The Many Faces of Santorini
January 1, 1970
by Jenny Coulthard
I did not attend my prom; while my peers were shopping for dresses, booking limousines, and awaiting promposals, I was packing a suitcase for sunny Santorini, Greece.
My mother was searching every vacation deal website known to man for inspiration for our next family vacation, but was overwhelmingly unimpressed by the usual offers for Cuba and Mexico. Inspiration came from the most unlikely of sources: Keeping Up With the Kardashians. While watching their vacation to Santorini, my mother remarked, “I want to go there.”
It was as simple as that; we went back to those websites, narrowed down our location, and discovered that you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy the wonders of the Greek Isles.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Santorini is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea known for it’s blue domed architecture and amazing views. For such a relatively small island (roughly 90 km2), Santorini is remarkably diverse in it’s social and physical environment. As such we decided to split our time between two sides of the Island: 5 days in Imerovigli, followed by a few days near Kamari Beach.
Our cab driver dropped us off and pointed down a set of narrow, cobblestone steps towards our hotel. As we struggled down the steep steps, loaded with luggage, we became increasingly concerned; where was this hotel? After walking too far into the maze of cobblestone steps to ever find our way back we finally saw the sign for our little hotel. It was nestled into the side of the Island, each ‘villa’ a sort of cave carved into the stone rather than typical walls. It spanned four levels, with a small pool on the bottom level before dropping off to the cliff face. Each villa had it’s own entrance from the street, with a small balcony to enjoy the stunning vista overlooking the Aegean Sea.
We were greeted, our luggage stored, and taken to a nearby restaurant to enjoy a beer on the house.
“It’s not even midday!” we protested, and our host replied, “Time does not matter here.”
Needless to say, I was already in love with the place.
Our hotel overlooked Skaros Rock, a great morning climb for any adventure seekers. Following a set of narrow steps carved into the side of the island leads you down to the path towards the large rock formation. There is no set climbing path, so you can get creative with how to get up there; or if climbing isn’t your thing, the base of the rock is an amazing vantage point for viewing the length of the island, as well as sunsets over the water.
Fira and Oia
Imerovigli and neighbouring Fira offered all you could hope for from a Greek Island; white buildings with blue domed roofs, amazing views, slanting cobblestone streets, fresh food, unique shops, donkeys, and a sense of luxury. The towns are built onto the natural incline of the island so that no matter where you are, you have stunning views of the town below and the surrounding water. As well, the architecture feels very organic, as though it grew out of the side of island; it is often difficult to tell where the architecture becomes natural landscape. These towns are packed full of independent restaurants, shops selling everything from donkey magnets to floppy hats, museums of local history, and art galleries with a theme of local landscapes.
It is also worth a day trip to Oia, where you’ll find the iconic windmills, as well as an endless choice of places to fill your falafel cravings.
I won’t lie to you, your legs will feel the burn after a few days wandering these towns, but for every slope you go up, you generally end up going back down.
After almost a week of exploring the beautiful rock-side towns with their rambling alleys and rich history, we packed up our things and headed to the east side of the island.
We had no idea what to expect heading to Kamari, but the true beach-resort vibes were a welcome relaxation after the leg workout we got in Imerovigli.
Santorini Kastelli Resort
Our hotel in Kamari beach was a proper resort, with open green spaces, several pools, a restaurant, and even a library, putting it in sharp contrast to the cramped, improvised character of our cave rooms in Imerovigli. Named a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, it certainly felt like a paradise, and one could spend a week without leaving the grounds with ease. However I would not recommend that, because just beyond the back gate of the Hotel is a whole new world.
The pebble beach is lined with wooden walking paths navigating hundreds of lounge chairs, each part of a local restaurant/bar that comes around to serve you food and drinks, and generally make you feel like royalty. However the royal treatment, while affordable, is not free so there is still plenty of open beach space to set up old-school with a towel and some sunscreen.
There’s music of all sorts, crystal clear water, rocky grottos to explore, and water sports for those who can’t simply relax on the beach. The main strip is lined with more restaurants than you’ll ever be able to go to, and they are all amazing, so there is no wrong decision. Just behind the main strip are lovely market streets with local shops ranging from yoga stores, to supermarkets, to hand crafted jewellery. There are also your classic ice-cream parlours and beach shops selling all the essentials you forgot to pack.
Going from the quaint, mule packed towns of Imerovigli and Fira, to the colourful, vibrant beachside in Kamari honestly felt like we were on a completely different vacation.
Santorini has something for everyone, from vibrant beach life to quaint towns, ancient ruins and volcanoes to isolated red rock beaches. If you find yourself in Santorini do not limit yourself to where your hotel is; go out and explore, experience the island and all the various environments it has to offer! Santorini is rich in history, natural wonders, and has an infamous nightlife. Inevitably my attempt to recreate the magic of Santorini is inadequate; it is one of those places that is a must on any traveller’s bucket list because pictures and words on paper do not do it justice.