A big thank you to all of the contributors to this forum … I have certainly gained much knowledge about Santorini & the Cyclades from your learned selves. Part 1 ....
As the plane touched down in Athens I was feeling quite elated to actually be on Greek soil and that feeling had nothing to do with volcanic ash or strikes …I had been ill with bronchial asthma for three weeks and my doctor had only given me clearance to fly two days earlier. Phew, I couldn't think of anywhere better to recover than the Greek Islands!
I am sure the immigration officer must have thought I was some kind of lunatic as, smiling broadly, I presented him with my brand new Italian passport. Well he wasn’t to know that I was an Australian who had been waiting for many years to secure European citizenship, finally obtained this January, and that I coveted it like a very special prize. I was a little disappointed that he didn't even want to look at it.
After an overnight stay with a friend in Athens we went for a quick visit to Mt Ymittos the next morning. Despite visiting Athens several times before I hadn’t realised that such a green area existed so close to the city. It’s a tranquil place with many walking tracks and the panoramic view across Athens and the sea is quite amazing.
Back to the airport for an uneventful flight to Santorini arriving at 3.30pm. It always feels like I am coming home when I arrive in Santorini be it by plane or ferry… I am sure other Santorini lovers can relate to this feeling.
The short transfer from the plane to the terminal building wasn’t so uneventful and left me wondering if the driver was late for his lunch break as he sped towards the terminal building and stopped so abruptly that most of the passengers toppled over. I was one of the few who remained upright and although it wasn’t funny I had to suppress a giggle as the scene around me looked so comical. Collected my baggage, I met the A2B Transfers rep (excellent value at EU7.40) waiting for me in the arrival hall and was quickly whisked to my hotel, Villa Ilias in Firostefani.
I have stayed at Villa Ilias several times and George and his team welcomed me like an old friend. This year I decided to treat myself to an exclusive room for three days and it was the best decision I could have made. Previously I have stayed in standard or superior rooms, however the rooms are all fairly similar and it’s the private semi-secluded balcony and outstanding views that you pay extra for. Stairs at the pool level led up to my room and balcony which offered amazing caldera views. The room wasn’t large but was more than adequate for my needs. I unpacked and then decided I would follow the doctor’s orders and went down to the pool terrace and relaxed on a sun lounger for the rest of the afternoon.
I didn’t feel like venturing far in the evening so I walked down the main road to Two Brothers –a takeaway/restaurant near Firostefani square. I was very happy with my choice of kondosouvli (a grilled piece of pork loin) served with chips, tzaziki and salad (EU7.50) which I thoroughly enjoyed whilst watching the last of the sunset on the balcony. Ah, it was so good to be back.
My body clock was confused and I woke early and decided to take a stroll on the cliff side path towards Fira. I have walked this path many times before but its generally fairly busy with tourists and locals alike. However I saw only five people and a few cats during my 1.5hr walk. I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and views uninterrupted in such peace. On the rare occasions I have awoken early whilst staying on Santorini there has always been heavy mist over the higher part of Firostefani towards Imerovigli. It was the same this particular morning and I sat and watched it shift before walking back and taking many, many photographs.
A generous buffet breakfast is offered by Villas Ilias in their courtyard or inside, however I decided to breakfast on my balcony. I spent a few hours by the pool then had a nap. When I awoke it was very warm so I went to Mylos Café (in Firostefani) for a refreshing tonic & lemon. They had the windows open so it was cool and breezy and I enjoyed my drink whilst admiring the magnificent views (from virtually everywhere in the café). It has had some refurbishment since last year and I have no doubt that the new outdoor bar area is very popular this summer.
I collected my Hyundai Altos (EU37 per day inc insurance) from Tony’s Rent a Car & Moto. Tony and his wife run the business and are very friendly but are more expensive than Manos (who I usually rent from) but as it was so hot I couldn’t be bothered walking into the centre of Fira where Manos is located. I grabbed some supplies at the local mini-market, collected a friend who has recently moved to Imerovigli and went off to the airport to meet one of my closest friends who was arriving from Edinburgh. For the past four years we have met up in the Greek Islands in late spring or early summer. We dropped off her baggage and glass of wine in hand relaxed on my balcony watching the sunset. Afterwards we went to Kamari and wandered about before deciding on the Oxygen Bar and sat at one of tables overlooking the water. It had been a year since we had all seen each other so we had plenty of catching up to do over a few Cosmopolitans.
It was almost midday by the time we arrived at Perissa and we found ourselves drawn to Jo Jo’s – I guess it was the swimming pool, waterfall and sofa’s overlooking the beach that clinched it for us! My head was a little fuzzy from the night before so I opted for a non-alcoholic cocktail and my friend had a Mythos . We relaxed for a while glad that we were well away from the dark sand on the beach and the heat emanating from it.
We set off in search of lunch and somehow ended up in Emporio and there ensued a hairy, scary drive through some exceedingly narrow, windy lanes - don’t ask, must have been a result of that fuzzy head! We finally made out way out of there, unscathed and immediately pointed the car in the direction of Pyrgos.
I had seen recommendations for Kallisti Taverna in Pyrgos on TA and it certainly lived up to its recommendations. We shared a Santorini cherry tomato salad, fava, tzaziki and a rolled, stuffed pork dish (can’t remember the Greek name). The tomato salad was the star of the meal with its caper leaves and pickled chillies. We also had a 1/4 ltr of wine and thought our meal was very reasonable at EU29. Pyrgos is a lovely village with many churches, narrow lanes, traditional houses and a Venetian castle atop. After lunch we wandered the lanes for a while before going back to the hotel for a dip in the pool. Despite the intense heat of the day the water remained very cool, taking our breath away as we waded in.
Complimentary wine tasting was part of the deal I had at Villa Ilias. It is brought to your room or the pool terrace. I’d asked to have it on the balcony and when George arrived with the generous selection of wines (4 x 500ml bottles) and snacks I was blown away and it definitely exceeded my expectations. We really liked the white wine and vin santo and it was a particularly memorable sunset. Some hours later we walked down to Fira for some window shopping. We considered walking down to the old port but after a couple of minutes deemed it to be too dark to effectively dodge the donkey droppings and far too smelly so we walked back up the stairs and along the lower pathway.
Feeling a bit peckish we decided to try Luckys – from what I’d read on TA it seemed to be somewhat of an institution in Fira. We ordered a gyros portion and a chicken portion (both EU7.00). When the food was put in front of us we wished that we had only ordered one meal to share as the servings were quite generous, and possibly the wine had taken the edge off our appetites! The food was delicious and the antics of the staff entertaining and amusing. The night had become quite cool so we set about walking briskly back to the hotel.
I checked out of my hotel and as we had decided to stay on Santorini for one more day so I checked into Villa Fotini which is located around the corner from Firostefani Square, just a few minutes walk downhill from Villa Ilias. The website for Villa Fotini markets it as “cheap accommodation” and that is exactly what you get. Great value for money – my room was a very clean double with private bathroom & balcony (views overlooking the eastern side of Santorini), air con & fridge – prices in early June were EU20 for one or EU30 for two people.
We decided to go to Megalochori, a very picturesque village rich in history. We walked through the village stopping along the way to admire the bell towers and beautiful houses. There were flowers in bloom everywhere in the square and it looked stunning. Our noses rather than our eyes directed us to Marmita which is where we intended to have lunch. After much consideration we ordered four starters to share: Talagaygni cheese (Saganaki) – it was exquisite, octopus stewed in balsamico, vin santo and onions – rich, tender and delicious, leek pie with feta, yoghurt & manouri cheese – very delicate and fava – probably the best I’ve tasted. Service was attentive but the attitude of the waiter left a lot to be desired and if the food wasn’t so good I would have left following his (uncalled for) second insulting remark to me. The cost including water was around EU40. We left and continued our walk around the village past the luxurious Vedema Resort and some lovely churches.
After that we were really feeling the effects of the heat so elected to head to the beach to cool off. We went in the direction of Vlychada however took a left turn – I suspect it was the bar sign which lured us down the road - and (I think) it was Almyra beach that we first visited which is located at the end of a windy, bumpy, dirt road with some incredible rock formations near the beach. Just when I wanted to capture it on film I realised that my camera battery was flat! I have to admit that I am not a fan of the beaches on Santorini however this is one that I would definitely return to – its slightly isolated location being its charm. Off we then went to Vlychada which has a small port and marina as well as the beach. Again this beach has some very interesting rock formations.
Realising it was time to return the car to Tony’s we set off back to Fira, deposited the car and walked back to our accommodation. We freshened up and walked down the cliff side path into Fira and noticed there were two cruise boats in which could only mean one thing …yes, Fira was heaving with people! We found ourselves a table at Karre Bar and enjoyed a cointreau, lime and soda whilst admiring the sunset.
Walked down to one of the travel agents in the square and inquired as to which islands we could go to tomorrow – checked our options and decided on Amorgos.