For the final stint of our whirlwind Greek Islands tour we naturally opted for Santorini. If you ever saw a postcard of this beautiful island when you were younger, I’m sure you had the same reaction as I did: can this magical place really exist, and if so when can I go? It was the first place I ever put on my bucket list and it consistently tops the most romantic spots in the world, as well as being the most photographed.
And before you ask, no it’s not over-hyped and yes it is all it’s cracked up to be. Honestly, it really, really is. Granted there are a LOT of tourists but there are easy ways to avoid the bus loads of people clutching selfie sticks. I loved every moment of our stay on this gem of an island and I’m already planning to go back – a big deal for a girl who has the whole world on her ‘to visit’ list.
Where to stay
As with my Ios island guide, I’m going to start with where to stay, only because the options are so numerous and varied, and your choice is likely to shape your experience. D picked our hotel as my birthday present and can honestly say it was perfect. Ikies is ideally located a ten minute walked from Oia and, not only can you properly escape the crowds, but being slightly further round the coast meant the most amazing view of the world-famous sunset every evening.
You’re met at the airport and you taxi brings you here, to this white arch and iron gate. And this is where the magic begins. A very smiley member of the hotel staff welcomes you and says “I hope you are ready for the steps”, and indeed there are millions of them, but luckily it’s a descent not an ascent. And with every one it starts to sink in a little more that you may well have arrived in paradise.
Our room was perfect; a ‘masionette’ split over two levels. We stayed in the Fisherman’s House for one night, and the Sailor’s House for another and both were equally luxurious, comfortable and idyllic. Breakfast is served on your balcony, overlooking the caldera.
And not only was the hotel itself blissful, but these are the views, which speak for themselves really:
And it’s hands-down one of the best places on the island to watch the sunset from.
Of course, Oia and its outskirts are not the only places with fantastic hotel options. The capital, Thira has a lot of choice and the south side of the island is well served too. But you will want to go to Oia at some point during your stay – for the sunset, for the calamari in Ammoudi Bay and for those picture perfect photographs of whitewashed walls and bright blue rooves. So if you aren’t prepared to get a bus or rent a car, staying in Oia will keep you close to the action.
What to do
- Get snap happy in Oia – if you’ve come to capture the panoramic views and beautiful buildings sinking down the steep crater’s slope then Oia is where you need to make a beeline for. The cobalt blue rooftops and doors and the white walls are only interrupted by the fuchsia of the bougainvillea. Oia is open, you can peek into the pools and parasols of other hotels as they plunge down on the vertical.
- Watch the sunset – you can’t avoid it and neither will you want to. To not watch the sun sink into the horizon on this magical island would be to go to a football match and face the wrong way; it will be the centrepiece of your day and you should plan around it. Crowds gather in the two hours leading up to the sun setting at Oia’s most westerly point, and whilst it does offer great views of the sun diving into the deep blue of the ocean, you’re unlikely to be able to enjoy it without the whir of a camcorder or a selfie stick in your eyeline. My advice: keep clear and watch from a distance.
The deep red colours of the sky are phenomenal evening after evening, and I loved watching the lights pop on one by one in as darkness swallowed the village.
When we were 100% sure the magic was over for another day, we would retreat into our cabins, shower and get ready to go on a hunt for food. We choice Oia for both nights and strolled in arm in arm, short-sleeved and bare legged. A true sign of a summer’s evening.
- Coastal walk from Oia to Imerovigli – quite a trek but with stunning views and nicely undulating, this walk is perfect for even very inexperienced ramblers. Just drink in the caldera and stop to nose around the pretty churches on the way. You can quadbike it back! Plenty of places to rent quads or scooters in Imerovigli.
Where to eat
I was slightly useless with my camera when it came to restaurants on Santorini. I remember which ones we went to but as for visual evidence I’m afraid I was totally in holiday mode by this point and was often half way through a meal suddenly remembering I had snapped anything and was being a very bad blogger indeed. But here’s my feeble attempt at a restaurant guide:
- Dimitris Taverna – this is badly kept secret but it’s one of the best lunch spots on the island. If you walk or take a donkey (!) down to Ammoudi bay, you’re in for a treating. This secluded little fishing port is a bit of a gem and highly picturesque – an Instagrammer’s dream! Octopus hangs from washing lines ready to be grilled and brightly painted boats moor slightly off shore.
- Melitini – reassuringly set a few paces back from the main thoroughfare, this is your perfect place for Greek tapas with a modern twist. We went for supper but I’m sure it would suit well for lunch too, as it has a roof terrace. A little more hearty that the typical fare which dominates menus but don’t be fooled; this is proper Greek food, not a tourist’s view of Greek food. Anything from spicy sausage with peppers and a delicious tomato sauce served in a steel pan to aubergine tagine with Greek yoghurt. Plenty of fresh fish and octopus on the menu too. The desserts are delicious too – totally homemade and often on the house!
- Red Bicycle – another option for dinner, and a pretty special one – a good place for a treat without totally splashing out. Great views of the caldera, and of the twinkling village (book a table to get the best one) with a very sophisticated menu; a more refined cuisine than in most other places on the main stretch of restaurants.
Any questions you know where to find me. Hope this guide helps you plan the trip of a lifetime. Remember to tag me in your photos on Instagram if you go to any of place above @ellieswinton – enjoy!