One of the activities highest on our list for Santorini was to rent an ATV and cruise around the island on our own. Today, we jumped on the opportunity to explore the interior and southern coast of the island that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach. Not surprisingly, Doug did most of the driving, although by the middle of the second day, I was feeling a bit more comfortable (we were going 35mph after all) being in front and in control. But only for a few minutes, on a completely straight road, with plenty of space on my left for cars to pass 🙂
We headed out bright and early for the prehistoric site of Akrotiri, the excavated site of one of the first civilizations in Greece. Dating back as far as 3000 BC, when the Minoans settled here from Crete, the ancient town of Akrotiri was demolished by the first known volcanic eruption around 1450 BC. Similar to Pompeii, the settlement of Akrotiri was buried for centuries under several stories of ash, immaculately preserving the buildings and artifacts from a lost era. Unlike Pompeii, however, the residents of Akrotiri must have had some forewarning of the disaster, as the absence of any bodies implied they were able to get out of town in time. Excavations on the site began in 1967, over a century after it was rediscovered, and have continued to this day as experts believe only a fraction of the site has been uncovered. What we did see was pretty unbelievable, especially given that this entire town of houses, stores, roads, meeting halls, and pottery represented the work of a civilization that existed well before anything I’d ever seen. It was a pretty amazing experience to be transported into a completely different era.
A short drive from Akrotiri, we then headed over to the aptly named Red Beach, its rust red color a result from the lava unique to Santorini. A note on Santorini beaches: there are a number of must-see beaches on the opposite side of the caldera, made world famous by their array of colors and landscapes. However, they were more scenic than functional, as the swimming wasn’t as good as the beaches we encountered in Milos or Crete (and far more crowded). That said, we still loved visiting a wide variety of beaches and enjoying unique scenery at each. Red Beach was no exception, with its soaring red cliffs in stark contrast to the bright blue sea. It was a short, but steep walk to reach the pebbly beach, where we dipped our feet in briefly but didn’t really have much space to settle in, so we turned around and headed back to continue our ATV tour.
We had set our sights on visiting Santorini Brewing Company, the island’s only brewery, afterwards but instead must’ve taken a wrong turn. Which I think is pretty easy, considering none of the roads were actually labeled, but instead only had directional arrows pointing towards towns. We climbed slowly uphill in our ATV, little by little, until we reached the top of the island. To our left was the caldera, and to our right, endless beaches, the Aegean Sea visible on both sides – what a view! It turned out to be such a nice surprise, finding ourselves among the vineyards and countryside of Santorini. It was here where we stumbled across the small, charming village of Pyrgos. We parked on the outskirts and walked up a series of stairs, passing a number of charming shops and churches, in order to reach the castle at the summit. We could literally see the entire island from where we stood. Being a little off the tourist track, the village had a more local, authentic feel, as evidenced by the cute unassuming bakery we stopped at for baklava, where no one spoke English.
By this point, we needed to get back to the hotel to return the ATV and to meet our shuttle to Oia in time to catch the sunset (since we surely couldn’t strap our luggage to our ATV!). We checked into our next hotel, Thirea Suites, also perched along the cliff, but after our 5-star experience at Astra, it was a far cry from the luxuries we just experienced both in terms of room and amenities. Oia had a completely different feel from Imerovigli, as it was a bit glitzier and far more crowded. It was a picture perfect village perched atop the northernmost point on Santorini, the main street lined with high end international designer boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. It was a short walk into town, but from there it was akin to walking through Times Square to get to the best sunset viewing spots. And even though we were tourists here, we were still annoyed by all the tourists that clogged the walkways and walked slowly…
We found a cool, less crowded spot by an old windmill where we perched with a number of other tourists. Great spot to catch the sunset, but wasn’t nearly as peaceful when you share the experience with hundreds of other tourists! After the sunset, we found a cocktail bar nearby where I enjoyed a basil honey daiquiri over a lovely view, while we waited for our dinner reservation.
Upon a number of recommendations from our friends, we made a dinner reservation at 1800 Restaurant, uniquely set in an old captain’s house (or rather, captain’s old house). We were treated to a table in their rooftop garden, which was in a really pretty and unique setting overlooking the caldera, and so glad we made the decision to dine here because it was our hands down favorite meal of the ENTIRE trip! Between the innovative, fun dishes and the impeccable service, it was such a special experience. We first started with an amuse bouche of watermelon puree with feta foam, which I had to get creative about drinking since I hate feta (the watermelon was delicious though). As an appetizer, we shared a bowl of tomato soup with strawberries and cream cheese, although the cheese was a bit too goaty for me…thankfully, I worked around the cheese. Although I felt I should order seafood while on an island, Doug talked me into ordering what I was really eyeing, the angus picanha steak with asparagus, homemade gnocchi, and gruyere foam and I didn’t regret it one bit. It was the most memorable dish I had of all 42-ish meals in Greece. Meanwhile, Doug’s dish was quite delicious as well, a pork ribeye stuffed with dates served with mashed potatoes and a black pepper sorbet. All that, with a lovely bottle of Santorini red wine. We were stuffed, but we couldn’t pass up dessert. So we ordered the lemon dessert with meringue, amaretto reduction, with rosemary sorbet, only to then get surprised with an extra dessert on the house (in case we weren’t already pushed over the edge), the rice pudding with strawberry sauce and cinnamon ice cream. By the end of it, we were so full that the staff nearly had to roll us out of there, but it was so worth it.