What makes a perfect honeymoon destination? Blue skies and abundant sunshine? Check. Azure seas and sandy beaches? Check. A relaxed, carefree vibe and a bit of La Dolcha Vita? Check. It’s safe to say that when it came to our honeymoon, Santorini checked all of our boxes. It far exceeded even my own high expectations of the Greek Isles with its resplendent beauty, heart-dropping sunsets and warm, friendly people. If ever you can fall in love at first sight with a place, then Santorini was it.
Kara and I set off for Greece right after our whirlwind of a wedding, which was also perfect in so many ways. One minute, we were walking along the Chicago River on a picturesque Sunday afternoon, having hugged our family and friends goodbye, one by one. The next, we were aboard an SAS flight bound for Athens via Stockholm. Not having enough time to see our loved ones off properly was tough, but we wanted to maximize the time for our honeymoon. We were dazed, emotionally-spent and exhausted on the flight. We arrived in Santorini right after sunset Monday, exhilarated but barely able to keep our eyes open after a flight connection in Stockholm and a two-hour delay in Athens. Even as seasoned as we were as travellers, you never quite get over jet lag, and shortly after we checked into our hotel suite, we fell asleep.
We slept well into early afternoon the next day. Opening our door and seeing the view from our private balcony at the Vallais Villa was extraordinary. Nothing prepared us for how stunning the view was, atop the cliff and out into the bluest ocean I’d ever seen. I knew there were places in the world as beautiful as this — perhaps I read about them, or saw them in movies or on TV — but seeing Santorini with my very own eyes was another thing entirely. I was awestruck by how picture-perfect it looked.
We spent our first afternoon walking from Imerovigli to Fira, the main town on the crescent-shaped island, stopping for a fish lunch and some Volkan local beer. The island was crowded was tourists and we noted a disproportionate number from China. In particular, we saw Chinese brides decked in white wedding gowns eager to have their wedding pictures taken. The narrow path curved along the perimeter of the island and below us were hotels, vacation condos and ubiquitous blue-domed churches, packed in along the side of the cliff.
On the way to Fira, we stopped into a travel agency who helped us book our activities for the rest of the honeymoon. It was quick and convenient — one-stop shopping at its finest. We wandered through Fira, the largest town in Santorini and the commercial heart of the island, and visited some of the local shops. After sunset the weather turned cool and the sea breeze made it slightly chilly, much like a spring night in Southern California. We took a taxi back to Vallais Villa and made good use of the hot tub conveniently placed right on our balcony.
The next day, we dutifully walked ten minutes from the hotel to the Imerovigli bus stop, arriving at 10:00am sharp, where a tour bus was to pick us up and drop us off at the pier in Oia. We waited until 10:15, and then 10:30, before making a call to the tour company who assured us that the bus was on its way. The bus eventually picked us up at 10:40 and we learned our first lesson in Greek Island Time. This was not Switzerland or Hong Kong, and timetables don’t necessarily mean anything. Fortunately, the bus ride was well worth the wait, making its way down the winding, hilly road to Oia and rewarding us with stunning views of the south side of the island. During the ride, I began to think seriously about buying a vacation condo in Santorini, and Kara and I half-seriously discussed the prospect later in the day.
Once we got to the pier, we boarded a tour boat, a wooden ship with tall masts that looked a bit like a pirate ship. The boat headed to Fira to pick up the rest of the passengers. We passed by two large cruise ships in the harbor, and sure enough, many of the passengers that boarded the ship at Fira were cruise ship patrons. I find that you can always distinguish cruise ship folk from ordinary tourists. Two elderly women who sat behind us were from Australia, and we chatted with them briefly about our love for their home country.
The first stop was the dormant volcano on the island of Nea Kameni. Our boat docked and we were allowed off for an hour of exploration on foot. The volcano last erupted in 1950 and was uninhabited, but the island was the most popular excursion for tourists in Santorini. As we hiked up the 1 km to the top of the island, we expected to see gushing lava flows and a Hawaiian-style volcano, but instead we saw just rocks and black ash. At times it felt a bit like being on another planet. The view at the top was definitely rewarding.
Our next stop was a hot spring, where we jumped into the water from the boat and went for a quick swim. The hot spring’s water was rust-colored and felt a bit icky.
On the way to the third and final destination, I noticed that the white houses on top of the cliffs looked, from a distance, like snow-capped peaks.
Our last stop was for lunch, on the island of Thirasia. We chose to dine at Taverna Tonia, and picked a table right at the water’s edge.
Of course, we ordered our two staples: calamari and grilled octopus, both incredible. We knew that upon leaving the Greek Islands, we would likely never taste octopus as fresh, or as good, ever again.
The dish looks so simple: take an octopus, slice it up, put it on the grill with some seasoning, and serve it up with some olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Maybe that’s what made it a perfect dish — the simplicity. Greeks must have been eating this same meal for thousands of years.
After we disembarked the boat, we went back to our hotel, changed, and walked to Fira for a show at The White Door Theatro. The show was an actually an interactive traditional Greek wedding from the 1940s, with the audience as guests. We interacted with the actors, ate appetizers and drank Greek wine, learned Greek dancing and even broke plates while shouting “Opa!” It was a lot of fun and very well done. We would highly recommend adding this to any Santorini itinerary, and we wouldn’t have known about it had it not been for the travel agent.
The next day we made sure to wake up early for breakfast in our balcony, which we had missed the previous two mornings. With that view, the fruit and Greek yogurt tasted even better. I bet I could eat a Cliff Bar and a bowl of corn flakes on that balcony and it would have been amazing.
After breakfast, we headed for the Avaton Resort and Spa in Imerogivli, a short five-minute walk from the hotel. Interestingly, before I moved to Asia, I don’t think I ever stepped foot inside a spa. But ever since, I’ve grown fond of them, and it helps that Kara is a spa aficionado. We booked the honeymoon package — 45 minutes in the hot-tub and steam room and then a couples’ massage, before ending in a flower-petal filled soaking tub with a bottle of Moet & Chandon. They did a great job at Avaton.
Now fully relaxed, we were ready for our sunset cruise on a catamaran. This time, we took off from Amoudi Port. The catamaran only had room for 18 passengers, so it was much more private than the volcano cruise. Once on board, we relaxed with a beer, wind in our hair, as our captain took us to sea. We met a couple from North Carolina who also got married on June 20, as well as a couple from Leysin, Switzerland (where Kara would complete her Master’s degree) and a friendly British couple.
The catamaran stopped and dropped anchor at the famous Red Beach and we got out and went for a swim. It felt a lot like being on a junk boat in Hong Kong, but a bit more luxurious. The sun was hot, and the crystal-clear water was refreshing. We even saw schools of fish which swam in the cool, aqua-colored water around us.
The catamaran cruise was my favorite part of the honeymoon. Seeing Santorini from the sea, I was again awestruck by how beautiful the island truly was. We were cruising in the most pristine waters I had ever seen, with a cooler full of beer and a huge BBQ dinner spread (steak, grilled prawn, Greek salad) that rivaled any gourmet restaurant. We stopped only to take swim breaks. In a honeymoon that was altogether perfect, this was perhaps the most perfect part.
But the most amazing part of the cruise was yet to come. That’s when the catamaran slipped quietly into Oia Harbor and we were positioned to witness an epic sunset. The sun sets slowly in Santorini, and I think we were anchored there for an hour or more. I am sure many, many poems have been written about a sunset in the Aegean Sea, and perhaps such poetry serves as the basis of Greek mythology or even Western Civilization itself, but I am also certain that nothing on the written page could ever do it justice.
Our last day in Santorini, we took the public bus from Imerogivli to Oia. We were lucky that the bus was arriving right as we walked up, for who knows how long we would’ve waited for the next scheduled one. For less than two Euros a person, it was a great deal.
We walked through Oia and bought a blue, hand-blown glass pitcher, and walked down from the town to the waterfront, where we stopped for an early lunch at Dimitri’s. The proprietor of the restaurant was a Greek woman who spoke perfect American English, and she served us a grilled fish which I picked out from the kitchen myself.
Rather than walk back up to Oia to catch the bus back, we decided to take a burro ride instead. It was a bit scary going up to the steep steps, jostling on the back of a donkey, and I felt like I would fall off at any time, but it was a fun experience.
When we got back to Imerogivli, we were picked up promptly at 4:15pm (right on schedule) by our wine tour guide Dennis in a van. Joining us on the tour was a newlywed couple from San Francisco, an older couple from Adelaide, Australia, and a young couple from Finland.
Dennis proved to be an impeccable host. Having been on wine tours in Hunter Valley (Australia) and in Catalonia (Spain), and having visited vineyards in New Zealand and California, Kara and I have been spoiled in our wine tasting, but our experience with Dennis and his company was our most enjoyable. Dennis really took the time to explain the tasting procedure at each of the vineyards, and explained how best bring out the flavor of each wine before drinking. He paired each wine with different cheeses, meats or olives, and as an example, explained how a sweet wine would be best counterbalanced by bleu cheese. For amateur oeonophiles like us, it was a wonderful education.
At the end of the tour, we got a table at Santo Winery and watched the sunset. By this time, the group had gotten to know each other pretty well, and we especially enjoyed talking to the Adelaide couple. They were quite knowledgeable about wine and more importantly they seemed to really enjoy life, and each other, traveling around the world and savoring each new experience. Maybe in thirty years, that would be us, but for now, it was enough to sit in the twilight, sipping a sweet, local dessert wine as the sun dropped beneath the horizon and set on our perfect honeymoon.