Freelance entertainment, food, and travel writer. Feel free to like my Facebook page All About Entertainment. www.facebook.com/entertainmentadelaide
Published April 14th 2014
Voted as the World's Best Island
Things to Do and See in Santorini Greece
The island of Santorini is one of the most well known images of the Greek Islands.US Travel and Leisure Magazine voted Santorini as the world's best island. Why not escape to the Mediterranean and see why visitors simply fall in love with the country.
Oprah, Beyonce, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, and Lady Gaga, are are among many stars who visit the island to get away from it all, relax and soak up the Mediterranean sun.
Before heading to the island of Santorini, I recommend spending a few days in Greece's capital Athens to immerse yourself in the rich Greek culture and history of this fascinating city. Click here to read about Athens and stars and celebrities who have visited the city.
Getting to the island of Santorini from Athens is a personal choice. There's the option of fast or slow ferries, but I prefer the quick 45 minute trip by plane. Sharing my flight were couples, families, groups, friends, even Santorini locals. A variety of languages and accents were ringing throughout the cabin, reminding me just which part of the world I had reached. While staring out the window I felt a calmness overtake me, taking in the view of the crystal blue ocean that stretched for miles, it made me believe infinity really exists.
Half an hour later far in the distance, my eyes caught glimpse of the picturesque Caldera, the cliff-face of the island. With a feeling of overwhelming excitement, I starting to feel emotional to the point where my I started to tear up. It was exactly like the images I had seen online, in magazines and gracing the walls in Greek restaurants and homes. High cliffs with white homes adoring the edge, infinity swimming pools, blue domed churches, and the famous volcano in the middle of the ocean responsible for creating the island's natural beauty after a series of volcanic eruptions.
Aerial view flying into Santorini. Photo: Airphotos.gr
Landing in a less than modern airport, I made my way to the bus enroute to the terminal to collect my luggage. It was as if the whole town was asleep, it was shut, with not one person in sight and hardly the welcome I had imagined. Ten minutes later a sleepy employee surfaced, I collected my luggage and made my way to the outside taxi rank. The taxi drivers didn't hold back vying to get my attention to score the fare to my hotel.
Blaring from the car radio a song by a Greek singer expressing his pain after his heart was broken. The driver after lighting up a cigarette, alerted other drivers through the taxi radio that a flight had just landed.
On first impression, the place looked rocky, dry and barren, the roads hilly and narrow with not one traffic light. I spotted over a dozen churches, all different in size and shape within a space of ten minutes. Open fields were flooded with vineyards, Mediterranean flowers with prominent bold colours of white, red, pink and yellow growing in the wild, and traditional windmill ruins were perched high on the cliffs.
Tourists passed my taxi looking free spirited on their quad bikes, scooters and motorbikes, and wearing no safety helmets. The symphony of horns continuously tooting were reminiscent of a busy New York street than a sleepy Greek island. As the movie Summer Lovers flashed through my mind - I wondered. Is this really where I'll see the most romantic sunset in the world?
Grand View Hotel
Arriving at the Grand View Hotel was exactly as I had imagined
I arrived at The Grand View Santorini Hotel located on the Caldera cliff in the traditional village of Megalochori, (which means big village in Greek), around five minutes from the island's capital Fira and close to the popular beaches. It was spread out on a large property, away from the hustle and bustle of the main capital, and very cosy and private. The hotel was recommended by a friend who lives on the island, and I've never looked back. You get 'five star' views, but you don't pay a 'five star' price.
The name surely lives up to the view, The Grand View Hotel Santorini. Photo: Management
Tranquility at its finest at night. Photo: Management
Feeling like I had to pinch myself after catching a glimpse of the postcard view, the attentive staff checked me into the renovated Mediterranean chic studio suite. Throwing my suitcase on the bed, I immediately unlatched the windows wide open, stood on the balcony, took a deep breath, and admired the most spectacular, breathtaking, panoramic view as far as my eyes could see. I even spotted a private secluded beach below the cliff face, wondering if that was the location for the movie 'Summer Lovers'. In the distance, the sun was nearly setting over the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea that played host to spectacular yachts, fishing boats, catamarans, ferries and cruise ships.
My room! With stunning Caldera views. Photo: Management
I was at the perfect vantage point to watch first hand the most majestic sunset in the world. Captivated by the sun's glistening rays on the sea-filled Caldera, it was as if the fire from the volcano had given the sun its yellow-red intense colour. Yachts of all different shapes and sizes were anchored around the island, and as the sun disappeared in the far distance over the Aegean Sea, it was simply magical. Like an unforgettable scene in a movie, this moment would stay with me forever. This was a natural wonder every night - it hypnotised me. How could I go back to reality?
Breakfast time in Greece is later than most hotels around the world, and between 8.30-10.30am. The Grand View Hotel breakfast offered a selection of hard boiled eggs, bacon, cold meats, cheese, jam, fruit, Greek sweets, yoghurt, honey (to die for!), toast, cereal, percolated coffee and freshly squeezed juice. Looking out the window at the sweeping views out to the volcano and nearby islands, it would be the only time I felt time stood still. I was on my own, but that didn't seem to matter.
I simply adore the village of Megalochori, the wine centre of Santorini, where you'll find Gavalas and Boutari Wineries. Walking distance from The Grand View Hotel, it seemed untouched, traditional, with a lot of history and charm dating back to the 17th Century. Walking through the traffic free village, I passed vineyards, a stunning historic bell tower, and old traditional cave homes with white high walls. I even discovered abandoned homes with old steel doors. and spotted loaded donkey with its owner passing through the village. What seemed natural to them, was just part of a day's work.
In the main square of the village I passed little quaint restaurants, shaded by natural vines and flowers, complimented by basil and plants growing in big terracotta pots. People gathered in the square enjoying a coffee and catch up, while other locals were playing cards and backgammon.
Close to the square I noticed a modern building nestled in a quiet lane-way, that seemed to look out of place considering how old the village was. I was intrigued, and walked into reception (like I belonged there) and took a brochure. It was the Vedema Resort a hide-away resort for people who want absolute privacy. Guest have included Angelina Jolie (while filming Tomb Raider) Danny Devito,Tom Cruise and Lady Ga Ga. Who would have thought in the middle of this quiet traditional village, there'd be a resort of this calibre? This is why I love Santorini - there's always something new to discover around every corner.
Vedema Resort, nestled in the quiet village of Megalochori
Back on the main road in Megalochori, the enticing aromas from takeaway food outlets and bakeries were inviting me to try freshly cooked pitas and Greek delicacies. People were queuing up, as if waiting to buy the hottest ticket in town. Most bakeries even let you sample their biscuits before you buy, but be careful as this can become addictive!
The village of Megalochori is also close to Athinios Port where tourist boats take visitors out for the day and where the ferries dock. When taking the road to the port, I didn't realise it would be so narrow and steep. I found it quite challenging, especially on my quad bike, but the view made it all worthwhile.
The Old Port in Fira is where big cruise ships dock, this was once used as the main dock. Visitors would have to climb hundreds 580 steps to get to and from the Old Port to Fira, or take a donkey ride. I took the steps one day and couldn't walk for a week! Evangelos Nomikos a Greek ship-owner saw the need for a system to get tourists from the bottom of the Old Port to the top of Fira, and in 1979 paid for a cable car service which he donated to the island.
Cable car takes 1200 visitors per hour from the old dock to the top of Fira. Photo: Trip Advisor
Santorini attracts many celebrities. Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Michael Jordan, Heidi Klum, and more recently the Kardashians have holidayed on the island. The Kardashians were shooting for their TV reality show and stayed in the Sapphire Suite at the Volcano View Hotel in Fira. The hotel is situated a minute out of the town centre, still close to the action but very private. Other guests at this hotel have included world bankers, CEO's of global banks, NHL and NBA players, shieks, and royalty from the United Arab Emirates. Check out the amazing Sapphire Suite here.
The Kardashians stayed at the Sapphire Villa at the Volcano View Hotel. Photo: Management
The Kardashians enjoying dinner on the balcony of The Sapphire Suite of The Volcano View Hotel in Fira. Photo: Management
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie love holidaying in Santorini, and own a property in Oia. Jolie fell in love with the island while filming Tomb Raider.
American blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa recorded his album at Black Rock Studios Santorini, and named it after the studio. Click here to read the full story on Black Rock Studios and the interview with owner Kostas Kalimeris.
Santorini seems to have an everlasting effect on visitors. It's one of Greece's most diversely beautiful islands with so much to explore and see. The Caldera stretches for 18kms and is made up of little towns. To the south you have Megalochori, Emporio, Akrotiri, Pyrgos, and the popular beaches, Kamari, Monolinthos, Perissa, Perivolos, Glyfada, Red, White and Black Beaches. To the north you have Fira, Imerovigli, Firostifani, Oia, and Paradise, Exo Gialos and Pori Beaches. There's accommodation to suit all kinds of budgets, from the luxury villas with private pools and hotels with infinity pools right on the Caldera, to apartments, B&B's, hostels and studios located in the beach areas.
Most tourists are not aware that if you stay on the Caldera cliff-face with the sunset view, it's best to find a hotel with a pool as there's no beach access. The beaches are located on the opposite side of the island, where you'll see the sunrise.
Fira the capital, is the touristy and commercial part of the island. During the balmy evenings I watched hundreds of tourists gather around the Caldera to watch the sunset, and many claim Oia to the north is the best place to view it. Personally, I feel this is pure 'hype' although it's a lovely place, the whole Caldera cliff-face is a perfect viewing point.
The main town of Fira is quite steep and narrow, with lots of steps and not a place for high heels. You can spend spent hours browsing the variety of specialty shops, with jewellery, clothes, souvenirs, shoes, nick-nacks, Greek pottery and expensive art-work and paintings. It also has a variety of restaurants, cafes, clubs and bars, some facing the Caldera others tucked away in narrow cobblestone lane-ways that weave around the town.
Walking through Fira, I could smell the fragrance from bougainvillea and geranium flowers entwined like vines, in pots and growing freely in the ground, complimenting the white buildings and sea just beautifully.
Fira at night, an undiscovered feeling of euphoria
The atmosphere in the evening on the island is like a new undiscovered feeling of euphoria. Watching the moon reflecting on the water, with the sea breeze cooling down the balmy night, I was in a trance, like a spell had been cast and transported to another world. Masses of people gathering of all ages, shopping, discovering their favourite bar, cafe or restaurant, taking photos savouring every moment. Locals enticing people into their establishments is quite common in Greece.
Many homes in Santorini are layered with white plaster to keep them cool, as they were built before modern conveniences such as air-conditioning. The blue domes are built on top of the churches on the island, and you can walk around for hours taking in the view from various vantage points, admiring the architecture, and making new friends along the way. It's heart-warming seeing a wedding taking place, or newlyweds posing for photos against the backdrop of the Caldera.
One of Fira's shopping strips overlooking the Caldera
As I watched other tourists carry their luggage up dozens of steps to get to their hotel, trying to catch their breath and giving the wheels on their luggage a workout, I breathed a sigh of relief I chose to stay just out of the capital. However, it's all about personal preference. If you like to be among the action, party in the nightclubs until all hours and don't mind the noise, then Fira is perfect. The hotels are close and on top of each other, and not as private as The Grand View,Vedema Resort, or Volcano View where it's more open, private and secluded.
Fira has a wide choice of restaurants, tavernas, takeaway food outlets and cafes to suit any budget. All restaurants overlooking the Caldera are pricey, but it's worth it for the view. I frequently took friends who visited the island to Argo Restaurant, the experience all more worthwhile dining while watching the sunset. Restaurant owner Konstantinos would often recommend his 'best' dishes, my favourite - the stuffed calamari, seafood platter, spicy meatballs and pasta with a Mediterranean twist. The friendly staff work well together to make your dining experience memorable, right in the heart of Fira.
Seafood platter at Argo Restaurant and stuffed Calamari with rice
For a more casual lunch or dinner, Fira square has a variety of take-away food outlets, a yiros with chicken or pork, chips and salad is around 2 euros. When you spot a yiros shop that's busy, it's worth the wait in line as I can guarantee it'll be delicious. I'd often buy a yiros, sit at a cafe with my frappe, log onto the nearest wifi network, and watch people from all walks of life strolling by.
There's no denying that Greeks love and celebrate their food. Their diet is mostly meat, fish, salad and vegetables. They have creative ways of making everything they place on a table taste and look delicious. With the rich soil and perfect climate for growing fruit and vegetables, many ingredients they cook with are organic. Pork is the popular choice of meat, followed by lamb, beef and chicken.
Grown on the island of Santorini are capers, yellow split peas (used for fava), cherry tomatoes, barley, grapes, white eggplant (known as the apple of love and does not absorb oil), figs, and Santorini's own very tasty cucumber Katsouni (tastes like melon). The cherry tomatoes grown on the island are the best tasting tomatoes you will ever try. Locals sell produce on the side of the road where one day I bought capers, picked fresh cherry tomatoes from an open field, and made the freshest Greek salad that Gordon Ramsay would have been proud of! So remember, when you go to a restaurant ask for local Santorini cherry tomatoes.
My creation with fresh cherry tomatoes
Beaches, Where the Celebrities Dine, Best Restaurants and Local Eats in Santorini
Let me give you a run down of the best restaurants and bars at the beaches in Santorini. You may even spot a celebrity!
Perissa, Perivolos, and Kamari beaches are an inviting place to stay if you prefer beachside over the Caldera. Visitors like to hang at the beaches because of the atmosphere, and the sun isn't as harsh as the Australian sun, which makes it even more inviting without the fear of getting burnt. The black sand is made of lava and the rocks can be a little slippery.
Perissa and Perivolos Beach are extremely popular during the day for their beach bars with pools, dance music, beach volleyball and water sports for the more adventurous. A younger crowd tend to gather at these bars particularly Chilli and Jo Jo's to let their hair down while partying to loud dance music. Watching young adults dressed in beach attire, and dancing on bars felt like I was an extra in the movie Coyote Ugly. They say you're only young once, so why not enjoy it!
While Coyote Ugly style partying is the norm around these beach bars, other bars at Perissa and Perivolos have outdoor pools overlooking the ocean that are quieter, if you prefer to relax. One of my picks is Rivas Bar with its stunning outdoor pool, beach views and wonderful hosts, Irene Makridi and Roland Srour. Blue Diamond Bay is another hotel/bar where Manager Terry can whip up any cocktail of your liking, while he engages in daily topics of conversation. Hiring a chair and umbrella can get expensive at all beaches, but most places now offer these free if you order food and beverages. Blue Diamond Bay and Rivas offer free umbrellas and beach chairs.
Make sure you drop into Octopus Boutique at Perissa Beach, where you can look for that something special to take home with you. A summer outfit, nick-nacks, jewellery, and beautiful shoes are all part of a great selection on offer.
Here's a run down of the best restaurants around Perissa and Kamari beaches. At Perissa Beach look for Lava Tavern owned by renowned chef Giannis Rigos, and well known for its quality and flavoursome Greek cuisine. The dishes are prepared fresh each day that he puts on display, so you can pick and choose what you like. Every time I went back, I tried something new and I'm sure you will too.
Lava at Perissa Beach. Photo: Trip Advisor
Kamari Beach has a vibrancy and a real 'buzz' at night, but it's quieter during the day. The main stretch has lots of restaurants, cafes, beach bars, clubs, and hotels with ocean views. My three favourite bars at Kamari Beach are Sky Lounge, The Love Boat Karaoke Bar, and Albatross Beach Club.
Taverna Lolos you'll find in a side street off the main beach strip. With its inviting decor, great service and fresh produce, this is also a 'hot spot' for locals.
Galini and Mario No 1 are a few minutes out of Kamari at Monolinthos Beach (nice quiet beach too by the way). Traditional GreekShirley Valentine style dining on the beach, fresh fish and excellent service make these restaurants a popular choice not only for locals but tourists. At Galini you can choose your own freshly caught fish, and when cooked, the staff can fillet it with incredible skill right in front of you. The interior has a rustic feel decorated with fishing nets, rocks and a collection of beach pebbles.
The interior of Galini Fish Taverna. Photo: Trip Advisor
Galini Taverna right on the beach. More rustic and traditional. Photo: Management
Mario No 1 is a little more modern and upmarket, and the location simply divine. Beyonce dined there while on the island for a photo shoot following her Athens concert. Read the story here.
Beyonce visited Santorini for a photo shoot using the stunning Caldera as a backdrop. Photo by Tony Duran (Source: Beyonce World Net) and dined at Mario No 1. Pictured with manager Terry. Photo: Management
Mario No 1 right on the beach. More upmarket traditional Greek dining. Photo: Management
Both restaurants provide a true Greek style experience, with a sea breeze and prime beach location, you can't get more traditional than this.
Walking back to my quad bike one evening after dining at Mario No 1, my eye caught sight of an big old fig tree. Nothing beats picking a fig off the tree, the milk dripping where it's been broken off, and eating it fresh! I thought I was back in the Garden of Eden, but this time it wasn't forbidden.
Dimitris Tavern is renown for its Greek home-style menu, with traditional "Greek nights" Fridays and Sundays. Coupled with an authentic Greek band and plate smashing - it's a huge hit with tourists. The band led by bouzouki player Andreas Karamolegos (whose family run the taverna and hotel), was invited by the Kardashian family to perform in their private villa, at the Volcano View Hotel in Fira where they were filming their reality series. The hotel attached to the taverna also offers accommodation at great rates if you're on a budget, and the family the most friendliest I've come across on the island.
Kardashian family get into the Greek spirit enjoying a night of Greek dancing and smashing plates at their luxury villa in Fira. Photo: Volcano View Hotel
Sweetheart Studios Kamari. Great value if you're on a budget
If you're looking for accommodation at Kamari Beach,Sweetheart Studios is another affordable place to stay. It's quiet and private, with hosts that go above and beyond for their guests. They offer studio accommodation, which doesn't include meals which is why it's cheaper. The range of studios are gorgeous, and with many supermarkets in Kamari, you can easily stock up on your breakfast and lunch supplies. I opted to have all my meals at Dimitris Tavern, which is only a few minutes walk up the road.
Must Visit Santorini Attractions, Oprah's Favourite Restaurant
One tip is to eat at family run fish tavernas located near the smaller beaches. Most owners catch their own fish and if their mother is in the kitchen, you know the meal will be heavenly! There's two brilliant restaurants in Akrotiri to the south of the island, and trust me, it's worth the trip. Akrotiri is also where you'll find Red Beach, White Beach, Black Beach and Ancient Akrotiri an underground archaeological site.
Kostas with a platter of fresh pasta and seafood fit for a king at Delfinia. With mum in the kitchen, you've struck gold
I discovered Delfinia 'The Dolphins' on the beach in Akrotiri, a family run taverna and Kostas Karamolegos and his family are the perfect hosts. The seafood is caught fresh, and his mother runs the kitchen so you've struck gold here. You must find this place, a few celebrities have dined there including Producer Kevin Shirley and Joe Bonamassa with his band.
This quaint little taverna is best kept a secret or else it'll be hard to get a table in future!
Another hidden gem in Akrotiri is Melina's Tavern. Tastefully decorated with green decor, it's right on the water where the seafood is also caught fresh, you may even see it being caught in front of you! A family run taverna that Nikos Katris started, he named it after his first daughter Melina. His mother is also in the kitchen, and after trying the fresh octopus, it was like an addiction, I had to keep going back for my fix! You may even see his daughter Melina helping out. She's moved to study in Australia, but born and bred in Santorini, the island remains close to her heart, and often visits during the summer.
Melina's Tavern, the first taverna you come to on the water in Akrotiri
Melina whose father Nikos named Melina's Tavern after
While you're in Akrotiri,Red Beach, Black Beach and White Beach are a must see, purely for the visual aspect to see just how nature has created this natural beauty. Red and Black Beaches are a bit of a hike to get to, and if you're not used to this, it could be difficult, especially for the elderly.
As you reach Red Beach, you'll walk past a jewellery stall run by Mihali who sells the most exquisite handmade jewellery at an affordable price. As you relax at the beaches in Santorini you may be approached by hawkers, so bargain with them if something nice catches your eye.
Jewellery maker Mihali at the top of Red Beach
In my opinion, Red Beach is not my favourite, as there's nowhere to buy food or drinks, unlike Kamari, Monolinthos, Perissa and Perivolos. But, with Melina's Tavern close-by, after a few hours at the beach, you can relax and wind down there.
White Beach is though, one of my favourites to swim at as the water is crystal clear and refreshing. You can only get there by boat, and there's a fee to get there. Boats do come past regularly, but getting in and out can be difficult for some, as it doesn't dock right up to the beach, so keep this in mind.
While in Akrotiri, you must see Ancient Akrotiri, the Minoan Bronze Age Settlement. Even if you're not into archaeological sites, the visit is worth it, and it's simply fascinating. It's believed the inhabitants knew a volcanic explosion was imminent in 1450 BC and fled, as no human remains have been found. They left behind tools, pots, jars of food, and the ruins remained buried until 1860, when workers quarrying volcanic ash for use in the Suez Canal discovered it. Excavations began in 1967 and continued until 2005, where it closed after a fatal accident and reopened in 2012. It's best you hire a tour guide to take you through, as there's not much signage explaining the history. Among all the artefacts you'll be able to see an ancient mill house, ruins of three storey buildings, the old sewage system and a weaving room.
Many locals have made their living out of taking tourists to the volcano site and offer sunset cruises to Oia, in traditional Greek wooden boats, while sampling Greek mezes and drinks. You must experience at least one sunset in Oia. If the weather permits, the Captain opens the sails, and from then on it's smooth sailing on the Aegean sea. The wind in your hair, and the view of the white homes on the Caldera cliff, troubles don't even cross your mind. Watching the sunset change the colour of the sky from orange, to yellow, to purple, is like experiencing a sneak peek into heaven. Only extreme will-power will stop you from taking photos of every changing moment.
If you plan to catch a taxi to take you to a point to see the sunset, pre book, as it's one of the busiest times, and there's not many taxis on the island.
Many tourists head to Oia to watch the sunset. Photo: Pedro Szekely
In Oia you'll find a place called Amoudi Bay. If you walk down a pathway near the sea, you'll arrive at a swimming area where you can have a refreshing swim while taking in the cliff views of the Caldera. All types of visitors enjoy the swim here, some even diving and jumping into the ocean from a nearby small cliff. On this day, a big cruise ship went past it was uncanny, just how much you do see on this island.
Sunset Restaurant at Amoudi Bay is amazing! The seafood is caught fresh and many celebrities and stars frequent this restaurant. Oprah dined there, feasting on lobster spaghetti and raving about the local fava dip. She visited the island when she took her staff on an all expenses paid cruise.
Sunset Restaurant in Oia has a great reputation
Santorini fava made out of yellow split peas grown on the island
Traditional wooden boat 'Santairini' takes visitors to the volcano. Photo: Dakoutros Bros
The island of Santorini did not form from a single volcanic eruption, but rather from a variety of eruptions over a long period of time. Geologic studies indicate that at least 12 eruptive phases have occurred over the last one million years. There's day trips to the volcano, where you can swim in the hot springs, as they claim the volcano is still bubbling below the surface. These hot springs are not that hot, and it's pretty muddy in those waters. You need to also jump off the boat to swim to them, so you need to be a fairly good swimmer. The volcano is covered with black rocks, and on a hot day it's not the best day trip. It also costs a few euro to climb to the top of the crater.
Jumping from the boat into the water to reach the springs. Photo: David Dolnick
The view of the Caldera and Aegean sea from the volcano site
I suggest you definitely hire a moped on the island to get around and see things at your own pace. You can catch the local bus, but it usually gets crowded and full during peak times. If you really want to get out and explore, taking your own detours and finding something new is more fun and exciting. I noticed a sign on the main stretch to Perissa Beach - Theros Wave Bar, and curiosity got the better of me, so wanted to check it out.
Taking the rocky dirt road, I had no idea where I would end up thinking I had taken some wrong turn. Praying that I wouldn't get a puncture and be stranded while scenes from Wolf Creek flashed through my mind, I came across this fascinating gigantic rock that just took my breath away. How did it form, and how old was it? I continued on my way hoping I was on the right track, until I reached this tranquil bar tucked away in the middle of nowhere. It was true paradise. My eagerness did get the better of me that day and I am thankful it did.
Theros Beach Bar. Very upmarket and quieter than the beach bars in Perissa. They put on amazing 'full moon' parties
PS! The Kardashian stayed at Andronis Luxury Suites in Oia, not the Volcano View in Fira :) they smashed the plates and had dinner at Volcano View, but stayed at Andronis :) I know, because I've stayed at Andronis myself :)