It was a hot afternoon, and the breeze played across my skin as we sailed across the calm water. I had just been swimming in the turquoise water, a colour almost unbelievable.
That was the afternoon I fell in love.
Ok, ok it all sounds a little woo-woo. And it probably is, but it is the truth that that afternoon as we sailed the caldera in Santorini, looking up at those cliffs with the white buildings clinging to its sides and dotted with blue domes, that I had never felt freer, happier and more confident than ever before. It was the first time I remember ever feeling comfortable in my own skin.
I was at the end of almost three months of travel. A trip that had started with my then family of four, husband and two kids and myself, and ended with me heading to Greece for ten days, seven in Santorini, to spend time exploring and chilling with a friend. And how those days changed me.
Realistically, looking back the change had been coming, big time for a while and the catalyst for that change had been travelling. Planning this epic trip myself and having everything work out better than I had ever imagined was fantastic. And with every plan that worked my confidence grew.
You see I had never had any, or very little, confidence. I don’t remember a life where low self-esteem, doubt, fear and anxiety didn’t rule. All my choices in life stemmed from those, and I can tell you THAT didn’t do me any favours, but the journey taught me so much about myself. And Santorini was my graduation.
Needless to say life for me changed after that in a massive way and I spent the next five years riding an enormous wave of personal growth and personal change bigger than I could have ever imagined.
Best village to stay in
I chose Oia to stay because it ticked all my boxes and without the crowds. We had just been in Athens for 3 nights and I was ready for some quiet.
The hotel, Hotel Atlantida Villas was just outside of Oia and an easy 10-minute walk from the centre.
I would like to recommend these guys because I loved our stay and Gorges was an excellent host, however, I do know that the hotel needs updating, and the reviews on TripAdvisor are not great, but I took a gamble, and it paid off.
It all depends on what you are looking for, and on my list that I wanted without compromise was a caldera view and a pool.
If you have researched hotels in Santorini and in particular, Oia, you know the prices can be hefty. This hotel seemed to be a good compromise, but I will leave that up to you.
What I liked was the location out of Oia, the pool (although not large was fine), the staff were lovely and accommodating, breakfast was fine (although some have complained it is boring) and the view was to die for.
Also, the hotel sits at road level so there were no stairs down the side of the cliff to navigate and Santorini Mou is across the road, a traditional taverna you should definitely visit but I will get to that in a minute.
Sailing the Caldera
I don’t usually say that people HAVE to do something in a particular place because let’s face it, we’re all different and what one person thinks is amazing another will loathe. And I also hate doing the must do tourist thing. I hate crowds so that usually makes me avoid those things even more.
But in this instance, I will say you shouldn’t visit Santorini without doing a caldera cruise. I am not talking about the big catamaran crammed with 40 people.
Here’s what our cruise looked like (and I sincerely wish I had kept Captain George’s details, but I didn’t).
We were a group of 6 women (my friend and I joined the group of 4 ladies in the next room) and hired a private cruise on a small traditional boat run by Captain George. The facilities aboard were limited but we were able to choose our own itinerary, and it was just us.
We wanted to swim and relax, so Captain George obliged and found a quiet place to anchor and we jumped off the boat, swam and relaxed in the clearest, bluest water I have ever been in.
We did anchor off Nea Kameni (the uninhabited volcanic island) but chose NOT to walk to the top and see the craters. It seemed like a lot of effort in the high temperatures so opted instead to swim from the boat to a section of the shoreline and experience our version of a mud bath and hot springs. The water temperature was hot, approximately 30 degrees.
Now, I know that we are told that there are health benefits to these mud baths, and don’t get me wrong I loved our time here. In fact, Captain George swam with us and… oh, let’s just say we were holding our sides from laughter with his interpretations of Shrek, mud, bubbles, etc!
But smelling like rotten eggs for the next three days was not overly pleasant.
The Perfect Afternoon
The afternoon was wonderful. We chatted, sun-baked, sipped Captain George’s family’s wine, relaxed and to top it off stayed to watch the famous Santorini Sunset from the water.
It was a truly magical afternoon and one that I will never forget.
Village of Oia
I loved Oia.
I hated Thira, crowded, bustling, crammed with tour groups from the cruise ships, high prices. Need I go on?
But I loved Oia. It can get touristy as well, but in the early mornings and evenings after the sun has set and the tourist crowds have dwindled away it is beautiful. Actually, I liked it most of the time.
It is a place with winding paths and stairs, cave houses and traditional buildings, churches and squares.
I loved the fact that our hotel was a 10-minute walk into the centre. The path that snaked its way along the cliff was easy to walk and what’s not to love when the whole way you have a view of that beautiful caldera.
Santorini is really like no other place I have visited, and although it can be pricey to stay in accommodation with a caldera view, I would highly recommend it.
This is THE place to spoil yourself.
Santorini Mou is the other place I suggest you visit. No this taverna doesn’t have caldera views, no it isn’t in the centre of Oia, and no it is not all fancy and modern.
But it is the best place I ate at in Greece. It is family run, the food is traditional and delicious, and there is live music every night, provided courtesy of the owner Mihalis, playing his guitar and singing.
And if you are into celebrity endorsements (which I am not, but thought I would mention it anyway), they do have photos of the guys from Green Day up on their wall along with those of Jennifer Aniston, so if you don’t take my word, maybe that will convince you.
But please do try it, the family make you feel so welcome.
We caught the bus to Kamari, and from there we jumped on a tour bus that took us to Ancient Thira.
It’s a long way up, and the road is winding so be prepared. I am not a good passenger and found myself in the front and next to the door. I tried hard not to look over the edge.
Ancient Thira is the old capital of Santorini dating back 3,500 years ago. It sits perched atop Messa Vouno Mountain and looks down on the endless blue of the Aegean Sea and beyond.
For €10, Ancient Capital Tours will take you up to Ancient Thira. The site is open daily, except Mondays, and the buses depart from their office in Kamari.
Things to Consider
Our room had a kitchenette so we made a trip to the supermarket and stocked up on antipasto supplies and often would eat this for an easy lunch if we were around. Or even the occasional dinner if we were exhausted after a day of sightseeing.
With a balcony that afforded us spectacular views over the caldera, it was magical sitting there sipping on a glass of wine and nibbling on some Greek delicacies.
We caught buses everywhere. There was a bus stop directly outside our hotel. It was so easy convenient and cheap.
And the staff at our hotel were accommodating. If the van was not out picking up or dropping off guests they were happy to drop us off in Oia or to the beach (opposite side from the caldera) for a morning. And they organised our cruise for us including drop off and pick up for free.
Not every hotel will be this accommodating. However, it is worth asking you just never know.
Santorini Bucket List
The three things I plan on doing next time I visit that I missed last time are:
Visit Akrotiri both the archaeological site and the Red Beach.
The archaeological site of Akrotiri is the excavation of a Minoan Bronze Age settlement that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption around 1627 BC.
From Akrotiri, you can easily visit the Red Beach, so that is definitely something that is included in our itinerary.
And last but not least on my last visit I did buy and taste a variety of locally produced wines, however, this time I would like to visit a winery to see the winemaking process and sample some more of these delicious wines.
My last time in Santorini was in early September. It was hot! But having said that I don’t like hot weather, so for someone else that could be perfect.
I can’t wait to see what other magic Santorini has in store for me.