This is completely out of date, but I hadn't realised how difficult it is to update a blog. This is a bit of ramble about a holiday in August.
About the Islands
Santorini is an island in the Agean Sea, north of Crete.
Santorini is composed of the remains of a number of volcanic eruptions, and its principal feature is a crescent shaped cliff face composed of 3 calderas.
As a volcano forms, it has large magma chambers beneath it. If a violent eruption occurs which empties these magma chambers, then the volcanic structure above can collapse into the empty chambers, leaving a wide crater-like rim, known as a caldera.
The islands of Santorini are composed of this crater-rim (or three of them) and the old center of the volcanoes is filled with sea, in the middle of which a new volcano dome (known as a resurgent dome) has been forming over the last 1000 years, in the form of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni, with the last eruption in 1950.
The main settlements in Santorini (Fera, Imerovigli, and Oia) are located high on the edge of the caldera cliff face, and their buildings extend a little way down the steep slopes of the cliff face. This high situation is I think due to the fact that in ancient times it would have provided better defence against pirate and enemy government attack.
This dramatic volanic landscape is the island's principal attraction, along with the many striking blue domed churches and curved white-roofed houses.
The island has many churches, most of which are family churches. It is customary on the island for each family to build its own private church, with an idiosyncratic blue dome.
It is an extremely popular island internationally, particularly for Americans, and it attracts many cruise ships.
This popularity is reflected in the large amount of high quality restaurants, hotels, and shops on the islands.
It also means that the islands are very busy. Whilst the hotels and their immediate environs are well looked after, as are most of the key sites to visit, the main roads and remaining parts of the island feel very dusty and worn out. You can move from the tranquility of quiet hotel, to the heat, smell, noise, and dust of the main streets in minutes, or escape to the quietier caldera footpath.
Having said that, compared to run-down pictures of say, the 1980s, you can see how the tourist wealth has made many of the island's buildings more cared for at least. A security guard at work gave me a book about Santorini prinited in the 1980's. The comparison between its photographs and present day Santorini is interesting. The Santorini of the 1980's is clearly less developed and more empty. However the wealth of the Santorini today has been used to carry out quite sympathetic development with either old cliff face buildings having been refurbished or new buildings and hotels having followed strictly the architectural styles of the past.
One is left with the impression that modernisation and development have definitely improved Santorini, but the density of the visitors is perhaps putting it under strain.
Santorini offers a very consistent experience. Every day was hot, cloudless and sunny. Every day you see cruise ships and ferrys come and go. Every day tourists climb the volcano. I was slightly reminded of Ground-hog Day, where every day repeats itself, and this must certainly be how it must appear to those working on the island.
You will notice when you book hotels (and indeed, restaurants) that the most expensive are situated along the caldera cliff face from the captial Fera along to Imerovigli, and then in Oia (a separate town at the top end of the island), as these have the most exciting views.
None of the hotels look like hotels as you might imagine them. From a distance, all that marks them out as hotel rooms from other buildings are the presence of sun-shades and the occasional small pool (which is all you can expect given the space constraints).
All of the hotels pride themselves on being of high quality, with excellent service.
What you do have to get used to however, is that your hotel will be nestled in with other hotels (so that it can be difficult to tell between them other than a slightly different shade of wall paint) and your room will be small and cave-like, albeit well appointed.
You will be fringed to the left, right, and even possibly above, by other hotels and balconies.
Space with the fabulous views is at a premium, so even the most exclusive only have small pools, and are overlooked; giving a slightly communal feel to the place.
In fact, a very exclusive set of villas, futher down and along the caldera from ourselves, was probably the most overlooked of all.
When you see the pictures on a hotel web site, they will (understandably) be blinkered pictures, which show the forward view from the room, to balcony, to fabulous view of the caldera. They will not show the other hotel balconies to the left or right or overlooking you, or the big wall to the left, etc.
But do not expect any better than this. There will only be very few places on the island which offer the perfect combination of sunlight, view and privacy, without coming with an exorbitant price tag.
You can be reasonably confident that most rooms will have some compromise or other, but all will be well cared for. In short, go with the right expectations.
Our hotel was called On The Rocks, located in Imerovigli, about a mile or two north of the main town, Fira. In fact Imerovigli has many of the island's more expensive hotels, as it offers some of the best views.
Overall we found it to be a clean, quiet and well managed hotel, with an excellent breakfast on the balcony every morning.
Due to the limited space, you enjoy breakfast served on your veranda every day, at roughly the time of your choosing, which is an excellent element of the trip, drinking muddy greek coffee overlooking the volcano and distant islands.
On The Rocks was in one of the better positions, and enjoyed sunshine throughout the day.
Some of the more exclusive hotels and villas to the right lost their sunshine earlier in the day as they were nestled against high east facing parts of the cliff.
No room had a particularly large balcony, and few had their own exclusive balcony.
You must also expect, and you will read about, people walking up and down steps past you. Most rooms suffer from this, but is really is infrequent, and it is part of living on a cliff face.
Our hotel lacked sun-beds except around the small bar and pool. Most of the rooms would not have had the space for them anyway.
The hotel pool was small but functional, but the sun beds around it were quickly taken.
An adjustable sun shade on the balcony would have been useful. Unfortunately they were in a fixed position and did not tilt, so you found yourself moving about to stay in the shade.
Like all hotels they had overbooked, and offered us a stay at a 5 star hotel in Pyrgos, on a hill in the centre of Santorini, as a sweatener, which we declined.
Our hotel was situated at Imerovigli, a quiet town, just a mile or so from the captial Fera.
Imerovigli is a good town at the highest point on the caldera, giving you a great vantage point over the sea, and the endless to and fro of cruise ships, tour ships and island ferrys, all looking small and toy-like in the distance.
As the hotels are situated down the cliff face, they are very quiet, shielded as they are by the cliff, from the roads at the top, packed with hired mopeds, quad bikes and hired cars.
If you enjoy sea swimming, then this was impossible at Imerovigli or anywhere along the cost nearby, as we were several hundred feet up; so you would need to hire a car to drive to the beaches on the other side of the island, which many did.
I would suggest also that you avoid diving.
You can easily walk from Imerovigli to the capital, Fera, using a well cared for coastal path, which can also be followed the other way to Oia. It is fringed with Tavernas and shops, and offers many vantage points for views of Fira, the volcano, and sunsets.
A pleasant little town between Imerovigli and Fera, which is particularly popular for viewing the sunset.
This is the capital of the island, with a maze of winding streets, crammed with a least a hundred or more jewellery shops, and packed with tourists.
If you are on a cruise, you will have a choice of 560 steps, a donky or a cable-car to get you from the sea, up the cliff face to the the town. As you near the top of the steps you will pass by extremely expensive jewellers and restaurants, all helping to lighten the load of your purse on the way up. Indeed, I imaging it is probably a fairly surreal experience, particularly at night, as the heady aroma of donkey dung carries you into brightly (verging on blindingly) lit silver and gold shops and fine dining establishments. One has a slight sense of being a fly in a web, and this may be an off-putting first experience that many visitors will have of Santorini. No offence to the shop keepers and restaurant owners, who have a living to make.
At night Fira throngs with trendy people, and the best restaurants are all reserved. We did find a more honest place up a flight of steps next to the Fira central church.
This is most picturesque part of the island, and the location for many of the Santorini pictures, and classic blue-domed churches, and odd-looking windmills, that you will see in guide books.
The wealth of the tourists it attracts is evidenced in its expensive restaurants, and art and jewellery shops, but it is still free to walk around, and its many winding streets, offering spectacular views around every corner, are a joy.
It also boasts the best view of a sunset on the island, and is visited by large tour parties for just this.
Oia is in fact renowned for daily sunsets (they happen every day you know), but you will pay if you want to see it from a restaurant. The Windmill restaurant is apparently the best place.
We chose to decline the sunset, and sat in the expensive but pleasant Meteor cafe, to watch boat and coach loads of tourists go round the corner for the sunset, and come streaming back as soon as the sun had gone, often before the gathering gloom brought out the deepest and most attractive reds.
Oia is definitely the highest class part of the island. It is very clean, despite all the visitors, and is home to endless jewellery shops and souvenier shops, as well as a number of establishments selling large pieces of art work, largely to Americans I believe. It also has a musical scene.
This is the old capital town, on a hill in the centre of Santorini, offering spectacular views over the whole island. We only visited it for an hour or so.
The volcanic islands of the resurgent dome are visited by thousands of tourists per day, by boat. There is a wide pathway that leads to the various craters.
There is a song liric - "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun".
Santorini takes this one step further by having you climb the blasted landscape of volcano, in flip-flops. Everyone climbs it in flip-flops. You form part of a huge column of bare flesh and flip-flops, under a blistering sun, for 2 - 3 hours.
Strangely, this put no-one off.
Thrassia is a detached part of the caldera which you can get to by boat. It is effectively an island in its own right. Most tourists visit it after the volcano, for lunch at one of the many water font grills that spring to life at lunch time. You can expect very reasonably priced, tasty, octopus tentacle.
Running along the caldera edge, for several miles, from Oia to Fera, is a wide footpath, winding between hotels and other buidings, and offering a continual visual delight, both during the day, at dusk, and at night. We enjoyed a nice partial eclipse of the moon one evening.
This is the footpath you use to walk from Imerovigli to Fera, and it is a reasonable 30 minute walk between the two. A walk fringed with restaurants, cafes, and gift shops at Imerovigli, Fiostini, and all the way into Fera.
It is a very popular route with tourists, and makes it quite reasonable to eat in Fera at night if you wish, taking in beautiful sunsets as you go.
The walk to Fera is a pleasure, not a chore, and you will enjoy repeating it again and again.
You could also walk to Oia, though it would take about 3 hours at a leisurely pace, and in the heat of the day it could leave you very tired.
On the "caldera" side of the island, the only way to get from the sea to the towns is via large numbers of steps (250 at Oia, 560 at Fera), which you can do on foot, or riding on a donkey.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
Riding on a donkey will cost you roughly 5 Euros.
Walking means that you have to walk up through donkey dung, and cling to the cliff face as donkeys come past (you don't want to be on the sea facing side of the path lest you are accidentally pushed off).
So the choice is essentially, ride a donkey, or walk up through its dung with the constant danger of being crushed, trampled or pushed off. Hmmm...
We chose to walk, choking on the heady aroma of "Eau de Donk".
There is a frequent and well used bus service throughout the island, and Imerovigli was well served for both Oia and Fera.
Buses are a reasonable and popular choice for public transport.
Expect to be crammed on for popular destinations, such as Oia, and to be given insufficient time to get your limbs safely into the coach before it closes its doors. Then hold on tight as it swings violently around mountain switch-back roads.
Car, Quad, and Moped
By far the most popular way of getting round is to hire a car, quad bike or moped.
Despite their safety implications, mopeds and quad bikes are probably the most convenient, as parking is at a distinct premium.
All of the roads on the island are typical organised chaos, which large sparkling tour buses and coaches, vying with public buses, cars, mopeds, quad-bikes, tourists and lazy dogs for space on the narrow winding roads, in a constant near-miss ballet of movement - the road markings as faint as the hope that they might be obeyed.
Overall it seems that this constant near-miss style of driving about keeps people sufficiently on their toes, so that no one actually hits each other (although the statistics probably speak differently). The New Scientist conincidentially contained an artical espousing the virtues of letting complex systems organise themsleves. Santorini traffic was the perfect demonstration.
A tip suggested to us was to hire a car from a place near to your hotel, as often they would be willing to park it for you at night (parking is scarce) as it is in their interests to do so.
The roads throng with hired mopeds, quad-bikes and cars, and there is no sense here of any impending fuel crisis.
Lastly, you could just book one of the many bus and boat tours that take in all the different parts of the island.
There is a well used route which includes Pyrgos, a mountain, volcano, hot springs, Therissa, and Oia. We took one such tour of the island.
The pick-up point was a dusty road lost in the outskirts of Fera, and 25 minutes after the designated collection time, we started getting the typical British paranoia of having missed the coach. However others started waiting with us, but sure enough when the coach came along, it wasn't ours, but it was for the rest of the people waiting. So we had to wait again, alone, for a bit longer, for our very late, coach, which itself was in fantastic condition. It is an oddity of the island that despite rough and dusty roads and buildings, the tour coaches remain absolutely spotless.
At the end of the day, my wife negotiated a drop off at our hotel. The tour guide laughed, pointed to me, and said "but your husband doesn't say anything". For once, quick as a flash, I respond - "That must mean I am a good husband!".
Santorini has a reputation for being expensive.
There are certain spots which are particularly expensive, such as the restaurants that cluster around the steps and waterfront at Fera, and the restaurants in Oia. However this expense is matched with quality, as many of the wealthy cruise tourists will be expecting this.
Beyond these certain spots, a typical meal for two in a reasonable restaurant was about 65 - 80 euro including a bottle of wine, which I think is actually quite reasonable, given where you are.
Restaurants we tried
Skaros at Imerovigi provides execellent views, but food was average, and was very busy.
Cassablanca restaurant, between Firostini and Fera, on the caldera footpath has a lovely upstairs bar which enjoys a cooling wind and shade, and serves greek food a notch above average. At night it also offers good views of Fera. We visited this a couple of times. It also offered blankets for ladies who get cold in night time winds.
Peubn restaurant in Firostini offers great sunset views, although food was average.
Thrassia sea front has lots of fish souvlaki (skewer) bars, serving the endless tourists boats that dock every lunch time with honest tasy food.
Our trip coincided with the a firework celebration of the hight of summer, which had fireworks to commemorate the volcano. Our hotel offered us free drinks to mark the event, and our balcony gives us a clear view of the event.
Basically the island is a hommage to jewellery. I have never in my life seen such a vest number of jewellery shops, from the cheap and chearful right up to hand made quality and gold and silver. Truly heaven for all the ladies.
The island also manages to produce wine, despite only 60 days rainfall a year. The vines are grown very close to the ground so that moisture from the air condenses on the vines at night, providing free watering.
The island brought home the ubiquity of digital cameras. Nearly everyone had one, and so the island has probably been photographed and filmed now from possibly every angle. I suspect if the volcano did explode, most people would perish trying to film it.
Due to the lack of natural water sources, water has to be pumped around the island. A power cut turns off the water, and reduces you to the stone age, so says our waiter.
Every nation has its own measure of what it means to be late.
Japan 1 second
Germany 2 seconds
England 10 minutes
Greece 30 minutes
Jamaica Just relax.
No comments made on this entry.