauty, rich culture and history, incredible geography, great food and the most impressive sunsets we have ever seen. It’s hard to beat.