These lovely towns overlook the island’s famous ‘Caldera’ which is the lagoon/sea far below occupying the space where the volcano-centre once simmered before a massive eruption thousands of years ago blew everything to pieces. What remained when the lava settled was an arc (on the right hand side) which is Santorini and a few smaller islands to the left which now form the outer perimeter of the Caldera.
On the other (east) coast, the countryside slopes down to the sea and as the airport location suggests its very flat – the complete opposite to the high cliffs of the west coast caldera rim. Just south of the airport you’ll find two of the islands main beach resorts Kamari and Perissa and around here you’ll find good-value accommodation of various standard.
But Santorini is not famed for its beaches, mostly they are of black volcanic sand – or pebbles. If you pay extra for a sea-view on the east coast, just remember its just sea-view, not Caldera view. There is the world of a difference in price and in views!
Most of the premium accommodation is on the west coast, from Fira up to Oia, and all in between. Fira is the capital town and feels bigger than the other towns of Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia. Below Fira is a harbour and the whole island gets busy when the Cruise ships' tenders arrive. In Fira town there are great views, good accommodation, plenty of restaurants, shops, lots of bars and a buzzing nightlife with a good selection of late night-clubs…….. you wont have to look far to find them!
Immediately north of Fira – in reality they run into each other and you can easily walk along the cliffside path between the two - is Firostefani. This is where we stayed and I felt it was the ‘Goldilocks’ of the towns – it was JUST RIGHT in terms of size, restaurant offerings and life. All along here there are plenty restaurants, bars and shops.
If you are pre-booking dinner anywhere along the west coast MAKE SURE you specify a table with a view. The best view tables are limited, so book in advance. The service and the food are very good. Everything was so fresh – locally caught seafood, warm breads, Greek yogurt, freshly made pasta, fig-syrup and sticky sweet desserts. There is always a nice buzz around the restaurants and bars. The local dishes are excellent - finished off with a small glass of Vinsanto (the local sweet/dessert wine).
For your accommodation, pay extra for a Caldera-view room with a balcony. You won’t regret it. By day its stunning and in the evening, you get a front row sunset-view, drink of choice in your hand. All the better rooms give you complete privacy. Its Heaven.
Note there are LOTS of steps particularly if your accommodation is on the Cliff-face – not to be underestimated!
Oia (pronounced ‘ee-ya’) on the north-west tip is the next town after Imerovigli and the jewel in the crown of the island in terms of beauty and stunning views of the Caldera. In fact, it is from here that you get the truest sense and view of the original circular volcano rim. Quite simply it is stupendous.
The town’s tiny narrow laneways twist along the edge with a spectacular new vista at every turn. There are some amazing shops to pick-up nice souvenirs, clothes, gift-packs of olive oil, honey, wine, ouzo and other local delicacies. There are art galleries, craft shops and upmarket jewellers. Some of these shops, bars and cafes are housed in charming old buildings and you’ll find the island’s characteristic tiny blue-domed chapels round every turn, as well as a few larger churches, all immaculately painted and maintained.
At the highest point in Oia – the town centre – there’s a row of discreet entrances to top-end hotels. Painted brilliant white and attended by an impossibly beautiful receptionist (male or female), they offer the slightest glimpse of what – on the other side - must be the most amazing sea-view rooms imaginable with balconies, private pools, hotel-bars and winding stepped paths, all hidden from the gaze of the passing multitudes. And make no mistake, in high season and when there is a cruise ship or two in the bay, there will be large crowds funnelling along the narrow laneways of all the towns on the west coast from Fira up to Oia. At key locations you’ll find a little queue of amateur photographers waiting for their turn for that ‘money-shot’ of the blue-domes or setting-sun or turquoise water below. If you’re lucky you’ll get all three in one! I’m not knocking it – when you see the views, you’ll see why we were all happy quite to queue for a minute or two!
By day, the tiny white buildings appear to cling impossibly to the tip of the ridge and spill slightly down over the edge. By night the lights create an amazing sight - like a million fireflies twinkling motionless on the ragged edge, high up in the darkness. And all the while there is silent movement far below in the caldera; ferries, pleasure-boats, cruise ships, trawlers, speedboats and sailing vessels.
There are plenty excursions to tempt you away from your pool-side or your balcony. We opted for the Catamaran Cruise – with 12 other passengers and a crew of 4 – which departed from Vlichada Marina on the south coast at 3pm visiting two of the islands in the Caldera with snorkelling and drinks included. You have an open bar, snacks and a freshly prepared dinner with return to port at 8pm, so you get superb sunset views en route home. It was €150 per person - which is pricey - but the price includes all of the above & your minibus transfers from your hotel to & from the port. Overall it was a very memorable experience. The boat-staff were terrific.
June to August is peak season for tourist numbers and for prices In Santorini. It also gets pretty hot, though there is usually a welcome breeze to cool you down. April/May and Sept/Oct are ideal – or whenever the direct flights are operating from Dublin. For decades we had to get to Santorini via Athens or Gatwick or Frankfurt – or by ferry from other Greek Islands. Now that there are direct flights it’s time for Santorini to shine. So what are you waiting for? Let’s do this. Call me now