If you followed along for Part 1 of this mega-honeymoon-extravaganza, you may recall from an earlier post that there were two destinations I’ve always saved for a honeymoon someday – Venice and Santorini. We checked Venice off the honeymoon list earlier in the month and now it was time for our eagerly anticipated visit to the Greek island of Santorini for some of those famous Santorini sunsets!
I was excited to experience a place with my husband that I’ve purposely avoided in my solo travels but so longed to visit (I think I’ve been pretty clear about how much I love Greece in general!). Dave and I were also excited about the idea of having 4 nights and 5 days in one place. No flights, trains or cross-country drives.
Just rest, relaxation, gyros and sunsets. Perfection.
Santorini: An explosive history
Historians believe that Santorini has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. In fact, it was home to a significant civilization around 3600 BC similar to the ancient Minoan colonies on nearby Crete. Though the island was originally round, one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history occurred in 1500 BC causing the center of the island to literally sink into the sea. This resulted in the C-shaped main island we see today. Santorini owes its unique landscape, sea-filled caldera and clifftop views to its explosive past.
The island was virtually abandoned after another catastrophic quake in 1956 and it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that residents returned and the tourism industry began to develop, eventually becoming one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world.
The perfect hotel choice
It was after midnight when our flight from Athens landed and the island was awash in darkness until we reached the town of Fira (known for its nightlife) which seemed to be just getting underway for the evening. We’d chosen a hotel just past Fira in the town of Imerovigli because I’d read that aside from the legendary sunsets of Oia, Imerovigli had the best sunset caldera views. I love a good sunset and I was prepared to savor each one during our stay.
After exhaustive research, I’d selected the Prekas Apartments for our stay. In Santorini, it’s all about a caldera view and from the pictures I’d seen, the view at Prekas was hard to beat. Like most of the hotels on Santorini it was a small property with less than a dozen rooms, unlike most of the hotels on Santorini it was affordable at less than $150 a night.
But the big selling point for me was the perfectly cube-shaped turquoise pool jutting out over the cliff with stunning views of the caldera and Oia in the distance.
Of course, by the time we made it to the room – the only one directly overlooking the pool which made it feel as though it was our own private lagoon – it was too dark to see the view but we loved the room and the pool and couldn’t wait to see the rest when the sun rose the next day.
The next morning we awoke to a jaw-dropping view outside our terrace doors and couldn’t believe our luck at how absolutely perfect our hotel was. Score one more for TripAdvisor.
Excited to check out our surroundings and stock our fridge since everything in the quieter village of Imerovigli had been closed when we arrived the night before, we began the long walk up the stairs into town for supplies.
I’d read that the walk from Imerovigli to Fira was just 20 minutes so when the closest supermarket didn’t have everything we needed we headed down the hill toward Fira (everything in Santorini involves going up or down a hill). After one walk down the steep hill toward Fira, we realized pretty quickly we needed our own wheels – we were definitely not interested in making that walk back up the hill on a regular basis, or at all.
Born to be…Mild
Santorini has a number of transportation options, the most famous of which are probably the ubiquitous donkeys that ply the narrow streets carrying tourists whose attitudes toward stairs are more of the take them or leave them variety. But a week of transportation by donkey didn’t seem practical (or aromatically pleasant). Like most of the Greek islands, Santorini’s local bus system is very good but we wanted the flexibility to get to all corners of the island on our own schedule.
So that left renting a car (a potential parking challenge), a motorcycle (terrifying) or Santorini’s most common method of transportation, a quad bike. Similar to an ATV, the quad bikes we’d already noticed on the streets were adequate to carry two people comfortably along with a storage box for groceries or beach bags.
I’m not a fan of any kind of motorcycle, though Dave has been trying his best to introduce the idea, but the quad bikes had four wheels which made them seem more stable and somehow less likely to result in sudden death when compared to a motorcycle. Plus they were for rent on just about every corner so ultimately I gave in to convenience.
With our wheels secured for the day, we hit the supermarket and stocked up on supplies for our fridge before returning to the apartment and spending the rest of the day relaxing by the pool. We had four full days ahead on the island and plenty of time to explore so we figured one day of total relaxation was definitely in order.
That night we ventured into Fira for dinner. I was mesmerized by the beauty of Fira and wondered how the more popular Oia could be any more spectacular than this. Hotels, shops and restaurants all perched on the side of a cliff, terraced one on top of the other with a labyrinth of winding alleys and staircases connecting them all. Cruise ships rested peacefully in the harbor as donkeys plied the 588 steps from the harbor carrying their passengers to the top. All with a panoramic view of the circular caldera.
It was simply magnificent.
We meandered the streets for a bit and then found a great spot for an early dinner before returning to the room to enjoy our first Santorini sunset from our own private terrace. We poured ourselves some wine and settled in for the sunset show.
And WOW, our first of many Santorini sunsets did not disappoint! As we watched the fiery ball slip into the Aegean Sea I wondered how on earth the view from Oia could be any better. But tomorrow night we would find out for sure.
The next morning it was time to step away from the lounge chair and put our quad bike to use to get out and explore some of the island.
From our central position near Fira, we headed to the southern tip of Santorini to a beach that had come highly recommended to us – Red Beach. And it was indeed red! The beach owes its unique landscape to the red and black volcanic rocks which contrast beautifully with the aquamarine sea.
From the Red Beach we took a step back in time with a stop at the ancient Minoan settlement of Akrotiri. Dating back to the Bronze Age, this settlement was completely covered in volcanic ash during the eruption of 1627 BC. Excavation began in 1967 and a remarkable number of buildings, artwork and frescoes were uncovered that were well preserved by the ash.
Some historians believe that the settlement at Akrotiri was the inspiration behind Plato’s story of Atlantis. Today, a modern roof structure encloses the entire site making it a comfortable place for visitors to explore in all seasons.
After wrapping up our tour of the southern end of the island and grabbing some lunch we figured we’d better head toward Oia if we wanted to find the castle to secure our love lock (after the aborted attempt in Cinque Terre), wander a bit and scope out a perfect spot to watch the sunset.
Don’t get me wrong, Oia is gorgeous.
It’s postcard-perfect Greece with whitewashed houses and blue shutters and a maze of quaint narrow streets. All situated at the top of a cliff with art galleries, tavernas and blue-domed churches dotting the way. But while it is gorgeous, it is also mobbed with tourists, mostly from the daily parade of cruise ships – many of which remain in port until late in the evening to allow their passengers to enjoy the sunset.
While we loved our first night sunset from our own terrace, we felt obligated to check out the legendary sunset views from Oia for at least one night. So, after touring the south end of the island, we strapped on our helmets and headed north prepared to do battle with the crowds for a premium sunset viewing spot. We also needed to find the spot I’d read about near the castle to secure our love lock.
The sun was scheduled to drop below the horizon shortly after 8:30pm and we arrived in Oia around 6pm, plenty of time to accomplish our love lock mission and get the lay of the land before sunset.
First stop, the Castle of Agios Nikolaos in search of the love lock railing I’d seen in pictures online. Dating back to 1480, the castle suffered devastating damage in the 1956 earthquake and much of it tumbled into the sea. Today, it serves mainly as the most popular place to watch the sun set each night.
As it’s pretty much the highest spot in Oia, the castle wasn’t hard to find! In just a few minutes we’d found the perfect spot overlooking the sea to secure our lock and here’s hoping it will stay there for years to come and we’ll get to find it again the next time we return.
As sunset time approached, the streets swelled with people by the minute. I blinked and it seemed every good spot in the castle was taken. Time for Plan B.
We stopped in a minimarket, bought a half bottle of wine (graciously sold with 2 cups) and settled in along a wide staircase just below the castle with an unobscured view of the setting sun. Then we waited. And waited.
It was still only about 7:30pm after all and the sun wouldn’t dip below the horizon for another hour. So we drank wine and enjoyed the view until gradually the sun began to glow a deep orange as it sank into the sea.
And it was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but all things considered I think I prefer the sunset views from my own terrace in Imerovigli. Especially after we fought the post-sunset crowds to get back to our quad bike and to the road.
Oia sunset? Check. Moving on!
A lazy day
After a full day of island exploration the previous day we felt zero guilt about sleeping in on Day #3 and lounging by the pool when we did finally manage to rejoin the living. It was a perfectly relaxing day followed by drinks and dinner in Fira and another spectacular sunset from our balcony. This is honeymooning 101, folks.
Hiking the Volcano
On Day #4 it was time to get active again and go see more of Santorini.
The night before in Fira we’d booked a boat trip to visit the other must-see sight on the island (after sunset in Oia) – the volcano. The basic boat trip to the volcano is a 2-hour ride that also includes a stop at the hot springs on the island. It sounded like a fun way to spend an afternoon so we booked the mid-afternoon trip figuring we’d grab dinner in town before returning to the hotel in time for sunset.
The boat ride itself was fabulous and a great way to see the island from sea level. The only disappointment was the hot springs. The agent who booked our trip failed to mention that getting to them required about a 15 minute swim in the ice cold Aegean Sea to reach the shore.
Oh, and by the time you get there, you’d have about 10 minutes before you needed to start swimming back. We passed on that one (as did the majority of our fellow passengers) but a few hearty souls made the swim and survived.
Our main objective was the hike to the top of the volcano and that part of the trip was awesome. Our guide took 3 breaks on the 30-minute hike up to give us more information about the volcano, point out steam vents in the rock and generally let everyone catch their breath.
The views from the summit were simply incredible, a panoramic view of the C-shaped island of Thira. It was truly the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Last day in Greek paradise
On our final day we again chose to relax at the hotel for most of the day but did make it into Fira for lunch and some shopping. I will miss this island terribly, especially those Santorini sunsets. It is so unbelievably gorgeous, just like I always dreamed it would be and I’m so glad I saved it for my honeymoon. But since Dave loved it as much as I did, I have no doubt we’ll be back.
Even the quad bike turned out to be a lot of fun – not scary at all – and it was definitely the best way to get out and see the island without the hassle of waiting for a bus or finding a real parking spot at every stop…or the wafting aroma of donkey poo.
Despite the crowds, it’s hard not to love Santorini. It’s the kind of place that inspires travel posters. And so with our flight home to Atlanta tomorrow we wrap up Part I of this three-part honeymoon. I’ve got to be in St. Louis for a week due to a work commitment that couldn’t be rescheduled and since we have Round-the-World tickets booked from Atlanta for the remainder of our travels, we needed to re-position back to the States anyway.
So thanks for following along with the first portion of our epic honeymoon journey…we’ll be back before you know it with the real adventure – 2 months around the world.
First stop on the official RTW itinerary…Colombia!