We just got back from Santorini and like everyone else who’ve been there or dreaming to get there, we’ve become fans of the island. That didn’t happen immediately though.
We were supposed to go on our holidays in September but due to work commitments it got pushed back lots of times and before we knew it it was the last week of November. We had misgivings about going to Greece in the winter but you go when you can right?
We wanted to get to Santorini as quickly as possible so we flew RyanAir which took less than an hour from Athens instead of an 8-hour ferry trip. (Next time we visit and have more time we would try the ferry so that we could see more of the Greek isles and have a mini-cruise). The flight was full. We landed before 8 in the morning and from the airport took the local bus to Fira. Bus stop is right outside the single airport building. The bus is clean and modern, so unlike the crappy airport buses in Athens. We checked into Hotel Antonia where our host greeted us with smiles, maps and hot coffee. Thankfully, even that early in the morning our room was ready and we managed to rest a bit before hitting the town.
We arrived Santorini from Athens. It was November and the temperature was at 17C. We weren’t expecting beach weather and knew that this is the winter or low season. What we didn’t expect though was how isolated the island felt with 90% of the houses and business closed! We walked from Fira’s Main Street to the winding little streets and steps that connect the many hotels and houses on the cliff and had our first sight of the caldera. To be perfectly honest we were disappointed because it was overcast, skies were gray and looked washed out in photos, there was a faint mist covering the caldera, cigarette butts and rubbish were on the ground and in some places it smelled of donkey poo!
We walked from Fira to Imerovigli for more than an hour. The businesses were closed and there was no one around except for a few construction crews repairing or renovating for the hotel owners and a group of package tourers wandering around like us. An odd family here or there may have been inside the houses because there was the faint cooking smell of tomato -this made us hungry but there were no open restaurants once we left Fira behind all the way to Imerovigli where we finally found a bakery selling sandwiches.
The next day we took the 10am public bus from Fira to Akrotiri. We walked up a little hill and followed the trail on the cliff below huge rocks piled on each other and ignoring the warning signs stuck on the way against the danger of landslide!! We were rewarded by one of the most amazing sights we’ve ever seen- the red beach. At the same time the sun’s rays came out from behind the clouds and we got some lovely photos. I think this is the moment we feel in love with Santorini.
After the red beach we found time to visit the Akrotiri Archaelogical Site before taking the bus back to Fira. In Santorini, all public buses start from and terminate at Fira. There are no inter-village buses except the buses that go to either Akrotiri or Perissa which stops by Pyrgos from or to Fira.
In the afternoon we went to Ia (Oia) and this is where the love was sealed. The drive from Fira to Ia is very scenic and the landscape diverse-one minute you see plains, next volcanic mountains and the caldera. In Ia we finally found the spot to take the perfect blue dome picture- you know the picture that appears on every magazine or postcard advertising Santorini.
Our third and last day on the island we spent in Pyrgos, Perissa Beach and catching the sunset one last time in Fira.
So is Santorini in November (or in autumn or winter) possible? Yes very much so just keep in mind the following:
1) Stay for a few days. The weather could be unpredictable and you will be very sad if the only day you were there it was overcast or raining. We stayed 3 full days and we only got bright blue clear skies on the third day. Besides you need more than a day to see the different sights the island has to offer.
2) Fira is where you should stay as at least the Main Street retains some semblance of life. You can catch the public bus from Fira station, roads are still busy here and there would be a few restaurants and eateries open, more than enough to give you choices.
3) The days will be short so plan well. Sunset is at 5pm. Local buses only make 9 or so trips a day (lesser on weekends). Renting a car is cheap and driving if you can is the best option to explore the island.
Notwithstanding the isolation in the winter time, there are lots of advantages visiting Santorini in November. You could walk and hike long distances very comfortably in the cool weather. People are friendly and more relaxed, everyone’s quick to offer a smile or greeting. But the one single best reason to come to Santorini in November as we discovered is precisely the lack of crowds- no scrambling for a spot to watch the sunset and best of all no unwanted photo bombers in your photos! How else could we have gotten the blue dome pictures just like the ones in the magazines?