Santorini: A Few (hundred) Steps of Gorgeous
Updated: Feb 12
After only two short but full days on the island of Naxos, we hopped on a ferry and made our way over to the island of Thira, better known as Santorini. The ferry ride was short and soon we found ourselves once again disembarking in a mad fury off the giant ramp and onto land. What greeted us was nothing more than a chaotic mess of busses, vans, cars and people.
Dozens of vehicles were parked in no apparent order, blocking one another, and the drivers were either holding up name cards or looking to pick up a spontaneous fare. We quickly moved off to the side and I ventured off to find our driver. We had pre-arranged a pick-up through the hotel, and quickly after I found him, we were loading our bags into the van and enjoying the air conditioning as we waited for the vehicles blocking us to move. Soon, we were making our way up the steep, winding road up the side of the cliff. It was a picturesque and calm 45 minute drive from the port to the town of Oia. Once we arrived we were met by Mario, the hotel representative, and his strong helper, who swooped up our large bags, threw them over his shoulder and maneuvered his way through the narrow paths, and down the many, many steps to our room.
We spent a wonderful four nights in Oia, staying at Helianthus Suites, a traditional family-run cave hotel, perched off the side of the cliff. There are two rooms, both with spectacular views; the Honeymoon Suite and the Prestige Suite. Originally we wanted to stay in the Honeymoon Suite for the entire stay, but it wasn’t available, so we opted for two nights in one suite and two nights in the other. The Honeymoon Suite has a little more privacy, an unobstructed view of the Aegean, and a small second floor with a reading nook; but the Prestige Suite is a little more spacious indoors with direct access to the stairs up to the main village. Both suites are equally spectacular. The only regret we experienced with Helianthus Suites was bad timing. Though our research, we had read dozens and dozens of reviews who mentioned the owner Kiki, each raving about her unparalleled attention and sweet gestures during their stay. It just so happened that Kiki was away during our time at Helianthus, and though we did communicate via email and with a sweet welcome call, we didn’t get the chance to meet Kiki in person and experience all that her reputation entailed. (Perhaps this is our excuse to go back).
Mario briefed us on what we needed to know and as we began to settle ourselves in, we were greeted by three tiny kittens. Other than some salty snacks, we had nothing to give them, but they stepped hesitantly into our room and ate what we could offer. This began a four day relationship with not only the young kittens, but other cats in the area. We ensured we had plenty of tuna, sardines and other canned foods available for them, and left it out while we were gone exploring. Word spread through the kitty-vine and some nights we were visited by 5-6 different cats. Much to our surprise, no matter the size or the age, each one of them was gracious and patient with the others, often letting the wee kittens finish eating first before helping themselves. The older cats would come and go, but the kittens were almost always nearby, often sleeping on our doormat, eager for breakfast as soon as we were up.
Oia is a condensed village, with homes, shops, restaurants and hotels all intertwined in a chaotic web of staircases and hills. Having an unobstructed view means climbing up and down a large number of steps each and every time. We knew this was going to be the case, and though we tried to “get into shape” before the trip, we hadn’t taken into consideration the odd shapes and angles. The stairs were built according to the terrain, meaning some steps were short, some high; some were angled, some were slanted, some were long and curved. No matter how many how in shape you were physically, or how many flights of stairs you could handle normally; walking up inconsistent steps and often landing on an angled platform would present a challenge for anyone. Our visit to Santorini landed at the end of our journey in Greece, so we were even more at a disadvantage, having arrived sore from a week of walking, hiking and exploring other islands. Needless to say, it was worth every painful step.