Saturday, 20 May 2017

SANTORINI - Travelling alone to the 'Honeymoon Island'...




Santorini has always been one of those places etched in my mind as a scene of never ending sunsets, turquoise plunge pools overlooking the caldera, white wash stone buildings and honeymoon after honeymoon...

So when I decided to travel there, alone, with no honeymoon in sight, it might have appeared a little strange. To give some context; starting a new job meant I had some time off and I thought, what better way to spend it than in the sun somewhere... so I did my very best to try and convince friends, James, my brother and sisters, to book some time off and come with me - but no one was able to.

I searched for ages trying to find the perfect getaway, looking at fitness / yoga retreats, and in the end settled on a little trip to Santorini.




I cannot express how beautiful the place is. Every corner is a picture perfect moment and the colours are just amazing.

I definitely didn't find the island too 'coupley' or honeymoony, there's soo much to do and explore, so if you're thinking about going with friends or on your own I'd absolutely recommend it.

In no particular order, here are some of the best things I did...

Things I'd recommend

1. The Walk from Fira to Oia (3 hours)

This is a must-do.. everyone I met had done or was planning on doing this hike. I was unsure about going on my own but literally everyone I was with had done it solo.

It's a 10k hike, and I went in the heat of the day.... it was actually ok as I took loads of water and sun cream, plus there are a few places you can stop and find shade (if you're doing this in August it might be a different story, but in May it was ok - boiling hot, but bearable).




It's amazing as you follow the coastline and so can look back on where you started, acknowledging your achievements, mile by mile.

It's quite a simple route to follow and you'll see lots of people doing the hike too on your way round, but I used this guide to help navigate - it's a really useful photo map, so thanks 'Santorini Dave'!




2. Boat Tour of the Volcano & swimming in hot springs

I booked this through the place I was staying but the tour operators are everywhere in town. I went with a couple of girls I'd met, and it was well worth it!

It cost 20 euros and was great value for money. You make your way down to the old port in Fira and get on the boat there. First stop is a 'hike' around the active volcano.. (I use the term 'hike' loosely as it was more like a walk). It's not exactly the most beautiful place, very very post-apocalyptic and could easily be the film set for a sci-fi movie. That being said, it was really nice to look back at the Santorini coastline.






Then, it's back on the boat and round to swim in the hotsprings. You have the option to stay on the boat, or jump off the boat and swim over to the hotsprings. Definitely jump into the sea and swim. The water is full of sulphur and so once you've got into the shallow parts, looks like one big mud bath. I'm not selling it very well but it was really fun!


3. Wine tour 


I didn't know this, but Santorini is famous for its white wine ('Assyrtiko') and there are loads of vineyards on the island. I love wine. Naturally, I was eager to do a tour of one of the wineries... So myself and a new Australian friend I'd made booked on to a tour as soon as we'd stepped off the boat trip!

Through a tour operator we booked on 'Another Tour' wine tour... we thought we were just visiting one winery, so imagine our delight when we were told we were visiting three!!

It was 70 euros and at first I was a little hesitant to part with the cash but I'm so glad I did. We got a private tour (we were joined by one couple), and the four of us had an intimate guided tour of three beautiful wineries. We also stopped off in Megalochori village and saw this incredible tiny Byzantine church, and it was these little extras that made the trip so worth it.

Annoyingly, I've forgotten the exact name of each winery but I know that the first one was a gorgeous, tiny, family run winery in the 'Art Space Santorini' - the owner has turned some of his caves into an art gallery and it's a really cool exhibition space.




We tried about 6 of his wines, so definitely got value for money!

VinSanto is Santorini's infamous dessert wines - a sweet, syrupy thimble of wine that's traditionally drunk at the end of a meal. I'm not a huge sweet wine fan (give me a crisp, dry white any day..), but this was lush, really nice to sip!

Next up was a 'mid' sized winery called Gavalas.

Here, after the tour and learning about the grape stamping festival that happens in August (definitely check this out if you're going then!), we sat outside and drank yet more amazing Santorini wine.

It was so nice to sit as a four and chat about our different areas of the world...and of course bonding over wine always helps!


The beautiful village of Megalochori...




Next up, the money shot. This was at Venetsanos winery, with incredible views of the caldera. We went just before sunset, and after the grand tour of the wine caves (this is the biggest of the three), we sat outside and tasted more wine as the sun set.




4. Perissa / Tranquilo bar 

Get the bus from Fira to Perissa's black sand beach, it's a hugggee stretch of coast dotted with beach bars, restaurants, sun loungers and deckchairs and is the ideal place to set up for a day of chilling out.


Perhaps not the most picturesque of beaches (in my eyes anyway), but the black sand was cool to see.

I made my way over to Tranquilo bar, and set up camp there for hours. If you're looking for somewhere really chilled and relaxed, this place is perfect. There are hammocks, comfy lounge chairs, tables, bar stools and chilled reggae playing, and the place was filled with people who'd clearly had the same idea as me.




It was really cheap too; I got a falafel pitta, a (huge) glass of white and a cappucino for around 14 euros.

5. Metropolis Street Restaurant 

On my last night, I treated myself to a really, really nice meal.

The sun was just about to set and I'd walked into Fira to find somewhere for my last meal... I saw a table with a great view of the sunset and walked in, without so much as looking at the menu or prices.





I cannot recommend this place enough. The staff were so friendly and accommodating, lighting candles and offering blankets, whilst maintaining a real sense of luxury and professionalism - this place would be perfect to come for a special meal, and the sunset just really made it.

I ordered the most incredible aubergine and cheese starter, which was hands down one of the nicest meals I had whilst in Santorini. The portion was huge!!




After the sun had dipped behind the horizon, I asked to move inside I was a little cold; and straight away I was whisked indoors and placed next to a heater, and brought more fresh bread(!) and wine.

My main (spinach risotto), was gorgeous - so flavoursome and perfect to warm me back up!


I got chatting to the waiter who insisted I meet the chef (who used to work at 3 Michelin star restaurant Le Bristol hotel in Paris...), he was soo lovely, and I was touched that they'd got him out of the kitchen (where he was clearly very busy), and had the time to talk to me.

Anyway, all that set me back a whopping............44 euros. I was really shocked at how cheap this was given the ambiance, food standard (presentation & taste!) and setting, so I would really recommend eating here.



I'd also really recommend Da Costa restaurant, just in the north of Fira looking over the Caldera. It's perfect if it's a little chilly as it's all inside but with a big glass front so you can see the sunset.

The tomato ball starter was great here (absolutely massive, didn't even get half way through!), and the lamb kleftiko was really tasty.





6. Ammoudi Bay

After I'd hiked the 6 miles from Fira to Oia, I was starving. However I wanted to eat at Ammoudi Bay, as I'd heard good things about the restaurants there.

So, with an icecream to tide me over, I started to weave my way through Oia to find the steep steps that would lead me down to the bay.


The walk down is beautiful (/ full of donkeys) and takes around 15 minutes. When I got down I sussed out the restaurants and decided on Dimitris Tavern, on the left hand side.



I managed to get an amazing seat right on the water's edge - and I mean literally on the edge of the water, no barrier or wall! It felt good to be so close to the water after being so hot hiking down!



I ordered a deeelicious baked feta & vegetable starter, and had red snapper for main... all accompanied with a carafe of local wine.




Again, the atmosphere was so chilled and laid back, I was there for what felt like ages (drinking a carafe of wine on your own is slow work!), and never once felt rushed on.

Climbing back up to Oia is sweaty work, but so worth it once you reach the top.


Where I stayed

I stayed in a place called Caveland, in Karterdaros. It's about a 20 min walk into Fira town centre, a perfect position on the island. The 20 min walk initially put me off but once you realise how small the island is, it's actually a great distance from Fira, so please don't let this put you off!

It was so nice to be able to walk in and out of the city, and 20 mins is really nothing when you've got an iced coffee to keep you cool! You can also get the bus to Fira if you don't fancy the walk.

NB if you are really keen to stay in Fira itself, make sure that the address is actually *in* Fira - a lot of places say they're in Fira when they're actually basically in Karterdaros. 

So, Caveland. Oh my godddd. Such a cool, quirky, amazing find. It's technically a hostel, although this was the most boutiquey, un-hostel like place I've stayed in. It's an old 18th century winery, and all the rooms are old caves, carved into the ground.



I think the place sleeps 45 although it's so calm and tranquil it hardly seems that way. They offer yoga classes (when I stayed they were on Tuesday and Thursday), and starting the day with a Hatha flow class on the rooftop was amazing.

There's a big pool to lounge by, loads of places to chill out, a huge reception / kitchen and great little spaces to really feel at home in.

There's free breakfast included too, which is a really nice perk. The beds are comfy, the showers are hot and it's without a doubt the most chilled place I've stayed. I didn't lock my stuff away and the place felt so safe, everyone there was so lovely.




The thing I loved the most was that it attracted all types of travelers... solo female travelers, groups of friends, couples (they have private rooms), mates, even families, so it's a really good all rounder.

It was so easy to meet people. People tended to chill outside reception in the mornings, or there were always loads of people in the kitchen eating breakfast, not to mention all the people in your room, and I met so many nice people that I spent days / meals with, so don't worry about being on your own! There's also lots of space if you just want to chill and have some 'me' time.

I'll leave the link to Caveland here, as if you're thinking about going to Santorini and don't want to pay ££££ a night for a caldera view room, this is a great option: http://cave-land.com/ 


At the top of Karterdaros village there's a bakery called Zotos, and every morning I popped in to get an iced coffee to drink whilst walking into Fira - they had some insane looking cakes, pastries and baklava so well worth checking out! They've also got a branch in Fira that specialises in icecream, and my-godddd the flavours there were amazing.




Travelling around Santorini:

As I mentioned above, I'd advise walking everywhere you can, especially around Fira or Oia.

The bus is a great option too. The island's main bus station is in Fira, and all buses start and terminate there... If you're travelling to other parts of the island, for example Oia, Kamari, Perissa, Akrotiri, the airport, buses are so easy.

It's 1 euro 80 to airport, and 2 euro 40 to Perissa, so not expensive at all. It takes ten minutes to get to the airport from Karterdaros on the bus, and buses typically run every hour or two hours to the airport. To Perissa / Kamari, they're a lot more frequent. The local buses (operated by a company called KTEL), look like tour coaches, not traditional buses, so don't miss them!

Stuff I'd heard good things about but didn't end up doing:

1. Hike from Kamari over the mountain to Perissa (stopping at Ancient Thira on the way). I think this hike is supposed to be a bit more demanding, but well worth it!

2. Akrotiri - another ancient burial site, which is meant to be really interesting!


My tips for a female travelling to Santorini solo

Lots of these little nuggets of wisdom don't just apply to Santorini of course, but you might find them useful...

1. Keep mobile data on. 

As I was on my own, I wanted to know that I could contact friends / family, research stuff, look at maps etc without having to rely on wifi. I have some EU data included in my phone contract and so used this (it lasted longer than I thought), and when it ran out bought top up data. I think I spent £9 on data for 6 days and to me, the ease of having internet at my fingertips was worth it.

2. Take books / journal to write in. 

I took a few books and a couple of journals and always made sure I had one with me in my bag - I found that chilling on beaches / in cafes and restaurants on my own put me so much more at ease with a book / pen in hand. I also wanted to conserve phone battery (see next point), and having a book distracted me from relying on my phone for comfort. The scenery is stunning too, a lot of the time I was just sat there in awe!

3. Take a portable phone charger

I didn't do this, but wish I had, especially on days where I was using my phone loads (for example on the Fira to Oia hike.. I couldn't find the bus stop in Oia, my battery was on 2% and the bus was due in the next 10 minutes, and caused me so much unnecessary stress!).

4. Language, safety and the Santorini people 

Not surprisingly, I don't speak Greek. I'd bought a Lonely Planet book and took that with me which had key phrases in it, but everyone I encountered spoke English.

The locals and staff in all restaurants were soo friendly - really eager to learn where you were from, how long you were travelling for, your backstory etc. I never once felt rushed out of a place.

I also never felt unsafe there, even walking around at night on my own. Naturally, I exercised caution and would advise all solo travelers to do the same but it was probably one of the safest places I've been to. Only once did I feel a little bit nervous and that was because I took a wrong turn down one of Fira's many tiny side streets and there was an odd looking guy who kept staring at me. Also had a few beeps from guys on motorbikes but nothing that made me feel disturbed.

5. Take trainers / stable walking shoes

Fira and Oia and the surrounding streets / villages / roads are very uneven and the stones can become shiny, slippy and wobbly underfoot. I wouldn't advise heels. I wore converse all day, and took some nice beach sandals to change into if I wanted to...



It's worth noting that I traveled there mid-May (2017), so the place was just warming up for the season. Nevertheless, everything was open and running, and I didn't have a problem doing anything. The weather was absolutely beautiful too, really really hot, a nice breeze in the evening (take a jacket as for two nights it turned a bit colder). It rained once during the day for about two hours.

I flew out on Saturday evening and was meant to fly back Wednesday day, meaning I'd get 3 full days and an evening on the Sat and morning on the Weds. I ended up flying back on Thursday morning as my flight was cancelled so had an extra day.. but think that 3/4 days is the perfect amount of time to spend there.




I only got really lonely once; the evening I found out my flight was cancelled, I was in a restaurant and I got the text from EasyJet to say my flight wouldn't run, and I just felt an overwhelming sense of isolation, especially as everyone around me was having such a nice time. Booking an alternative flight was ok, a little bit stressful but whereas previous me would've had a melt down, I just got on with it..!

I know I was only gone six days (and so hardly the round the world trip of a lifetime), but I would really recommend travelling solo. Over the past few years I've mostly traveled with James or friends - and there's a reliance and group mentality that's so absent when you're travelling alone. I've learnt that I relied on James for so much when we've traveled in the past, for example things like asking for directions or for recommendations - I'd always get him to do it, whereas now, I feel so much more confident. I also feel more easy going and relaxed about travelling - I've always been very anal and pedantic about organising / planning, but I had to learn to relax and trust a hell of a lot more, so definitely some amazing life lessons learned!

I really want to go back to Santorini, so if you have any more recommendations please let me know!




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