Streaks of white punctuated by blue domes cling to the top of cliffs, looking down on the lagoon where we’re anchored. A few other islands surround us. These islands are remnants of what was formerly one big island before an enormous volcanic eruption collapsed the center of the island and it was swallowed into the sea. Myths say the lost city of Atlantis lays in this very spot, beneath the azure Ionian Sea.
There’s no proper port on Santorini, so we’re tendering, meaning we’re exiting our cruise ship in the middle of the lagoon onto smaller boats that can dock at the small marina. As the tender brings us closer to the island, we finally notice the white stone stairway snaking up the cliff side to the village above. A line of donkeys carry passengers precariously balanced on their backs up the steep steps.
This is precisely how we pictured Greece.
Originally we had planned to hike the volcano on another of the tiny islands, but our reservation couldn’t be confirmed because of the amount of time it takes to come ashore when tendering. It was probably a blessing in disguise. It was so hot even the locals were commenting on the temperature. And had we gone volcano hiking, we wouldn’t have had time to visit the village of Oia. Ah well, it gives us a reason to return someday!
We decided to rent a car and explore the island on our own. We secured a car for the day for just €35 at the marina and opted to take the cable car to the village of Fira, where we could pick up our car.
There were four cruise ships including us in port; 8,000 people packing the tiny, narrow streets of Fira made it difficult to even walk. We hoped in our rental car and zoomed off to the village of Oia (pronounced Ee-ah) where we found far fewer tourists.
We spent most of our time exploring Oia where we wound our way through the cobbled streets and sun-kissed verandas. Tiny shops and art galleries line the streets. Tavernas are plentiful and we stopped to enjoy the views from a rooftop terrace while enjoying smoothies.
Santorini has a flourishing wine industry based on the indigenous grape Assyrtiko. The grapes are trained to grow in low-spiraling basket shapes to help protect them from Santorini’s fierce winds. Tim spotted some vintage wines in a little shop in Oia and we bought two bottles to bring home.
On the way to Oia, I had spotted a restaurant right on the cliff side with views that were nothing short of spectacular. We decided to search out this little restaurant for dinner. It is called Restaurant Iris and its proprietor Yannis will show you the true meaning of Greek hospitality! The fish is fresh and all caught daily by fisherman who Yannis then purchases from. We dined on stuffed vine leaves, grilled snapper, and grilled lobster. We washed it all down with a local wine selected by Yannis for us. We loved the wine so much, Yannis actually allowed us to purchase three bottles at market price to bring home with us. He also graciously brought us a special Greek nut cake for dessert while giving us tips on what to see once we got to Olympia, his hometown.
After returning the rental car, we needed to begin making our way back down to the ship. Why on earth we decided to walk down the 300 steps instead of taking the tram is beyond me. Tim hoisted our case of wine up on his shoulder and down we went, zig-zagging to avoid the “obstacles” left by the hundreds of donkeys trekking up and down the steps.
Our timing couldn’t have been better as we reached the bottom and watched the golden sun dip below the horizon.
How To Save
We rented a car from Spiridakos for €35. Tram tickets one way were €4 per person. Norwegian offered an Oia Village shore excursion for $69.99 per person. Total savings = $88.