Travel Journal: Greece – Part 4, Santorini

The final stop of our vacation

Santorini is the stop I’d been dreaming of and pretty much planned the entire trip around.

Day 6: Wednesday, 9/4

By this, our last ferry ride, had had the process figured out. I packed up the night before and laid out my clothes so I could hit up breakfast before our transfer to the port. The spread wasn’t as insane as the one at the Mykonos hotel, but it was good and included perfectly boiled eggs and tons of fresh juices and jams.

Getting picked up at the port. I loved seeing my maiden name for one last time hehe.

Our ferry left on time but somehow wound up being 45 minutes late into Santorini. We had arranged for a transfer to the hotel but hit some serious traffic so we didn’t have much time to be lazy before our wine tour. A bellman met us at the van, which had come as close as the pedestrian town would allow, and carried all our bags down hundreds of steps. I honestly felt bad for him! …I also felt like an actual princess.

We had to meet the shuttle at 3:15 for the wine tour so we dropped our stuff and went to the main Oia street for a quick lunch. We stumbled into a place called Terpsichore, which I expect may be touristy, but it had great views and would serve us quickly. My salad – the fisherman’s salad – happened to be great. It had a light lemon dill dressing and was absolutely packed with all sorts of seafood. That salad told me all I needed to know about the food in Santorini. This city would have the best food of the trip.

We were the first to be picked up for the tour, but eventually we assembled a group of 9 total. We all got along, laughing and joking the whole time.

We hit up three different wineries on our tour. The first was Avantis. They just opened their building 4 months prior in a former outdoor movie theater. It was so nice and airy – a great first stop.

Learning about the notes smelled/tasted in the wine

Stop number two was Estate Argyros. It’s the second largest in Santorini and one of the oldest. It’s pretty commercial and offered my least favorite wines of the tour, but it was a gorgeous space. I really enjoyed the vinsanto (dessert wine) and chocolate pairing, served with an exclusive Austrian-made chocolate that featured a jam made from the wine itself.

I also loved learning about the unique way they grow the vines in Santorini. They’re kept low and wrapped in circles to irrigate protect them from the elements. The dried vines look like Jesus’ crown of thorns. That plus the volcanic soil gives them a unique flavor. That volcanic ash is like gold. There’s 80 meters of it in Santorini and they’re exporting it to Venice for insulation. Saving the world, one glass at a time. And those glasses are 80%-90% white since they only grow indigenous varieties.

Each tasting came with a meat/cheese/snack platter. The best platter was found at the winery with the best view, Venetsanos.

Some of our new buddies bought wine from the winery so we shared some rosé in the van on the way to the final winery. These are my kinda people!

View from the outdoor, cliffside tasting area at Venetsanos

Our last stop was my favorite, Venetsanos. Its main competitor is Santos, the only other one with caldera views (and I think larger pours), but I really enjoyed the history at Venetsanos. It’s underground with an outdoor tasting room and where I learned that Santorini didn’t even have electricity until 1967. Can you imagine?! Mr. Venetsanos brought the generator over from France in 1949 and designed the whole building himself with zero help from an architect. He was pretty ahead of his time and deserved all the awards he’s been given.

Mr. Venetsanos’ workspace, preserved.

We felt a bit rushed, but one of our tour members had to get back to a cruise ship so we had to skidaddle. By the time we got back to our hotel, it was on the later side and Albert had done a lot of snacking on the wine tour so we cancelled our fancy dinner rezzy and went somewhere more casual that the hotel owner recommended.

Nighttime view from Thalami

Thalami was an easy walk down the main Oia road and had great views. Elias (from our hotel) told us to ask for Gogo, a sommelier in training and she set us on the right wine path. She also let us know that i. Santorini, you can take unfinished wine with you when you leave the restaurant. Good to know!

We ordered Greek salad and tomato fritters to start. Though they didn’t sound special, I made sure to order them because they’re a Santorini specialty. Served with whipped feta…wow. For mains, Albert got a perfectly cooked souvlaki served with the best fries of the trip. I had mousaka because it was one of my remaining bucket list dishes but I’m not the biggest mousaka fan in general. As far as mousakas go, however, this one was good.

Before leaving, we had shots of mustika, a sweet liqueur made from tree bark resin. It’s like the Greeks’ answer to limoncello.

When we got back to the room we decided to take a dip in the pool. The pool was the whole reason I decided to splurge on this hotel and I was determined to take advantage. Worth it.

Closeup of the unique vines

Day 7: Thursday, 9/5

We woke up bright and early for our photography session. The original plan was to start at 8:30, but our photog wanted to get the best light and beat the crowds so we met at 7:15 AM. He was right – by 8:30 Oia is simply too crowded by tourists trying to capture the same gorgeous views on their cameras. It was early, yes, but I loved getting it out of the way and having the entire day to do whatever we wanted. Also, the photography session cemented how great our hotel location was. We were about 10 steps from the Oia castle Byzantine ruin and had amazing views of the iconic blue domes. It’s literally where everyone wants to be.

After the photos we grabbed breakfast. Since our hotel is really just 7 apartments, the breakfast, on a roof deck (the pink Instagram hotspot of Kastro’s) , has a limited menu because there’s a very tiny kitchen and they can’t carry much up the perilous steps. At first I thought I’d miss the big European buffet…but then our food arrived. So fresh! And coffee/fruit juice/smoothies however we wanted! My Traditional Greek (hard boiled egg, feta, and balsamic) was perfect.

After breakfast we embarked on the hike from Oia to Fira. I now understand why you only hear of people going from Fira to Oia. The way we went was 7 miles. All uphill. We passed people meandering in the opposite direction, but for us, let’s just say I’m happy i wore legit workout clothes.

Looking back at Oia about 1/4 of the way into our hike

After hiking for several hours in the early afternoon sun, we were sweaty and starving so we got gyros and dips from a place called Meat Corner. Pretty solid gyro. Really hit the spot.

I imagined we’d walk around Fira for a bit, but we were exhausted by that point. Plus, it seemed like it was basically the same as Oia (silk shops, etc.) but without as many good restaurants and not as picturesque. There were definitely some moments of beauty, though.

When we got back to the hotel, we immediately got into the pool to cool off. Then it was time to shower up and head to Amoudi Bay for a pre-dinner snackie. We already had plans for the following evening so if we wanted Amoudi, we’d have to squeeze it in. Once again, I realized what a primo location we were in, right at the top of the [many] steps that lead to ten bay.

There are six restaurants in the bay. Just walk down all the steps, following the trail of donkey “gifts.”

Our dinner reservation was at 9 so we ate out “snack” at 6:30.

We chose Amoudi Fish because it seemed to have the most recommendations. The halloumi was great, as was the 4 Fishes dish. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re watching the sunset here.

From below, we could see everyone crowding around the rocks to watch the sunset. We watched the beginning from our table then quickly hiked up the 218 steps to watch from the privacy of our balcony. It was pretty special.

This was actually the view from our balcony – wowzas

After our appetizer, we walked through town a bit so I could check out Atlantis Books. I heard it was one of the “bookstores to see before you die” and it was an absolute DREAM. Books tucked in every nook and cranny. Windy winding around. Tons of first editions. It’s not “authentic Greece” but I loved it.

For dinner we went to Roka, which had come highly recommended. It was in a cute little house, tucked away in a little alley. I was still full from Amoudi Fish, which may explain why I thought this was a good meal but not the best of the trip. The salad though. Albert ordered a Greek salad at every single meal of this 8-day trip so I can confidently say this was by far the best one. The tomatoes were fresh and the cheese was perfect.

For entrees, Albert got a ribeye (he was kinda over seafood at this point) that was very good and I got a puréed fava bean dish that was a unique Santorinian specialty.

We got back to the hotel and I crashed. Couldn’t keep my eyes open.

Day 8: Friday, 9/6

We didn’t have any immediate plans and set no alarm. I slept til 8:30 and it was glorious. The day before we learned our connection home would be too tight and the airline wouldn’t allow us to check bags so I walked to the post office (very lucky it happened to be right outside our hotel and shipped back a bag for 46 euros. Oops.

The good thing about our hotel location is that it was where everyone wanted to be – we could pop out whenever we felt like to snap pics at “famous” locations and still avoid the crowds.

After that little errand, we hit up the hotel breakfast where I ordered the exact same thing as the day before. Once again, it was exactly what I wanted. I also went to town on the bread basket, which is not like a regular bread basket. It was filled with croissants, jams, cheese pastries, and spinach pies.

We took about an hour to walk around the town, in and out of shops. Then we went to our hotel’s sister property to sit by the pool and just lounge for an hour. Right outside the front door of the hotel we’re 50 tourists trying to use the hotels unparalleled views of the blue dimes. It felt pretty amazing to just bypass them all. It was also nice to lounge by a pool with some other guests – good to mix it up.

The crowds outside our hotel’s sister property. We just walked right by em.
The 360 views from the sister property were spectacular
This is the shot everyone was trying to get outside the hotel. I got it with zero hassle!

In the town, I found my favorite Santorini shop…well second favorite after Atlantis Books. I don’t even know the name, but it had some incredible antiques, some art, and beautiful linens. I bought a pillow cover for a throw on our bed.

The catamaran disembarked at 3:00, but we had to meet at 1:45 to trek down to the bottom of the island, picking up people along the way. I knew I wanted a boat tour around Santorini. It’s an entire different perspective, and I always feel most at home on the water. Also, I was not going to miss the opportunity to swim in the Volcanic hot springs! I decided an afternoon trip was best because then we could end with the sunset – how magical!

There were six couples on our boat and we all really hit it off…which is good because we were about to spend about 5 hours together. One couple was even Southern (I love to find fellow Southerners wherever I go) and had actually had a session with Spiros, our photographer the day before!

We got out to swim twice but the hot springs weren’t exactly hot. Still, the water – both pools and sea – were warmer than any other place in Greece and I was anxious to put those bathing suits to good use.

The beat part of the boat tour was obviously the free flowing wine and the on-board meal. There was bread with olive tapenade and tzaziki. Penne pasta. Shrimp. Mussels. Two salads. Grilled chicken and pork. A feast!

The couple we’d buddied up with were also staying in Oia so we were the last four to get dropped off. Since we chatted the whole ride back we decided to drop our stuff off and meet up at 10 pm at Oia’s only real bar, Marykay’s. It used to be a butcher shop, hence the meat hooks by the entrance. Santorini is not a party town like Mykonos, but it was good to experience some nightlife and this place made a mean cocktail.

After drinking and dancing with our travel friends, we took one last dip in the pool and sipped on the wine the hotel had gifted us. Was it smart to stay out til 1:45 am when my alarm was going off at 5:15 am for our return trip? Perhaps not, but I had a great time and was truly determined to use that pool every day of our trip. Plus, I knew our hotel had stowed one of those amazing bread baskets for us since we were leaving before breakfast. Something to look forward to.

The first photo our professional photographer took. This makes the early wakeup call worth it.

Santorini Details

  • Accommodations
    • We stayed at Art Maisons Oia Castle. It was a splurge, but we used points for a portion of it. With only a handful of rooms, this hotel is intimate and lovely. I chose it specifically because I have been dreaming for years of staying in a Santorini hotel with a private pool. I also love that these hotel rooms are carved into the caves in the traditional style. Bucket list item: check. The downside is that it’s so intimate there’s no common pool or common amenities. It’s not really a downside, though, because you have access to the sister property, Art Maisons Aspaki, just a 6 minute walk away, which comes complete with a pool and poolside bar. That said, our private pool was huge and actually bigger than the common pool.
      • The other hotel we were very close to choosing was Kirini. While I didn’t stay there myself, I feel pretty confident in recommending it if you were looking for another option. It’s a Katikies property, which means you get all the love, attention, and access you get at the main hotel, which my friend Amanda said was the nicest hotel she EVER stayed at. Why didn’t we stay here? We were using points for a portion of this hotel stay, and they went just a bit further at Art Maisons. It was the difference in getting the private pool in a cave suite room vs. common pool and simple room.
      • Also heard amazing things about Mystique and Canavas. These are all super splurge hotels, but there are plenty that are more reasonable. Santorini Dave has great reviews. I wouldn’t change our location in the heart of Oia for anything, but your money might go a bit further if you stay in one of the other towns, like Imerovigli or Fira.
    • The first thing you want to do when choosing a hotel is to pick what part of Santorini you want to stay in. We knew we wanted to stay in Oia. It’s where all those gorgeous photos you see are taken. I wanted PICTURESQUE. It should be noted, though, that everyone else wants this too, so it gets crowded. Knowing this, I intentionally searched for quieter, resort-like hotels so we could still feel secluded and relaxed. Fira and Imerovigli are the other two main areas. Fira is the main town area (think: hustle bustle and shopping) and Imerovigli is much quieter.
    • The beaches in Santorini aren’t as amazing as those of the other islands so I knew we’d be spending more time by the pool and actually paid attention to the hotel. Usually I view hotels as just a place to crash, but in Santorini, the hotel was part of the experience. Make sure you pick a place with a good pool situation.
  • Foodie Field Notes
    • Of all our stops, we received the most recommendations for restaurants in Santorini…it makes sense; so many people go here for their honeymoon so romantic restaurants abound. We only had time for one “fancy” meal but received many more recos. In case you want options, the spots with the most recommendations were: Roka, Red Bicycle, and Ambrosia. I am a FIRM believer that the best food is found in hole in the wall spots discovered along your travels. Simply follow the aroma of simmering sauce and you can’t go wrong. That said, there are sometimes places that form a reputation for a reason and, therefore, require advance planning. There were two nicer dinner spots in Santorini that came highly recommended. I knew I wanted one fancy dinner on this trip, which, as a whole felt like a celebration of our love and marriage. I highly recommend tapping into the concierge at your hotel for rezzies in these situations. That’s why you’re staying at a place like that in the first place!
    • But Santorini isn’t just about romantic restaurants! You must go to Amoudi Bay, where you can see the fish swimming as you eat their friends. It’s as fresh as it gets. There are competing opinions as to which is better: Amoudi Fish or Dmitri’s. We were very happy with Amoudi Fish and loved watching the sunset there. The famous hanging octopus looks great, but the chefs have changed and you’ll find better elsewhere. Your best bet is just to ask what’s fresh.
    • Tomato fritters are basically fried tomato balls. Sounds boring but tastes amazing.
    • If you make it down to the bottom of the island, go to a market in Akrotiri called Faros Products where a local shop owner makes “spoon sweets” – jarred items hosts serve to guests in their homes on spoons. You can also hit up the black sand beaches after. We didn’t have time but would have planned to spend a few hours doing that if we had just one more day.
    • Vineyart is a wine bar, restaurant, pop up art gallery, and music space all in one. Something fun and a bit different. We passed by so briefly that I can’t count us as having gone, but from what I saw, I’d recommend.
    • Fino is a supposedly very good restaurant in the village (along the lines of Thalami) that we didn’t make it to.
  • Tips
    • Stay in Oia. For sure. It lives up to the hype and is the experience you dream about. Other parts of the island are lovely, but…this is it. If possible, use points and go nuts on the hotel.
    • Nobody warned us, but you can’t flush anything down the toilets. I thought they just meant feminine products, but our hotel finally spelled it out – no toilet paper. The island doesn’t have normal plumbing so they can’t handle it. That was very strange and I wish more people talked about it so I’m talking about it now. You’re supposed to wipe and throw the toilet paper in a trash can next to the toilet. Thankfully, our hotel was nice enough that it had a modern detachable shower head type bidet thing next to it so I didn’t have to actually put soiled paper in the trash can. This alone is a reason to splurge on a hotel.
    • Hiring a photographer was the best decision. I love photos. I can’t get enough of them. My beau likes them, too, but he feels awkward asking strangers to pics of us (I have no shame) and I have to beg him to take photos that I arrange myself. With a photographer, it’s one hour out of one day. I get gorgeous photos, Albert doesn’t have to awkwardly ask strangers for help, and I don’t have to nag him to stop and take a pic. Everybody wins. Flytographer makes the process seamless. Once you book, they help you define your photography style (and can suggest best photographers for you) and offer suggestions for locations as well as general tips about the city you’re staying in. The photographers are locals so they can offer insider insight, too. I highly recommend them for capturing a slice of your vacation.
    • When it comes to water, Santorini isn’t famous for their beaches. Instead, get your fill by the hotel pool and on a catamaran tour.
    • Santorini has some unique wines so make sure you tour some wineries. Make sure to hit up Venetsanos or Santos – those are the only two with caldera views and sipping wine with a view of the caldera is better than sipping wine without a view of the caldera.
    • On our last full day (Friday), we realized we weren’t elbowing nearly as many people when walking around or while trying to get photos. Apparently that’s because cruise ships don’t really dock on the weekends. It’s much less mobbed so I highly recommend planning your trip around that, especially towards the end of high season.
  • Bottom Line: Plan a trip to Santorini. It’s beautiful. It may be overrun with tourists, but I can’t hate on it because it’s worthy of the tourists. If you choose your hotel right, though, you get the views minus the tourists. Yes, you’ll see a million people trying to get Insta famous with that perfect shot, but just accept it for what it is. Also, this is a trip to plan when you’re young and spry. You’ll enjoy it no matter what, but there are a ton of stairs and to do it right, you’ll want to climb all of them.