Our final 3 nights were in luxurious Santorini. I felt like we went from the equivalent of Islamorada in the Florida keys to South Beach. From a laid back vibe to high end everything. I’ll admit, getting off the crowded ferry at the port, I questioned our selection of the island. There were so many people, buses, drivers, it was hard to even pick your name out from the sea of name plates being held up.
Also, if you’ve been reading you’ll know Josh was barely holding it together with a night of food poisoning the night before so he was still on the struggle bus. Once we found our driver we boarded a large van and got on our way.
We arrived at our villa in Oia (pronounced “ee-ah”), near the north tip of the crescent shaped island, managed check in, and finally arrived to decompress. Josh immediately went to sleep in our room. The kids had a room downstairs this time and took off for their coveted iPad time. I handled some unpacking/dinner plans and then took in the incredible view right outside our bedroom. Despite the hectic and hard day, relaxing was going to come easy here.
Josh rallied for dinner at our hotel restaurant, Pacman. The restaurant was literally right by our room (although we could not hear anything from there when our doors were closed) and there was even a “secret” hallway, accessible from the downstairs part of our villa, that went right to the restaurant. Pacman and the outside bar seems to be a place to be seen, and definitely a place for your Insta photos. It is gorgeous. Over the course of the days we were there, we saw many people show up, impeccably dressed and someone else taking their photos from a million different directions.
This hotel came with an incredible level of service. If they saw us trying to pour our own wine or water, they’d come running over to do it. Being so close to our room, we let the boys head back after their dinner and Josh and I enjoyed a few minutes of adult conversation while we finished our meal. We called it a night early so Josh could fully recover, and we could get ourselves ready for a tour the next day.
Our first full day in Santorini, we met our tour guide, Katarina, just after breakfast. Our plan was to tour Fira, the capital of Santorini and also Akrotiri. I liked this tour because while it did involve quite a bit of driving, we were also able to get out and walk a bit, especially around Fira.
One thing I learned on this trip is that all the blue/white color of buildings around Santorini (and I think elsewhere in Greece) was mostly because tourists seem to like it so the residents kept doing it. Also, the roads are SO narrow in Santorini, and especially in Fira. I don’t know how people drive there (and a few streets are pedestrian only) but trying to navigate in Greece in general on foot can certainly raise one’s anxiety. Returning to the Netherlands has the big benefit of safe infrastructure and I can say I missed it.
Back to our tour. Another thing that stood out were these doors that our guide said the tourists call “Doors to Heaven” because they seem to open to nothing or to sometimes beautiful views. In fact they are markers for restaurants or stores that are down a set of stairs.
After Fira and a few stops we made for family photos, we made our way to Akrotiri. Again, not being a good historian, I won’t do this site justice but here’s my general overview:
Back in the late 60’s an archeologist named, Spyridon Marinatos, was certain that there must be a buried city because excavations to prepare for construction kept finding old clay pots and other ancient household items. According to our guide, a clumsy donkey stepped wrong, fell, and uncovered a lot more of an ancient settlement that is now what we call Akrotiri. Some call Akrotiri the lost city of Atlantis.
About 4,000 years ago the island of Santorini experienced a massive volcanic eruption the equivalent of 40,000 atomic bombs! It changed the shape of the island from a circle to the crescent-shape we know today. The city of Akrotiri was covered in volcanic ash which is what preserved it almost perfectly. Here’s what is mind blowing. This settlement, 4,000 freaking years ago, showed advanced plumbing, construction, even art! It really challenges your idea of the linear advancement of knowledge over time. What happened to these people? According to our guide, it is believed that the people knew from earthquakes (and evidence that the city had had to be rebuilt before) that the volcano was going to erupt. They did not find treasures or bodies or things of material wealth in the excavations so it is believed all the people left the island to escape the volcano and likely did not survive because their technology (plumbing, toilets, etc) died with them. So far they’ve uncovered what they believe to be about a tenth of the actual city. Many of the original paintings they found are now in museums to be protected. They found some completely intact with no missing pieces. Just so cool. I highly recommend this tour *with a guide. Otherwise, I think you would easily miss what makes it so significant.
After our tour, our guide suggested a couple of places to eat close to our hotel so we immediately went in search of lunch. We lucked out that one she suggested Oia Gefsis was open and had rooftop seating overlooking the sea (facing the opposite direction that our hotel faced). This spot was super cute, had great music, and the food was also good. I would eat there again for sure.
I’m not going to lie. We just took it easy from there. While part of me wanted to explore the village of Oia a bit more, I also just wanted to enjoy the villa and the views. I wish we’d had a day with no tours/excursions while in Oia to get to walk around some more. There are so many beautiful streets and cute shops. Annnnd also some super high end/fancy shops – there’s a lot of money in Santorini.
We ventured back out for dinner that night at a place called Roka, which had been recommended to us by our planner and by the tour guide. The vibe here was also great. There seemed to be a lot of cruise ship people in town and many were at the restaurant, but the restaurant had a family owned feel (I have no idea if it was).
We walked through a few of the village streets and caught some cool views of the island lit up at night by the water. It really is stunning.
Our next day, our last full day in Santorini, we took another catamaran sailing cruise around the island. This cruise took us first to “hot springs” between a couple of the smaller islands that comprise Santorini. While I can agree the water was warm…it was far from hot. As Josh said, they probably couldn’t market it as warm springs so… I’ve experienced hot sprints in the Atacama desert in Chile and also in Costa Rica. I guess when they are in the sea it is hard to heat the larger bodies of water the same way. It was a cool experience though. The next stop was near one of the beaches of Santorini, which has a black beach, a white beach, and a red beach. This second stop was near the white beach and they cooked lunch there while some snorkeled. We were not close enough to go to the shore but it was interesting to see. The last stop was just off the cost of the red beach which technically is closed because of the risk of rock slides. You wouldn’t know it by all the people hiking down to it though.
Alas our final day came to a beautiful sunset end. We spent time with the boys in the pool at our villa then let them have a pizza and movie night while Josh and I had our only “date night” of the trip back at Pacman.
This truly was a bucket list trip for us, and I feel like Greece lived up to, and in some ways exceeded, our expectations. I would love to return another time, get to do more low-key exploring of the villages, and try more of the restaurants. It may be a better experience once the boys’ taste buds mature a little.
Now we are back to the Dutch life, and we are preparing for the boys to start school in 4 days. The next goals are meeting other school families and hopefully making friends. Next big trip will be Italy in October, Covid-willing.