You’ve only got two days to make the most of the island of Santorini, where the staircases to heaven meet the sea. Perhaps you’ve hopped here from a nearby Cycladic island, or maybe Santorini is your starting point, but one thing is for sure; this Aegean island will leave its panoramic scenes imprinted on your heart.
Santorini is one of the most frequented summer destinations in the world, despite being curved around an active volcano. The cubic whitewashed cave houses and the cobalt blue of the church domes make Santorini recognizable all around the world. You’ll be tempted to set your accommodation sights on Oia (pronounced ‘ee-ya’), but unsurprisingly, so will everyone else! Imerovigli is more understated and less congested, which makes its luxury that little bit more exclusive. Arguably, the view from Imerovigli is the best on the island. Grace Santorini, Astra Suites, Cavo Tagoo and Aeifos Boutique Hotel are some of the most chic stays in Imerovigli, with mesmerising views of the glimmering blue beneath. Returning to your spot in the evening and watching as the day turns to night is unrivalled. The sky fades through from burnt oranges to purples, and finally to midnight blue. The lights along the elevated coastline stretched out before you illuminate, like a thousand stars in a row.
Close to Imerovigli is Fira, the capital of Santorni, and actually the Greek name for the entire island! Take the cable car down to the old harbour, where there are private and semi-private boat rental services, many of which come with delicious Greek fare and drinks to keep you going. Spending the early afternoon at sea, and seeing the volcanic coastline this way is unbeaten, with stops for swimming in the warm springs of Nea Kameni and Palea, and by the red, white and black beaches.
Back on land, one of the best experiences you can have in Santorini is wine tasting. Santorini is known for its sweet wine, Vin Santo, made from dried, fermented assyrtiko and aidani grapes. Venetsanos is a historically family-run winery, where you can take a private cellar tour before you’re transported out onto the breezy overhanging terrace for a wine and food pairing, and an even more appetising vista of the cliffs that have been chiselled out by the many eruptions over the millenia. Instead of competing for space at the overpopulated Agios Nikolaos Castle in Oia, watch the sunset over the caldera here.
Santorini is a movie, where the sun plays the biggest role. Though renowned for its sunsets, the sunrise left me in awe. Seeing the morning dew lift from the sea as the island wakes up is a spectacle in itself. It’s hard to imagine Santorini like this when you’re shoulder to shoulder with tourists in small, cobbled alleyways. The early morning is the optimal time to visit Oia, beating the day-trippers that arrive in droves on cruise ships. This is the secret to seeing Oia as you’ve seen it on postcards, or in the shoulder season (April, May, September, October). As the day goes on, if you end up needing some respite from the crowds, pop into any of the air-conditioned boutiques along the narrow backstreets. You’ll notice that the outer facades of the boutiques in Oia are complimentary of their surroundings, with blue door-frames to match the surroundings. You’ll stay cool wearing anything linen, cotton and nude, with the Solana Ubud Espadrille Shoes easily complimenting the island’s colour palette.
As a volcanic island, Santorini isn’t for golden sand seekers. However, the eruptive history of the island has created some magnificent natural landscapes. Almost a year ago, on my honeymoon, I visited Ammoudi Bay, a gorgeous port built into the towering red rocks below Oia. The walk to Ammoudi Bay is down a winding path made up of 278 steps, and is totally worth the fresh seafood meal we had down there. Stavros, our host, booked us a table at the Ammoudi Fish Tavern, and it felt as though you were dining right on the water. Order the grilled octopus, which you’ll notice is hung out to sun dry at the entrance. The food and the sea breeze here make the perfect afternoon pairing.
For a stark contrast to Oia, make your way along the high coastal road towards Megalochori, a quaint and quiet, traditional village to the south of Fira. The white three-tiered bell tower, nestled by bougainvillaea bushes, is a postcard-ready scene. After filling up your camera-roll, stop at alisachni and enjoy their gallery showcasing unique art pieces and ceramics, all available to purchase, whilst sampling a selection of wines as you browse. In Megalochori, the arts are taken seriously, as industries such as pottery are how many local families have survived on this tiny island for such a long time. With this in mind, you must visit the Symposion, an elegant cultural centre, with a Mediterranean ambience, dedicated to performances of how Greek mythology and art has foretold the stories of today. Or, simply pop your head in to admire the warm, light and neutral tones of the terrace decor, and the use of natural materials and contrasting textures. In case you can't get enough of that caldera view, Megalochori offers one of the most spectacular panoramas on the island. By the entrance of Artemis Suites is a short coastal pathway, which leads down to the Heart of Santorini, a heart shaped hole in the cliff with a striking scene of the crescent-shaped island as you look through.
Head back to Imerovigli for your last meal on the island, at The Athenian House. Using high-quality Grecian produce, chefs here have created tantalising three-course set menus. Knowledgeable masters of food put a sophisticated twist on household staples like fava beans and gyros, bringing classic Thiran cuisine to the forefront of fine-dining. Take in your last breathtaking view of Santorini, as you plan your return before you have even left!