Monday 2 October 2023

Onward, Spartans! Our Adventures in Santorini

Kalispera! We're back from the beautiful island of Santorini and be afraid, be very afraid.... we've taken over two thousand photos so my next few posts are going to be very long and image heavy!

Part of the Greek Cyclades, in ancient times the island was known as Strongili (the Greek word for round, the original shape of the island) and later Thera (after the invading Spartan ruler, Theras) before finally christened Santorini,  after the early Christian heroine, Santa Irini (Saint Irene). The island was the only place outside of Crete known to have had a Minoan civilisation with archaeological discoveries dating back to 3600 BC. In 1600 BC a catastrophic volcano destroyed the island, sinking a large part of it. Colonised by the Spartans, the Phoenicians, the Byzantines and the Romans, it's now said that Santorini has been invaded by billions of cruise ship passengers and Instagram w*nkers. It also has the dubious reputation of being one of the most expensive islands in all of Greece. So, how did we fare with the mass tourism and crazy prices?

Two days after getting back from Corfu I found two return flights with Jet2 from Birmingham to Fira for £199 each - not bad considering that in Greece September is still considered to be peak tourist season. After extensive research (travel forums, YouTube videos, Facebook groups, the Rough Guide, the Lonely Planet and an ancient copy of Lawrence Durrell's The Greek Islands), we decided to stay in Perissa, a town on the opposite side of the island to the infamous, super-expensive tourist hot spots centred around the caldera. 

Built in the 1960s, Perissa is very much a fully fledged tourist resort consisting of two main streets dotted with tavernas, bars and shops, nestled in the shadow of huge craggy mountains and edged with a 7 km stretch of black sand beach. It wasn't the most exciting option but to afford to stay for a fortnight we had to be prepared to make a few compromises. The accomodation in some of the places I looked at cost over £5,000 a night! 

The Church of the Holy Cross in the main square in one of the largest churches on the island, built in 1835 but reconstructed after the devastating earthquake of 1956.

Behind the church, at the foot of the Mesa Vouno mountain are the ruins of an ancient Christian basilica dedicated to Agia Irina and believed to date to the 4th Century AD. 

As is usual in Greece, there's rarely any information displayed beside these ancient sites and access is usually impossible.

Perissa is well served by public transport, with frequent - and very cheap - buses to the island's principal town of Fira as well as a land train and a water taxi, which drops people off at Kamari, a popular beach resort on the other side of the mountain.

Located on a dirt track off the main road in a residential area, our base for the duration of the trip was  Apollo Rooms, built in the traditional Cycladic style and divided into six apartments, with Zoe, the owner, occupying one and her 20 year old grandson in another. The other guests were French. Basic, comfortable, immaculately clean and with masses of outdoor space, they were perfect for us and, at just £30 a night, remarkably good value considering Santorini's reputation. As usual I found Apollo via

We've no interest in staying in posh hotels when we travel preferring small, locally run apartments. Zoe was the kindest, sweetest host and made us feel like we were part of her family.  From our balcony we watched people going about their everyday business - watering their crops, feeding their cats & horses, walking their dogs, hanging out their washing & doing DIY.  

At first sight, Santorini is monochrome and arid with none of the lush greenery we're used to in Corfu and, unlike most islands, you can't drink the water. Fortunately a case of 6 x 1 litre bottles of water is a very reasonable €1.90 although pretty hellish having to carry a case home every day in 30°C , as the supermarket was a 20 minute walk away! 

 It's fascinating to see tomatoes growing in volcanic soil. 

Grapes are pruned into basket shapes to protect against wind damage 

Ominous clouds! Although the weather was mostly hot, hot, hot we had a thunderstorm, a few drops of rain and - shock horror - within two days of our arrival we experienced an earthquake! Not a very big one (3.4, I think) but pretty memorable nevertheless.

There were crates of home grown sun-dried figs on our terrace from which Zoe invited us to help ourselves. They were perfect with our daily breakfast of locally grown grapes, apricots and nectarines along with spoonfuls of deliciously decadent full fat Greek yoghurt which we bought from the supermarket she recommended (and even drove us to on our first day!) Its frequented by the locals rather than significantly pricier Carrefour on the main tourist strip. 

Forget swim-up pool bars, sunbeds, gyms and Wi- fi, all I want from my holiday accommodation is a comfy bed, a decent shower, a fridge, outside space and somewhere to hang my clothes.

Oh yeah and check out the sunrise! Never mind those Instagrammable sunsets on the other side of the island, competing with tens of thousands of cruise-shippers, celebrities and influencers for the perfect pouty selfie. Here's Homer's rosy fingered dawn from the privacy of our very own balcony.

A large portion of Perissa's famous Black Beach is given over to sunbeds. A pair plus an umbrella cost around €20 a day or free if you spent a certain amount on food on drink, not that we bothered with them. We prefer our own space, lying on a blanket on the sand or technically, the tiny black pebbles and pumice stones, surprisingly comfy although incredibly hot on your bare feet! Access to the sea can be tricky because of the slabs of lava lurking below the surface but we found a good spot which was rock-free, very popular after 5pm and at weekends with Greek families and the local fishermen.

Needless to say, we swam in that gorgeous sea every day. 

We're creatures of habit so in Greece our lunch is eaten at 2pm and is always salad, bread and beer. On Santorini, a Greek salad always includes capers. A Santorinian salad is made from the local brine-soaked goats cheese and has rocket, rusks and Santorini cherry tomatoes - the best tomatoes you will ever eat - more on them in a future post! 

A bowl of salad to share, two pittas or local bread and two large draught beers (Mythos, Alpha or Fix) cost an average of €22 - even in Fira. No dearer than we've paid in Corfu, Halkidiki or Athens this year.  

After a couple of days of beachlife we were refreshed and ready to start exploring the island. With the Meltemi - the seasonal Greek winds - making an early appearance (as you can see from the video above!) the 30°C heat had cooled down enough for us to consider negotiating the 365 metre Mesa Vouno mountain and exploring Ancient Thera

Be warned - Ancient Thera was built as a fortress by the Spartans so the ascent was never intended to be easy! With no discernable path and a sheer drop below, we passed several walkers who'd admitted defeat and turned back but, spurred on by the words of Tyrtaeus, Rise up, warriors, take your stand at one another’s sides, our feet set wide and rooted like oaks in the ground! we conquered the mountain and reached its summit fifty minutes later albeit windblown and very sweaty. We handed over our joint €12 admission fee and entered the site, following in the footsteps of those fierceless Spartans.

Here's what my guidebook says: With its steep slopes offering natural fortification, this strategic position proved the ideal place for the Spartan colonists who arrived in the 8th Century BC to build their town. Thera was taken over by Ptolemaic dynasty in the 4th Century BC becoming the naval and military base of Egypt. Thera's decline began at the end of the 3rd Century AD, when the residents gradually moved to the coasts of the island as they offered a more convenient everyday life.

The excavations in Mesa Vouno Mountain were started in 1896 by a German baron and continued in 1961 by Greek archaeologists, revealed a settlement of the Hellenistic Period. There was a main paved road, many smaller paths and a drainage system. The public buildings were made of limestone, whereas the private ones of small, unsymmetrical stones. Two cemeteries, a theatre, markets, pagan temples, Christian churches, baths and more public buildings have also been discovered and indicate a sophisticated society where religion played an important role. Thera was the religious and commercial centre of the island.

Art wasn’t vastly cultivated since the Spartans were conservative people that didn’t encourage the development of arts and education. However, the archaeological excavations revealed remarkable artifacts of ceramics and sculpture. Thera was one of the first places to adopt the Phoenician alphabet as the basis of Greek writing. 

You need to be pretty fit to reach Ancient Thera from Perissa but, from Kamari, the village on the other side of the mountain, it's possible to drive halfway and hike the rest of the way. The relative inaccessibility does mean that its blissfully quiet and very much not on the cruise ship/ coach trip schedule.

You can't help but wonder how many weaklings got thrown off that cliff by those ruthless Spartans (and that would probably have included me, pre-hip replacement!)

We were pleased to discover a kiosk outside the main entrance and treated ourselves to a delicious, ice cold Volkan, a Santorinian lava-filtered blonde beer. Listen to that bloody wind! 

Perissa's nightlife is relatively low key & laid back and after a summer of late nights, drinking & dancing and live music, that's just the way we wanted it. 

We'd stay on the beach until 6.30pm and, after showers & a quick change, we'd start the evening with a leisurely rum on the balcony. 

There are three bars on the main road set behind the beach and, as they serve cheap booze and have big screen TV, were very popular with the British. We'd occasionally pop into Bob's for an early beer, which looked the best of the bunch (and had a cat who spent most of his time walking up and down the bar and had an unhealthy fascination with my maxi dresses). There were a couple of lovely tavernas on the same road but the endless traffic noise did tend to grate after a while. 

The beach front tavernas were slightly more expensive but not ridiculously so. Here the clientele was more cosmopolitan being predominantly European but with quite a lot of Americans & Japanese visitors as well as lots and lots of gorgeous Greek cats - and, mercifully, the road closed to traffic after 5pm. For dinner we'd share a half litre of house red and a plate of mezes becoming seriously addicted to the Santorini tomato fritters. Occasionally, if Jon fancied meat (souvlaki or kleftiko), I'd have briam (veg stew, similar to ratatouille), gemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) or a vegetarian moussaka (made with veg, not meat substitute). 

Dinner for two would cost between €28 - €35.

Grilled mushrooms,

Oven baked feta, 

Tomato fritters,

Pork souvlaki,



Fava (yellow split pea pate), 

Lamb Kleftiko,


Fava and tomato fritters, 

Vegetable moussaka and skewered lamb. 

There's more, there's much more. Stay tuned, if you dare!

Thanks for reading & see you very soon.


  1. I've been getting withdrawal symptoms since your posts stopped! Looking forward to as many of those 2000 pics as you can throw at me - Thera is a strange place - the animal reliefs carved into the rock look interesting. The guest house, food, photobomb cats and beach all look very acceptable. I am interested to know more about how they grow their tomatoes on that volcanic earth... more please :) Betty (woodfairy/elderberry rob/allotment holder/call centre working/timetravelling/holidaymaker and blogging friend)

    1. Thanks so much, Betty! I think I'll post every other day to fit all the posts in. It seems a crime not to include all of the amazing places we visited.
      There's something utterly fascinating about those ancient carvings, I love it when they aren't fenced off and I can run my fingers along the carving, thousands of years after were created, it's such a thrill!
      Santorini tomatoes have been adapted so that they can grow in volcanic soil with the bare minimum of water, when we walked past a field of them it looked so bizarre. They're the tastiest tomatoes I've ever eaten, I might have to see if it's possible to buy the seeds and grow them at home, I was a bit scared of bring a tomato back in case I got searched! xxx

  2. Welcome back! The weather looked wonderful in the photos apart from the wind and the earthquake. How scary that must have been. It looks like a very interesting place to visit; lots of ruins; which are your cup of tea, I know. Where you stayed looked lovely and as for the food I was craving a Greek salad or moussaka by the time I'd looked at the photos! Lots of cats and the weird one attracted to the maxis. They can be quite unfathomable, cats. Well done on making it up the mountain! Lovely, lovely, outfits. How interesting how the people have adapted vegetable/fruit growing to the prevailing climate conditions; human beings are so very clever (sometimes). Looking forward to the next episode.

    1. Thanks, Vronni! It was way hotter than I expected - and I was thrilled about that. The earthquake was a bit disconcerting, not as dramatic as the Dudley earthquake of 2002, but memorable.
      Yes, I have a fascination for ruins and for pots (which drives Jon mad, he says that after seeing more than ten pithos in one go he's got pot fatigue!)
      Cats are weird, every one seems to have a completely different personality, that's why I love 'em!
      The tomatoes and grape are fascinating as are the cucumbers they grow, the soil makes them taste completely different. xxx

  3. What a beautiful Landscape and Architecture, the Pics are amazing. You look so happy and relaxed, very pretty. Welcome back!

  4. What a magnificent time! Loving all the food and your dresses are all so pretty and colorful.

  5. Like Betty, I've been getting withdrawal symptoms. I missed you! I'm also ravenous so whilst the food pictures were appreciated, they also weren't!!! Those tomato fritters look super!
    Your accommodation is great value and good to be away from the masses (esp Brits!).
    The scenery is incredible! Well done on you for achieving the hike.
    The cats are cuuuute!!!!xx

    1. Awww, thanks so much Kezzie! I love Greek food so much and am fascinated by how it differs between the islands. The tomato fritters were so good. I bought a really good 5 ingredient vegan cookbook from a chazza before we went with a recipe for them, I shall have to give them a bash. xxx

  6. That was Kezzie x

  7. Another amazing travelogue full of wondrous things. Thanks for sharing and glad you got home safe and

  8. Welcome home, I’m sure William was just as pleased to see you back as we are to see you blogging again. 😘

    This first instalment of your trip looks wonderful, gorgeous sunrise, xx

    1. Thanks, Jayne! William was very loving for the first 48 hours but now I think he's a bit fed up with me constantly picking him up and singing to him, he stayed out all night last night to protest over my soppy behaviour! xxx

  9. Wonderful, thanks so much for sharing your holiday with us. The sky and sea look heavenly, not sure about hauling my butt up that huge hill, but the view is worth it. Looking forward to seeing the rest of your photos.

    1. Thanks so much, Diane! Ancient Thera was a challenge, I thought it was very civilised that you could buy a beer at the summit, we certainly needed one! xxx

  10. Hooray, you're back! Thank you for the amazing pics - I love your tips and tricks for staying away from the touristy spots and living life like the locals! Aw, those kitties are so cute - but look like they are full of mischief!

    1. Thanks, Sheila! I thought you'd appreciate some cat porn! xxx

  11. What a fabulous adventure. I see what you mean about it being more arrid a landscape than your other adventures, but the blue of that ocean makes up for it. I'd love to try lava filtered beer, I bet it's delicious and talking of delicious, all of those pictures of food have my mouth watering. I can't wait to read the next installment.

    1. Thanks Louise! I'm curious about if it's any greener in the Spring. Once you got used to the grey you could see a kind of rugged beauty in the landscape and I'm always a sucker for a rugged mountain backdrop! xxx

  12. Hello stranger! I don't know why I expected lush greenery on Santorini, but those sunsets are absolutely stunning and it never ceases to amaze me how these ancient relics litter the landscape!
    The food looks as mouth watering as ever and lucky you, getting to get even more use out of your summer wardrobe. I had started to pack away a few things and now we seem to be having an Indian Summer!
    Thanks for the cat photos. I love the cutie apparently tangled up in your green dress! xxx

    1. Hello Claire! Yes, I knew it was volcanic but did expect a bit more greenery - even the tamarisk trees on the beach looked more grey than green!
      The Greeks are so ambivalent towards their ruins, often telling us that there's so many they rarely take much notice of them. We spotted some amazing tombs and carvings behind someone's house, on further investigation they're tombs from the Ptolemaic Dynasty, almost 3000 years old with no signs or any fencing!
      The lady in that bar told us that the dress wrangling kitten was a wayward teenager and caused havoc wherever he went. He climbed into my bag one night, I should have brought him home! xxx

  13. I'm glad to read your holiday wasn't nearly as expensive as initially feared. £ 5000 a night though, I wonder who's crazy (and rich) enough to pay such crazy prices!
    Those sunsets are absolutely stunning, and I loved joining you vicariously on your explorations of Mesa Vouno mountain and Ancient Thera.
    But what is Bess doing attacking your gorgeous maxi in Bob's? That cat's the spitting image of her! xxx

    1. It's utter madness, isn't it? Even if I had that kind of money to spend on a holiday I don't think I could!
      I wondered if you'd spot the resemblance between Bess and young Ollie, he was so cute! xxx

  14. Hi Vix, Shelagh here, i have posted a few times but have just realised the posts show as annonymous. My son and his girlfriend of 8 years have just returned form Santorini where he proposed! She said yes, which is a good thing since they have a house together and are cat parents. Your holiday looks great, very interesting especially those stones with the carvings. Like you I get a thrill from touching ancient stones etc. I can't help thinking of all the people who have done the same and had the same thoughts.
    Keep the photos coming I love to see your holiday pics. BTW it was me, some months ago who said my son was going to Glasto and my piano teacher was playing there.

    1. Hello, lovely lady! It's great to hear from you! Many congratulations to your son and his girlfriend (or I should say, his fiancee!) Funnily enough we saw a young chap propose when we were in Oia, wouldn't it be funny if that was your son?!
      I'm glad I'm not the only person who gets a thrill touching thousands of years of history, I can't get enough of a ruin or a crumbling column.
      I wondered if the Glasto comment was from you! xxx

  15. I need to follow in your footsteps - this sounds perfect for me. x

    1. Perissa is a really good base if you fancy visiting Santorini, Jane. The accommodation is excellent & very reasonably priced and as the island is so small and the public transport links excellent, you can visit all those "must see" places without spending a fortune. xxx

  16. Wow, totally my kind of quiet holiday too, and so lovely to find a comfy apartment in a quiet place (and kind people too!).
    I'm still amazed that you could fit anything into your small luggage!. Always admiring your 'luggage tips'.
    And so delightful looking food!! and so cute cats!

    1. Thanks, Monica! Hope you had a fab holiday in Portugal! xxx

  17. £5000 a night?! Jeepers.

    Honestly, a pox on Instagrammers - by which I don't mean people who go somewhere because they want to see that place, and share a few photos, but people who go somewhere because it's popular and take exactly the same photo as everyone else, then buggering off. Travel should involve *being* somewhere, not simply being seen somewhere.


Thanks for reading and for leaving a message. Please don't be anonymous, I'd love it if you left a name (or a nom de plume).

Lots of love, Vix