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Monday, August 28, 2017

Summer in Santorini

This August, we explored Greece and island hopped across the gorgeous islands of the Cyclades. Our adventure started in Santorini, continued in Paros, Naxos and Antiparos and concluded in Athens. This week, we are excited to share our Twinspirational Travels in Santorini with you.
The two major islands in the Cyclades are Santorini and Mykonos. Santorini is known for its picturesque views, while Mykonos is infamous for its all day and night partying. We departed Newark on Emirates' new nonstop flight to Athens. We arrived at 4pm and briefly explored Athens. We stayed overnight at the Sofitel, which is conveniently located near the Athens airport. The next morning, we hopped on Aegean Airlines' short 30 minute flight to Santorini. You can also take a 5+ hour ferry from Athens, but we highly recommend the flight (as there can be unexpected delays with the ferries)!

Santorini lies in the Aegean Sea, roughly halfway between Athens and Crete. This one of a kind island features everything from red, white and black beaches to white and blue buildings. Most tourists are unaware that this little paradise was once the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the world around 3,500 years ago.
when to go
High season in Santorini starts in late June and concludes in early September. During this time, you can expect perfect beach weather, exciting nightlife and can hop on over to nearby islands. Hotels are much cheaper during the off-peak season (October to May). If you are looking for cost effective hotels and weather, we recommend planning your trip in late May through early June or late September through early October. The weather is sunny and you can enjoy sights, views, wine tastings and dining, but it may not be warm enough to go swimming in the sea.  If you decide to head to Santorini from November to April, you will be able to see a lot of sites but be prepared for winter weather, gray skies, cool weather and rain. Many hotels and restaurants are closed in the winter, but you should be able to find some accommodations in Fira. Book your ferries and flights in advance as they have much more limited schedules. Food, beverage and transportation costs tend not to vary season by season.   
how long to stay
We recommend at least 3 days to view the top attractions in Santorini. You'll want to hike, take a catamaran, hit the red/black/white sand beaches, view the sunset from multiple locations and dine at some of the island's top restaurants. Depending on how much time you have, we recommend visiting nearby islands including Naxos, Paros, Ios, Milos or Mykonos.
where to stay
Santorini is a small island with 15 beautiful villages. The most popular towns are Fira, Oia, Imerovigli and Firostafani. These villages are located along the caldera cliff on the western side of the island. These four towns have picturesque views of the volcano and caldera. The beaches, on the other hand, are located along the eastern coast of the island. The caldera towns are trendier, feature better restaurants and clubs and include more luxurious hotels. The beach towns are more relaxed and more affordable.
Fira is the capital of Santorini. This town is filled with beautiful whitewashed buildings that are perched cliffside and offer beautiful panoramic views of the volcano. Fira is a bustling town with lots of restaurants, hotels, shopping and nightlife.
Firostefani is a short 15-minute walk north from Fira. This village is slightly quieter than Fira, but also close to restaurants, hotels, shopping and nightlife.
Imerovigli is north of Fira and Firostefani and famous for its beautiful views and sunsets. This village is also known as the "balcony to the Aegean".
Oia is the village most people associate with Santorini. Oia is known for its white buildings and blue-capped churches and stunning views of the Aegean Sea. Oia is significantly quieter than Fira, so it's perfect for honeymooners and couples, who prefer quieter nights.


Best Views: Oia, Imerovigli 
Best Nightlife: Fira
Most Romantic: Oia, Imerovigli
Best Beach: Kamari 
Most Budget Friendly: Firostefani, Fira
We stayed in the Mansion Suite of the Aigialos Niche Residences and Suites in Fira. Our 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom suite had a gorgeous view of the Old Metropolis Cathedral. A picture perfect breakfast was delivered to our balcony each morning, and tasted as delicious as it looked.
Sunsets on our balcony were just as gorgeous. We watched as the rosy hues of the sunset embraced the island and the Aegean Sea.
things to do
The Walk from Fira to Oia was one of our favorite experiences on Santorini! The hike is free and features some of the most incredible views on the island. The scenic 9km hike can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours depending on your speed and stops for pictures. We started in Fira, walked north through Firostefani and then Imerovigli. The path from Imerovigli to Oia has limited shops and restaurants, so make sure you have plenty of water before reaching this point. We traveled with NetKoolr's Madelle bag, which kept our water chilled during our hike. We recommend wearing sneakers as part of the trail has cobbled stones and loose gravel. You can also walk in the opposite direction from Oia to Fira but we loved the climactic finish in gorgeous Oia. We also rewarded ourselves with a fabulous lunch in Oia. If you are visiting in July or August, we highly recommend starting the walk as early as possible.
Catamarans are the perfect way to enjoy the Aegean Sea. They also offer an alternative view of the breathtaking caldera cliffs. The 5-hour sailing tour takes place in the morning or late afternoon and includes stops at the Red, White and Black Sand Beaches, a swim at the volcanic hot springs and a traditional Greek meal. We chose the late afternoon option and loved swimming, laying in the sun and watching the sunset below the Oia cliffs. Most catamarans cost 130-150 euros and include unlimited Greek wine, beer and soda, a Greek meal and roundtrip transportation to the port.
Experience Wine Tasting on an island with a long history of winemaking. Santorini's special climate and volcanic soil give the local wine a unique taste. Vinsanto, Nychteri and Mezzo are some of the popular local varietals. We visited two vineyards on Santorini: Boutari and Venetsanos.
Boutari Winery was established in 1879 in Naoussa and is one of the leading wineries in Greece. In 1989, Boutari opened a beautiful white-domed winery in Santorini. Local white varietals include Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, Kallisti and Nykteri. The dessert wines include Vinsanto (white) and the Ampeliastos (red). We enjoyed a delicious 5-flight wine tasting and cheese pairing and toured the vineyard. As a special treat, we were invited to watch the harvesting of the grapes.
Venetsanos winery is located above the port of Athinios and overlooks the beautiful caldera of Santorini.  This winery was built in 1947 by the Venetsanos family and was the first industrial winery on the island. The winery's structural design is quite impressive. Originally the winery used gravity to transport the wine from the top of the mountain to the port below. We took a tour of the winery and tasted 5 wines that were paired with an assortment of cheese and meats.
Watch the Sunset at Ammoudi. Ammoudi Port is a quaint harbor on the northwest coast of Santorini. The bay of Ammoudi extends under the breathtaking caldera cliffs. There are 4 traditional fish taverns where you can taste fresh seafood and local favorites: Sunset Ammoudi Taverna, Ammoudi Fish Tavern, Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna and Taverna Katina. To reach Ammoudi, you can take a taxi or walk down 300 steps (or ride a donkey) from Oia. We took a taxi to Ammoudi Taverna and enjoyed a delicious meal while admiring the beautiful blue water of the Aegean Sea, the passing boats and the breathtaking sunset. After dinner, we walked up the 300 steps and explored Oia in the evening. Beware, the climb is not easy (especially in heels)!
Visit the Beaches. Santorini's beaches are unique and differ from the traditional golden sand beaches found throughout Greece. Expect beaches with volcanic sand and lots of pebbles. You'll definitely want to wear flip flips or shoes as the black / red sand is vey HOT. We went to Perivolos beach, sipped pina coladas and enjoyed a fabulous lunch in our cabanas. We also saw the Red, White and Black Sand beaches from our catamaran tour. If you are looking for the best beach resort on Santorini, check out Kamari, which is southeast of Fira.
The Volcano Tour is a great way to experience the active Volcano in Nea Kameni and reach the highest point in Santorini. The crater is 130 meters high and takes approximately 20 minutes to walk to. The only way to get to the Volcano is with a  volcano boat tour or chartered boat.
Helicopter Tours offer stunning views of the caldera, cliffs, volcano, vineyards and towns. These tours are typically 30 minutes long.
Visit Ancient Akrotiri and Pyros. Akrotiri is a famously well preserved archeological site from the Minoan period. These ruins were buried under ash during the volcanic explosion that created the island that exists today. Akrotiri is also known as Santorini’s Greek Pompei. Pyros was the capital of the Santorini until the early 1800s. This village consists of traditional houses built around the Venetian castle that dates back to the 13th century. 
what to eat 
The food in Santorini was spectacular! Below is our cheat sheet on what to order for lunch and dinner.
Appetizers
Greek Salad (Horiatiki) is a ubiquitous dish that can be served as an appetizer or a side dish. This salad is made with fresh chopped tomatoes, cucumber and purple onions and topped with feta cheese, black olives, olive oil and oregano.
Homemade Pita - remember to ask for it because the tables are generally set with fresh bread.
Zucchini Fritters (Kolokithokeftedes) are patties that are fried extra crispy on the outside and still preserve their creamy and rich texture on the inside.
Tzatziki is a classic Greek appetizer that goes great with meat, vegetables and/or pita. This dip is made with thick yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil and fresh dill.
Grape Leaves (Dolmathakiaare stuffed with rice and occasionally meat.
Saganaki is a delicious fried cheese appetizer.
Mains
Moussaka combines fried sliced aubergines with a tomato and minced meat sauce and topped with b├ęchamel and grated cheese. It is delicious, but very rich so we recommend ordering one and sharing it family style with the table.
Seafood is fresh in Greece. We dined on red snapper, sea bass, octopus and calamari.
Lamb is very fatty in Greece. We actually preferred chicken and seafood.
Souvlaki is a popular Greek street food and means meat-on-a-skewer.

Dessert
Chocolate Souffle with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge is not a traditional Greek dessert, but who doesn't love CHOCOLATE!
Baklava is the quintessential Greek dessert that is made with crispy layers of phyllo, nuts, butter and sugar. It is very sweet, so a bite is all you need.
Kataifi Halva is another sweet dessert made of thin layers of phyllo pastry, filled with walnuts and sweetened with syrup.

"We dream in colors borrowed from the sea." - Anonymous

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