The Honeymoon Series: Santorini Part I

Hello readers! If you’re reading this, my gracious sister has decided to let me post another blog after the book report I gave her last time. Sorry it’s been so long since my last blog, but here’s my list of excuses for the day: STILL pulling the wedding card, because have you ever written 100+ thank you-notes? It’s a challenge. Plus getting back into the work swing, and home and PUPPY searching. But I’ll share with you the fruit of my labor, our new addition to our family, and Steph’s niece, Miss Macie. Macie is a 10 week-old Australian Cattle dog mix (the Humane Society didn’t know what her mix was). She says to please forgive her mommy for her procrastination because she’s been playing with her.

Anyways, back to travel. Today I want to dive into Santorini, Greece. We chose this as our first honeymoon stop because we really needed a few days to relax after the chaos of wedding-week plus two days of travel. We stayed on the island for four nights, though we were supposed to arrive for a late fifth night before all our flight delays. Truly, we could have spent our whole two weeks there and I would have been content. But I still felt a solid refresh after four nights, and the sensation in my feet started to return from wearing my wedding heels all day, so I’ll chalk that up as a win for some R&R and for my toes.

Traveling to Santorini

Your choices are by air or by sea. It’s about a 45-minute flight from Athens to Santorini and I found there were several flights throughout the day on domestic airlines. The most frequent flights were though Aegean Air and Air Olympic, so check those first (see my first post about carry-on luggage restrictions for these airlines!). Because it’s such a hotspot location, flights were a little more than what you’d pay for other domestic European flights, about 100 euros a ticket.

If you wish to come and go by boat, you’ll be taking a ferry. I recommend doing this at least one way! It was fun, relaxing, and way more comfortable than an airplane. Plus, the view is nice and they make quick stops at a few other islands en route, which is neat to see. Try to be in the front of the boarding line so you can get seats by the window (you get assigned a cabin area, but not a seat, at least on our ferry). Ferry tickets were 40-60 euros each for the economy level (set up like a typical airplane). Our boat wasn’t full, so we ended up getting bumped to a business-class-type seating. Super comfy chairs with way more recline than an airplane! There were snacks and drinks for sale on board, but we grabbed some at the port before we left.

There are several ferry companies you’ll see available when looking for tickets; I didn’t see anything bad about any company and just chose the one that worked best with our schedule. I’d recommend getting tickets online ahead of time (I bought them just the night before). Then you go to the ticket office day-of and they give you a physical ticket (it cost two euros to print it); it was super quick and there was no line. The biggest choice you’ll have is if you want the high-speed ferry or not. This makes the difference between a 5-hour ride and an 8-hour ride. We chose the 5-hour because we had a shorter vacation and wanted to maximize our time. The prices were slightly cheaper for the 8-hour, but not significantly. It was just enough time for a solid nap (way better than an airplane nap) and to watch the approach to port.

When you arrive in port, your best bet is to take a taxi to your hotel. If you’re in Athens, you could also take the metro. However, I didn’t obviously see it when we got off the ferry and I am not a huge fan of taking my luggage on the metro with me (big pickpocket area), so we chose to take a taxi. If you’re ferrying into Santorini, taxi is your only choice. Walking is not an option because you’re quite literally at the base of a mountain and you need to get to the other side of the mountain to get to any city on the island. Santorini is small, but not that small.

Where to stay

If you look at most travel sites, the popular place to stay in Santorini is Oia (pronounced “ee-yah”). This is the white-washed city with blue roofs you see on postcards and Instagram alike. However, here’s my unpopular opinion telling you not to do that. Oia is PACKED with tourists. It is beautiful, of course, but it is a very small town with narrow streets and there are several cruise ships docking each day in addition to the people actually staying in the town. It’s frankly just too much, and in the high-season you can hardly make your way down the street. Now, I’m not telling you to skip Oia, just not to stay in it. More on how we visited below.

Instead, I’d recommend staying in Kamari. We stayed at the Blue Waves Hotel and it was beyond every expectation we had: very clean, beautiful ocean and mountain view from both our balcony and our upper deck + jacuzzi (see above picture), and exceptional staff. They offered us a welcome drink, we had a free bottle of wine in our room, and the staff was incredibly helpful when we wanted to rent a 4-wheeler, asked about things to do, etc.

There were still tourists in Kamari, of course, but it was a much more breathable area compared to Oia. Pay close attention to where your hotel is when booking online. Kamari is sandwiched between the beach and a mountain, so even ones that are only 10-15 minutes from the beach may be a 10-15 minute walk uphill (not all the way in the mountain for the most part, but some parts were a bit steep). I actually was glad we didn’t have a direct path from the hotel pool area to the boardwalk/beach area because it separated us from the hustle and bustle of tourism and made it much more relaxing. It was still right there, we just had one small degree of separation (just a walk around the corner) from the restaurants, since our hotel did not have a restaurant where other tourists were coming in and out all the time.

What to do

This leg of our trip was purposely scheduled for relaxation on the beach. Kamari is famous for its black pebble beach, from which our hotel was a literal stone’s throw. The beach is lined with restaurants that each own a small section of the beach and have sunbeds/umbrellas you can use if you buy a drink from them (which you should, because you’re on vacation!). Most of the restaurants also had a snack menu you could order from directly on the beach. PSA: Waffles are a dessert in Europe, served with mountains of ice cream, and it’s also considered a snack to take to your sunbed. Have you booked your flight yet? Drew kept telling me I would spoil my dinner; I probably did but have no regrets. We spent much of our days vegging out on our sunbeds, ordering waffles and drinks to our spot on the beach (okay, it was mostly me on the waffles). One of my favorite drinks I had that was not on the menu: a mojito with passion fruit, topped with some pretty rose petals.

Now, some of you frugal travelers, myself included, probably think you can tough it out and lay a towel out on this pebble beach because you think that restaurants are monopolizing the beach and you don’t want to pay for sunbeds. I usually agree. The $20 sunbed rentals on US beaches irritate me. If this were a sand beach, I probably would have done the same for at least part of the time we were there (except I like drinks and waffles, which made the chairs free, so…). However, think about how hot black asphalt gets in June and that’s basically what you’re going to lay your thread-bare towel on. It’s going to get real hot real quick; it might burn. Also, lying on a pebble beach is not quite like lying on soft sand. I saw several people try and give up mid-day.

A note for the beach: bring flip flops! The black pebbles get super hot and will singe your feet. Pretty much everyone we saw had flip flops they’d wear to the water’s edge and ditch at the shoreline. The pebbles stopped a few feet into the water and then the ocean bottom was just smooth rock so your feet will be fine once you’re in. Water shoes are also an option. Also, the water was pretty chilly when we were there during the second week of June! We did go in, but you definitely had to ease yourself in and get used to it for a bit. It was very refreshing when you were hot from lying in the sun, but just a heads up!

All in all, I loved the pebble beach and would definitely go back, despite growing up on sand beaches. Some pros and cons of pebble beaches when you plan your own beach trip:

Pros:
  • No sand in all your stuff! God, this was a blessing.
  • When you come back from the ocean to your chair, it’s MUCH easier to brush of the smaller rocks off your feet when they dry. And then it isn’t all over your chair like sand.
  • While it was a “black” beach, the pebbles were actually black, grey, green, red and even some white. We picked up tons of cool ones!
  • Easier to walk on! Not as much of a calf workout. A lot of the restaurants also had boards laid down in between the sunbeds to help you walk down to them.
Cons:
  • SUPER HOT. So are sand beaches, but this is extra. You must wear shoes.
  • You don’t get to squish sand between your toes, build sand castles, those beach-y things.
  • No shells to pick up. You could pick up neat rocks, but no shells. It’s fine, just one of those things you tend to associate with being at the beach.
  • Not soft to lay on like a sand beach, chairs are a must.

Ancient Thera

The other big thing in Kamari you must do is visit Ancient Thera. As a side note, “Thera” (you’ll also see it spelled “Thira”) is the Greek name for the island. Santorini is actually an Italian name, so you may hear locals call it “Thera,” and the airport is actually called the “Thira airport.” If you stay along the beach, Ancient Thera is at the top of the mountain directly behind the beach, separating Kamari from Perissa. It was about an hour hike up the main mountain (pretty steep, but we actually just walked along the road); other people drove up the mountain in rented cars, mopeds, or ATVs/4-wheelers. There were several places along the streets just off the boardwalk to rent these. Our 4-wheeler was 40 euros for the day. From mid-mountain, you can buy a ticket for Ancient Thera (just a couple euros). It’s not a huge hike up from this point, but you’ll spend maybe 45 minutes walking around, reading the signs about each place and taking in the incredible view. You can see a few surrounding islands (1st picture) and Perissa on the other side of the mountain (2nd picture). In total, it was about a 3-hour trip for us. Be sure to bring water for the hike! There is a little vendor by the ticketing office with basic foods and drinks, but I got the impression from other blogs that they aren’t always open.

Oia

I did a lot of research about visiting Oia since it’s clearly a must-see in Santorini but we were not staying in/near it. Mostly, we wanted to visit Oia for the views, so we decided to go early in the morning before all of the cruise ships started docking and the tourists filled the streets. This was the best decision we made. To get there, the staff at Blue Waves helped us rent a 4-wheeler for a day. We looked up directions before, but the island is pretty small, so we mostly just followed the road signs towards the city. We took the longer route and drove along the coast, which I highly recommend. The roads are a bit narrow, which scared me a tad, but it was also insanely fun and memorable. There were several places you could pull off to take pictures – it was hard to decide what not to take a picture of. In the end, I decided to live in the moment of riding on the back of a 4-wheeler through the mountains, holding onto my new husband for dear life (with only a little anxiety) and taking in the gorgeous views. We got turned around once or twice, but the island is so small there aren’t that many other choices if you get lost but to go the one other way. We decided on the 4-wheeler just to have the compartment to store things we bought, my purse, and helmets, but you could also rent a car or moped. The whole drive took about an hour since we took the long way, so we arrived to Oia around 8 AM. We had planned on going even earlier, but didn’t get up in time (because we were up streaming the Stanley Cups finals at 3 AM the day before – go Blues!), but it still worked out.

Coming so early to Oia, we parked the 4-wheeler at the edge of the town (you’ll see some obvious spots as you approach the city) and hiked up. I got to have so much fun with my camera and I do not regret our early morning one bit, because I have so many beautiful photos sans people that I didn’t wait 30 minutes to snap. My best advice for Oia is to step off the main path onto the side streets and just walk. We found beautiful homes, the classic windmills, the ruins of a Byzantine tower, little shops, and the most amazing views. Be cautioned there are tons of uneven steps in Oia – it is not a very accessible city to people with physical limitations.

After some initial touring, we stopped for breakfast with more incredible views. At this point, some of the shops that I had mentally noted in the morning were opening and we moseyed our way back through those. One of my favorites was a small pottery shop of the main path where I bought way too much beautiful pottery (after taking one ceramics class in college, it has because a weakness). Our experience in the pottery shop went something like this:

Me: “Drew, isn’t this beautiful too? Let’s get it for ___.” *already holding seven pieces*

Drew: “How are we going to take all this home? We packed in all carry-ons.”

Me: “Yeah, you’re right…” *puts nothing down and buys seven pieces of pottery*

I’d like to happily report that all of my pottery made it back to the U.S. in one piece. I can’t post pictures because I haven’t decided what is gifts yet, but take my word for it, get yourself some pottery, and worry about packing later (I took it all in my “personal item,” aka a large tote bag big enough for my purchases and my purse).

One of my other favorite finds in Oia was this beautiful book store. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until noon, but it seemed worth waiting for, so wait for it I did. I feel like words don’t do it justice, ironically, so here’s just a glimpse into the level of awesomeness this bookstore has to offer you.

By the time we found our way out of this magical dream of a bookstore, which is truly the size of a generous closet, the streets were getting packed with more tourists and we could see another cruise ship approaching. We took that as our signal to head back to our Eden of Kamari where the pace was slow and peaceful. I cannot say enough how glad I am we experienced Oia practically by ourselves in the early hours of the morning before the parades of people broke the illusion of white-washed homes and blue-roofed majesty.

So there you have it – your guide to Santorini, Greece. Santorini was every Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants dream I could have. For me, it was the perfect combination of relaxation and tourism. Don’t second guess your decision to travel here and please consider bringing a personal assistant/travel blogger/whatever-the-hell-you-want-me-to-be along with you.

-Kristy

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