Santorini in February was an absolute dream! I had chosen this destination for my thirtieth birthday, as I wanted something special to mark the occasion. Despite many of the shops being closed, the island was paradise, with very few tourists and plenty of uninterrupted views.
As we neared Santorini by ferry, you could see the white buildings perched on the cliffs, like smatterings of snowy icing sugar. The thrill of travel was upon us! At the port, we were drawn into the nearest rental car agency available and drove away with a car for 30 euros a day. We haggled him down quite quickly to a price that still included insurance, signed a scraggy piece of paper and were off, winding up the narrow road that took us to the top of the cliff.
We had booked a cave room at Suites of the Gods Cave Spa Hotel for 70 euro per night. I suspect this excellent deal was due to winter, as we had a spectacular view of the caldera from our balcony and a large bath tub, four-poster bed and a buffet breakfast. Perhaps I also found it so luxurious because I always stay in hostels and for once, I was treating myself to something special. It was worth it!
That first evening, we drove to the capital, Fira, and took a walk down the narrow lanes and through the white buildings to watch the sunset. No shops were open and only a few restaurants, but the plus side was that we had the place all to ourselves.
On our second day, we took the hire car to Red Beach, to check out the rich, volcanic soil. Nearby, we also explored the Akrotiri Ancient Minoan ruins – it is amazing to walk through such an old civilisation, where the earliest evidence dates back to c. 5000 BC. You can still see remnants of pots, walls and stair cases.
Later, we climbed to the top of the Venetian castle in modern-day Akrotiri, with views over the nearby countryside. A short drive on and we were on the southern most tip, down by the lighthouse at Paros, with stunning views all the way along the island.
At lunch, we stopped at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, called Captain Dimitri’s Restaurant. It had fishing nets on the wall and oil lamps on the tables. A friendly Greek lady came over to take our order and simultaneously teach us the word for thank you in Greek. We feasted on grilled eggplant with onion, tomato and feta, dolmades with tzatziki and fresh bread on the side. At the end, the lady brought us two complimentary desserts – delicious greek yoghurt balls topped with a carrot and lemon sauce!
In the afternoon, we took a walk along the Black Beach at Perissa, before driving the car to the highest point on the island. We drove through Pyrgos and up to the monastery at the very top of the mountain. The road was so steep and windy that it sometimes felt that we might topple over the edge! It was quite unnerving, but the views from the top were incredible and there were even two donkeys along the way, one of which had pretty beads around his head. We saw more donkeys the next day, hard at work in town, carting bags of cement, building supplies and sometimes luggage up and down the narrow stair cases of Oia.
That evening, we drove up to Oia for the first time and it was just as magical as I had imagined. There were only a couple of shops open – a very lovely book shop called Atlantis Books which was tucked into a cave and full to the brim of literature, maps and the works of ancient greek philosophers!
There was also an art gallery open, where I purchased a silk-screen print of Santorini as a gift for my birthday. The sunset that evening was magical, as it splashed its colours over the white houses carved into the cliff. There was a small crowd watching the sun sink into the ocean, but it felt serene and peaceful.
On our third day, I turned thirty! I awoke to birthday calls and a lovely selection of gifts, before heading to Ancient Thera (c. 9th Century BC onwards), which is situated on the top of Messavouno mountain. Blown about by a strong and relentless wind, the experience was invigorating and all the more exciting for it! Rounding the top of the mountain, we were quite surprised, as the extensive ruins of this city appeared. It really felt like we were discovering this place for ourselves, particularly as there was nobody there but us.
For lunch, we drove back to Fira and admired more donkeys, going about their daily work. Nearly all of the shops and restaurants were closed (the downside of low season). However, we did happen across a nice restaurant called Sofia Camille where the lovely host shook our hands on arrival and we were treated to complimentary olives from his farm, fresh bread, moussaka and an alcohol-soaked fruit salad. It was a lovely birthday lunch!
That night, we returned to Oia for another sunset. A Greek musician played some traditional tunes as the sun sunk into the ocean. We enjoyed exploring new alleyways and admiring the serene windmill on the hill, not to mention the many dogs that seemed to have replaced cats for the day! That evening, back in the hotel, I celebrated the new decade with champagne, orange syrup cake and candles! It certainly was a birthday to remember!
Have you been to Santorini? What was your experience like?