I feel like I have a new response to the question, What’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited? That question is insane, obviously, but Greece is making that question fractionally easier to answer. It’s just so, so beautiful. The contrast between dry arid landscape (at least in Santorini and Paros) and vivid turquoise waters was stunning. The dramatic 900-foot drop from the tiny clinging villages into jewel-toned water was similarly unreal. It was a visual feast, one in which we were happy to indulge.
We stayed on the caldera side of the island in a little village called Firostefani. A little history lesson: 3,600 years ago the Santorini volcano exploded, resulting in the Minoan eruption. This led to the island formation as it is now, as well as causing the collapse of the Minoan civilization in Crete. It was a catastrophic moment in Greek and world history, but has led to one of the most gorgeous sceneries, amiright?!
I am so happy we stayed at Firostefani because it felt a little smaller and quieter compared to bustling Fira and over-touristy Oia. Although we did walk through neighboring Imerovigli and I think that would be a great option as well. We stayed at Villa Maria Damigou and I can’t recommend the hotel highly enough. Anna and Maria are kind and helpful and the views were unbeatable. I suppose it would have been nice to have a pool (as some of the other hotels did) and the shower in our room (number 9) was little more than a hole in the ground under a sloped ceiling (not ideal for a husband who is 6’5″), but otherwise, having breakfast delivered to your room with this view and relaxing on the lounge chairs over the sunset and a couple Mythos beers was as close to paradise as I have been in a long time.
That night we ate dinner at Mama Thira and the staff were generous and boisterous and the food was bright and fresh. It’s a tavern, like so many other restaurants in the area, and we never grew tired of the menus. Greek salad, fresh fish (though the menus do mostly denote when the seafood has been previously frozen), tzatziki, gyro plates, mussels with spaghetti, stewed meatballs, moussaka and more. I’m sure there are places that are a little more modern and inventive, but for us one of the real treats of this vacation was the authentic, casual cuisine.
On Monday we went for a walk through Firostefani to the neighboring town of Fira. We set out at around 10:00 and within 15 to 20 minutes we were all a little sweaty. The point being, we were there in early June so if you’re thinking about going in July and even into August, prepare yourself for hot, hot heat. The sun is intense and relentless, as shade is nearly nonexistent unless you’re on a small patio somewhere. We were comfortable for the most part, never reaching full sun fatigue, but I mention it so you can plan accordingly if you decide to visit.
Want to see the palest people in Greece?
We had lunch at Galini Café in Firostefani. It was a sweet spot with fresh food and delicious crêpes. Not to mention this little cutie:
That afternoon we went to Kamari beach located on the southeastern part of the island, close to the airport. It’s easy to rent chairs and umbrellas and you can bring your own food and drink for a picnic, or order from one of the dozens of taverns on the beach. We spent about 4 hours here, vacillating between reading, snoozing, swimming and chatting.
The beach was relatively full but I imagine it really picks up later in the season. I would recommend getting there early as the “sand” is more rocky than smooth and actually really uncomfortable to walk on and you’ll definitely want a chair to lounge in. Once you get into the water, however, you will find the bottom shifts dramatically into one giant smooth rock, which happens to be the hardened lava flow from the ancient volcano eruption. It’s unlike any other sea floor I’ve encountered and it was fun to dance around on the smooth, slippery rock.
That night’s dinner was probably my favorite of the trip. We attempted to go a restaurant called Saltsa that we read about in a guide but went in the complete wrong direction and ended up in the heart of Fira, over a kilometer away from our original destination. As we all approached an unflattering hangry zone I recommended a small tavern we passed by on our way to Fira. Simos is tucked between an alley and a road and doesn’t offer much in the way of views, but the food and hospitality are incredibly warm and inviting. If you go order the tomato balls and tzatziki for starters and the moussaka and stewed meatballs for dinner. Everything is delicious, but these four are a grand slam.
On Tuesday we decided to go for a hike and chose the well worn path from Fira and Oia. It’s about 6 miles–or 10 kilometers–and mostly covers rocky terrain. It’s not a very strenuous hike, but there are some parts that require a sturdy constitution and general athleticism. Some of the uphill parts were rather steep and the hot sun only exacerbates any weariness you have. It took us about three hours with generous water and photo breaks taken throughout. Overall, it was one of my favorite parts of Santorini.
Courtney and Jared brought legitimate sneakers and fitness clothes, but Adam and I just went in Sperry sneaks and Converses. If possible, I would definitely recommend a sturdier shoe as the paths are often rocky and unstable. And, bring plenty of sunscreen!! I applied twice throughout the walk and still burned the back of my legs and neck. Water is a must, though there are shops along the trail where you can stock up and refill.
A lot of really sexy pictures of rocks and sea, I know. But, we couldn’t help ogling at every turn and pass. The sights always took my breath away.
We walked through Oia and had a great lunch at a rooftop café (whose name eludes me at this point), but overall we found the town to be too crowded and touristy. There were a few interesting shops and some great looking hotels, but I think we were all grateful to be staying somewhere a little more peaceful.
After earning our drink tickets in the morning with a long hike it was time to cash them in for afternoon wine tasting! We booked a tour through Santorini Wine Tours and were so pleased with the experience. Our guide, Vaios, was enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgable about all things wine, but also had great information about the island and Greek history. He originally trained as a sommelier and now serves as a wine consultant for restaurants throughout the country in addition to running this successful tour company.
We visited three different wineries and tasted five wines at each spot. Santorini’s terrain is so unusual and unique given that it’s entirely comprised of acidic volcanic soil. It creates dry, mineral wines that are unlike anything any of us had had before. I prefer dry wines so this was perfect for me and I was happy to take home a bottle as a souvenir.
That evening we ate gyros at the hotel and played Cards Against Humanity late into the night, howling with laughter yet again. We really loved Santorini. It offers something for everyone: fitness, leisure, beaches, shopping, great food, wine and stunning views. After visiting the island it seems obvious why its white buildings and blue domes would be chosen as the archetypal scenes of Greece. It truly is a special place.
Have you been? Do you have any desire to go? I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get there but I’m so happy we made it a part of our itinerary!
p.s. Burst mode shots from our hike.
p.p.s. Our stay in Paros.