Greek Islands 2017 – Santorini, Sikinos, Folegandros

Day 13

We awake to silence, the toll of church bells replacing the beating music of the night before. The clubs closed, party revellers gone, this crowded island briefly resembling a sleepy Greek village just for a moment. We breakfast one last time looking over these stunning views, 3 new cruise liners anchored in the caldera below, such a shame this place is marred by such intense tourism.  

A view of Oia
 We take a bus to Oia, a village perched on the north western tip of the Caldera. We think that maybe this will be quieter than Fira however our unbelievably poor timing coincided with the arrival of a fleet of coaches delivering what seems like the population of London! The tiny pretty streets barely able to cope. We escape the main thoroughfare briefly but again catch up with the masses.  
Oia castle ruins
However, the views from the ruin of Oia castle are just amazing, even more so than Fira, white sugar cube houses tumbling down the Caldera face, windmills, chapels, blue domed churches, is all simply stunning.  
Ammoundi port

We notice a steep donkey path zigzagging down to the small port of Ammoudi far below, it looks peaceful, this is our escape from the masses. We begin the descent of the oh so steep path, perhaps we will regret this when we start the climb back up in this heat! From high up we spot our table at the taverna, a table for two at the waters edge, it’s perfect, sat in the sun with a Mythos, the water lapping the harbour wall just inches away. We are not intending to eat here because of the steep climb back, that was until we see the plates of delicious fish being served, the temptation just too great. We head to the kitchen to see what they have to offer, there’s plenty, ranging from little sardines to huge bloated fish; spoilt for choice we settle on a beautiful looking fresh Grouper (Rofis) fish, and yet again it doesn’t disappoint, tasty, delicate white fish with a crispy grilled skin, oil-fried chips and Greek salad with those sweet-as-anything Santorini tomatoes. And of course we had to wash it down with local retsina. Just when we thought authentic food was done and dusted for this trip, we get one of the best meals of the whole holiday, not only the food and drink, but the brilliant setting too. Great way to end another wonderful trip.

Hauling up the donkey trail was as hard as we thought it would be, but somehow now we really don’t care. This was a terrific last day.

One last stunning view

Day 12

It’s back to Santorini this morning and effectively the start of the journey home, so we bid farewell to our lovely hosts at Ampelos and 

take the morning catamaran. Folegandros has been a great experience, a terrifically picturesque place and a location we have loved.

We reacquaint ourselves with Fira and it’s a good deal hotter than it was two weeks ago, no breeze and the sun beating down. Once again the place is packed and the combination of heat and crowds is tiring after the other chilled islands.  

Chaos at Santorini port

Back here in Santorini we are back amongst the mass tourism, including the Chinese/Japanese, complete with their photography obsession, their umbrellas to hide from the sun and their inherent lack of manners and decency. You leave all this behind as soon as you leave Santorini. Oh and never mind selfie sticks, the air is full of drone cameras these days as well. It’s all a bit of a shock to the system after the peace of Sikinos and the genteel feel of Folegandros.

Of course, other parts of this island are no doubt just as peaceful as where we have been, but in all honesty the discovery of just how much a beautiful and historic place such as Fira, the heart of Santorini, can sell its soul to tacky tourism and night clubbing is a big disappointment. As we said earlier in the blog, this will undoubtedly be some people’s idea of a perfect holiday destination, but it’s a long way from what we like to do. We think that by tomorrow we will be content to see the back of this place. 

Terrace view of Fira

Each day here, a couple of cruise liners drop anchor in the bay and ferry their many hundreds of passengers into Fira for their prescribed few hours, then disappear after dark to the next regimented destination. We’ve long held the opinion that cruises, like all-inclusive holidays, are our worst nightmare of a holiday. Being free and independent travellers for whom some of the real joys of travel are mixing with the locals, freedom to do anything and go anywhere, eating local food and, above all, knowing that pretty much every penny we spend goes directly into the local economy, means that it’s hard for us to comprehend that there is any pleasure in a) being told what to and do when to do it or b) isolating yourself in a resort and failing to experience the country you’re visiting. Still, it’s a good job there’s different types and it’s a good job we don’t all like the same things. 

So many stunning views

It’s kind of amusing watching the hordes of cruise passengers led round the sights in packs. We have actually seen, on this trip, cruise passengers walking through the town with stickers on their chest bearing their identification number – the comparison with sheep, or cattle, is unavoidable! For us it’s the diametric opposite of why we travel. We travel to be free, to have new experiences, not to be shepherded around to tick sightseeing boxes in a limited time frame.

Again though of course, it’s a good job we don’t all seek the same things, that would be much worse… 

Mama Thira Taverna

Back to tonight, we take an evening meal along the clifftop at a restaurant amongst the plush hotels of Firastefani, which turns out to be the American Holiday Quarter. When we take our ouzo nightcap on the hotel roof, it is just past midnight and the noise is growing.  

When we booked this room right in the heart of Fira for the last night of the trip, we thought it was a real find. Now, laying here at nearly 2am with the sound of a dozen different night clubs pounding deafening club music into the skies amid the squeals and yells of hundreds of revellers, it doesn’t seem quite so smart.

Day 11

Yesterdays wedding was in full swing by the time we reached Chora, one of the squares completely taken over by the wedding party, the taverna decorated, bunting flying, Greeks in their finery. We arrived just as the bride and groom entered the square for their first dance, traditional music, people gathered in a circle, clapping of hands and what seems like the rest of the islanders and visitors there enjoying the event. Speeches , eating, dancing, this family celebration being watched by all and everyone, how different is island life to ours. We end our evening , the wedding still in full swing, we drift off to sleep with the sound of disco music interspersed with Syrtaki Greek music, reaching our room from the valley below, right through till 4.30 this morning. 

One of the many painted shop signs

Meltemi has definitely left us now, there’s not a breath of wind today, our last day on Folegandros. So we take the bus back to Karavostasi, the port town, then walk the half mile to Livadi beach, to chill one last time. The sun is intense again, very little breeze, just a handful of people enjoying this gorgeous cove. This is though one of the beaches with absolutely no facilities, no bar, no cafe, no buildings, nothing. It’s great, till all of your bottled water becomes too hot to drink! 

Karavastasi Port

Back at the port for lunch, we are shown all the fresh fish and offered scorpion fish (skorpina) we are told it’s amazing, the pride of today’s catch. Its red, it’s ugly, it’s massive, we say yes. It arrives, we aren’t sure how to eat it, once we are shown we delve in, the heavy meaty texture quite different from the other grilled fish of this trip.  

Scorpion fish
This restaurant is a little gem and yet is by the ferry port in a town which the guidebooks tell you to pass through; they serve fresh fish from the day’s catch, no frills, it’s family run and is now on the fifth generation of the family. They talk you through the fish, show you how it should be eaten, take pride in their food. Someone should tell Rick Stein about this place so he puts it on tv! It’s name is Kalymnios. And for, remarkably, the first time on this trip, we drink retsina with fish, an essential combination on a Greek island trip.
So we return late tonight for supper at Chora’s best taverna, Arexe, for our last meal on this fabulous, magical island before we head back to Santorini in the morning. Fittingly for the last night here, Meltemi returns, blowing through the alleys, pounding the buildings, buffeting everything in its path, this really has been one of the themes of this holiday.

Astarti – our favourite bar

Day 10

We had planned to do a trek on one of the Folegandros trails today, however Meltemi has dropped and by 9am the temperature has soared, even at this early hour this feels like it will be the hottest day so far and not the day for great exertion in this blazing sun. We decide instead to first climb back up to the church, the hot steep climb rewarding, the views in the morning light are simply stunning.  

Village on the edge of the world
The houses really are right at the edge of the sheer rock face, why on earth did they build them so close?! The sun is beating down, no shelter here so we begin our descent and head for the leafy squares and tiny streets of Kastro.  
Balconies
We explore more, weaving in and out of this maze of streets. Tiny wooden balconies brightly painted, whitewashed arches, houses built over streets creating low short tunnels, we have to duck here, well Phil does! Its just the most quaint Chora. A hidden bar here, a cafe, a bakery there, an Artisan workshop, all hidden, little gems to find, all with wooden hand painted signs, no LED’s, no Neon, the signs themselves pieces of art.  
Another leafy corner

The heat is sapping, we have walked enough, next stop the beach at Angali once more. We swim, we snooze, we eat fish, mackerel is today’s catch, delicious. Again we feel sun kissed and rested by the time we board the walking pace bus as it chugs back up the oh so steep road, so slow and so steep it is reminiscent of a mountain rack railway! Tonight Chora may be a bit different, we’ve been told there is a big island wedding in town tonight and we’ve already spied the entourage up at the church on the cliff. We’ll see what tonight brings…

Looking down over Chora
Day 9

So for a change of scenery we pick up a 4×4 hire car straight after breakfast and head off to explore every inch of Folegandros that you can get to by road. There is only one “proper” road on the island, the rest are off road rugged tracks strewn with boulders so a 4×4 is essential.

We head back to the port town Karovastasi first. All the guide books tell you that Karavostasi is an unattractive, dull place which you just pass through when you get off the boat. Well, those books couldn’t be more wrong, it’s a lovely little port town in the classic Cyclades style, sugar cube houses clustered around the cove, 4 or 5 tavernas, ridiculously blue sea, perfect semi circle bay. The only “unattractive” bit is we guess the beach itself, but the rest is not worthy of criticism, it’s lovely. 

Karavastasi Port

So after a wander around and the best frappe of the holiday so far, we drive round to the beach at Livadi, secluded and so picturesque and less than a mile from the port. White pebble beach, tamarisk trees, beautiful rocky headlands, calm blue seas beneath golden sun. We are getting more remote now, just a handful of people on the beach, no facilities, no taverna, no bar. Yet the cove is truly beautiful, today is just getting better and better, this feels like paradise.  

Remote part of the island

Back to Karavostasi for lunch, we take whatever fish they caught today, it’s a bulky white fish the lady calls skatari (we now know it’s black bream),great flavour, great accompaniments including “local” salad and beetroot dip, delicious lunch, this day still just gets better and better. The grilled fish is fabulous, and so fresh, so tasty and with that wonderfully pleasing texture. 

Disused windmill

Now back on to the only main road, back up the spine of the island, back through Chora, and up to the other end so that we reach both extremities, passing through Ano Meria, the only other village of note, on the way. Driving this island is magical, the views are incredible; rolling hills, dramatic cliffs, views back to Chora, views across the deep blue sea to other islands; here a remote chapel, there some intense terrace farming, then some ancient vines, then another view way down to the sea even better than the last view, then another laden donkey, then another wow moment…. 

Drying the fig harvest

We head for a beach known as Agios Georgios, on the far end of the island, way off the one road and somewhere way down below us as we leave the tarmac and take the rough trail downwards. It’s proper off-roading, down the boulder strewn dusty track, dropping, dropping, sometimes feeling like we are on the edge of the cliff, steering around potholes, driving slowly but still with a plume of dust behind. Past one secluded beach – not ours, keep going, until eventually we’re here, Agios Georgios. Pebble and sand, tamarisk trees, huge ascending hills behind, a handful of cubed buildings, probably ancient fishermen’s huts, no facilities, no nothing. No people. It’s like a piece of heaven, this gorgeous secluded perfect cove, blue skies, crystal clear waters, gently lapping waves; the sun beats down, a gentle breeze cooling us, we feel we have stumbled on a private paradise, this is really, truly incredible. It’s just simply beautiful. And so remote, so private. So romantic. 

Fishermans huts

Paradise to ourselves. Laying in this solitude in this beautiful cove feels so peaceful yet exhilarating and it’s over too soon.

The drive back is photo time, so many unbelievable views, so many photo opportunities, Folegandros really is truly, truly stunning. It’s a beautiful island. 

Fishermans chapel

Back in Chora, car dropped off, two scruffy Alfa beers in one of the squares, then back into this delightful village for another chilled evening. Another great bar, another fabulous restaurant. In truth, Folegandros caters for two markets in particular; Greeks on an island holiday or Athens second homers plus, for reasons we can’t fathom, Italians on tour. Even the menus generally use Italian as second language, and there are quite a few here, even at end of season. We have no idea how that little idiosyncrasy evolved but it doesn’t do the place any harm.

It’s going to be sad to leave Folegandros, really. It’s an utterly delightful island and one of the loveliest places we have visited so far. We are enchanted.

Day 8

The early morning silence of this pretty village is broken not only by the cockerel but also the bray of a nearby donkey. Soon after the occasional bang of a shotgun, it seems rabbit is on the menu again today. 

The view from the secluded beach
The wind has once again battered us all night, we learnt from a guy on Sikinos that this year’s Meltimi has been much stronger than normal, and unusually has blown right through the summer months.

The wispy morning cloud begins to clear as we take the bus to the tiny bay of Angali. The journey is slow, the road down to the sea is incredibly steep, the bus only daring to go at a snails pace, creeping down the ridiculous descent, it’s hard to believe it’s suitable for vehicles let alone a bus route! We hope it has good brakes, this is ever so slightly scary! We reach the pretty bay at Angali and then take a 5 minute boat ride to the next bay, Agios Nikolaos, a secluded beach only accessible by sea, this pretty cove backed by tamarisk trees and 2 fish tavernas, perfect! A little paradise for the day. 

Leaving Angali

So we do the obvious, even though it’s a little unadventurous for us two – we have a beach day, we laze, we swim, we eat fabulous fresh fish with a highly satisfying chilled local white wine.

And then prepare for another evening around the tavernas of the Chora. Best we plan an exciting day tomorrow really…

Evening again

Day 7

Island life is an unusual existence. Supplies of all kinds are reliant on the ferries, which in turn are reliant on the weather and the winds. No ferry, no food. And in those brief periods when the passenger ferry docks, the port buzzes with activity, changing character for fifteen minutes as cars and bikes disembark, supplies are offloaded, room hawkers and backpackers do business, hotels collect guests, people leave, people arrive. Another rush of activity buzzes by, then within minutes the port falls back into silence and, on a quiet island like Sikinos, it all happens just once or maybe twice per day.

We witnessed the late night equivalent over our nightcap last night, when the petrol ferry arrived, and for a while we watched the tanker lorries shuttle back and forth between the ferry and the one petrol station on Sikinos. Seeing that just made us stop and think about the logistics of island life. 

Our own ferry this morning is a little late again and for the first time there is some wispy cloud around as we pull into Karavostasis, the port town of Folegandros. Research has told us that the place to stay here is the Chora village, up in the hills and away fron the port, and after a bit of haggling we are soon taken to a gorgeous little traditional dwelling and settle in to our next temporary home. 

Our new home

The Chora here has a reputation as one of the most beautiful villages of the Cyclades, and you can see even at first glance that the reputation is justified. The village perched dangerously high up on the edge of a towering cliff, the vertical rock face plunging into the deep blue of the sea and white surf, the houses dazzling white in the brilliant sunlight, cascading bougainvillea  pots of deep red geraniums and huge basil plants giving splashes of colour to the brilliant white.  

Panaghia overlooks Chora
Continuing beyond the buildings a zigzag path leads up to the church of Panaghia keeping watch over the community below. We wander through the tiny streets, immaculately preserved old houses, interspersed with an occasional house in need of renovation which only adds to the charm.
Leafy square
  We wander round this beautiful place and find the first quaint tree lined square, this leads to a second square, in fact a series of 4 leafy squares, tiny and so quaint each with a taverna or two and the traditional blue wooden tables and chairs, just typically Greek.  
Picturesque Kastro
It’s beautiful, the atmosphere feels relaxed; if you are inside Chora, you are marvelling at the houses, squares and tavernas; if you step outside, you marvel at the stunning views across the island. Dry stone walls partition the fields and paddocks, white churches perch atop dramatic hills, the impossibly high cliffs plunge way down to the crashing sea, almost like an Atlantic coastline. What a beautiful island. We are spellbound already. 
Dramatic cliffs
We take an evening walk up to the church of Panaghia, the view evermore spectacular, the sunset a beautiful backdrop to this stunning scene far below, the stark white begins to dim, a warm glow swathes the village, the lights begin to twinkle as darkness falls and the atmosphere of chora begins to change. 

Simply Charming
And so our time on this paradise island begins with a wonderful day, even extending to food and drink special to Folegandros. Lunch in a leafy taverna, pre and after dinner drinks in a cool bar in a tiny street, dinner in a speciality fish restaurant. Local beer and wine; an unusual “Folegandros salad” laced with a creamy tomatoey cheese and oversized crisp croutons, fava bean puree; a delicious grilled fish called sargos, a taste of raki and a couple of shots of rakomelo, a heated drink which is a blend of raki and honey. 

The restaurants are still serving food at midnight, the village hums with its relaxed vibe, Greek music and cool lounge music drifts through the alleyways. There are locals, there are Greeks on holiday; some second homers from Athens, Italians on holiday and the occasional English family. 

Drifting off to sleep in our delightful new home, we really do know we have rocked up somewhere very special.

Day 6 

We wake early, the sun just peeping over the headland casting its morning rays across the bay. This sleepy village silent apart from the lone cockerel announcing the new day. At the start of this trip we aimed to just chill out, none of our usual extremes this time, only to spot that there is a network of 7 mountain treks around the island when we were in Kastro, and we knew it would be too tempting to ignore. So we catch an early bus to Kastro, everywhere is closed apart from the bakery, we stock up with water and Pasteli,a snack made of just sesame seeds and honey then baked in the oven, delicious and sweet.  

Leaving the villages behind

 The walk starts in Chora, the village straddling the hill opposite Kastro. This village just as quaint houses 3 churches but no Tavernas or Kafeneion. The delicately painted village path leads us to the end of the village then abruptly changes into rambling rocks and a narrow path , we set off on this 8km hike starting at one of the highest points of the island and heading down to the port.  

Stark contrast
We zigzag down the mountainside, the views spectacular, the rugged dry scrub a sharp contrast to the surrounding deep blue of the Aegean Sea. It’s a dry and lonely place, we don’t see a soul throughout the entire walk, the flora now done for the season and long since withered to a crisp.
Ouch
Capers, thyme and other herbs are in abundance, but the foliage is dominated by harsh plants which have evolved to survive both the hot sun and the winds, dry and thorny plants with an innate ability to scratch your ankles to pieces. By the time we reach home the Mythos and fresh fish tastes even better than yesterday!

The beach calls again and in the afternoon sun we discuss Alopronia and the fact that the one thing this pleasant little beach village lacks is a bar. There are just two eateries and a coffee bar (plus a small hotel which we haven’t investigated) but go into any for just a beer and they set your table for dinner. The village, and Sikinos as a whole, is beautifully unspoilt and you would absolutely want to keep it that way, but a small bar by the beach would be a nice addition.  

Just another remote church
Our time on this island has been brilliant, so peaceful and has felt so authentic. One last evening tonight, then it’s the morning ferry to Folegandros tomorrow.

Day 5

The evening back up in Kastro starts at the one genuine taverna we’ve seen on Sikinos, with a cool interior bar and a roof garden up top. We stay indoors where the locals are watching football on the tv, in between the strange momentary power cuts. Dinner is at a superb venue in an alley way beneath ancient pines and vines, food again basic but good, especially the aubergine imam and the fava bean puree. The red wine we have sampled earlier down in Alopronia has a strange medicinal under taste, a hint of cough medicine perhaps!; here in tonight’s taverna the choice is house white or house rose, they don’t do a red (!) and the rose turns out to have the same under taste. It’s drinkable though. Just. 

Vines on the slopes

As we wait for the bus home, the electricity cables above our heads hiss and spark in the wind – how is it safe?? 

And during the night Meltimi flexes his muscles once more, banging our shutters and buffeting the house. We awake at 6 with the emergency lighting on, and the power off. 

Room with a view

The sun is intense in defiance of Meltimi as we head off around the headland, clambering over rocks and stepping over the wild thyme, capers and other hardy vegetation, arriving at a haven of a cove, Aigos Nikolaos, no beach but a gorgeous little cove where the deep blue, crystal clear Aegean swishes over the rocks. Beautiful. Lunch is typically Greek back in Alopronia, fresh grilled fish and Greek salad with tzatziki washed down with Mythos.  

The ferry dwarfs the little port

Alopronia beach has one amusing feature, in that every now and again, no doubt a certain length of time after an unseen ship has passed by way out at sea, the ship’s wake hits the little bay like a mini tsunami, and all of the children (and grown up children like us) run into the sea and ride or dive through the dozen or so oversize waves. It’s a few minutes of fun every now and again! 

Phil helps make the wine…
Michaela just drinks the wine

Tonight we visit the closest Sikinos has to a tourist attraction, the winery on the West facing slopes on the other side of the island. The terrace restaurant sits atop the hillside vineyards with the bright orange sun setting behind Folegandros across the water. Once again it is so romantic, the wine and food both excellent and the setting fantastic. After sunset, as the lights come on, we gaze over to Folegandros and wonder what our next destination will hold in store after the joys of Sikinos.

Sunset and wine

Day 4

To call Sikinos windswept is a major understatement, Meltimi whips ferociously across the island, battering pretty much everything in its path from the bent-double fig trees to the coffee cups and beer glasses which you daren’t let go of. And if you get a freebie bowl of crisps with your beer, you better eat them quick before they trail off across the valley like butterflies.  

Alopronia

It doesn’t take long to explore Alopronia, our new village, its whitewashed cube houses huddled around the beach, the ferry point and what looks like a dry river bed. Looking across this scene from our balcony feels hugely relaxing and we already feel happy here, it’s a lovely little cove.  

The other side of the bay
The island has just one bus, which runs between the port and the main villages on the very top of the island, with occasional detours to other destinations, so we hop on it and take a ride up to Kastro.
Kastro
  The village of Kastro is perched high on a hill top, once more a cluster of brilliant white houses, splashes of vivid pink of the Bougainvillea, a maze of tiny narrow streets, a pretty little square housing the blue domed church, this place is the height of quaintness. We wander around the the tiny streets, every turn bringing another delight, this is simply a magical and peaceful little place.
The colours of Kastro
 We take refuge from the heat in a shady Kafeneion and sip on ice cold frappe before beginning our climb to the Monastery high above. As we sit there, an old guy trudges up the hill struggling to carry a heavy can of petrol, and takes a seat next to us. Just as we start to worry about the strong petrol fumes in the direct heat, he lights a cigarette….

We begin our ascent, the steps meander upwards through the village, We step aside to let a a donkey pass, he slowly trundles by laden with baskets of grapes from the harvest.

Carrying the grape harvest
We reach a small house, a humming sound coming from inside, baskets overflowing with grapes stacked against the wall, the air full of a pungent fruity scent. We peer inside to see a small room, 3 men crammed inside, one emptying the grapes into a vat and incredibly another actually treading the grapes barefoot. We have again stumbled upon something amazing and witnessed traditional Greek life at its best, this age old tradition no doubt passed down for many generations.
Treading the grapes
The steps continue steeply out the back of the village and through mountain scrub eventually reaching the tiny monastery. Looking down at the village and sea on all sides we feel like we are on top of the world. Fabulous, and yes, this island, these villages, are definitely unspoilt, definitely island life as it used to be.

We return to Alopronia for a late lunch, quite content to just have a salad, until she mentions goat, and rabbit, and we are drawn in. This is our kind of restaurant; no menu, just what fresh items they have; no credit cards, not even a bill, once again surrounded by the endless chatter of the Greeks. 

After that delicious lunch we chill on the beach, chat over this wonderful place and this idyllic discovery, and resolve to head back up on the bus to Kastro for tonight’s meal.

Kastro Taverna

Day 3
After a huge and madly tasty breakfast we follow the coast path north this time, again away from the centre and once again we quickly shed the madding crowds and enter the alleys between the shining white houses, maids scrubbing steps, cafe owners and shop keepers dusting floors. Hotels still abound – smart ones mostly- and the terraces are dotted with blue pools, but compared to Thira centre it is calm and peaceful. Begging children play the accordion, the sea and the sky are deepest blue, and for now the wind, for once, is absent. We walk as far as Imerovigli, which is charm personified.  
One of the many churches
The views across the Aegean to the other islands of the caldera, are utterly stunning, almost as stunning as the views back along the cliff to Fira and its clustered white buildings, clinging to each other for safety as they hang over the edge of the colossal cliff. Ferries and tour boats cut white swathes through the deep blue; we view it all from hundreds of feet up, way above the rolling seas. These views are just simply idyllic. 
Looking back at Thira

But today is the day we move on, so it’s bus number 6 down the ridiculously steep hairpin road, and on to the ferry to Sikinos, though the boat chugs slowly into port almost an hour behind schedule. Meltimi is the name of the wind which blows daily across the Cyclades, and he’s been pretty boisterous so far since we’ve been here. The ferry seems to take it head on, as firstly progress is slow and secondly Michaela, in her traveller-girl dress, faces several Marilyn Monroe moments on deck! 

Pulling away from Santorini affords us the last wonderful views of the spectacular island, the thin layer of white houses now looking like nothing more than the top sedimentary layer; the human influence just the final piece of its long history. The beautifully sweet Santorini tomatoes, the taste of capers in nearly everything, but most of all the incredible views, are our lasting memories as we look towards the next port of call.  

When we eventually dock at Sikinos we are nearly two hours late and the sun has dropped behind the mountain, the little port town now in shadow and buffeted by Meltimi. Hawkers of rooms throng the quay and we are soon billeted in a clean and tidy apartment just up from the port overlooking the beach and the bay. Home for the next few days.

Why Sikinos? All of the guidebooks describe this island as “off the tourist trail”, “island life as it used to be”, and the like, so this will be an experience very different from Thira, but precisely what experience, we don’t yet know. The little port town, Alopronia, is very quiet tonight, and being battered by Meltimi; we eat in one of the only two places we can see, surrounded by Greeks all in fleeces or coats. For a Greek island holiday in August, we haven’t brought any clothing like that with us, and we sit huddled by the wall in the cafe, away from the wind, clearly the only two people in town who didn’t know what was coming! It’s an odd feeling, we weren’t expecting cold evenings ! The food is basic but tasty, the locals (or Greek holiday makers?) babble around us, the palm trees bend double in the chilly wind. We quaff the village wine, we chuckle at our unusual surroundings, and wonder what this quiet little place has in store for us for the next few days.

Day 2

Wind. Capers. Tomatoes. Sunsets. These are Santorini. The Meltimi wind during the day is a welcome counter to the sun; by nightfall it’s strong enough for the restaurants to offer blankets. The tomatoes and capers are in every dish, the small sweet cherry tomatoes tasting of pure sunshine, the capers a peppery and salty reminder of our trip to the Aeolian Islands. Our breakfast omelette is packed with these and zucchini and is just sunshine for breakfast. We’re eating sunshine and drinking coffee to start our day, and it feels so good. 

So it’s down to the old port for a boat trip, we go by cable car this time having walked the donkey trail yesterday. We aren’t daft about animal welfare by any means, but these donkeys are horribly exploited, unhappy in the beating sun without any shade and controlled by whipping. Their faces genuinely do look sad, and it’s not nice to see. 

Ancient Island

We board our boat, a caique (traditional wooden fishing boat) and take a seat at the front in excited anticipation of the spectacle we are about to see. We set off, leaving the foot of these steep rock faces and enjoying the boats motion as it glides through the choppy deep blue waters of the caldera. The further out into the caldera, the more stunning are the views of Thira and its neighbouring villages. The cliffs are gigantic, the varying layers and colours of the rocks and their sediments an insight to the power of the historic volcanic eruption and the formation of this grand island now towering above us. The mass of brilliant white buildings lining the top and cascading down, precariously perched, from a distance resembling icing on top of a wedding cake. A truly spectacular sight. 

Icing on the cake

The Minoan Eruption which created the Santorini we see today was one of the most violent eruptions in World history, blowing the island apart and leaving behind the volcano island surrounded by the broken circle of islands which formed the colossal rim of the caldera. The perfect shape, visible from all high points of Santorini, is a truly marvellous site. We head out on the boat to the volcano, Michaela swims in the hot spring sea water, and we trek to the top of the volcano itself, clambering over the solidified lava and touching hot rocks, feeling the heat escaping from fissures and smelling the smouldering sulphur. It’s a great little excursion, rounded off with refreshing frappe in the old port. 

Santorini sunset

Our second evening in Fira turns out to be fabulous. We head up to the old town and take a table on one of the many attractive terraces to view the famous Santorini sunset. Downing a couple of Yellow Donkey beers whilst the huge ball sun drops behind the silhouetted volcano is exciting, relaxing and romantic all at once; the commercialisation forgotten and the magic discovered. What a wonderful setting to watch a glorious sunset. As always, the further you radiate from the centre, the quieter and more real the town becomes, and we soon leave the crowds behind as we seek out an eatery we spied earlier today; Ellis restaurant has terrific views, and a much more authentic feel. It even has spetsofai, one of our favourites, on the menu. The food, the village wine and the service are all spot on. It’s been a great evening. 

Day 1
This for us is the play-safe part of this trip, our apartment booked ahead, and, as we are only in Santorini a couple of days, we have opted to stay in Fira, the main town, where it is immediately obvious that the place has long since sold its soul to tourism. It’s when we move on to the other islands that the backpacking adventure will begin.

The Classic Thira
Yes Fira is the classic picture of Santorini which we all know, the little brilliant white houses perched precariously on the top of the huge cliffs, in places spilling down the first few shelves, dotted with the perfect domes of the churches, some white, some matching the glorious deep blue of the sea and sky. The centre of the little town, once no doubt impossibly quaint, is now packed with souvenir shops, jewellers, hotels and boutiques, and after dark starts to throb with club music. Doubtless for some it’s a dream holiday destination, but it’s a good deal too commercialised for the independent traveller. First glimpses of menus and it looks like the prices have grown to match; meals on the terraces with the best views are extortionate.

Darkness falls
Twilight though also brings the lovely sight of lights coming on across the cascading town and another level of character swathes the sugar cube houses. It’s not always easy to find authentic food in a place as touristy as this, but we do well, with lunch at Cafe Elia and dinner at Pirea both good, and as always in Greece, the house red, village wine as they call it, is absolutely excellent. 

On the donkey trail
The old port sits way down from the town, reached by the donkey trail (on foot or on the donkeys), or by cable car, and is a hub for boat trips, excursions and cruise liner visitors being ferried to and fro. And so a boat trip goes on to the agenda.

It’s commercial and it’s touristy, but something here is drawing us in. Somehow there’s a sense of magic here, and we’re going to find it…