Santorini, Greece: A Mediterranean Gem with Hearts of Gold

Hello everyone! This week, I’ve decided to take us back to Santorini, Greece. Santorini is such a beautiful island, and I’ve yearned to go back ever since I left. Plus, this trip surprisingly involved little to no hiccups! I have to say, of all the places that I went during study abroad, Santorini gave us minimal trouble. The biggest issues we had were two girls canceling on the trip relatively last-minute; and learning how to kick-start our ATVs. More on both of those situations in a bit. 

So before I dive into this Travel Tale, I do want to gush about Santorini so that you can envision what this island is like – and hopefully be inspired to make the trip yourself one day! Some highlights: beautiful beaches, incredibly friendly people, affordable public transport, gorgeous architecture, delicious food, and killer views. One thing I would recommend, however, is to go there when the weather is relatively warm – such as September, when the tourist season is dying down and the sun has warmed the ocean as much as it can.Our trip occurred at the end of April, and regrettably it was pretty chilly at night. I had to wear a scarf and sweater most times, and barely got in the ocean because it was cold! One big exception was on our excursion to Nea Kameniand Palea Kameni, which are two uninhabited islands of volcanic origin that tourists can visit to hike – and take a dip in a pocket of hot springs at the foot of Palea Kameni. Getting to this pocket of warmth, however, involved jumping off of the excursion boat into the VERY cold ocean, and swimming as fast as you could to reach the hot springs. I’m proud to say, I gave it a go – so worth it!

​​Now, let’s talk about our accommodations in Santorini, because the hotel we stayed at really made such a difference in our experience.

We chose to stay at the beautiful Villa Manos, owned and operated by an exuberant woman Poppy and her wonderful family. Not only did Villa Manos feel immediately at home once we arrived, but our room and the property were lovely (check out the gallery below for photos). Poppy was also incredibly accommodating before we even landed in Greece: a few weeks before our trip – after we had reserved two rooms for four girls – two girls dropped out of the trip for various reasons. I emailed Poppy and informed her of the situation, and she was more than happy to cancel the second room at no charge, despite the relatively short notice. Besides this, Poppy and her family were more than willing to help us with everything: transportation to and from the airport, ATV rental, and even reserving a donkey ride to a nearby beach one morning because we chose not to ride the donkeys up the Fira steps.*

*I would like to note that we had mixed feelings about doing a donkey ride in general, as there are conflicting reviews on how they are treated – especially the ones that make the trip up the Fira steps. However, our reasoning for choosing this ride was that since the trip to the beach was short, relatively flat, and much shorter than up the Fira steps, the donkeys would not be put through as strenuous of a journey. If anyone has further insight on this please feel free to let me know!

I honestly could go on and on about Poppy’s kindness and how wonderful our stay was, but I know that’s not the only thing you’re here for! So, let’s move right along.

A couple of days into our trip, we rented ATVs to travel around the island and see the city. For those of you who have ridden 4-wheelers many times before, this may seem like no big deal. However, I had only ridden one once or twice before in my life, since my parents are not fond of them. And I figured they would probably not be too keen on their daughter renting an ATV to ride alongside native drivers all week in a foreign country…so, I’m not proud of this but: I didn’t tell them about it until after we returned the ATVs safely at the end of our trip. All week, as I cruised on the Santorini roads, I thought to myself, “I’m a bad seed! I’ve rebelled! How could I keep this a secret from them?!”  But, I needn’t have worried about it after all. My parents were actually very supportive of me trying something out of the ordinary. And, they accepted my reasoning of waiting to inform them of the rental, since it was for the purpose of them not worrying (more) about me all week. I knew that they trusted my judgment already, but it was extra comforting to know that they trusted it while I was in a foreign country across the world from them. And, that they didn’t hold my ~omission of truth~ against me. So, thank you Mom & Dad – and, sorry again!

The experience of simply riding our ATVs on the city roads in Santorini was fun, wild, and a little scary in and of itself, but that was nothing compared to riding the highway up to Oia (the picturesque part of Santorini with that iconic trio of blue-topped buildings). This highway just so happened to be situated right next to the ocean! So, needless to say, it was a bit difficult to focus due to the great blue beauty that kept us company on the ride up. Seriously, if there is one thing I would tell you to do if you go to Santorini, it would be to rent an ATV and ride up to Oia. You can thank me later.

One blip in the overall ATV experience popped up a few different times during our rides. Basically, as we had been warned by the owners of the ATV shop – and Poppy –  a lot of the engines on the ATVs were a bit finicky. So, if the ATV was off for a while, you’d have to kick-start the clutch to get it to work (it may not have been called the clutch, forgive me for forgetting the proper term) . Now what they didn’t mention was that the little “kick-start” needed to be more like a donkey kick that meant business! The first few times our ATVs stalled out, we were giving relatively tame kicks for fear of busting something on the vehicle. After we got the hang of it – and got sick of being damsels in distress, waiting for someone else to kick-start for us – we were kicking that thing like we meant it. Score one for us?

The last thing I’ll mention that you should absolutely do in Santorini is a scenic hike that takes you along the coast, all the way from Fira up to Oia.If you want to truly appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the Mediterranean sea and the island itself, this is the way to do it. Depending on your pace, the hike is said to take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours, and I believe we made ours in about 2.5. After you reach Oia, you can then hop on a bus – after watching the sunset, of course- and get back to wherever you need to go for the night. There are a couple of fun bars to go to in Fira, but our favorite was 2 Brothers – great music and atmosphere!

Hopefully all of this has inspired you to go to Santorini, or at least sparked a bit of wanderlust! Writing the whole experience definitely gave me a bout of nostalgia – and an itch to travel again ASAP. And with that, I begin the 3-week countdown to Vegas…

I’d love to know: would you rent an ATV or four-wheeler in a foreign city?!

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