For our 2016 Tour de Europe trip we had organised a 4 day layover in Athens with the express purpose of spending two days and a night in Santorini, one of the famous Greek islands. Santorini is easily accessible from Athens. You have a choice of two carriers for your 40 minute flight: either Aegean Airlines or Ryanair, both low cost carriers. Our choice was Aegean Airlines, and for about €200 return it was a good trip. You land at the main airport (and I use that term loosely) in Thira, the largest town. Because we had 15 people, I’d organised a transfer from the hotel. It took about 15 minutes from the airport to our hotel mainly because of the narrow and crowded roads. You can, of course, take the ferry from Piraeus. This is a 15 hour trip though as it calls at a number of islands before reaching Santorini.
Santorini is built on the edges of an extinct volcano. The bay where cruise ships drop anchor is the caldera of the volcano. They say there is only a small chance of an eruption and the island has been inhabited for more than 4000 years. Historical records say that the last big eruption was in 2500 bc when the top was blown off the volcano, forming the island as we know it. The island is a crescent moon shape, with Thira (Fira in some brochures) in the middle inner edge and the other major town of Oia on the northern tip.
The main attraction of Santorini is the scenery. All those pictures in travel brochures with whitewashed houses and deep blue seas are taken in Santorini. Also complementing the scenery is the masses of bougainvillea in many different bright colours that enhance the island. Overall the impression is very favourable on the scenery score.
Our hotel was the Kavalari Hotel in Thira. The Kavalari was great value for what we paid (about €130 per room) for a 3 star hotel. One thing to remember if you’re going to Santorini, is that it is a LOT more expensive if you book over a weekend (Hotels up to three times the price). The Kavalari is situated on the inner cliffside of the extinct volcano. It also faces directly west, so has a great view of the sunset (which is what everybody goes to see). The only disadvantage is that the rooms are on a number of different levels, with a long climb down the steps to the cheaper rooms (and subsequently a long climb back up). Not recommended for the elderly as there is no elevator and the steps are steep.
Santorini is really set up for the tourists. 5 cruise ships a day call into the island, filling up the shops and restaurants. Again, like any tourist hot spot, the trinkets are tacky and the jewellery outrageously expensive. The restaurants however are more modestly priced and cater for many different cuisines. Being a Greek island, Greek food is abundant and good. The two restaurants we tried were Foussa and Argo. Both are reasonably popular, so may need to be booked in advance.
As for the attractions on Santorini, the first one that people go for is the sunset viewing area in Oia. There is a bus that goes from Thira but it and the viewing area can be crowded. At the northern end of Thira township there is a chairlift that can take you down to the landing area for the transports to the cruise ships. At this point there are a couple of options to take to get you back to the top. The first is a walking trail and the second is a trip on donkey back to emulate the way it used to be done before the chairlift. You can of course go back via the chairlift. Return journey on the chairlift is €10.
One way to get around the island is to rent one of the quad bikes that are available all over. There is a lot of traffic though, so it pays to be careful. The other thing to be informed about is that electricity supply is often interrupted, so a small torch in your pocket could be handy.
You’ll find the other major problem with Santorini infrastructure when you get to the airport to return to Athens. The departure area of the airport is hopelessly overcrowded and small, with a difficult to understand announcement system and little information on which gate to use. In addition, if one of the bus drivers for the gate to plane transfers is off on sick leave, then it becomes more chaotic.
Overall, a great trip. There are a number of other attractions to see other than those I’ve mentioned. I’d say a mid-week trip with three nights would probably see you out, unless you want to spend time on the beach.