After our relaxing stint on Kefalonia, we didn’t exactly need a vacation. But we were in Greece, and I couldn’t resist steering us to the epicenter of Greek Island vacations: Santorini. Everything you’ve heard about Santorini is true. The island is absolutely stunning, it’s home to some pretty fantastic food, and it can be incredibly expensive. Natalie and I made it our mission to do Santorini on the cheap. And for the most part, we succeeded (although I often found myself drooling over all the luxury options that Santorini has to offer).
Who needs luxury accommodations with a free view like this?
Santorini is small with an area of approximately 35 sq mi and a permanent population of less than 16,000. But it’s a hustling, bustling tourist mega center with over 1,000 hotels and guesthouses and over 500,000 visitors a year. The island is prime for exploring by scooter or quads (ATVs as we ‘mericans call ‘em). Rentals cost about 25 Euros per day and there must be as many scooters and quads burning rubber around the island as there are tourist. We opted for a scooter and joined the merging masses. The atmosphere of it all creates a wild and crazy summer beach town vibe with everyone cursing around in their swimsuits, shorts, and flip flops heading to or from an amazing Santorini view. You can drive the whole island is under two hours. But there are so many distracting stop offs it’s easy to loose yourself within 2 km of your hotel door.
Looking into Oia
Santorini’s core includes the villages of Fira, Imerovigli, and Oia, all on the west of the island. There are several outlying beaches towns and coves to explore on the east. After the amazingness of Kefalonia’s beaches, we were much more drawn to Santorini’s picturesque stacked cliffhanging villages than its rocky beaches. We stayed in Imerovigli, which we found a perfect choice for location, affordability, and respite from the insane crowds of Oia and insane hen and stag parties of Fira.
We heart Imerovigli
Imerovigli is also a great starting point for the Santorini Ridge Hike. The hike technically starts in Fira but starting in the less hectic Imerovigli is a more peaceful experience (and a slightly less physically taxing one). The Ridge Hike is a must do for anyone heading to Santorini. It’s a sweat inducing stroll across Santorini’s western ridge loaded with stunning ocean and village views, beautiful whitewashed churches, and just enough distance between you and a precipitous drop to the Aegean. The walk drops you right into the evening Oia action for a sunset you are not likely to forget (if only because you will take SO. MANY. PHOTOS.).
Mandatory sunset couple picture, check.
The sunset at Oia is all the hype on Santorini. It really was beautiful, but we found the crowd gathered at the island’s end too hyped for our tastes. The views are stunning but pretty much every tourist on the island floods the tip of Oia to catch a view of “The Original Sunset”. We found the views are actually better from the heart of Oia. Find a nice alley, perch yourself on top of a whitewashed wall, and let time pass by. Make sure to pick your perch wisely as Santorini has one of the toughest neighborhood watches I’ve encountered.
She’s not watching the sunset, she’s looking for YOU!
Greek grandmas keep a watchful eye over their neighbors’ properties to make sure tourist don’t climb onto private property or private terraces to snap a picture of the amazing sunset. This particular grandma may have waved her cane in our direction one or two times.
Looking back on Oia from the tip right after nightfall.
Santorini has a small but cherished agricultural scene. The island is famous for its sweet cherry tomatoes and award-winning Vinsanto white wine made from the indigenous white grape varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani. These two ubiquitous Santorini products flourish on the island because of the rich volcanic soil and consistent heat.
Santorini cherry tomatoes, set out to dry. (Photo: Google)
Other Santorini specific delicacies found on every menu are split fava beans, fresh Santorini goat cheese, wild capers, katsouni cucumber, white aubergine, and Santorini watermelon. The fried cherry tomatoes balls (tomatokeftedes) and white aubergine (melitzana) were my personal favorites. Restaurant competition is fierce, Santorini’s steady stream of tourists keep Tripadvisor reviews pretty spot-on. The food wasn’t always world class, but the ambiance is some of best in the world, and sometimes that makes everything A-OK. . And if that fails, just turn back to the sunset.