Santorini has been touted as having one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, and there’s only one way for me to find out! Packing up my bags at the beach-laden island of Mykonos, I boarded a fast-speed Catamaran to join the Santorini dream. Two and half hours later, we docked at Athinios Port and gazed up the sheer cliffs of legendary Thira. Greece promised us a postcard-perfect island – now it’s my chance to see if it’s myth or reality.
DAY 1: Reaching the island of Santorini, Greece
Alighting at the dock, the first sight of Santorini didn’t impress us. Where were the white houses? Where was the picture-esque scenery? Alright, Santorini isn’t for the impatient. We found out that the central town of Thira in Santorini was still another 20 minutes away by our hotel pick-up. If you’re confused by the many names, Santorini is known classically as Thera, which is Thira in English but also called Fira by the locals.
As the van wounded up the steep zig-zag of a road, Nea Kameni came into view in the middle of the sea. I had done extensive research prior to the trip. Santorini is the remaining of a volcanic caldera that has been mostly filled with seawater. Visiting the active volcano mouth is one of the many favourite things to do in Santorini. We were somewhat sceptical as that didn’t sound that fun, so we gave it a miss. But many people said it was way more exciting than it sounded. Well, perhaps next time!
We took a late afternoon boat, and so we arrived at Porto Fira Suites just as the sun was setting. The volcano eruption 3,600 years ago gave Santorini a unique landscape, forcing its buildings to cling to the steep insides of the caldera. We had to walk some steep steps from the main road to the hotel. But boy, is it worth it!
By then, as we climbed the stairs, we started to see the famed sights that spammed many postcards and Instagram feeds – that of white houses cresting the island like foam on Freddo Cappuccino. While Mykonos is the party island, and Zakynthos known for their resorts, Santorini is tipped as the most romantic with its panoramic views and dazzling sunset. And we got here just in time to capture it.
What was to be a short 15-minute walk to our dinner spot became an hour, as we paused and gaped at the shifting colours of Santorini’s sunset. Walking along the pavements edging the town, the sparkling villages came alive and left an indelible impression for the rest of the night.
DAY 2: Sussing out Greek Thera history
While Imerovigli is the default Santorini sightseeing spot for the view, we decided to stay nearer to the central town because we didn’t want to spend so much on transport. Plus, the accommodation there was significantly steeper in price, and honestly, the view couldn’t be that much of a difference.
Today’s mood was for some throwback, and we mean all the way to 9th century BC. Ancient Thera was a grand city with a mythical ruler until the rulers abandoned it in 726 AD. Known as “the other great archaeological site” of Santorini attractions – the main one being Akrotiri – we chose this site partially because Akrotiri was undergoing some works.
Sprawling over the top of the Mesa Vouno mountain, between Kamari and Perissa village, is a network of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine remains that is the haunting Ancient Thera. It’s not one of the more common Santorini tourist places because it’s not as well-preserved as Akrotiri, but the raw setting and unobstructed sea views of the other side of Santorini would warrant me another visit if I return here someday.
Admittedly, I wished there were more signs explaining the half-gone structures that lie around the compound. But it’s also fun trying to decipher which of those were the residential houses, temples, agora (market) or theatre. For those interested in what was unearthed, you can view the exhibits at the Archaeological Museum of Thera.
And perched on the 360-metre cliff, against azure skies and glimmering sea, it’s the Santorini history painted splendid by nature that you’ll also get to enjoy. We spent almost an hour wandering around before settling down under a tree, enjoying the breeze and scenery.
Red, black, and white – Three Colourful Beaches in Santorini
While Mykonos and Zakynthos both have beaches (I mean which island doesn’t?), one of the Santorini’s attractions is her choice of coloured beaches! The black beach beside Ancient Thera, Kamari, was our first beach stop in the trip. Once again, thanks to the volcanic history of the island, Santorini beaches are coloured in the three shades.
The Kamari Black Beach was surprisingly very clean with a good number of deck chairs and parasols. The water was a little too cold for us when we went in early April, but it shouldn’t be as cold towards the later part of the year. It was also here that we enjoyed some of the local Santorini food, like in this case, a platter of fresh fish!
We had to get going to our next destination: the Red Beach, somewhere near Akrotiri. We were greeted by a dramatic rusty backdrop of the cliff against the darker waters. It was not exactly a sunbathing spot as what we expected, but more of a tourist sightseeing spot. The sands were too rough for you to lie down and chill for long. This beach is sometimes closed due to landslide and rockfall!
Because we didn’t get enough sun rays and Vitamin D from our last trip to the beach, we decided to head back to our hotel to enjoy the pool. I couldn’t help but compare the view of our hotel’s pool to what MBS offered, and Santorini won the battle hands-down! As we dipped and lounged by the colours of the sunset, we were sold by the awe-inspiring views. It was no surprise that Santorini had been many couples’ choice for their honeymoon destination.
DAY 3: An unexpected find – Santorini wine
The Santorini Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum is a vineyard, restaurant, bar, retail outlet and subterranean cave museum all in one! Because of the arid soil composition, the Santorini wine has a unique taste that’s highly sought after by restaurants and bars around the world. That’s the reason why we put this on our bucket list!
Four generations of the Koutsoyianpoulos family have been running the business, and we were free to explore most of the compounds. From the 300m natural tunnel system, that presents the history of the island’s wine-making from 1660 to 1970.
The tour ended on a lovely note – a wine sampling at the bar of the different wines from across Santorini, including the well-known Volcan Wines, produced by the family. The whites were delicious, but I quickly fell for the reds for their distinct sweet and nectar-like flavour. We left the place with each of us carrying a bottle home.
We headed back to town for dinner and some final shopping before our ferry back to Athens tomorrow morning.
It’s extremely tough to find Asian food in Greece! I started having some rice withdrawals even though our experience with Santorini food had been wonderful. When my travel buddies and I saw this sign of Chinese Restaurant, we dashed up the stairs, past stereotypical fonts and everything else.
Our meals were nothing to shout about but there were tears in our eyes by the end of the meal. Yes, we’re still basic Asians who can’t live without rice!
Does the myth of Santorini live up to its hype?
It’s a strange phenomenon to see the same sun giving a different look on each of the islands we went to in Greece. From Zakynthos to Paros to Mykonos, each had its own beauty, but none held a candle to Santorini’s. Santorini hides so many tourist places, but with the heavenly kaleidoscope that morphs from blue to purple, pink to orange, and then a deep red, the sunsets on Thira remain an unforgettable memory from my trip to Santorini.