Santorini is a place I have always wanted to visit. Of all the Greek Islands I think it has the most allure.
At the distance viewed from my balcony on the morning our ship anchored the buildings looked almost miniature-like. Perched haphazardly on the cliff top the town looked every bit as charming as its many photographs portray. The cliff face was stunning, dramatic.
This stop was the only occasion on the cruise that we needed to take tenders ashore. My husband and I headed to disembarkation directly after breakfast, eager to get started with our day – another hot, cloudless day awaited us.
We deliberately chose not to book a tour for Santorini. I wanted us to discover the island for ourselves and at our own pace. And it had always been a dream of mine to enjoy a long lazy lunch on a sun-drenched Santorinian terrace overlooking the Aegean.
Fortunately we didn’t have to queue long for the cable car once we reached the small port and were soon immersed in the streets of Fira, Santorini’s capital and largest town.
We had a lot of fun exploring the narrow streets, despite the crowds. It was a shame there had been another cruise ship in port that morning, making it extremely busy. Later that day we got chatting to some people and they told us there can sometimes be as many as five cruise ships in port on any one day. I tried not to imagine the chaos that would cause in the narrow streets of Fira. We were lucky it was the passengers of only one other cruise ship we were sharing Santorini with that day.
During our explorations we came across the Orthodox Cathedral that sits towards the bottom of the town. We had glimpsed its dome several times while walking and were keen to have a look inside when we finally reached it. We weren’t disappointed. Outside it was hot, noisy, busy. Inside the cathedral it was cool and peaceful. And very beautiful. Especially the frescoes, which I learned were painted by Christoforos Asimis, a local artist. The interior dome was particularly impressive. Unfortunately you weren’t allowed to take photographs inside but in a way this helped to make it the peaceful place it was – a haven from the bustle going on outside.
After walking the town we got in a spot of shopping. I’d have to say the shops in Fira were much like we’d seen in Mykonos and Rhodes previously but that didn’t stop me. My favourite purchase was a lovely gem of a necklace from one of the many jewellery stores.
After all that walking and shopping we decided it was time for lunch – the pièce de résistance of my day. It was a good thing we had already looked out a place we wanted to eat earlier in the day, which meant no hassle choosing somewhere once we were hungry.
Da Costa ticked all the boxes when it came to living up to my dream. The restaurant was modern but charming and promised traditional Greek food. Most importantly it had that incredible view I'd dreamed about.
With the caldera wall below us, we had a panoramic view over Fira and the volcano. Santorini is the most active volcanic centre in the southern part of the Aegean. In fact, what you see today is what remains after several large eruptions dating back thousands of years. From the ship that morning we’d had a spectacular view of the caldera wall and from our restaurant it was the opposite view. Magnificent.
As for the food – delicious. We ate grilled vegetables, baked feta, stuffed vine leaves with tzatziki, crusty bread and the most incredible fried zucchini balls. My husband and I both agreed that the zucchini balls were the standout dish of the day. We almost ordered a second portion.
Delicious food, local wine, blue sky, sunshine and spectacular views – I was happy.
When we finally dragged ourselves away from the table we realised it was too late to catch a boat to Oia, a village 11 kms northwest of Fira. It’s often referred to as the island’s most picturesque village. It is this village that you see in many of the postcards and photographs of Santorini – charming narrow streets with whitewashed buildings and blue-domed churches. Not to mention incredible viewpoints. This village is more traditional and quieter than Fira.
Some friends we made on the ship told us that they caught a boat to Oia from Fira port and then a taxi up to the village. They loved it. I do regret not making it there but I suppose it’s one of the sacrifices you make when cruising – not having enough time to properly see the amazing places you visit.
Of course, the answer to rectifying this disappointment is to make sure we return to Santorini at some point in the future. Next time I’ll make sure we spend a few days because I would love to see a Santorinian sunset – I’ve heard they’re quite something.
I’m fortunate that my parents visited Oia when they were on Santorini in 2009 and have graciously allowed me to share a few of their photos. A beautiful place.
And now I have a final tip to share with you. After some post-lunch exploring we decided it was time to head back to the ship. We had noticed earlier in the day a queue forming for the return journey on the cable car. We toyed with the idea of settling down at one of the quaint bars while we waited for the crowds to ease. When we realised it was unlikely to happen for some time we decided there was nothing else for it but to join the queue. I’m not great at the best of times when it comes to queues and it wasn’t how I would have chosen to finish our lovely day on Santorini.
Of course, there is always the donkey track option but it wasn’t for me. I don’t actually like having to watch the poor donkeys pulling such weight up a steep hill in the blistering heat. And I was equally uninterested in walking the track myself and having to step around what the donkeys leave behind.
So, here’s the tip (if you’ve only got the day in Santorini). Get a tender to port early, take the cable car up to Fira (or walk the track if you feel like a bit of exertion), have a look around and then catch the cable car down to port before the queues start. Take a boat transfer to Oia and have lunch there. Although I couldn’t fault our excellent lunch at Da Costa, if I had my time over again this is how I would have organised the day.
But no matter – there’s always next time.
Published by Tracey O'Brien