Greece is the Word
We have had Santorini on our list for a long time. The caldera views and the iconic blue-domed Greek churches were on many photography and travel blogs. Last year, I had spent a week split between Mykonos and Paros and felt the pull back to the Cyclades. Santorini for the scenery and Paros for the laid-back Greek beach vibe. BA flies directly to Santorini from Heathrow although not every day. There are good ferry links from Santorini to other Greek islands and it is easy to look and book on line.
We found that it was very quiet in the mornings and late evenings. It just heaved with people from lunchtime until the scrum that was sunset. Everyone’s favourite time of day on Santorini, it seems.
The Neighbourhood of the Travelling Pants
We were blissfully ignorant about the teen romcom films, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 1 and 2. Then we found out that our hotel, Kastro Oia Houses, had been a major location. Then we found out that our actual room was a repeatedly-featured location.
This went some way to explain the cooing Millenials who queued up to take each other’s photos while leaning on our gate. Or the wall. Or trying to climb on our roof. That and the fact that we were in prime sunset-viewing position.
We escaped on a windy day to walk to Fira from Oia. Otherwise known as the Caldera Village Trail or hike.
I think that is bigging it up a little as it is an easy coastal path, mostly past hotels and cafes and a couple of churches.
One was locked and in the second church we were invited in by the caretaker to see an icon whose eyes spookily followed you.
Not a difficult walk and you can stop along the way in a café or push on to Fira for the bus back. We had lunch in WhyNot which is just the sort of food you need at the end of the walk. Fira itself looked a very skipable type of town. Not very clean and touristy in a totally spoilt way.
The secret is knowing where to stand
I bought David a birthday gift of a photography tour with Olaf from Santorini Photo tours
Here is David’s view of the day: Olaf is a genial Kiwi-Dutchman who is a sort of philosophical photography tutor. He asked lots of penetrating questions about photography and what I wanted to do. Why did I take pictures? What was I hoping to communicate and what did it make me feel? We went to some of the iconic spots and Olaf pushed me to explore them in more depth. He also tried to get me thinking less logically and structurally like the engineer I am and explore more.
We also went over self imposed boundaries in terms of how to approach the objects I was photographing and also to avoid the conventional. To be more Curious. And Cheeky. And another C that I have forgotten.
You could see the grease marks on the bright white walls where folk had positioned themselves for “that iconic shot” of Santorini.
Over the course of the day we managed to traverse much of the island and I felt I learnt a lot from Olaf about how to first understand the emotional reaction and then think of the many ways this could be captured on the 2D image.
Overall a brilliant day and my wife displayed her usual wit and insight. She’s much better than I at positioning herself in the right spot and knowing how to frame and capture the image.
Applause for the sunset
This was a day of mooching around Oia to take photos, explore the shops and see a few things we had not got around to. Such as the ruined castle right in front of our gate and the harbour, far below our bedroom window. The day is punctuated by the bells on the donkeys and the shouts from their handlers as they go up and down the steps between harbour and castle.
We walked down to the harbour for a look around and then back up the donkey-free way.
Sadly I lost all the pictures from this due to a memory card failure.
We noted that although sunset in Oia attracts crowds and results in nightly applause, it was never very remarkable. Probably needs a different kind of weather.
Dinner was at Fino, rather an expensive style over substance restaurant.
We will always have Paros
Time to move on to Paros via the Highspeed 7 catamaran. We had a 5 night stay at the Anemomylous Residence Naoussa.
Paros is a hippy-dippy, laid back Greek island. Naoussa and Parikia are the only real developed areas and they have been done prettily in Cycladic style. White sugar cube houses,splashes of colourful windowbox flowers, relaxing dove grey or blue paintwork and winding streets which were designed to fool the pirates in the raids of the past.
Dinner in Mosoxonas at the harbour in Naoussa.
When the meltemi blows
The Cyclades are beautiful Greek islands but all those windmills are there for a reason and that is the wind. July and August are peak months for the meltemi, the north to northwest wind that provides natural air conditioning Greek-style. Today was a day of strong winds, so walking was the best activity. Too cool for beaches or the pool. We walked along the bay to Santa Maria beach for a breezy lunch. Lots of little coves on the way which must be very lovely on a baking hot day.
Dinner was good in Kapari Aegean Cuisine, at the foot of the cathedral steps.
Boat is Boat
As Shirley Valentine was famously told.
We booked a boat trip with Michael Zeppos. We needed to be the other end of the island due to the meltemi so 40 mins by taxi and Euro 35. We were a little surprised to share the taxi with a couple going to the ferry port, all of us paying the full fare, but this is apparently quite normal.
The water was still a bit choppy from yesterday’s winds and hence the water was also a bit churned up and colder than we like. The boat made 4 stops and we swam at two of them.
Dinner at Meat Bar, an excellent gyros place very highly rated. Platter for 2 was huge.
The beach of the baptismal fonts
We took a boat from Naoussa harbour to Kolymbithres beach. It is known for its rockpools and small coves and it was just perfect on a hot still day. Clear warm blue water, fish to see with a snorkel and service from the taverna straight to your lounger. A Greek beach of the holiday brochures. But we were the whitest, freckliest things on it and thus could not linger all day, sadly.
Cocktails at Taco watching the sea through the gap in the alleyway.
Dinner at Taverna Glafkos on the beach watching the sky change colour.
Sea-Kayaking for Softies
Alex of Sea Kayak Paros took us off to AntiParos for our kayak adventure. We went via the Pounda car ferry which is a 10 minute crossing.
Antiparos is having its moment right now and I am not sure it is a good thing. Paros itself does not have or need fancy boutique hotels or 50 euro beach sun lounger sets and tiny Antiparos needs that even less.
The water was as blue as a designer swimming pool with incredible visibility to the sea floor. The paddling was easy in warm, calm waters with a rudder to help change direction. We had a picnic lunch of local produce on a picturesque beach.
David walked up to Faneromeni church, Antiparos on top of the hill overlooking the beach.
A long trip of around 6hrs but really good – besides when we got caught by the wake of a motor cruiser in a narrow gap between rocks as the swell was a good metre high and crashed in to the rocks next to us.
Cocktails at Taco again before dinner at Soso (this is booked days if not weeks in advance and is very good).
We spent the morning in Parikia awaiting our ferry back to Santorini. We explored some of the hora (twisty white streets) and relaxed in the cafes in the heat of the day.
The Highspeed 7 was on relaxed timing also. This time we stayed at Ilioperato Traditional hotel so that we had a different island view.
The sunset here was absolutely the best we had seen so far. The sun was directly in front of our balcony and there were no crowds at all. It was serene white buildings and a navy blue sea with the black rocky curve of the caldera all the way along to Oia perched at the end.
We also watched as a Canadian man proposed to his girlfriend on the hotel terrace below surrounded by candles in the shape of a heart. Brought a tear to both our eyes.
Dinner at Anogi. Very tasty and huge portions as usual with a little Raki to finish off with gratis.
Bells and Blue Domes
Since Skaros rock was just outside our window, this was something we had to explore on our final day. The paths are ok but the climb to the absolute top involves free-climbing a sheer wall with a few footholds and is only for the brave and the appropriately shod.
We then descended further to Ekklisia Theoskepasti a small church on the hillside with the compulsory blue dome and bells.
We stopped at Why Not! Souvlaki once again for lunch before continuing on.
Fira beyond the cable car is awful. It’s been consumed by tourism and lost any sense of self. Three cruise ships were in and the queue for the cable car wound down several streets blocking access and they didn’t seem to care much. Horrible touristy shops without the style of Oia. Loads of greasy-looking fast food and even a McDonald’s.
An old lady said there were regular buses to Imerovigli just behind the car park so we tried this and 10 minutes later we were at our hotel poolside.
Give the late flight and M&S food on BA flights we went to Blue Note for lunch before collecting our bags from the hotel who had organised a private transfer (cheaper than a taxi).
We had been told to expect a nightmare airport but the reality was not so bad. Some shade had been built over the outside queue area and they were organised by flight. Priority customers were brought forward and by Greek standards it was all rather quick and efficient.
We really enjoyed our Greek island hop of just two and hope to do more another time. We’ll avoid the party islands and the mega-tourist attractions and find the simple and unspoilt Greece we found in Paros.
- In season book popular restaurants in advance if you want to eat before 10pm and the second sitting.
- Avoid the end of sunset crowds in Oia by heading to the windmills and round the car park back into town.
- The locals can earn enough in one summer week on their rentals to tourists to pay their own rent for a month.
- Portion sizes on Paros are large. Careful on ordering starters and main courses. We were given many free mini desserts too.