Heaven is a place on earth.
Santorini doesn’t really need an introduction; it sits at the top of most World’s Best Islands/Destinations/See before you die lists. Visiting during May Day holiday was a spur of the moment, reluctant decision, made on a now or never basis: it seemed to be the only safe time of the year to visit (safe = devoid of hordes of tourists).
This getaway marked the -very early- inauguration of the Summer 22 travel season.
It went like this:
Bright and early we drive to the Athens airport to catch the morning Aegean flight to Santorini. It is a ~40 minute affair (that feels more like 15 mins); before we know it we land at JTR. (Pleasant) surprises start manifesting from the get go: The airport looks pristine and the exit process (luggage pick-up and all) is fast and smooth. Outside a realisation hits us hard: it may only be April 28 but it is 100% summer here. Our rental is waiting for us and we head to our hotel in Oia, aka. romance central.
Located at the edge of Oia, Ikies is a luxury complex sitting on a rock overlooking the caldera. Our uber-chic suite features a private terrace with a whirlpool tub. The view is so spectacular it hurts the eyes. We quickly shoot a gazillion photos and after settling in we head to Kamari beach for a suntan / swim session – each to their own. At Vinsanto beach bar we get front row sun-beds for free (!) and enjoy an attentive service. We are acutely aware that this is only possible because it is April. In 3 months the beds will probably cost 60€+ and orders will need 45+ mins to fulfil. It is perfect now though and it becomes even more fun when our friend, owner of the beach’s water sports center, joins us for drinks.
In the afternoon we head to Imerovigli, an equally upscale, scenic area. The “breathtaking views” motif continues and so does the camera-clicking. We have dinner reservations at Varoulko Santorini – the local outlet of the homonymous Michelin ⭐ Athenian restaurant. But before that an aperitif at the adjacent 363 Lounge bar, located inside the Grace hotel, one of the most premium options in the entire island. This experience sets us back an unbelievable 48€ for 2 (nondescript) cocktails. Onwards, dinner is a memorable experience. Everything from the welcoming committee to the last sip of the digestive spirit is perfect (except the bill maybe which is positively extravagant – the “Santorini” premium is in full effect here). On the way back we marvel at the majestic landscape – a combination of dark rock and lit swimming pools in various shades of blue. Back at the hotel the bed, like a heavenly embrace, envelops us to instant oblivion.
While we were sleeping someone discreetly sneaked in to heat up the jacuzzi. One couldn’t possibly come up with a better way to start the overcast day. Immersing ourselves in the steaming water, marvelling over the volcanic vistas, the entire island in repose (it is only 07:30 am), just us and nature – it is one of these moments to capture and forever keep inside the heart. A colourful (and very fresh) breakfast arrives on cue. The day is already unforgettable and it is not even 09:00 am.
It is now time to visit the center of Oia – the impossibly picturesque quarter of Santorini and one of the word’s most photographed places. It is a cosy little walk from our lodgings. I haven’t been here in (literally) decades and -dismissive as I may be of popular locations- the place is pure beautiful indeed. We make a point of exploring as thoroughly as possible. Then, craving a beach session, we head to Vlychada. With a background of wind-sculpted, volcanic cliffs it is ridiculously instagramable – much as the rest of the island. Sadly, the beach is not operative yet (no sun-beds or cocktail service in sight) and the weather is on the hostile side. Nevertheless, the brave amongst us (not me) have a quick swim.
Next lies the port of Vlychada, complete with restaurants offering good views and good food. To Psaraki is famous for its seafood (also sporting a well-furnished wine list). It doesn’t make much of an impression at first glance but dish by dish we become enamoured – it is a proper gastronomic treat. We retrieve to the hotel for a lazy siesta and in the evening we feel the urge to return to Oia village. It seems more subdued now -not in full season swing yet- but it’s equally beautiful. We discover Fino bar-restaurant, where we enjoy some of the best cocktails we have ever tasted.
Today we have a project: to walk the hiking trail that connects Oia with Fira (the capital of Santorini). The ~2½-hour walk offers exciting views and passes through hills, inhabited areas and the island’s main roads. We are not keen on the full 10 kms; we just walk to Imerovigli, which totals an hour and a half. We catch a taxi back home and, following a rapid shopping spree over Oia, we head to Perivolos beach.
We sit at Sunny J beach bar for the requisite suntan/swim session, complete with cocktails. Again we enjoy complimentary sun-beds and attentive service (the utter rarity of this is, honestly, hard to explain to someone who hasn’t visited during peak season). Back at the hotel we engage in a hot tub session and get ready to descend to Fira for our much awaited final dinner. But first a walk around town, which already seems to have reached saturation point traffic-wise. Infinitely less sophisticated than Oia but still abundant in its beauty, this place has some swag to add to the Santorini legend.
The cosmopolitan Selene restaurant is a glamorous colonial-style extravaganza, run by yet another Michelin-starred chef whom we admire. We have high expectations. The ambience is great but otherwise the experience is rather disappointing. We rack up an exorbitant 520€ for a 3-course meal of barely ok quality and wine that is almost force-fed. Amused, mildly annoyed and –crucially– still hungry, we head back to Fino for drinks and a bite to complement the debacle. Mini burgers and grilled prawns it is and we quickly revert to elated mode. Another unique day for the atlas of memory.
This is our final morning. A goodbye go at the jacuzzi and breakfast at our lovely terrace. Last minute photos to memorise the surroundings (for the umpteenth time) and off to some last-minute exploring.
We decide on Pyrgos, a medieval style village complete with Venetian castle, sitting at the island’s highest point. We have a credible recommendation to get drinks at Franco’s and the tip turns out legit: the charming cafe sits on top of a hill, offering panoramic views of Santorini.
We kill a bit of time walking about, clicking away, exploring the castle’s alleys. Cute souvenir shops pop up here and there. Then it is off to the airport to deliver our car. Thankfully our agent (who is also a friend) meets us for a direct swap, thus avoiding the (almost guaranteed) hassle of offloading it ourselves (a process that might involve endless time-wasting, frustrated walking and possibly a fine). Things run smoothly through to the end. After a seamless check-in we board our flight to reluctantly return to Athens. We make a mental note to book an extra day next time.
OH YES, YES, YES!
Important note: The Santorini experience tends to differ drastically depending on the time of year you visit. It is safe to visit throughout May & September-onwards. Until mid-June maybe, for the super brave. Anything else will likely resemble entrapment in a bus during peak hour, except non stop.
Also, make sure to provide for a minimum of 4 (full) days.
Enjoy more Santorini moments below ⇩.
All images © The Real Queen of Stuff