As I sat in the midday sun with no water, no money and no phone, I started to really wonder whether I would ever find Mum and how the hell I was going to get back to the hotel without the car keys. Suddenly riding the donkey up from Fira old port while Mum got the cable car, didn’t feel like my brightest idea. We had arranged to meet where the donkey ride ended but as I assumed (wrongly) the cable car to have been much quicker, when she wasn’t there when I arrived, I decided to go to the emergency meeting point, the cable car station. After numerous cars had emptied out with no sign, I was starting to panic slightly, given I had left my bag with her. Eventually a very worn out and slightly annoyed Mum appeared! Some weeks after returning, I felt quite ashamed to have taken this donkey ride at all when I saw a Facebook post on how the poor animals are treated on the island. I had naively assumed that animals were cared for as in the UK and taking the donkey/mule ride was no different to riding a horse. I now know however that these animals are forced to carry far more weight than they are able, given little rest or water and wear poorly fitting saddles which rub and injure them. I was left disgusted with myself, so please if you visit Fira, either walk up from the old port or take the cable car, don’t make the mistake I did.
The capital city of Fira is perched on the western edge of the island and we sat sipping frappes overlooking the stunning caldera below, which was created when a volcano erupted some thousands of years ago, leaving this special kind of crater. Cruise ships were aplenty. The winding steep streets host an abundance a lovely quaint shops, selling all manner of souvenirs. From Fira, we drove on, in our hired Fiat 500 convertible, to Oia which is clearly how Santorini got a reputation as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Had we not have visited Oia, I would have been very underwhelmed by Santorini, given the way people had built it up before we went. We strolled through the maze of narrow cobbled streets there, the warm air filled with scents of the perfume boutiques, mixed with garlic from the tavernas, and were led up to a venetian castle with 360 degree views of the village including one of the most photographed windmills. The village embodies the iconic greek architecture of white buildings with blue roofs. I never knew so many shades of blue existed before coming to Santorini.
The second day of the car hire, we drove out to the village of Pyrgos. This is the highest point of Santorini and again has the typical winding streets and steps up the hillside which we embarked on after fuelling ourselves with a yummy breakfast in a cafe at the base of the village. The climb is certainly worth the effort for the wonderful views of the island from the top and if you tire in the heat along the way, you can always pause in one of the many beautiful gift shops selling paintings, greek eyes and the like. We sat in the cafe near the castle sipping a well-earned fresh orange juice before making our way back down. We drove on to Megalohori, one of the most picturesque villages, surrounded by vineyards due to the fertility of the soil. Here we enjoyed an exquisite lunch in a tree-shaded taverna in the main square, before exploring the streets and churches. The bell towers are definitely a photo opportunity not to be missed as well as being able to step back in time and visit an ancient cave house. We drove back through Exo Gonia which has one of only two churches on the island with a tiled roof, Agios Charalambos, before arriving back at our hotel in Kamari. I was quite impressed we had managed to find our way to so many different parts of the 28 square mile island over the two days, given when I asked for a sat nav at the car hire place, she had looked at me blank and when I then clarified, calling it a navigation system, she offered me a paper map! I also had to contend with Mum’s map reading, at one point she claimed the airport wasn’t on the map, despite the size of the area, and the fact that Greeks clearly don’t consider road signs as a necessity!
An organised trip offered respite from the anxiety of driving in a strange country and allowed us to visit the Monastery of Profitis Ilias where I purchased honey, made by the monks. Emporeio village provided some more beautiful, postcard worthy shots and after a coffee break by the sea, we headed onto Akrotiri where we got to see one of Mum’s great loves, a lighthouse before enjoying a traditional Greek lunch in a clifftop taverna with breath-taking views and a cat who was happy balancing on narrow ledges, hoping for a titbit.
The rest of the trip was pretty much spent by the hotel pool or on the beautiful beaches of Kamari, devouring novels, in my case Marian Keyes latest offering – ‘The Break’, and sipping Aperol spritz. By night, we frequented some of the many beautiful restaurants, mainly those that lined the beach and sampled the delicious Greek food and hospitality, often while watching the owners cats and dogs frolicking – I even sang karaoke one evening. I know it’s a hard life! We ventured on a boat trip to nearby Perissa, with its black sand beach for lunch one day which was an experience in itself. The boat ride was fairly choppy and I watched a girl opposite me turn greener and greener before she vomited in a plastic bag which later spilled out on the deck! The captain’s dog clearly had his sea legs though!
You can’t go to Santorini and not witness one of the beautiful sunsets over the caldera and we enjoyed this from a front row perspective, in a wooden sailing boat, organised by the tour company, while sipping prosecco. The trip also offered the chance to swim in the thermal springs and bathe in the mineral rich mud but unfortunately my lack of swimming skills meant I couldn’t. We did enjoy dinner on the island of Thirassia though, where I tried the island delicacy of fava – a type of bean puree.
Santorini is a beautiful island there is no doubt which probably explains the estimated two million visitors per year and countless wedding ceremonies. Relaxing on the beaches with waves gently lapping the shore, the sun makes the water look as though it has been sprinkled in glitter. You don’t have to walk far to see a magnificent church and it is rich in history both cultural and geographical, with the last volcanic eruption being as recent as 1950 and earthquake 1956. I did feel a little disappointed due to the hype that preceded my visit however, as you are led to believe that the whole island is stunning, particularly by people’s use of Instagram filters. Don’t get me wrong, it does have spots that are truly postcard perfect but if you stayed exclusively in Kamari or Perissa for example, you would see little of this, so a car is a must. Having been to a number of Greek islands, Santorini is not unique in its beauty or hospitality and the beaches here are inferior to some of the islands, due to the volcanic nature. Another great, relaxing and enjoyable summer break though with my best friend, my Mum. I did of course miss my wonderful hubby – absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder. Have you visited Santorini? If not, hopefully this account has inspired you to add it to your bucket list.