When it’s been nineteen months since you last went abroad, and you have spent two summers grateful for UK staycations, but painfully nostalgic for the Mediterranean holidays before Covid, you don’t just want to go somewhere average. Similarly if you have been getting anxious about the idea of having to cancel a holiday last minute, or somehow ending up in quarantine in a foreign country, then you might only want to risk booking to go somewhere truly stunning…
Hello then, Santorini! The small volcanic Greek island declared ‘the most instgramable place on the planet’ really is one of the most beautiful destinations you can imagine. Exploring the whitewashed villages overlooking the caldera and it’s tiny islands, you will find that your camera phone suddenly becomes an insatiable beast seeming to constantly hiss at you ‘take more, more, more’! It’s a little piece of heaven.
Where to Stay.
Overlooking the caldera are four main settlements: Oia, Fira (the capital) Firostefani and Imerovigli. The latter three have now merged into one. Whilst Oia is popularly regarded as the the most beautiful (and therefore the most expensive) I would say that in general there is little difference between them. They all have stunning views, appealing restaurants, enchanting narrow little streets and lots of jewellery shops!
When we booked the holiday we weren’t entirely sure we would actually be able to go so we didn’t do much research on hotels but luckily the place we stayed, El Greco resort suited us perfectly. It was simple, but stylish, extremely well maintained and the reception staff were always very helpful.
Sunset in Fira
View on the walk from Fira to Imerovigli
Where to Eat.
As a vegetarian who detests seafood I am probably not the best person to give advice on restaurants! I subsisted on Greek salads, mezze and pasta and I honestly didn’t have a bad meal the entire time! You are certainly spoilt for choice on places to eat with incredible views and stylish decor. My husband thought Oia Gefsis had the best food, but we also really liked Lefkes in Finikia (which doesn't have a view but is built in a cave house and full of atmosphere). I would also recommend Ammoudi Fish Tavern (yes, there are non-fish options!) as Ammoudi Harbour is such a pretty place to sit in the evening, and makes a nice change from being on the top of the cliffs.
One of the many gorgeous restaurants with a view!
What to do.
We hired a car for three days of our visit and drove to various view points including Akotiri lighthouse and the Red Beach and also explored the inland villages of Pyrogos and Megalochori. I would definitely recommend visiting these smaller villages that are away from the crowd but still incredibly pretty with tiny winding streets and blue-domed churches.
Another must-do on Santorini is take a boat trip out to visit the islets of Palia Kameni and Nea Kameni to swim in the hot springs and walk along the volcanic craters. The latter are particularly impressive, although be prepared for quite a hike!
When I went to Santorini eighteen years ago, I remember visiting some excellent small museums about the history of the island, although we didn't get round to going this time.
Walking around a volcanic crater, Nea Kamenia.
What about beaches?
Whilst Santorini does have beaches (it’s not entirely steep cliffs) they are not one of the reasons that people visit the island. You will easily find much more inviting beaches on other Greek islands (see my blog post on Paxi here). Having said that we did spend two lovely afternoons at Vlychada which was clean, quiet and covered in pumice stones which you can collect and take home!
What is the weather like in Santorini in late October/October half-term?
Apart from a couple of days that were hot the entire day, and one that was relatively cold the entire day, it was pleasantly hot in the middle of the day, but distinctly chilly in the mornings (until around 10.30am ) and evenings (from about 5pm). And when I say chilly, I mean wool jumper and jacket weather, not just throw-on-a-thin-summer-cardigan weather. Part of this is down to the wind that creates a chill factor. If you find a spot that is sheltered you will really notice the difference.
Blue skies in the middle of the day...
...and a cloudy evening (when the views still looked stunning).
Was it warm enough to eat outside?
Yes, definitely and all of there restaurants are set up for pretty much exclusively al fresco dining, making full use of the stunning Caldera views. Even on the relatively cold day we were able to eat outside as the restaurants are all sheltered from the wind. In the evening, because it begins to get chilly, and because most people want to be out to see the sunset which was around 6.15 we found everyone ate early. The restaurants were generally full by 5.30pm. This did have the effect of making the days seem quite short, but we normally carried on wondering around after dinner, looking in the shops and often picking up an ice-cream or a dessert in a different restaurant.
Is it warm enough to swim?
I would say this is very subjective and also depends on whether your hotel pool is heated. Ours wasn’t but I still swam and found it was fine once I got used to it. Our seven year old son Dhani found it too cold but was quite happy swimming in the sea. The most expensive places to stay all have mini plunge pools overlooking the caldera and I saw people swimming in these even late in the evening.
What clothes should you pack?
Layers! When we got up for breakfast I normally wanted to be in jeans and a jumper but then changed into a sundress later on, normally either the Grecian inspired Delphi Dress or the pink Ile de Re dress. To me it’s not really a holiday unless you can dress up for dinner, and so I wore either the Hampi set or the Lalibela dress. With both of these I needed a cardigan most evenings. As I said, we chose to eat out early but often continued wandering around for a while after dinner and normally after sunset I found I needed a jacket. I also sometimes wore tights. I hate tights and it was a bit depressing packing them, but sometimes I was glad of them!
For some tips on styling Sugar Sand for colder weather, see my blog post here.
Wearing the white Hampi set one evening in Oia when it was warm...
...and with a cardigan on a chillier evening!
Is Santorini family friendly?
This is quite subjective and depends on what type of family you are and what you like to do on your holidays. We certainly didn’t see any big resorts, water parks, theme parks or zoos and we didn’t see many families with young children either.
Having said this, Dhani really enjoyed the holiday I am a firm believer that children just need quality family time rather than entertainment geared towards them. He was so happy getting us lost in the maze-like streets of the little villages (we told him he could navigate!) and collecting and grinding up pumice stones on the beach. The boat trip and cable-car from the old port of Fira were also highlights for him.
From a practical point of view I think you would really struggle with a pushchair here and that was one of the reasons why I remember dismissing the idea of going back when Dhani was younger. Also, none of the restaurants offered children’s menus and are very inflexible. For example, they would never let us order a half size portion of anything, so I normally ended up sharing a couple of starters and main course with him.
What are the COVID Entry requirements and protocols?
My husband and I only need our vaccines certificates and a passenger locator form (one per family) to enter Greece and Dhani didn’t require anything. I believe children aged 12 and over require proof of a negative test.
It is important to remember that you or any of your children might be randomly selected for testing on arrival at the airport and that if you test positive you and your travelling companions will be taken to a quarantine hotel for 10 days. I have to admit that the possibility of this happening caused me a lot of anxiety. We all of us (including our son) took lateral flow tests every day, for the three days before we went so that by the time we left we could feel as confident as possible that, should we be randomly selected, we would test negative. We weren’t selected in the end and it was difficult to tell if anyone on our flight was as the testing cubicles were behind the immigration desk next to the stairs to the baggage reclaim, the queue was long and you couldn’t really make out which direction people were going!
There were no restrictions from what I could make out, and no social distancing within Santorini. Masks are mandatory in all enclosed spaces including if you get up to go and use the loo in a restaurant. Otherwise, everything felt exactly like it did before Covid. We were never asked for our vaccine certificates but did have to fill in a form for the boat trip confirming that we had them, and weren’t experiencing any symptoms etc.
In conclusion, is October half term a good time to go to Santorini?
Yes, definitely! The place still has a good buzz to it, and everything is open, but from what I understood it is way quieter than during the peak summer months. We did book for a couple of restaurants but were generally able to just walk in. We could also hire a car with minimal notice, on a day by day basis, something which is apparently much more difficult in the summer. And although I did miss the long, light, balmy evenings that you get in the summer the weather was still good and considerably more comfortable in the middle of the day.