Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 3: Akrotiri and the Red Beach

Santorini Day 3: Akrotiri and the Red Beach

Our first view of Akrotiri
Our first view of Akrotiri

We decided on a change of scenery for this day, and decided to visit the southern part of Santorini to explore the beaches and archeological sites there. Since we didn’t want to take any taxis, we opted for public transport again to travel.

Ironically, we had to travel to Fira by bus in order to take another, shorter bus journey back South again to an area called Akrotiri, which had been recommended to us. We had looked at the idea of hiring quad bikes to get around (they cost about €20 at the local vendor we asked at), especially as we’d seen lots of people using them to get around. In the end we didn’t go with the quad bikes because it was a bit risky to drive long distances with these, and it would have added up after a few days plus petrol!

The picture on the left is our first view of area Akrotiri itself, there was a small archeological site and exhibition before this which we had a quick look at and saw a few ruins at (but we didn’t have time to go in, which I regret!), before we walked down to the strip of shops, restaurants and alleys at the pier.

We ate at a pretty place which was hidden away on the side of a turning called the Cave of Nikolas, which was an unpretentious place with quirky decor in the shape of a hollow, which reminded me a lot of Bilbo Baggin’s home! I went for battered codfish with a mash-and-garlic side, and my husband went for calamari with something called ‘tomato balls’, which is batter and tomato and seasoning (which reminded us very much of a dish we have called pakoray!)

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After eating, we decided to stretch our legs and make our way down to the famous Red Beach. We stopped at a few shops and restaurants along the short strip on the way, and took the scenic route to the main clearing towards the Beach. As with other parts of the island, the water was ubelievably clear, there were a few boats anchored nearby, and there was ample relaxing space, although again, the sand was quite pebbly so we didn’t take our shoes off for long!

From the bottom of the entrance to the Red Beach to the actual beach itself, is a bit of climb, and a little scary. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the scenery, and it really is beautiful seeing the red cliffs and blue water stretched out, but you also need to be really careful when walking to the beach because it’s pretty rocky.

TIPS

  • Wear appropriate footwear! This is really important, because there’s no proper staircase or steps, you have to have good grips over the rocks (although there is a beaten pathway where other hikers will have gone so that helps!)
  • Same goes for clothing – not that you’d expect to wear hiking gear, but it helps if you wear comfortable clothes that are easy to move around in and that you don’t mind a bit of dust on.
  • Don’t try to be adventurous! There isn’t much in terms of safety and rails, so it’s better to follow everyone’s lead and go along the same tracks.
  • Take food or water down with you if you want to relax in the main beach area of the Red Beach – we didn’t see any shops or food places at the bottom, and we noticed people brought their own towels to relax in after they went swimming in the sea.

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It was a scary climb to get to the bottom of the beach but from the very outset, it’s easy to see why it is named the Red Beach – the sand and soil were a unique beautiful reddish-brown colour, and it as easy to see why this volcanic-sand beach is one of Santorini’s iconic landscapes.

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We we reached the bottom, we could see the White Beach, another iconic landmark in Santorini, in the distance. The only way to get to this beach is to take a ferry there, but there weren’t any scheduled for the time we arrived at the beach so we didn’t wait for the next one, rather choosing to relax, admire our surroundings, take pictures and dip our feet in the (really cold!) water.

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After  a couple of hours at this beach, soaking up the sun and enjoying the view, we got a little restless after a while and climbed back up the rocks again to the top of the beach (where we found another bridal shoot happening!) and we rested at the top for a while. We  had a look at the Agios Nikolaos or St. Nickolas Church (below) which is built into the mountain at the Red Beach, and also some of the souvenir stalls nearby.

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We then made our way back to the bus-stop, although we took another route back from the way we came, spotting a home-made preservative shop, some sea-food restaurants and plenty of flowers everywhere we went.

This was a really interesting view of Santorini, compared to the hustle and bustle we’d seen in Fira the day before. While it was just as beautiful as the views we’d seen before, it had a much wilder look to it, maybe because it didn’t feel as man-made as the city had, and not as touristy as Perissa had. Climbing up and down the reddish mountains was quite tiring, and by the time we got back to our hotel we were ready to relax and have a good night sleep!

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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 2: Fira and Old Port

Santorini Day 2: Fira and Skala/Old Port

On our second day in Santorini was a little more adventurous, we had the whole day to explore and decided to venture out further in the island.

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We spoke to our tour guide in the morning after breakfast, and also the hotel manager, for advice on travelling around the island and getting to different parts. Both suggested going to Fira, which is the capital and the busiest hub of Santorini – from there you can get a bus or ferries to other parts of the islands.

The layout of Santorini means that the beaches, towns and places to visit are spread all over the island, and there are a lot of winding, long roads to get to each of them – which means no one walks around, but rather takes a car, bus or even quad bikes to get around.

On our last holiday, my husband and I opted not for the easier, touristy route of taking taxis everywhere, but rather made the most of public transport to see more of the country – and we decided to do this again, getting around with the buses on the island (which were actually really nice, more like air-conditioned coaches! I’m guessing they’re usually used around summer time for the tourists).

First we went to this place (above) which was next to the hotel and also in front of the bus stop, called Dorian’s Bar. The place was quiet because it was morning, and the owner of the bar (Dorian himself? I have no idea!) invited us in to wait outside of the sun for the bus to come. We got talking to the owner, who told us his place has its own history, having been there since the 80s, and told us a little about the bar.

Finally the bus came and we hopped on, with a conductor coming along to issue us small paper tickers for €1.40 to Thira, and we watched the view of the town go past on the way to the capital. To say the island is green is an understatement – you can see the greenery, mountains and houses all along the roads, with roads winding around moutains to get to the top and get back down again.

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The greenery on the way to Fira, before we saw the sea.

 

Eventually the Aegean Sea came into sight, and a few islands in the distance, while the bus (after picking up and dropping off passengers on the way) finally stopped at the main bus station in Fira and let us off to walk around.

The streets of Fira, much like some other cities we have been, were sloping, some narrow and leading off to other roads, to the shops and markets, and also to the museums, churches and restaurants which were higher up.

The first thing we visited was the White Orthodox Cathedral of Ypapanti, a big white building with arches and a tall spire. It had a garden in a middle (but we couldn’t walk through it), and it was the perfect starting place to lead us upwards to more buildings and things to see.

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From here we walked through the roads and saw more of the rich blue Aegean Sea, giving us a better view of what was below and the boats sailing past.

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Eventually we got to the edge, that iconic part of Santorini which you often see on Google and on holiday brochures – the expanse of beautiful white buildings against bright blue sky, gorgeous cliffs and the view of the sea (where we posed for a good few minutes and watched the other tourists)

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We stopped for a quick lunch at a restaurant at the peak called Zafora, where we had a cheesy pizza and lots of cold drinks, and watched the view.

TIPS

  • If you’re staying in another part of the island, you’ll find Fira pretty expensive in terms of food and drinks – come prepared with money!
  • Like Perissa, ask the restaurants if they have WiFi, and they’ll give you access if you are a customer
  • Watch your step! There’s a lot of narrow steps and slopes downwards from the top when going into hotels and restaurants. Most of them are smooth but some of them aren’t and if it’s busy and congested, you’ll want to be more careful.

We saw a gorgeous bridal shoot while we were eating as well, which really made our day because it got my husband and I talking about our owe wedding shoot – we thought Fira was an amazing backdrop for a wedding day and loved how happy the couple looked (in fact, during our whole stay we saw another 3 weddings in various places, which was amazing as we never knew what a popular place it was for weddings!)

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We decided to go down to the bottom of Fira where one of the ports where – there’s a variety to ways to travel downwards, cable-cars, donkey rides or climbing the 587 steps in a zig-zag formation, by foot! We decided to spare our feet (I think we both had sandals on which weren’t the best footwear) and take the cable cars, which was a nice treat, costing €5 per person.

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Watching passengers on the way up, while we went down

We reached the bottom, called the Old Port, which is officially called Skala. It has a real simple-town, seaside-y feel to it, perfect for a stroll with an ice-cream, and looking at the sea.

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This was a lot quieter than the city above, and a lot more peaceful as well. There’s a line of restaurants and souvenir shops along the pier and benches to sit and contemplate the scene in front of you, examine a few boats (docked or sailing) and even board one.

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We decided to relax for a while at the pier and watch the clear water from the edge of the rocks. One thing which continued to strike me over and over again during our stay on the island was how beautiful the water looked everywhere we went, it was pretty clear in most places and in beautiful shades of greens and blues. Naturally, hubster and I took this as a chance to take our sandals off and stick our feet into the water, which was cold but very refreshing!

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It was also pretty crazy how far down we were from Fira, and it’s difficult from this angle to show how far down we were, but the hundreds of buildings were a lot less visible and a lot more tiny. We could also see donkeys carrying passengers up and down the 587 steps as well!

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After relaxing for a while (and eating an ice-cream, mine was watermelon flavoured!), we wandered around the shops, and even discovered a tiny church hidden away as well.

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Relaxing on the edge.

 

Eventually we decided to make our way back up to the top, and decided to skip walking up the stairs and be a bit more adventurous – we decided to ride donkeys up them. While we don’t regret this afterwards, it was pretty scary for both of us. Our donkeys were a little moody and kept stopping for no reason, they kept pushing our feet (and past each other) and you had to be extremely careful when they were either near the cliff wall (so you don’t get your leg squashed) or on the wall facing the sea (which was really scary because I had a constant fear of falling off the edge). Nevertheless, it was actually fun once we got the hang of it, and we even got to see photos of us taken by the donkey-owners at the end of ride, just like a theme-park ride, with our mouths open. Needless to say, we didn’t buy our photos, even though it was a shame I didn’t get to take more than two with my own camera because I had to keep my hands free.

Tips

  • Hold tight! Don’t be stupid (like I was) and try to take photos unless you’re really sure you know what you’re doing. It’s better to hold onto the saddle with both hands and feel a lot more secure (and don’t worry, I put my camera away after I got scared of dropping it a few minutes into the ride)
  • If you think you’re riding too close to a wall, you can kick a leg out and push away from it to cause some more room.
  • Don’t be alarmed if the donkeys stop suddenly, they do that. A lot. To sniff each other, to sniff donkey droppings on the floor, heck, pretty much anything.
  • Don’t try to be too adventurous and do your own thing. At the end of the day, we were riding up 587 steps and it was steep at some points, with some steps not very level or wide, so don’t scare the donkeys and don’t try to go your own routes, it’s better if you travel together.
  • Once you get off the donkeys, some donkeys may keep going past, face them and flatten yourself against a wall, and STOP. Don’t try to outrun them.

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Eventually we got to the top, and wandered around a little more, and shopping around – while there were a lot of shops and cafe, some of them had a market-feel to them (although we tried haggling, unsuccessfully, when Hubster tried to buy a hat, after being told everything had a fixed price.) We discovered a variety of places (like the ones below), including a Bubble Tea place (which is pretty much popular everywhere now!) and some ice cream places to sit and relax in.

It was a really nice day out, and a taste of how to get around the island and explore. Looking back at this post, it looks bright and very blue, and in honesty that’s how it looked from when we stepped off from the bus in Fira and walked around – the weather was beautifully clear and bright blue to match the sea, and it was a nice difference from Perissa Beach, which is more for relaxing, while this involves walking around and exploring. It was also really nice to meet a variety of tourists, the resort in Perissa that we were staying in was a lot quieter and had a lot more maturer couples and tourists; in busy Fira it seemed that everyone and anyone came to visit!

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After the long day out, we decided to head back to the hotel before the sun set (which is around 8.30ish when we were there) to avoid walking through the lanes in the dark. We caught a bus and it was a lot quicker on the way back, probably because the driver knew the passengers didn’t want a leisurely, scenic route! Once we got back, we relaxed at the lounge by the pool for a little while with coffees (him) and cake (me) – we both agreed that it had been a really nice day out and that neither of us were going to sit on donkeys again for a while!

Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 1: Arrival/Perissa

Santorini Day 1: Hotel Rena, Perissa and Perissa Beach

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View from plane window

From the very outset of our arrival, Santorini as an island was beautiful. The weather was completely sunny and clear even while travelling on the aeroplane, and (having the window sea!) the window view was beautiful – clear blue seas, high cliffs, beaches and hundreds of tiny roads. We arrived at a tiny airport in the middle of a lot of greenery, checked out quickly from the airport with our luggage and met a beautiful temperature of 27° C which was perfect.

 

We took a coach to the hotel’s entrance, which involved a small path off the main road of shops and bars into a private lane, with trees painted white lining the way. This is the entrance of our hotel, which had a swimming pool and bar at the entrance before walking into the lobby:

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We arrived very early afternoon (Santorini is only 2 hours ahead of London) so we took a quick nap, changed and went out to explore. Our hotel was located in an area called Perissa, which is more south of the island, and a lot quieter than some of the other areas we visited. We visited in early May, which is early in the tourist season – a lot of restaurateurs and shop-sellers told us that it was quiet for now and would get a lot busier from the end of May until July – which was perfect for me because I hate crowds.

The main thing which struck me about this island was how green it is. It sounds obvious, it’s an island so naturally there’s be plenty of forests and mountains, but none of this is advertised when you Google Santorini – it’s all beaches and blue water. And there’s a mountain on every corner – to get anywhere you must drive around winding roads – our coach took us round and round the roads of a mountain to get to the buildings at the top, and yet from our mountain we could see other ones all over the island.

The mountain facing our hotel
The mountain facing our hotel

One of the places we’d made a note that we wanted to visit was Perissa Beach, and luckily this was literally around the corner from us – at the end of our hotel’s lane, we’d turn left and see the sea immediately, and a long row of shops, bars and cafes alongside the beach itself.

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Perissa Beach is also called the ‘Black Sand Beach’, named for it’s dark sand of volanic origin – there’s a good few places like this all over the island but this is one of the more renowned ones.

TIPS:

  • If you buy a drink or a meal from one of the restaurants along this strip, you get access to their beach beds and WiFi – make sure you ask about these if you want them.
  • There’s plenty of restaurants and cafes – don’t just go in the first one, look around and compare prices, a lot of the menus are the same but some are cheaper than others.
  • There’s enough variety of cuisine all over the island – we found an Indian and Thai restaurant, a burger place, an ice cream/gelato place and some Chinese restaurants!

We stopped for a meal – unfortunately we were unable to find any halal places anywhere, but we both like trying sea food and there’s also plenty of vegetarian options.

We went to a restaurant called Apollon, and ordered grilled swordfish with rice and chips, and a cheese-feast pizza. The fish was amazingly tender and juicy, and the pizza was the same – we could see that the fish was fresh and the portions were pretty big.

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After this we decided to relax on the beach beds, enjoy the view and soak up the sun with a cold Coke and a book (in my case) and mobiles (his!) and watch the boats go by. We didn’t go swimming in the sea because we weren’t dressed for it, and we wanted to do this on another day, but we did take the opportunity to shed our sandals and dig our feet into the sand.

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After we’d had enough of lazing around, we talk a short walk around the town to explore on our way back to the hotel. We saw a lot of beautifully decorated buildings and roads on the way back, and everywhere we walked there were flowers growing on vines, in plant pots and climbing up walls.

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I loved the fact that there were plenty of tiny cafes and restaurants hidden away, which were perfect when we wanted to get snacks, cups of coffee or drinks in the evening.

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It was a really nice first day on the island, the heat was lovely without being too intense, and the people we spoke to were really friendly. Most of them were able to speak English fluently and were quite helpful in telling us different places to visit and things to try – it was a fairly relaxing day which was just what we needed after an aeroplane flight!

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Honeymoon Travels…Santorini Sun, Sandals and Sand

I’ve been absent for a few days, so apologies for that, but its only because we’ve decided to whisk off to the Greek Islands! I’ve decided to post a sort of travelogue of our time in Santorini, which is the main island we’ve stayed at, since I wanted to show the main things we’ve been up to and also any tips and recommendations for anyone wishing to visit.

To start off with is this glorious view of Thira, the capital of Santorini and one of it’s most busiest places and port. It’s difficult to show the best parts of this island and things we saw and places we went to, so this is one (of many!) photographs I took, which shows the iconic blue-and-white landscape – pure white buildings alongside a beautiful azure blue sea and plenty of boats.

I’ll be posting more very soon, the weather was absolutely beautiful and everything was very vibrant – the sea, the food, the markets and the sunsets – and it was a brilliant (and much needed) break!

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Flashback Friday: Topkapi Palace

One of the places I would recommend to anyone visiting Istanbul is the Topkapi Palace, a gorgeously luxurious palace-slash-museum with some seriously gorgeous artifacts, and several buildings and gardens to wander around and admire. I love looking at historical pieces, and there were several from different eras of the Ottoman Empire, but the best thing about this place was wandering around the different gardens and palace buildings and seeing the work that went into each of them.

Wherever you wander, there’s blue tiles, gilded gold walls and beautiful arched doorways to walk through and explore, although I think my favourite place was a small clearing on the side of the palace which lead to a view of the sea – serene, peaceful and somewhere to think about the history of this palace and its legacy.

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