I don’t know if you’ve asked anyone who’s been to Greece where you must go, but if you ask more than two people you probably end up with 8 to 10 islands suggested to you. And there are truly hundreds, but even then there were definitely a dozen that I wanted to visit. I settled on two (this time).
I have been looking for a slightly quieter island that still had some entertainment and restaurants and good beaches that weren’t overly touristy or commercial. The island of Ios (pronounced EE-os) doesn’t get cruise ship travel to it so I knew it was a good option. The famous Santorini (encouraged heavily by my friend Brianna) just seemed to be one of those spots that I couldn’t pass up on this trip. Like Mykonos and Crete it is exceptionally popular (aka busy) and has thousands of tourists visit every day, however I figured it would be worth it to see the sights, the views, the beaches, and the cities.
When I arrived at my room at the Far Out Hotel and Spa and opened the shutters onto my balcony, I knew I had hit the jackpot on dreamy escapes. The view from my room was exactly as pictured on the hotel website and it truly felt like a magical retreat, framed by white buildings and lush greenery with the ocean in the background and the hills of the island scooping up on either side. It felt perfect.
The hotel stay included a delicious continental breakfast each morning with a huge spread including fresh fruit, Greek yoghurt and honey, meats and cheeses, pastries, eggs, sausage, coffee, and fresh juice.
With a stunning view of the shore and the occasional company of a stray island cat winding themselves around your ankles, I enjoyed lingering on the patio at breakfast time.
After that it was generally a move over to the picture perfect pool to spend a few hours every day.
You could order food and drinks at the pool so I decided to indulge even more and get a virgin mojito. The bartender had a physical reaction of shock to my order, as if it was sacrilege to have a mojito without rum in it. I had to assure him I was serious, take a little light teasing about how “not proper” a virgin mojito was, and finally he relented with a mischievous smile and a solid 8 minutes of meticulous preparation of fresh lime juice and wedges muddled with individually-chosen mint leaves, and garnished with a perfect final sprig of tiny mint leaves.
I can say with all certainty that the result was the most delicious Mojito that I have ever had.
As I had the picturesque pool to myself quite often, I had a choice of changing between shade or sun on the many extremely comfortable deck loungers.
The beach was a ten minute walk down the hill and was relatively busy during the day with about a dozen different areas with full loungers, bean bag chairs, umbrellas and gazebos to enjoy the shade. Prices to rent a chair for the day ranged from 7€ to €15.
As someone who gets attacked by sand fleas or ‘no see’ums’ bites that are WAY worse than any mosquito bite, I now always make sure to get a lounger to stay even a few inches off the sand.
Even though signs showed that all of the beach chairs and umbrellas incurred some charge or another, either I swooped under the radar or the beach chairs and umbrellas in the FarOut Hotel section are free…
I liked it.
You could rent stand up paddle boards and kayaks or pay to go out tubing behind a speed boat. They were also volleyball courts and many of the restaurants and beachfront hotels and pools just off the beach with the beautiful views.
The water here was refreshing and not too cold, and it was nice to find that real ‘sweet spot’ balance of sunshine, shade, and swimming. At some of the beach lounge chair areas you can order food or drinks – as many are owned by the restaurants across the road from the beach.
The roads on these islands and even from the hotel down to the beach are winding and switchback style and remind me of Sardegna. There are bamboo stalks, hibiscus blooms, large pomegranate bushes, and fig and citrus trees lining the road, as well as big cascades of magenta and salmon coloured bouganvillia branches tumbling over walls and roof tops.
I had dinner one night at Salt, one of the chic but mellow beachfront restaurants that felt a lot like the great vegan restaurant on Gili Air that I visited every day during my trip to Indonesia. It was a mellow, inviting and comfortably busy place.
I hadn’t yet had gyros in Greece and finally ordered one, expecting a wrap with some fries on the side (or the fries stuffed right into the wrap, as I have been told is very common in Greece). What arrived at the table was a modern deconstructed version of a gyros wrap with 3 warm pitas, tidy stacks of tomatoes and sumac-seasoned red onion, a dollop of tzatziki, a pool of a spicy pepper sauce, and a pile of freshly sliced gyro pork. It was absolutely perfect and I practically wiped the board clean.
I decided to linger there and ordered a frappe (in Greece this means unsweetened iced coffee with stiff whipped coffee foam) and then dessert; a delicate chocolate bowl of tiramisu. Both were excellent! I loved the feel of this restaurant, and I would totally recommend it.
There were many options along the road for different types of spots to eat, and convenient regular buses to take you from one end of our beach to the other, or to take you back into the main town in Ios and the port.
The days on Ios were slow and relaxing. I would order my daily “not-proper” mojito, sit and sip, swim, read, and sunbathe with the regularly scheduled flip over to try and get a little vacation sun-kissed look!
I got in a visit to the hotel spa and relished another couple of beach and pool days that were *just* the relaxing island escape I was looking for. I ordered many a Greek salad by the pool and many a “not-proper Mojito”, I people watched and waded along the beach shoreline, perused the souvenirs of various various beach toys and scarves and bathing suit cover ups, as well as trying to get as much sun as possible before heading back to Canada and the inevitable cool fall and winter bundle-up months.
I can proudly l say that I was a regular sunscreen user and did not get a sunburn on this trip. Which is huge for me.
I had no idea that the final big party of the season was happening while I was on Ios and my New Yorker friend Mitchell invited me to join him and some friends at the Beach Club way down near the end of the shoreline. With a full DJ set up with moving lights and lasers and a hazer/fogger system, the place was wild, and the party was wilder. There were drink specials and lots of food options, and a tattoo parlour on-site that was booked up with people getting permanent island mementos like palm trees and ocean waves and variations on the classic Greek evil eye.
It was great fun but I definitely felt like this was something I would’ve done when I was university age more than these days when I am… a little bit older than that… so after a couple of hours I was happy to take the island bus back up to my peacefully quiet and sans-laser-light-show hotel.
The next afternoon I hopped onto another ferry to sail over to the famous island of Santorini and to meet up with my friend Brianna!
I arrived in the afternoon and did some exploring with Mitchell and then solo, lugging my carry-on backpack with me simply for the fact that I didn’t want to have to take transit or a pricey taxi across the island three times that day as I had promised to meet Brianna when she arrived that night at the airport!
I had the most incredible dinner at this restaurant that was homemade farfale pasta with in-house made burrata and shaved truffle and parmesan that was to die for. (I’m not ashamed to admit that the next day I suggested we go there for lunch and I ordered the same dish a second time. No regrets.) The restaurants in Fira take reservations weeks and sometimes months in advance for the sunset dinner spot. I got there early (6pm) so I was able to get a great view in the pre-sunset hour.
I then did a bit more walking, then grabbed a strawberry lemon granita from a great little coffee shop who’s lovely staff told me to sit at a window at the front saying it was the best view in all of Fira to see the sunset and I do not disagree.
I wrote a couple of postcards, I watched the sun go down, and then it was time to head to the airport to pick up Brianna. I made a makeshift sign with her last name as if I was a driver (because I am a total dork) even though we already had a driver booked to take us to our hotel that night.
Niko-the-very-handsome shuttle driver drove us safely to our hotel in Perivolos right along the black beaches on the south east side of the island, carrying our bags up to our room overlooking the pool just after midnight, and let us know he would see us on the returns route to the airport in a few days.
We could easily take the island public bus to get up to the main bus teminal in central Fira, and from there you could catch buses that would take you to the different parts on the island. You just need cash to purchase a ticket, and there were always staff with change so you didn’t need the exact amount, which was nice. The buses were air-conditioned and came by pretty regularly, which made it very convenient to get around.
The Perivolos black sand beach was less than a three minute walk away, and we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon there complete with refreshing drinks and warm “Donald’s” – also know as cinnamon sugar doughnuts- still warm from being baked locally and sold by a guy wandering down the beach who spoke very little English and kept calling out “frrrresh Donald’s! French hot Donald’s!” to the amusement of both tourists and restaurant staff alike.
(It reminded me of the woman selling snacks by the ferries that take you to the Gili islands in Indonesia, calling out “Dor-EE-tas!” And the full phrase of “Something something chips!”)
And oh, the restaurants in this area! So many many options! And so many handsome staff members urging you to come and sit at their restaurant because “it’s the best”. What won us over the first night we were there was live music. We became the superfans of the night, made most of the requests and heard all our favourite songs performed by an incredibly talented musician who played guitar and sang with a a wonderful smoky and passionate voice.
Speaking of restaurants, have I talked about the Greek salads here enough? Impossible! They were delicious and incredible EVERYWHERE I ordered them here.
We booked a day tour with a company that took us on a sailboat across to the volcanic island of Tholos and to Thirasia.
We took the winding steps down to the water and decided we would definitely take the cable car back up to the top of the hill passing by the donkeys waiting along the walls of the stone stairs to take tourists up and down. We definitely felt sorry for them and their sweet demeanours as they stood in the sun flicking off the flies with their ears and tails. The boat trip across was fast and entertaining with our trilingual tour guide giving the history of the area in English French and Italian.
We hiked around the top of this volcano that is one of the youngest in the world. We then got to swim in the mineral waters at the base of one side of it, Which is said to be very good for your health. Some people really got into it, making body masks and covering their arms and legs and faces with the rust-coloured mud along the shore. The water was warm and we would’ve happily stayed there longer but they called us back up on the boat to head to another island.
At the next spot Thirasia, where less than 300 people live, there’s a lovely little shoreline of restaurants where you can get great seafood and traditional Greek fare. We we ordered a combo platter for lunch that in the end we agreed could’ve fed a family of five.
The water around this island was incredibly clear and we just *had* to dive in and see what we could glimpse underwater. My handy pair of goggles that I had bought six years ago in Sardegna made it easy to see the schools of tiny silver fish darting by, the sunlight streaming through the water in diagonal shafts, and the rocks curving over and disappearing into the deep blue depths of the Aegean Sea. I could’ve stayed there all afternoon.
Back in Fira after a quick trip up on the cable car, we enjoyed exploring the maze of narrow walkways and side streets with lots of jewelry stores and souvenir shops and restaurants and galleries and locally made items and many food options. The main church in the town square was beautiful and ornate inside, and elegant and sleek outside with a beautiful and quiet courtyard.
We headed up to Oia; the most famous part of Santorini – this is the spot where people swear the sunsets are the best on all of Santorini. (I can honestly say that I saw a better sunset midway down the island on the edge of Fira for sure, but a sunset is a sunset and they are always beautiful, especially when you are on vacation.)
The highlight of Oia was definitely the famous blue domes. I didn’t think I would be so impressed by them but they really are stunning. There’s quite a line to get close to them to take a photo, but in the end I’m glad Brianna convinced me to wait in line for it. It didn’t take that long to get to the photo op end of the line and you can still enjoy the view or people-watch while you are waiting.
We also stopped into a beautiful art gallery filled with a collection of 15 different artists, curated by a very kind owner who had lived in Oia all his live and loved sharing the work of local artists with tourists and Greek islanders alike. I fell in love with one particular piece -a fishing boat made of reclaimed wood and recycled bits of nails and string and bottle caps. I ended up paying for it to be shipped home to arrive safely outside of my carry-on luggage.
We were supposed to take a kayaking trip to some sea caves off the side of the island but there just so happened to be a lot of high winds during the time we were there. In fact, they were a couple of days while I was on Ios that all of the ferries and flights in the area were hugely delayed (or cancelled for a entire day) due to the high waves and wind. No storms, no rain, no lightning or thunder- just wind.
It definitely goes to show that weather can stop travel plans on a dime. The only real inconvenience about the severe winds and swells of the water was that I never got to kayaking Greece. I’ll just have to do that next time I’m here, it seems.
We definitely made the most of our time on Santorini, and then it was off to the island airport- Brianna on to England, and me home to Canada!
Until next time Greece! Thanks for the sun and the sand and the Greek salads!