Is Santorini really worth the hype?

Santorini is regularly voted one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It has all the qualities you dream of when you picture the perfect Greek island: whitewashed houses, towering cliffs and spectacular sunsets.

But Santorini is made that bit more special by its extraordinary location. Thousands of years ago, a massive volcanic eruption caused the centre of the island to collapse, leaving a caldera or crater, with towering cliffs along one side of the island.

Santorini’s sunsets are indeed spectacular, particularly from Oia, the village perched at the top of the island. But how spectacular an experience can it be if you’re struggling to watch it behind a large crowd of people all holding up their phones to take a picture?

Is Santorini really worth all that hype? The trouble with places on the ‘Most Beautiful’ lists is that they tend to be very popular and Santorini is no different. Two million tourists visit the island every year and there can be as many as 57 flights a day in the summer. When you consider that Santorini is a relatively small island with an area of approximately 28 square miles you can get an idea of how busy the island can get – and that doesn’t even count the people coming off the cruise ships that dock from March to December, adding as many as 25,000 people a day to the island’s congestion.

Nobody could argue that the views over the caldera aren’t stunning. It’s definitely a wow moment when you see it for the first time. There’s an ethereal quality to the light here. Shades of blue appear to merge into each other, from deepest indigo to the palest turquoise. The mists in the sky melt into a sea that looks like velvety ink.

I first visited Santorini with a girlfriend before I had children. We walked to the top of the volcano, we visited the archaeological site of Akrotiri where you can see the remains of the Minoan city destroyed by the volcanic eruption and we sunbathed on a black sandy beach.

This summer I went back with my family. We flew into Santorini on our way to the smaller island of Folegandros, also part of the Cyclades. Due to the difference between our flight and ferry times I’d worked out that we had three hours spare on each leg for a mini tour of the island.

On the way out, we’d get a taxi to Imerovigli, the village at the highest point of the caldera’s edge and on the way back, we’d visit Oia, the village at the top of the island famous for its blue domed churches and incredible sunsets.

But things don’t always work out as you’ve planned when you’re travelling, do they? Our flying trip to Imerovigli was a good idea – it was relatively quiet and we had enough time to admire the views before heading to the port to catch our ferry. But on the way back, our ferry was an hour late. I assumed this would still give us enough time to visit Oia but we abandoned our plans when our taxi driver told us that the relatively short 11.8 mile journey from the port would take an hour and a half because the roads were so clogged up with all the tourist traffic.

So we went instead to Fira, the main town, which was much closer to the airport. It was a huge disappointment. The narrow lanes were packed with tourists and lined with tacky souvenir shops. The view over the caldera was spoiled by the masses of restaurants and hotels huddled together on the hillside.

Our couple of hours in Santorini came at the end of a two-week-long holiday on the tiny island of Folegandros and all we could think about was how lucky we were to have chosen to stay there rather than here, no matter how good the views. The food was more expensive, the streets were a lot busier and there were so many more tourists. It was a long way from being the Greek island of my dreams.

I wouldn’t say it’s not worth going to Santorini – it is certainly beautiful and perhaps it is one of those places you should see in a lifetime, but if you’re looking for a more traditional, easygoing Greece then you’re not going to find it.

If you’ve got the chance, see Santorini at its best outside of the main tourist season. As a family with school-age children we’re restricted to travelling during the school holidays. It’s always going to be busier over the summer so consider going in the spring or the autumn. If, like us, you have to visit in the summer think about a short stop at Santorini before heading to a quieter island.

I’ll be writing shortly in more detail about the perfect Greek island we found but in the meantime take a A Photo Tour of Beautiful Folegandros.

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Linking up with: Wanderful Wednesday

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A Photo Tour of Folegandros

A Photo Tour of FolegandrosWe’ve just got back from an idyllic two weeks on the tiny Greek island of Folegandros in the Cyclades. It has everything I dream of when I think of the perfect Greek island – pretty little harbours, beautiful beaches and great local tavernas. It was delightfully laid-back and despite the fact that we were there during the peak summer season, it wasn’t heaving with tourists.

I’ll be writing more about Folegandros over the next couple of weeks but in the meantime I thought I’d share some of the photos of our trip.

Folegandros has the unspoiled, old-fashioned feel that I love about Greece. We watched local fishermen untangling their nets at the harbour. We passed farmers using donkeys to get around and saw octopus hanging out to dry in the sun outside local tavernas.

We stayed in Chora, the main town on the island, perched on the cliffside, 200 metres up from the sea. Chora is considered to be one of the prettiest towns in the whole of the Cyclades, with its gorgeous white and blue buildings, picturesque squares and bougainvillea-draped houses.

The Castro, the medieval centre of the town has remained the same for hundreds of years. We walked down its narrow streets and covered passageways.

We took a boat to beaches virtually inaccessible by road and swam in the translucent aquamarine waters of the Aegean Sea.

There are churches everywhere you look on the island. We hiked to churches standing alone on top of steep hills. A zigzag path leads up to the main church in Chora, a regular evening pilgrimage for anyone wanting the best sunset view on the whole island.

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Five Fantastic Reasons why Greece is the Perfect Family Holiday

I love Greece. It’s the place I dream of escaping to every summer. It has everything I’m looking for in a family holiday: it’s beautiful, it’s laid-back, it’s full of history and, given that we’ve had nothing but grey skies and rain recently in the UK, you’re guaranteed sunshine in the summer. What’s more, it’s easy to get to and great value for money.

There’s an estimated 6,000 islands and islets in Greece of which 227 are inhabited. As a family we’ve visited lots of Greek islands but we’ve never been to the same place twice. That’s the other great thing about Greece. Each island has its own distinct character so there really is something for everybody.

THE FEEL

When I go to Greece I feel as if I’ve captured the Mediterranean as it was supposed to be. It’s what I imagine it was like in Italy and southern France in the 1950s. There’s a timelessness and an old-fashioned feel to Greece that you find so rarely in other parts of the Med where it’s just so busy in the summer, the roads clogged up with cars and people fighting for space in the restaurants and on the beaches.

There are, of course, busy resorts in some parts of Greece but it’s not very hard to find that picture-perfect little harbour with colourful wooden boats and a couple of simple tavernas. If you go to a beach in August, chances are that you won’t be packed in like ever so many sardines jostling for space along the sand.

So much of Greece still feels unspoilt and old-fashioned. You’ll wander around a village where men play backgammon all day and old ladies dressed entirely in black sit over their lacework. If you go to some villages in the afternoon it’s so quiet that it feels like a ghost town – because everybody is having a siesta.

It’s the perfect place for a family holiday. Children are adored and given attention by everyone they meet and the atmosphere is so chilled out and laid-back that the whole family relaxes.

THE FOOD

Everyone in our family loves Greek food. It’s delicious, it’s healthy and it’s fun to eat and share different things together. On the Greek islands, we eat fresh fish every day and lots of salads and vegetables. We can quite happily munch our way through plates of whitebait, calamari, octopus (fried or thinly sliced in olive oil), sardines, anchovies and red mullet.

We usually order a variety of different foods for the whole table to try: the fish; dips like houmous and taramasalata; Greek salad; stuffed peppers and tomatoes; stuffed vine leaves and courgette flowers; cheese and spinach pies; and grilled feta cheese. It’s all delicious and everyone has their favourites but we all try to taste a bit of everything.

It’s a great way to encourage children to try lots of different things. My youngest still refuses to eat salad and the eldest won’t eat the whitebait because the eyes put him off – but at least they’re trying everything else.

Eating mezze-style like this makes our mealtimes so much more social. Sharing the food makes us interact more with each other. We all talk more and everybody has a better time.

In Greece we don’t tend to go to the fancier, more expensive restaurants because the simple tavernas offer everything we could possibly want, whether we’re sat under a reed canopy beside the beach or in a shady spot in a small town square. The atmosphere is always relaxed and unstuffy and the food just perfect.

THE BEAUTY

Greece is, quite simply, stunning. Its crystal clear waters, whitewashed houses, picturesque harbours and stunning sunsets make it one of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe. So much of it is still unspoilt so you won’t find as many of those ugly developments that you get on so many other Mediterranean coastlines.

Greece has the second largest coastline in Europe (after Noway) so it makes the perfect beach or sailing holiday, with plenty of child-friendly beaches with shallow waters and sheltered bays. But you can also find dramatic mountain ranges, vast gorges ideal for hiking and tiny villages with cobbled streets and white houses draped in pink and purple bougainvillea.

THE HISTORY

The myths of Ancient Greece and its gods are full of wonderful stories to fire up any child’s imagination. History really comes alive in Greece where you can find a temple dedicated to one of the gods or goddesses on even the smallest of islands.

You can see where Theseus fought the minotaur at the Minoan palace of Knossos in Crete, climb to the top of the Acropolis in Athens to gaze at the Parthenon temple, visit Mount Pelion, home of the centaurs or take a trip to Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.

Some of the oldest European civilisations developed in Greece so you’ll spot Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman influences as well as the Ancient Greeks. You could visit the extraordinary 14th-century monasteries perched on top of rock pillars at Meteora or the sacred grotto on the island of Patmos where St. John had the visions which led to the Book of Revelation.

THE VALUE FOR MONEY

Greece has always been good value for money. You can stay in gorgeous boutique hotels for much less than you’d pay in Italy or France and a family of four can eat out for as little as 45 euros.

But in recent months the relatively weak Euro has made a trip to Greece even better value. Most foreign visitors don’t need to pay for a visa and if you book early you can pick up relatively cheap flights. What are you waiting for?

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