Tarun and I have wanted to visit the Greek islands for as long as we can remember. It all started with a stopover in Athens on our maiden journey to the US. Seeing the ocean from the plane, and basking in the warm Mediterranean sun from the top of the 747 staircase, left a desire to see more, do more and eat our way thru Greece.
That dream came true this week when we flew to Athens and then to Santorini where the combination of the sun, sea, history, geology, views, and food transported us to bliss.
The first challenge was finding a hotel room in September. Peak season meant room rates were astronomical. There are a few chain hotels, mostly on the flat side of the island. But we wanted to live the white-home-blue-dome cliff life, which of course, is in the most pricey part of town.
Our four perfect days began in Imerovigli.
After careful research, we picked Langas Villas where Nicholas-the-Greek and his wife Anna-the-Australian manage six apartment style villas, each with the most stunning view of the caldera on which the scenic part of Santorini sits. Langas is in a town called Imerovigli, just south of Oia (pronounced ee-ya) which is the crown jewel of the island and where hotel rooms sell out months ahead of time.
Day 1: We arrived at the hotel well before check-in time. Nicholas greeted us like we were long lost friends, took our bags, and asked us to come back in two hours. This was the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the winding paths that connect the hilly towns of Fira, Imerovigli, and Oia. We ventured towards Fira and were stunned by the views, even though our knees quickly cried, “WTH?!”
After innumerable steps, turns, gasps, and photos, we returned to our hotel and into our "Mama Mia" villa - literally, straight out of the movie. We could open the windows which had no nets. The door, too, had a window. The balcony provided sweeping views of the caldera - the rim of the volcano. Langas was on top of the hill and was well connected to the maze of winding roads that weave through the island. With encouragement from Nicholas, we rented a car to explore the island fully.
Breakfast was in Ilias Cafe and we picked up appetizers, olive oil, and wine from a local store for dinner. Our first expedition was to the ancient ruins of Akrotiri dating back to the bronze age and destroyed in a catastrophic volcanic eruption in the 1500s. In the evening, we were enchanted by the sunset as we nibbled and sipped our way through dinner. We ended the day astonished at our stats - 8+ miles, 20k steps, 1,000 calories burned, 44 flights climbed, and nearly 20 hours of being awake!
Day 2: Oia is always teeming with tourists and deals with an onslaught of visitors from Fira, Thera, Kamari, and Imerovigli at sunset. The sensible stick-shift driver in me said go to Oia in the morning to avoid the crowds. And so we did.
Oia is charming!
The clarity of the Aegean Sea and the white and blue views just took our breath away. There's fabulous shopping and dining all along the main path in town, appropriately called Sunset Blvd. We lingered on the steps, in the shade, and in the shops until we were properly roasted in the pounding sun.
When we headed back to the parking lot, we found a British couple struggling to get their car out. Another hapless stick-shifter we thought! But no, this was an automatic-er! How on earth do you roll backwards with automatic transmission?! You do when the driver has never driven one and the car doesn't have a "D" to tell him how to make it go forward!
After helping sort thru that, we headed to our hotel and got stuck behind a huge truck on a street that is as close to a 90 degree incline as you can get on terra firma. The truck was a few inches narrower than the road and couldn't get uphill and around the tight bends without stopping every few feet to do 2- or 3-point turns. After perilously half-clutching for a while behind the truck, we pulled over and took a different way back to Imerovigli. This time, we got stuck in a traffic jam on a different incline! By the time we got to the hotel, Tarun and I needed stiff drinks, me from not rolling into the car behind us and Tarun from thinking I was about to do just that dozens of time. Uff.
Day 3: After a heavy dose of inclines we decided the car (and our psyche) needed a rest. We spent the day exploring Imerovigli and Fira by foot. At lunch and dinner we savored amazing Greek delicacies and cocktails. Our culinary expedition was spurred by Neil-the-Foodie who researched and shortlisted half-dozen restaurants for us. This was another day of 8+ miles of walking and blissful relaxation.
Day 4: After a couple of morning walks and breakfast on the balcony, we made our way to Oia one more time. This time we ran into several cruise ships worth of tourists who were also exploring and admiring the alleys of Oia. Since it felt like “Covid central”, we left early and headed for the airport. On the way we packed in one last Gyro, Santorini salad, eggplant dip and amazing pita encrusted with oregano and olive oil.
We took our time to wind down the hill to the airport and were incredibly relieved to be able to return the car without damage. Driving in Santorini is the hardest bit of driving I have ever done and Tarun has ever navigated. Not even Ireland (stick shift, wrong side), Amalfi (hulking buses on winding narrow cliff road), or Manhattan (just mad!) come close. This was an utterly gravity-defying experience!
For all that was amazing, there are few alerts. Santorini is not an accessible island at all. This is not a place for the elderly, physically challenged, or an acrophobic. Every hotel in Imerovigli and Oia is a cave hotel - meaning you get to them by navigating on treacherous steps which do not have railings. The steps are criminally high and geometrically confusing. The many walking paths are intertwined with no signs so you often find yourself lost and navigating on your phone while tripping on the uneven surface. The hotels in the scenic parts are also 60-70 years old. Even the best ones. So adjust your definition of "luxury" before arriving.
Yet, Santorini will linger on our minds for years to come. It allowed Tarun and me the perfect reason to turn off our phones, disconnect from work, soak in the sun, admire the scenes, and enjoy delicious Greek food. If you’ve been thinking of visiting the Greek islands, bring flats and do it now while the joints are functional and your vascular plumbing isn’t clogged.
You will love it. Tarun and I guarantee it.