From the moment she saw the view of the caldera, my teenage daughter gasped that unlike other places she had been, Santorini lived up, and exceeded, all the glorious pictures and postcards that had mingled in her imagination. Born from a cataclysmic volcanic eruption, Santorini, the southernmost island of the Cyclades group, thrills with dramatic cliffs rising up from the sea and white villages perched high above the caldera. Oia at its most northwest tip is famous for its awe-inspiring sunsets, breathtaking views and incredible hotels and restaurants hugging the cliffs.
Oia’s charms attracts busloads of visitors, it gets crowded in the summer—real crowded! May and June are the best time to visit.
Try Santorini’s own micro brews--the Yellow, Red or Crazy Donkey or the local Fix beer.
Domaine Sigalas Winery, right down the road from Perivolas, is open to the public for tours or to visit their tasting rooms. The wines, especially the whites, have been gaining an international recognition and are truly delicious. It’s nice to visit in the early evening as the sun sets over the vineyards.
Want to continue eating healthy Greek food at home? Recreate the magic of your trip with the help of some of our favorite Greek cookbooks—Smashing Plates, How to Roast a Lamb, Food from many Greek Kitchens, and Kokkari from San Francisco’s acclaimed restaurant.
Stay: While there are many beautiful places to stay in Oia, there is only one Perivolas. Started by the Psychos family with a dream and a vision, and just that much of crazy, all the rooms are built dramatically into the Cliffside in restored 300-year-old caves. The hotel is set high above the Aegean with rooms spread out amphitheatrically. The décor is simple, letting the scenery steal the show. All white interiors are accented with just a touch of pink, of purple, adding to the overall effect. And it only gets better with one of the most photographed infinity pools in the world, drop dead vistas over the caldera and neighboring islands and an incredible spot for sunset.
Location: Perivolas is on the outskirts of Oia, which is a good thing. It’s just a short walk (5-10 min. max), but it’s nice to be slightly outside of the main thoroughfare. I used, and highly recommend, Ronnie Liadis from Liadis Travel to organize our trip. Ronnie, recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as a specialist for Greece, has in-depth knowledge of the country and all things Greek. Ronnie also recommends Canaves in Oia, especially if you are traveling with children.
Breakfast: Perivolas’ dining room, for guests only, is built in a converted wine cellar overlooking the pool. Breakfast is buffet style with made to order eggs. At lunch, or as a late afternoon snack, you must try the traditional Santorini dish of favas, done here beautifully with capers and tomatoes on top. (Santorini is famous for its favas, which are yellow split peas, not the green favas from broad beans.) The Dakos is another must order—a Cretan style salad of tomatoes, capers, cheese and olives over a dark rusk.
Get Rolling: Head through town and run the steep steps down to Amoudi and back up, if that’s not enough of a work out do it more than once. For the ambitious there’s a hike from Oia to Fira that we had the best intentions of doing. The entire hike takes about 4 hours and is meant to be spectacular.
On the Water: Greece is heaven out on the water with some of the most inviting swimming anywhere. Rent a catamaran for either a half or whole day, leaving from the small port at Amoudi. While the view looking down is pretty impressive, the view looking up at the white washed villages is equally as good. You can cruise around the Caldera and over to Thirasia, or head to Ios or Anafi Island to swim in coves and enjoy the white sandy beaches. A BBQ lunch was served on board. Time it to be out on the water for the most beautiful sunset. A highlight of our trip!
Shop: During late morning when the cruise ship buses arrive en masse, and at sunset when the crowds aim to get their strategic spot, Oia is to be avoided –its really wall-to-wall people in the narrow, windy streets. Go early or late afternoon to have the town to yourself, or even after sunset when the crowds disperse. (The shops stay open late.) Atlantis Books is one of those special places, a small bookstore teeming with character. Started by expats from England and America, and reminiscent of Shakespeare and Co in Paris, there are books stacked everywhere. Go in and linger. Have fun exploring the maze like streets, finding your own favorite shops among the mix of chic boutiques and souvenir stores. There are many nice jewelry stores, some high end and some selling tons of inexpensive evil eye bracelets, which are good for gifts. Don’t miss Maria Baba Vida. Maria, a French ex-pat, has created a boutique with an eclectic array of jewelry and textiles from not only Greece, but also France and Asia. I left with 2 unique pairs of earrings and many stories from Maria.
Eat: Two of the most acclaimed restaurants in Oia are 1800 and Ambrosia, both with stunning views. If you can bear to leave Perivolas go for an early dinner and catch the sunset. Make a meal of mezes at Skala, a laid back restaurant with views not just of the water, but of the donkeys traveling up from the quay below. The Red Bicycle is more casual, a quirky, charming restaurant with good food. Down in Amoudi, some people favor Dimitris and some prefer Katina, you can’t go wrong with either for freshly caught fish and seafood. Katina, look for the orange chairs, was one of my favorite meals in Santorini and I’m still dreaming of their tomato fritters.
Discover: It’s well worth it to drive to the other side of the island to spend some time at Ancient Akrotiri, the Greek version of Pompeii. The entire site is enclosed and it’s fascinating to see the ancient city preserved after it was buried under volcanic ash during the Minoan period. Right nearby, take a look at Santorini’s famous Red Beach. You can choose to climb down and spend the day or just look at it from up high as we did. Next, drive to the lighthouse for spectacular views over the Caldera. Make sure to stop at the roadside stand right before you arrive to sample some of the local olives, cheeses, and the sun dried tomatoes, which are drying right in front on a rack in the sun. Don’t leave without some of the dried oregano branches, so much more fragrant than those you get at home. I only wished it was possible to bring back the jars of wild carpers and olives.
Afternoon at the Beach: Perissa and Perivolas are Santorini’s well-known black beaches on the eastern end of the island. They are fun to see, but I prefer the white sandy beaches of other Greek islands. Pick a spot for lunch and rent some sunbeds for the afternoon. You can rent jet skis or go windsurfing. The best beaches closer to Oia are Koloumbos and Baxedes and the winds determine which beach to go to on any given day.
Dinner: It’s crowded and it’s touristy, but if it’s your first time in Santorini you probably want to check out its main town of Fira. (Also spelled Thira) Overlooking the caldera, dine at Archipelagos or Naoussa for exquisite views, especially at sunset. One of the best restaurants on the island located in the hillside village of Pyrgos is Metaxy Mas; make sure to make your reservation well in advance.
Must do: A friend, who has spent over 20 summers on Santorini told me this before I left: At the port of Ammoudi follow the path past all the tavernas (away from the parking area) and continue along the gravel around several bends--you'll come to a place with several old little fishing boats. Off shore is a little tiny island. The place will be filled with Italians who, for some reason, like to lie on the rocks and sun bathe. It might be crowded but this will be worth it. On the little island at the far side is a tiny church up around 20-25 feet off the water. From the platform at the church, people jump into the sea. You MUST all do this lest we will never consider you ever having had a true Greek experience. Some people do intense flips into the water, but I just go simple. It’s exhilarating and the kids will love it. The water here is crystal clear and it's an ultimate Santorini experience.
Off the Beaten Path: Head to sleepy Megalochori. It feels more like old Greece than anywhere else in Santorini. Here there are little crowds and tourists, just a cute traditional Greek square. Wander the narrow streets, admiring the stone houses and the beautiful church. Have lunch on the square at Raki and definitely order the chicken kebabs. Even better come late afternoon so you can have dinner at Feggera, closed at lunchtime. Gavalas Winery, a classic old school winery is right at the entrance to town, arrange a visit before hand to taste their delicious wines.
Night Cinema: Meander the beachfront of Kamari, browsing in the shops before heading to an early dinner at Irini’s or Nichteri . Then proceed to the open-air cinema a 5-minute drive from town. (All the movies are in English) Though we weren’t fans of the movie playing that night, World War Z, I still remember sitting underneath the stars, drinking a Red Donkey and watching Brad Pitt.
Extravagant: Rent out the Perivolas Hideaway carved into the foot of a cliff on the island of Therasia, a 5 minute ride from Oia. More than just a luxury villa, it’s got the feel of a private island as its set in its own secluded cove, accessible only by boat. The décor is simple, but stunning with terraces overlooking the sea and Santorini. Saying it is extraordinary and jaw dropping is no exaggeration. The Hideaway comes with a private boat, sea kayaks, waterskies, wake boards and windsurfing equipment.
**Photographs for Day 1 and The Hideaway by William Abranowicz