When we were planning our 1st wedding anniversary getaway, I always had in mind that we would be starting our family soon and that I would probably be pregnant at the time we decided to go on holiday. Part of the reason we chose to go to Santorini was that it was within Europe and only a 4 hour flight from Newcastle. It is also a small island so most of the sights or must dos are within easy access no matter where you stay.
Of course the main reason we decided to go is that it is just stunning. Neither of us had been to Greece before so it was a totally new destination and a beautiful part of Greece to start with. So here is my travel blog all about our trip to Santorini!
We flew from Newcastle with Thomas Cook, the flights weren’t particularly cheap for such a relatively short journey but there wasn’t much choice and I was sick of having to travel to/from Manchester so we just went with it. The main downside was the flight times, we didn’t fly out until 3.55pm on the Saturday, which was nice to not have to rush around in the early hours of the morning but it actually meant not getting to our hotel until around 10.30pm Santorini time so a full day wasted. Luckily we were on time with landing as the weather (mainly wind, which causes lots of delays with landing at the tiny airport) behaved itself, then when we got off the flight our bag was one of the first on the carousel so we were straight outside and into a taxi.
In terms of getting from the airport to the hotel, we had the option of paying for a private or shared transfer provided by the hotel, or just getting into a normal taxi from the taxi rank outside the airport. We were quoted €50 from the hotel for a private transfer or from the Santorini TripAdvisor forum I learned that a taxi would cost us €35, so we went with the taxi option. NUMBER 1 TIP: become a regular lurker on the TripAdvisor forum for any destination you are visiting. You learn so much, seriously. I wouldn’t be without it now and I’ve not yet been let down by any research I’ve found out from there.
We chose to stay in the village/town of Oia, which is at the northern tip of Santorini. The one and only reason we didn’t book a package holiday with Thomas Cook and only used them for flights was because none of their accommodation options were what we were after or in the area we wanted to stay. Oia is the famous “sunset” spot on Santorini and the whole village is characterised by the beautiful white cave houses and blue domed churches that are built into the cliff side. It is truly stunning and the number one “must see” or destination on Santorini.
The accommodation we chose is called Strogili Traditional Houses. They are villa/apartment type places within one area and they have a pool which is shared between Strogili and their sister hotel Rimida Houses. Other than our requirement of being close to Oia, our second requirement for accommodation was that it needed to have a pool. Santorini is one of those small destinations that is mainly done as part of a bigger trip or as a cruise stop off, so not that many people need to have access to a pool, but since we were staying for a week and wanted some relaxation time we knew we would want a pool to hang out around!
Strogili was 100% worth the price we paid (€220 per night) for the location and the service. It wasn’t the cheapest option available at the time of booking but it certainly wasn’t the most expensive either, I would normally have not paid so much for what was essentially bed and breakfast but in Santorini you pay a premium for being in Oia. The room was simple but clean and more than adequate, breakfast was delivered to you every morning by a lovely lady (shamefully I never got her name) on your balcony and consisted of fresh pastries, bread, boiled eggs and fruit along with coffee or tea and fruit juice. Sometimes there was some sliced cheese and ham, other times instead of a boiled egg we got a little dish of Greek yogurt.
In terms of location, it was a short 5 minute walk from the start of Oia’s marbled pedestrian walkway which is where you find most of its restaurants and shops. If you are thinking of visiting Santorini, let me just say that it isn’t necessary to stay in or near Oia. There are plenty of other options including Fira (the capital), Imerovigli (in between Oia and Fira), Kamari and Perissa (both beach destinations on the south east side of the island, closer to the airport). If you only want to visit Oia for one day, then spend the rest of your time elsewhere then staying in Oia isn’t actually very practical. However we decided that we would use most of our week for relaxing and the choice of upmarket restaurants available within 10 minutes walk in Oia was appealing to us so we were more than happy to stay there.
Our first full day mainly consisted of finding our feet and exploring Oia. It is a small village so can literally be done in an hour or so but we went out and really looked at everything, marvelled at the amazing views of the caldera, enjoyed a leisurely lunch of cake (what else?) overlooking said caldera, walked all the way up to the sunset point which is the old Byzantine castle ruins, then headed back to our room for a rest and to freshen up for dinner.
When we went back out, we headed straight to my first TripAdvisor restaurant recommendation, Melitini, which is a Greek tapas restaurant. Unfortunately it was fully booked so we had to make a reservation for two night’s time and find somewhere else to eat. Luckily we were quite early and Oia doesn’t really fill up until around 7.30pm ready for sunset so we were able to get a table in a restaurant called Floga. It turns out Floga is rated number 7 on the TA list so it was a pretty good choice in the end!! Their homemade bread rolls were to die for, I think there was an olive roll, sesame seed and a garlic roll. SO. GOOD! Matt had his first glass of Santorini white wine, a wine called Aidani which even I liked when I had a sip. I’m not a huge wine drinker (apart from prosecco!) so for me to like a white wine it has to be good! The Aidani wine became a bit of a theme over the week 🙈
On our second day we decided to head out after breakfast and do some of the Oia to Fira hike. This is the number one “must do” on TripAdvisor but they usually advise you do it from Fira to Oia so that you have the view of Oia village once you get past the final hilly part of the hike, but the whole trail is 11km one way and can take anywhere from 3-5 hours depending on your pace and how often you stop for photos! With being 7 months pregnant I never planned to do all of the hike so Matt set his Apple Watch off to track our distance and decided to turn around when we reached a point where I still felt comfortable to walk back. We ended up walking 2km from the start/end point in Oia then back again so a total of 4km with an elevation gain of 168m in places! Even doing such a short distance was totally worth it, the caldera views are truly stunning and from the highest point we could see most of the north side of the island.
We then walked back into the village and made a reservation at a seafood restaurant called Petros for later that evening. Most restaurant menus in Santorini feature seafood heavily since it’s an island and it’s so readily available. I’m not a seafood fan and only eat white fish so I was quite limited in my choices but at this restaurant I had chicken breast in a cream and mushroom sauce which was perfectly edible. Matt had a huge plate of lobster spaghetti which featured a whole lobster split into two which he then had to dismember and eat alongside the pasta! This was the first night we had the opportunity to watch the amazing sunset over dinner and it was just as stunning as I’d imagined.
We also decided to make our way back through the village to find Lolita’s Gelato and try some of their amazing flavours! It stays open until 11pm so we actually ended up going there 3 times over the course of the week for dessert after our evening meals!
On our third day, we decided to venture out of Oia and take the public bus to Fira for a look around. The bus service in Santorini is quite reliable and reasonably cheap. It took 35 minutes to get from Oia to Fira and only cost us €1.80 each. The buses are actually coaches and some are more modern than others but you can recognise them by the KTEL sign at the front window, the more modern ones have digital displays which say KTEL and the destination.
Once we got to Fira we didn’t really know where to go, so we just followed the crowds towards the main port area. There is also the Museum of Prehistoric Thira just by the port if that’s of interest to you. We had a little wander around but I don’t think we really explored far enough, kind of my fault for not doing enough research on Fira itself I guess! We saw the cable car going up and down the cliff side which is used by cruise ship passengers when they arrive at the port for the day. We ended up returning to the area above the port to grab some lunch and found a place that made yummy fresh waffles. There didn’t seem to be much more to do in Fira for a day trip, I think if you were staying in Fira or close by then there would be plenty of restaurants to eat at on an evening but during the day it is mainly catering for the influx of cruise ship passengers that arrive in their thousands each day so if you want a bit of culture then probably best to head out to one of the surrounding villages.
That evening we had our reservation at Melitini, the Greek tapas restaurant. This place was already on my radar as one of the most highly TripAdvisor rated restaurants in Oia, then the receptionist at Strogili also mentioned it when we asked her to make a reservation by telephone at another place, saying it was her favourite. You can’t be going far wrong when even the locals eat there! We completely forgot to take photos but we chose four different dishes and they were all amazing. They get delivered to your table as and when they’re ready so you can either eat as they come or wait for a few things to be delivered and mix and match everything. Four dishes plus water and 250ml of house white wine for Matt came to less than €30 which was just fantastic value for what we got.
Day four was spent around our lush pool. I had checked the timetable for cruise ship arrivals to Santorini prior to our trip here and the next two days were going to be busy with 5 ships coming in on one day and 4 the next day, so we decided to steer clear to going into Oia or Fira and battling with thousands of tourists. For lunch on this day we used some bread, ham and cheese we had bought as supplies from the local shop to make sandwiches and shared a big bag of crisps. This helped to keep the cost down a little bit because we were off out for one of our more expensive meals that evening at a fabulous place called Catch Bar & Restaurant. I didn’t even realise when we booked this place that it had a rooftop terrace with a sunset view, which was a lovely surprise when we were taken to our table. After eating fish and seafood most of the week, Matt fancied a bit of a change and we both ordered the ribeye steak. Steak has been a bit of a pregnancy craving of mine and it had been about two weeks since I’d had one! It was truly delicious, I asked for medium-rare but it came a little bit more towards medium which was fine as it was still melt in the mouth perfection! We also had dessert at Catch, I chose a lemon dessert and Matt had chocolate three ways. Amazing.
Again, day five was spent around the pool taking advantage of the wonderful weather and tanning the bump! Luckily for us the local “supermarket” shop was just on the other side of the pool/hotel area so Matt visited a few times during the day to get a cold beer for him and something non-alcoholic for me alongside water. One thing I didn’t mention about Santorini at the beginning of this post is that the water isn’t safe to drink so you have to buy bottled water. Also another unusual thing is that their plumbing/sewage system isn’t great so you can’t flush your toilet paper! All toilets have little bins next to them for your used loo roll. Random, but there you are. It’s actually the first place we’ve visited where we’ve encountered this so it was a bit strange to get used to.
There was a little restaurant called Mes Amis just along the way from the pool area that had a sandwich board advertising take out pizzas and burgers etc so on this day we decided to get a pizza for lunch to eat around the pool. It cost €10 for about a 10″ pizza cooked in a proper wood fired oven, totally not what I was expecting and it was amazing! We really lucked out with food during our week in Santorini as we didn’t have a bad meal the whole time.
Our meal on evening five was at a place called Fino Cocktail Bar & Restaurant. This place totally won me over from the TripAdvisor reviews and the photos of the lovely open plan interior. It really looked like “our kind of place” which is somewhere with quirky décor but a chilled vibe with great food and drink. It certainly didn’t disappoint! We were the first people to arrive at 7.30pm as it only opened at 7pm but quickly filled up and was almost completely full by the time we left at around 9-9.30pm. For starters Matt chose octopus with fava bean puree which he said was outstanding, he’d never had octopus before but he said it was clearly cooked to perfection. I had an aubergine soufflé with goats cheese cream which was sooo good!! Then for mains, Matt had lobster risotto and I had another steak dish. I did think it was going to be a pasta dish with steak slices for the name on the menu but it turned out to be a nice fillet steak with perfectly seasoned baby potatoes. Still absolutely outstanding anyway! However, the wow part of the meal for me was actually the cocktails. When we arrived I asked if the bar lady could make me a non-alcoholic cocktail (there were none on the menu) and she said it wasn’t a problem at all. She made the most delicious combination of strawberry and passion fruit with soda and a nice garnish to make it feel special. I know it’s essentially just fruit juice but when you’re unable to enjoy a proper cocktail for 9 months it really makes a difference when it feels “real”! For my second drink she whipped up a mango concoction with pistachio syrup which was even better than the first one. I was so happy with the service, they really put the effort in to make it very memorable for us. After the meal we decided to pay another visit to Lolita’s gelato because it was just over the road from Fino on our way back. No regrets!!
On day six which was our last full day, we headed down to Ammoudi Bay a few hours after breakfast. This is a small bay at the north tip of Oia and it has around 4 different fish restaurants located right on the water alongside some small fishing boats. I had originally thought it would be out of the question to get down there due to steep steps going down and then trying to figure how to get back up. There are donkeys waiting on the steps to take people back up but I wouldn’t even consider that when not pregnant, never mind at 7 months gone! After doing the hike earlier on in the week and feeling pretty good, I decided it would be manageable for me to just walk slowly and take the steps both down and back up again. I am so glad we did it, the bay is absolutely beautiful and we had some very good food at Ammoudi Sunset. Matt had some lovely fresh king prawns with a side of French fries and I had a pork chop and French fries (literally the only non-fish option), which could have potentially been disappointing but it was actually really tasty. The fries were delicious!
We also wandered back through the village on our way back from Ammoudi Bay and took some photos of the little hidden streets. We stopped off to look inside an amazing bookshop called Atlantis Books which even gets a mention in the New York Times. For a couple like us who live for quirkiness and cool décor, this place was a total dream! Combine that with our love of reading and we could have stayed for hours looking at all the titles in the store.
That evening we were booked in at Kastro Restaurant which I had reserved well in advance by email so that we got a good table to watch the sunset. This place is right at the tip of Oia village by the old castle so is a prime spot for sunset viewing. I didn’t expect much of the food as it isn’t very highly rated on TA (although still gets #23 of 75) but we were mainly there to enjoy the sunset from comfortable seats with a drink in hand! Again we chose to have a starter and main course so that we could wander through the village to Lolita’s and enjoy a delicious ice cream for the final time (yes, it was that good). So for starter I had a moussaka croquette and Matt had garlic mushrooms, both perfectly edible but nothing to really shout about. For main course I had Greek meatballs with fries, roasted veg and a mint dip, and Matt had grilled lamb which came with red cabbage and a baked potato with cream cheese. I really enjoyed my meatballs, they tasted very similar to lamb koftas with lots of mint and the mint dip was very tasty too. Matt was less impressed with his lamb as there wasn’t much meat and he had to cut it away from a few fiddly bones, it looked like it was little cutlets of lamb neck that has been grilled, but it was still tasty apparently. Anyway, the main event was clearly the sunset, as you can tell from the photos!!
On our final day, we had until 12.30pm to check out of our room so we had a relatively lazy morning and late breakfast before packing up our case and leaving it with reception. We had checked the day before that they were able to store our case for us until our 8pm pick up, which they were more than happy to do as well as arranging for their dedicated driver to take us back to the airport for €50. As I mentioned at the start, a taxi would have only cost us €35 but we would have meant calling the taxi service ourselves and then relying on one to be sent at the right time and to turn up at the right hotel etc… so booking a transfer with the hotel, although more expensive, gave us some peace of mind.
We then spent the rest of the day relaxing around the pool area. We were really lucky that the Strogili pool area has toilets and a shower room, alongside a little kitchen with a fridge so we had a good set up for the day and no need to access our room once we had checked out. The weather forecast kept saying there would be a thunderstorm, but in Oia it was still scorching hot. However we did see lots of black clouds rolling in and out, then Matt caught a photo of a huge column of rain coming down over Fira and the south side of the island followed by rumbles of thunder!! We freshened up at around 5pm and put our swimming clothes back in our suitcase at reception before heading into the village for our final meal at Melitini before returning home. We wanted to come back to Melitini for our last meal because the food was so great and the service was fantastic. We could eat as little or as much as we liked and it was great value. There’s a reason why it is #2 of 75 restaurants in all of Oia! Unfortunately for me we chose a dish that was cooked with quite a lot of onions and whilst it was delicious, I ended up with terrible indigestion on the flight back home that night so my pregnant body really didn’t thank me for it!
Just a little word about the airport on Santorini for our journey back. We had an awful experience, but I wouldn’t want to put anyone off because I dare say it isn’t always like that and it was caused by delays due to bad weather earlier in the day. The airport is so insanely disorganised, however I’ve been told that it is quite normal for Greek airports, particularly those on the small islands that are under-developed and clearly under-funded. Let’s just say I didn’t get to take a seat from arriving at the airport at 8.30pm to getting on the plane just before 11.30pm and the whole process of checking in and getting through the various stages of security was very chaotic when there was very little room to move as it was so packed with people! Like I said, it’s likely to be something that doesn’t happen all the time but just be prepared for something that doesn’t resemble a British airport in any shape or form with no organised queues!
Annnnyyyyway! Even an awful airport experience didn’t manage to spoil what had been such a lovely week spent together in Santorini, truly relaxing and enjoying each other’s company before our little lady joins us in around 10 weeks time. I would 100% recommend Santorini to anyone, although unless you plan on having a few pool days like we did then you really don’t need a week. Oia can be done in a day, then there are excursions that can be done on other days. One of the most popular is a 5 hour boat trip where you get a quick tour of the red and black beaches (near to Kamari and Perissa) then get to swim in the hot springs around the dormant volcano in the caldera, finished off with an on-board BBQ whilst watching the sunset. Matt and I aren’t big boat fans (previous bad experience in the Dom Rep!!) so we didn’t do this and I wouldn’t have been able to do the swimming part due to something to do with sulphur possibly harming unborn babies. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable swimming off the side of a boat anyway really but if it sounds like your kind of thing then it’s really highly rated so go for it! You don’t need to book any boat trips before you arrive unless you’re on a really tight schedule as there are lots of places which sell them on the island and your hotel will always be able to recommend a tour operator. You’ll probably save yourself some money too by not booking through a third party before you get there.
- If you plan on eating in Oia during sunset, you absolutely must make reservations in advance, one or two days before is ideal but you may get lucky if you make them earlier the same day.
- TripAdvisor is everything. It really doesn’t lie and it pays to do a bit of research if you don’t want to end up eating somewhere with poor quality food.
- If you are in Fira, make use of the public buses as everything is accessible from the main bus terminal there. Although when I say terminal, I mean big car park with one information desk!
- Avoid Fira and Oia on high traffic cruise ship days if possible, it gets so ridiculously busy especially on mornings and early evening as most start coming in at 7am then leave around 5pm.
- Make use of toilets in restaurants and cafes if you are out and about during the day as public toilets are practically non existent or have huge queues and are not kept very clean.
If you stayed with me right to the end then thank you! I hope you enjoyed my travel blog all about Santorini and hopefully it might inspire you to take a little trip there yourself.