Up until I graduated from college, I had always been a traveler-dreamer, rather than a traveler-doer. I imagined magnificent trips across the globe when in reality I had yet to even cross an ocean. Overwhelmed with school work and relationships and figuring out the rest of my life (easy stuff, ya know), I eagerly waited for a time when I could escape to the paradises on the postcards I had pinned up around my dorm room. When I got my first actual job in the glorious city of Washington D.C., I made a promise to myself to save up any extra money I had in order to see all the places I’d written down on my bucket list. Which, at this point, would take me a couple lifetimes.
At my new job, I quickly became friends with a coworker across the hall who shared in my vision of picturesque adventures. After scrolling through Pinterest oogling over pictures of tropical getaways and serene coastlines during our break, we landed on an image of a Greek isle lined with bright blue buildings and surrounded by turquoise water. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. We knew we had to see this magical place in person. A simply google search led us to Groupon deal through a travel agent and in a matter of 30 minutes, we had an entire trip booked to the other side of the world. Go big or go home, right? And at this point, I’d had enough of the latter.
So at 22, I got my first passport and packed my bags for a 12 hour flight to country I’d only ever seen in my Latin textbooks. (Fun fact: I took five years of a language that’s no longer spoken. Great SAT score, though). After spending a few days in Athens, we hopped aboard a high speed ferry off into the Greek Islands. Next stop: Santorini.
It was apparent as soon as we stepped off the ferry that we had entered the land of honeymooners. for good reason, too. The tropical beach, romantic cobbled streets and exotic views were perfect for lovebirds. Or, well, two best friends looking for a change of scenery. Whether you’re coupled up or in the need of an escape from real life, Santorini has it all. I knew we’d made the right choice when we were generously welcomed into the hotel by a lovely young woman dressed in all white. She appeared to float through the airy lobby and whimsical patio rather than walk . As she gave us a tour of the premise, she had an accent I couldn’t quite place. I cautiously asked her where she was from using the little Greek I knew. She laughed and said that she was originally from Pittsburgh and, after a series of unfortunate events in her life, she decided to move far away to a place that brought her the serenity she so needed. After a week in this glorious utopia, she might not be the only one moving here.
Sunrise in Fira
I always make it a point to see the sunrise in every location I visit. There is something so peaceful about starting your day with the first light before you’re filling up every moment with another must-see. Our hotel sat on the top of Fira so we were able to see the sun reach over the eastern coast of the island. I should also note that we could still hear the music from the clubs in the town center at 6am. These people aren’t playing around. So while the bar goers were stumbling home, we were enjoying a breakfast spread filled with fresh fruits and pastries. To each their own.
Perissa Black Beach
A sprawling black sand beach overlooking white cliffs dipping into the clear water is the perfect way to spend an early afternoon. As you might expect, the sand gets HOT, so thick towels (or a cabana) are a must.
While most people opt to explore the island on mopeds, we signed up for a tour through the southern region of the island since we weren’t entirely trusting of our driving skills on the narrow, curvy roads. This was the best way for us to not only witness some the best photo ops (..in the world), but learn a more about how the island came to be.
Even if you’re not on a tour, Santo Winery is the perfect place to truly get a taste for the Greek culture. While the informative tour is helpful in learning the wine process, such as that as the grape grow they’re weaved into little baskets called koulara with the grapes on the inside for protection, the real appeal of Santo Winery is the view. Its tasting area overlooks the caldera and is the perfect place to sample local wines with paired cheeses and crackers.
Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Santorini’s unique shape is due to its volcanic history. The Akrotiri Archaeological Site is a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini. The area was destroyed by the Theran eruption around 1627 BC and buried in volcanic ash. The ash allowed for the remains of structures, objects and artwork to be well-preserved until its discovery in 1967. This incredible walk through history is the purest way to revisit the island as it was centuries ago. This site is believed to be the premise of Plato’s Atlantis…as well as the location of one of the first working toilets! Seriously. The things I remember on these tours.
The Red Beach
Encassed with towering cliffs, the red beach is, in fact, bright red. The site is best seen from above where you can take marvelous pictures of the unusual colored contrast of red and blue, spotted with yellow umbrellas.
Dinner Overlooking the Caldera in Fira
Since Fira was built on the mountainside, almost every restaurant on the western edge is guaranteed to have a view. Make reservations earlier in the day for an hour before sunset. You’ll have prime seating to watch the sun sink below the ocean. Look for any place the promises fresh salmon and Greek salads with extra olives. Trust me on this one.
Gelato in Fira
As soon as the “most famous sunset in the world” has ended, the streets of Fire are illuminated in a soft glow. The night is far from over. Stroll in and out of the local shops and take some time to sample the gelato.
Watch the Mules up the Stairs
If you’ve seen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (and if you haven’t, stop right here and come back when you’ve finished watching it), you’re familiar with Lena riding up on the mules back. Find a spot along the balcony to watch the sailboats dock in the lower harbor and the mules trek their supplies up the staircases on the edge of the mountainside.
Many of the hotels are also part-spa (honeymooners galore, remember?). So we couldn’t stay in one and pass up the opportunity for a massage in paradise. Besides, after all the exploring you’re doing, a little R&R at Aressana Hotel and Spa was just wanted we needed.
Oia Art Galleries
A quick bus ride from Fira will lead you to the northern most city on the island, Oia (pronounced ee-uh, don’t make yourself look foolish). Filled with small shops and galleries, wander into the art museums and take the time to speak with the owners. You’ll learn far more about the life here than by merely observing.
Sunset in Oia
While we knew the sunrise was a big deal in Fira, the sunrise is the Superbowl of events in Oia. A superbowl that happens every sunny day, that is! Luckily, we decided to grab an early dinner at a small family-owned restaurant overlooking the caldera with little more than two other guests around. As soon as we ordered baklava to conclude our meal, we noticed the streets below us seemed a bit more crowded. And then a couple more people came. And then, before we knew it, the entire road was packed shoulder to shoulder with tourists armed with various cameras. As we sat comfortably at our prime-view table, we soaked in the people watching and sipped wine as we watched another breathtaking sunset…not entirely sure how we would go back to the city we came from.
Have you been to the Greek isle before? Which island do you want to visit?