A very bizarre and unexpected thing happened overnight. When we were chilling on the balcony before going to bed last night, the lights down in Pollonia seemed to flash ever so slightly, but came right back on. For a split second, it was pitch dark, but I thought I was just tired and my eyes were fooling me. Turns out, the electricity went out for the entire island last night! I’ve never experienced an island-wide outage so that was weird. Thankfully, Doug’s phones were properly charged so we didn’t miss our alarm. Of course, mine were still not working.
We had booked a 10am ferry to Santorini, so we left relatively early to return the car and board at Adamas port. Of all the ferries we booked, this one held the most dread for me as it was a true catamaran, a smaller vessel that could cause seasickness much more easily. Thankfully, the winds (or lack thereof) really make a difference of night and day here, and the combination of calm seas and Dramamine made for a nice, relaxing nap on board. After a brief 2.5 hour sail, making 2 stops at the nearby Folegandros and Ios islands, we approached Athinios port on Santorini and what a unique sight it was to see. Today, Santorini is part of an active volcano made up of a few islands, with Thira being the main island. But 3,600 years ago, in one of the largest eruptions to ever shake Europe, the top of the mountainous island blew right off, causing the sea to flow freely into the crater. As a result, the main island of Thira is actually a caldera as the west side of the island features a steep layer of rock exposed by the massive eruption, dropping dramatically into the Aegean Sea. This side is the side Santorini is best known for, with hotels and houses built precariously into the side of the cliffs, offering visitors some truly incredible views of the sun setting over the sea. It’s tough to describe but hopefully the pics will come close to doing it justice.
Upon arriving at Athinios port, it was absolute mayhem. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the ferry was getting off here, and given all the accommodations required car transportation, there were tons of buses, shuttles, and taxis all awaiting our arrival. Leaving the port was crazy too – because the main roads were all situated at the very top of the island, we took at least 10 hairpin turns directly up the caldera to reach the top of the island, while sharing the road with mopeds and buses alike. We quickly learned that despite the fact that Milos is bigger than Santorini, the latter was way busier and more populated. There was still one main road that ran through the island, but much of the caldera side couldn’t be accessed by car. So our shuttle dropped us off in the town of Imerovigli, where we then had to walk through a maze of cobblestone walkways and stairs to get down to our hotel, Astra Suites.
The hotels in and of themselves helped add to the aesthetic of the island, as nearly all of them were built as caves in whitewashed volcanic stone, with lounge chair lined terraces and bright blue infinity pools, even some with private outdoor hot tubs (one day…). Despite traveling as much as we have, we’ve never stayed at a 5-star hotel on vacation, mainly because we could never justify the splurge when we hardly spend any time in our rooms. It was one of our goals to do so on our honeymoon, especially at a hotel whose many accolades included being on the Top 25 Hotels in the World. While the room itself was very nice, and the views from our semi-private terrace were second to none, it was really the service that outdid itself, more than any other experience we’d had. We were welcomed with glasses of lemonade upon check-in, but once we were escorted to our room, we found a nice bottle of Santorini white wine, fresh fruit, and some other treats. I’m always that person that asks about 50 questions at check-in about what to do, how to do it, and help with booking. Astra was one of the few hotels that exhibited infinite patience as I asked those 50 questions, while providing me with maps and detailed information for every place I asked about, and even helped book dinner reservations at some highly sought-out restaurants (with the best tables in the house, and some bonus desserts). Once they heard about the plight of my phones, they even delivered a bag of rice to our room, for me to dry my phones out with. DEFINITELY worth our stay! And one of the best hotel investments we’ve made.
We spent quite some time admiring our new digs, and the incredible view right in front of us, so we were quite delayed in actually getting out the door. But given that we had more than 4 full days in Santorini, we were comfortable spending the first day exploring our surroundings. Imerovigli was more of a hotel haven than anything else, so we decided to venture 30 minutes south along the cliffside trail to the island’s capital, Fira. The walk along the cliff wove through hotels and resorts, showcasing many of the beautiful azure-domed churches that Santorini is so well known for. We passed a few towns, touting restaurants with seaside terraces, and even an old windmill-converted-hotel, never far from a picture-perfect view of the Aegean Sea to our right.
Once we got to Fira Town, we were STARVING. Our friend and coworker Melissa had recommended a hole-in-the-wall gyro spot that she and her husband frequented during their honeymoon, and we were on a mission to find it to start our first gyro experience on the right foot. After walking through all of Fira, and nearly giving up, I asked a cop and he pointed about 10 yards down the road, right in the main square. It was a hole-in-the-wall alright, with rotisseries of meat dripping with juice and grills stacked with pitas. It must be popular with more than just our friends, because the little shop was packed with nowhere to sit. We both ordered pork gyro pitas, surprisingly the default gyro meat in Greece, and they were so much better than any gyro we’ve ever had back at home. The meat was super juicy, pitas grilled and fluffy, filled with tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, lettuce, paprika, and french fries. French fries, who knew?! Two gyro pitas + 2 beers + 1 water = $12…not bad at all.
We spent the afternoon wandering around Fira Town, a pedestrian-only village filled with souvenir shops, jewelry stores, tavernas, bars, and fish spas. You read the last one right…it is all the rage in the Greek isles, these spas that specialize in tanks of little fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet. Doug wanted to try it but never got around to it, and my aversion to fish and anything else near my feet basically made that a non-starter for me. We stuck to mainly eating and drinking our way around, stopping for a frappe, baklava ice cream (phenomenal), and a round of beers at Volkan Cinema.
It was a long, uphill walk back to Imerovigli, the highest point on the island, where we wanted to watch our first Santorini sunset from our terrace. We were treated to a beautiful view, of the symbolic Skaros rock jutting out at sea with the sun setting behind it. After enjoying some of our welcome wine, we decided to stay local and explore the local restaurant scene, so we ate dinner at Anogi, upon the recommendation of our hotel. We had our first taste of grilled halloumi cheese, while Doug had lamb shank and I had grilled sea bream with fennel cream. It wasn’t too late, so we wandered around looking for a place to grab a drink, only to realize there really wasn’t much of a night scene in our town. Fira Town was too far a walk to do again at that hour, so we went back to our terrace to finish off our bottle of wine instead.