Santorini, Greece

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Celebrating Santorini

Santorini is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Technically, it’s a caldera (top of a volcano). On this fine August 24th, we found out that the people of Santorini break out a fireworks celebration to commemorate the day that the volcano last erupted, decimating the local population at the time. It left us scratching our heads why one would celebrate this, but we got over it quickly with all of the adventure and wonderfully kind people this tiny Greek island offers.

Our Itinerary & Experience

Day 1: Santorini First Impressions

After a whirlwind three-day tour of Rome, Italy, we were ready for a little rest and relaxation. Our direct flight from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport to the Santorini (Thira) National Airport gave us a head start. Looking out the windows of the jet approaching the Santorini airport, you really get a view of the unique shape of the island that is actually the top of a submerged volcano. It makes a ring around which is the center of the crater. Upon landing and debarking from the airplane, the hot summer air smacked us in the face – this is not the tropical mediterranean island one would expect. In August, it feels more like Vegas on the water. The difference is that, unlike the desert heat, Santorini cools down nicely when the sun sets.

Arriving in Santorini

After gathering the luggage, we were off to the hotel with a driver arranged by our hotel, Astra Suites. When booking the Santorini leg of our excursion, we debated how to get to and from the airport. After a good deal of research, we found that taxis can be difficult to find particularly when it’s the busy time of year. Alternatively, we could rent a car, scooter, or ATV for a little fun. This presents dangers with the heavy summer traffic often times loaded with distracted drivers.

From the moment we arrived at the Astra Suites, the staff were impeccably welcoming and friendly. Their love of Santorini showed with their happy nature and willingness to help. They were constantly attentive to all our needs. Aside from the excellent service apparent at the first moment, the accommodations were amazing. As with most rooms, ours had an epic view of the caldera. We unloaded our bags in the room and set off to the pool to cool down and enjoy that same view with some refreshing cocktails.

Pool Time in Santorini

After cooling down, we checked with the concierge about dining options in the area. While we were disappointed to hear that restaurants required a good walk in any direction, Astra suggested we try their room service menu. When we returned to the room, we were pleasantly surprised with the options on the menu. The food quality and preparation was fantastic – well worth staying in and enjoying the view over dinner.

 

Day 2: Exploring Santorini

The following morning started watching the cruise ships arrive at Fira while eating breakfast on the balcony. We took a leisurely pace getting ready for our planned hike from Astra Suites to Oia. By the time we were ready to head out it was 10:00 AM local time and the weather was very nice. The concierge gave us fair warning about the heat, and she wasn’t kidding. The heat picked up the first half of our two-hour hike. Being the tough travelers, we fearlessly headed out slathered in sunscreen and towing a bag with water and swim trunks.

Balcony-Breakfast-in-Santorini

The hiking trail from the hotel ran along the ridge of the caldera. So along the way, you can imagine the views you see in all directions. Even as you look far down the mountain, you can see it plunging into the crystal blue water. This is one breathtaking hike worth doing if you’re ready for a brisk two-hour hike. Along the way, you see the white buildings that cling to the sides of the mountain peppered with churches and windmills. We stopped along the way for some Kodak moments and water breaks.

Santorini Hiking Views

When the trail turned to the town of Oia, we found a number of small shops where we reloaded on water and descended down the stairs that lead to Amoudi Bay. Because there are 300 steps, there are donkeys that will take you up and down for a small fee. We opted to keep our brisk pace with gravity on our side so we could make our lunch reservations.

Amoudi Bay

At the bottom of the steps are a number of seafood restaurants. Our reservations were set at Dmitri’s, which is known for the freshness and quality of its seafood. In fact, they have a cooler inside, where you can hand pick your fish from the fresh catches of the day. Sitting at the edge of the crystal clear water with a couple ice cold beers, amazing seafood plates, and friendly service – our expectations were blown out of the water. Dmitri’s is a must-see restaurant in Santorini, which was well worth braving the hot hike from our hotel.

Amoudi Bay Seafood

Following lunch, we took a small walk around the corner where many visitors were swimming in the brisk, deep blue water. You can literally see 20 or more feet down in the refreshing water. As an added bonus, you can swim to and climb up a rock where a very small church sits about 20 feet above the water line. There is a perfect platform where you can take a running leap into the refreshing depths below.

Tired from our hike, lunch, and swim, we were undoubtedly taking a car home. Even though taxis are not easily available, particularly during the busy lunch time, our friends at Dmitri’s were able to snag one for us to ride back to the hotel. So we made it through traffic to the hotel where we were able to refresh and get ready for dinner.

When asking the Astra Suites concierge for dinner recommendations, they suggested that we enjoy room service because of the fireworks scheduled that evening. Every August, Santorini celebrates its Ifaisteia Festival. At the end of the festival, they have a huge firework display commemorating the last time the volcano erupted. Lava flows even light up below the impressive show in the sky. We couldn’t have been more delighted to stumble upon this entertaining show on our final night on this incredible island.

Day 3: Shopping Before Sailing Off

The following morning, we again watched the sun rise as the ships motored into the caldera while we enjoyed our breakfast on the balcony. Because checkout was early, we left our bags with the concierge and hiked over to Fira for some last minute shopping. If you travel often, you understand that tourist destinations typically sell a lot of the same stuff. Fira actually has some decent shops above and beyond the norm. You can find stores selling designer brands unique to Santorini. We were able to grab some great island clothes at a reasonable price for the next stop on our journey, Mykonos.

Thira Santorini

With departure time approaching and the heat rising, we walked back along the path to our hotel, grabbed our luggage from the courtesy suite, and hopped in our car – all arranged by the incredible hotel staff. We headed to the ferry port where we would depart for Mykonos on the next leg of our Europe adventure.

Planning Your Trip

  • Plan ahead for Santorini’s summer season, which comes to life with travelers from all over the world. It’s best to book accommodations at least 3-6 months in advance.
  • Officially known as Thira, Santorini is actually a huge volcano rising out of the ocean that gives it the moon or caldera shape today. The last eruption is said to have ended the Minoan civilization on Crete, which is celebrated annually in August.
  • Santorini boasts both exotic black and white beaches thanks to its volcanic past.
  • Not surprisingly, Santorini used to be known as Kallístē, or “the most beautiful one.”
  • Santorini has a flourishing wine industry despite a harsh, dry climate.
  • The currency used in Santorini is the Euro…for now.
  • During the hot summer, stay cool with light summer clothes that are fitting for the mediterranean, like linen, beach wear, hats, sunglasses.
  • Bring lots of sunscreen to protect against the intense rays on the water.
  • Keep your devices safe with durable waterproof bags and cases for active swimming and adventures around the island.
  • Bring snorkeling gear and swim suits if exploring Santorini under water.
  • An early hike to Oia along the crest of the caldera provides incredible views of nearly all of the island. In Amoudi Bay, enjoy some of the amazing local seafood with some swimming and cliff diving in the afternoon.
  • You’ll find plenty of surprisingly good shopping in Thira near the cruise ship docks.
  • If you book a hotel room facing west towards the center of the island, nothing beats sunset drinks and meal from your hotel balcony or pool.
  • As with all Greek islands, transportation can be a nightmare. Try to get a hotel that can help you get around the island. Luckily, Santorini isn’t too big. You can get around within a decent walk.
  • Santorini’s bus service covers the whole island, running regularly and costing €1-€2. A shuttle bus operates between the airport and the resorts.
  • While taxis are limited, it can be one of the easiest ways to get around for one-off journeys or out to see the attractions. Thira’s main square has a taxi queue, or it may be cheaper to book in advance.
  • If you like being a part of the tourist scene, try a ride on Santorini’s cable car is a must. Located in the island’s capital Thira, not only is it the handiest way to get down to the coast from town, it’s an experience in itself with beautiful views over the seafront.
  • You can rent scooters or ATVs, but it’s not recommended because of the safety factor.
  • “It’s all Greek to me” holds true in Santorini where the official language is Greek.
  • The month of August is filled with concerts, cultural events, dancing, and lots of tradition as Santorini celebrates the Ifaisteia Festival. The center island and sky above it blaze with an impressive firework show that commemorates the last time the volcano erupted.
  • Love music? Then visit Santorini in September when it hosts its International Music Festival. For over thirty years, it has attracted musicians from around the world to share a variety of music genres, like opera, tango, jazz, and more.
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