It’s a shame we’re leaving Athens. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, but we’re on our way to Santorini so no-one’s actually complaining.
Santorini is made up of islands forming the caldera, or crater, of an active volcano. The crescent-shaped Thera, the largest island, is most commonly referred to as Santorini. Volcano enthusiasts will recognise previous activity in the cliff face of the caldera. Don’t worry, the last blast was 3,600 years ago and by all accounts eruptions occur every 20,000 years.
The approach to Thera’s famous caldera after 5 hours on our Seajets jet- cat, is a welcome sight. We departed Piraeus Port at 7 am having booked online. A good tip for first-timers is to leave about an hour between arrival at the port and the jet-cat’s departure. The booking might be online, but paper tickets still need to be collected from the Seajets ticket counter at the port. Be warned, the line can be long! For time-poor travellers, 5 airlines with competitive fares fly the 50-minute hop to Santorini. Ferries are still available for shorter trips once in the Cyclades.
Arrival for all ferries is at Athinios Port, not Skala Port where the cruise ship passengers disembark, so it’s advisable to arrange a pick up through your hotel or book with a private shuttle company. Taxis are available, but they’re difficult to find in the high season and public buses may not stop near your accommodation. George and Theo, from Nautilus Dome, collect us and we ascend the winding Caldera Road. It’s a delight, albeit a little hairy. The road is narrow, the caldera steep and oncoming traffic may test the nerves. The views, however, make all of that worth it.
At Nautilus Dome, Christos greets us like family. He talks us through the tourist spots but lets us in on many of his favourite locations with stunning views and a little more privacy. We have our own list too so we’re set for the days to come. Nautilus Dome is about 3km out of Fira (the capital of the island) on the main drag. The views overlook the caldera but from the back you also have the view of the Aegean Sea. The property is clean and comfortable, well maintained, has great staff willing to help with all you need and it’s at the right price. Breakfast and wi-fi are included and the pool bar has drinks covered. There is a chance George may be unsure of the correct mix for your cocktail but jumping behind the bar to do it myself didn’t seem to phase him. Once the mix is established he’s shaking like a master. Dining isn’t available during our stay, but there are delivery menus and many restaurants and tavernas nearby.
Previously, scooters were the transport of choice and still can be for those with motorbike licences. Now quad bikes are everywhere and can be hired with a car licence. The Baron returns with ours claiming “It looks like a praying mantis, handles like a recalcitrant Rottweiller and sounds like a Valiant with a holed muffler”. By the end of our time on the island it’s part of the family; we are on it every day. Check with your hotel, most hiring companies will collect you to pick up your dream ride.
Fira and Oia (sometimes spelt Ia) are the 2 most photographed villages on the island and for good reason. The white washed buildings cascading down the caldera contrast beautifully against the rich blue of their bays. Oia is on the north end of the island and is renowned for the sunset view and scuba diving. Sunset Oia Sailing Cruises run a range of 5-hour tours inside the caldera around the islands of Santorini. Swimming, snorkeling, food and wine are included in the packages while visiting Red Beach, White Beach and the Hot Springs. Take the 14:45 cruise from Ammoudi (Oia) and experience a magnificent sunset from your vessel.
Make your way to the town hall in Fira and wander the edge of the caldera. Restaurants and bars line the street interrupted by jewellery, clothing and footwear stores. Have a look at the range Joanna has at Bazaar.
Palia Kameni Cocktail Bar, perched on the edge of the caldera, has a magnificent view. Try their Espresso Martini with the addition of Creme de Cacao and local honey. On our visit, the boys were expecting to be serving food in a few weeks so check out the menu and let us know what you think.
The Old Port or Skala Port can be reached via the donkey trail. Cruise ship passengers disembark at this port to make their way up to Fira. Many take the cable car, but many still ascend by the traditional method on the back of a donkey. We walked down the winding cobbled steps dodging the donkeys and their droppings. These beautiful animals are trained well enough to know their own path so it’s an idea to give them the right of way.
Tickets for ferries to the other islands in the Cyclades can be purchased at the old port. Coffee shops and restaurants allow you to enjoy the view and the bustling activity. If you’re leaving Santorini from here there is a market for any last minute gifts and souvenirs. Returning to Fira, the cable car is a great option. Established in 1979 and solely paid for by a local ship owner, the cable car transports 1200 visitors an hour. From early in the morning to around 11 am the queue is long but moves steadily taking just 3 minutes to reach the top. The cable car has been given to the 14 communities on the island to self-manage and a percentage of the ticket price is shared with the donkey drivers.
In the next post, we’ll be travelling to the beach villages on the quad. Red Beach on the southern tip, Kamari and Perissa, both on the eastern side of the island. Stay tuned for delicious taverna food and alternate places to stay. In the meantime enjoy some stunning sunsets from Santorini. Our first taste of Santorini; it’s a thing we love….