Why the one Greek island I’d always avoided is now one of my favourites
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Greece ticks every box for my ideal summer holiday.
Easy to get to from the United Kingdom. Excellent weather. Beautiful sandy beaches. Genuine warm hospitality. Affordable. Delicious food.
There are endless Greek islands to explore and my strategy has been to try a new island each time. I’ve enjoyed the likes of Mykonos, Crete, Paros, Corfu, Kos and more.
But the most famous island in Greece had stayed firmly off my destination list until now. Sure Santorini might be well-known for its spectacular sunsets, dreamy ocean views from high atop cliffs and for being the perfect honeymoon destination. But whenever I personally thought of Santorini the negatives were always the first thing that came to mind.
The overwhelming cruise ships crowds. Pushy influencers blocking space to take their perfect sunset selfie. Overpriced accommodation gouging honeymooners £1,000 a night for a basic hotel room. Baking hot sun sapping energy while traversing up and down hundreds of stairs each day. Black sand beaches.
I had easily found Greek perfection in so many other island (Paros leads the pack as my favourite thus far) with easy travel, few crowds and impressive affordability. So why battle Santorini?
A recent out of season trip to Greece to earn easy and affordable British Airways status had me thinking about which island to visit. I spent a few days on the island of Ios which was both amazing and frustrating as while there were zero crowds everywhere, most amenities were closed.
After much research, following Ios I decided that it was finally time to give Santorini a try. It was early October so I figured the crowds and cruise ships would largely have left for the season.
Santorini accommodation prices are hugely seasonal and were significantly cheaper in October than they had been in July or August. I chose a Hyatt Small Luxury Hotels property and found a great deal at On The Rocks located in the small village of Imerovigli. This promised to be much quieter than Ios where crowds often gather to witness those famous sunsets.
I caught the ferry from Ios to Santorini and as the famous island’s ferry port came into view, the first signs were not good. Hundreds of tourists were swarming the port, all attempting to manoeuvre large amounts of luggage around the limited space and uneven surfaces. As the ferry docked, the staff screamed at us to get off as quickly as possible, so they could keep their port stop short.
Once on the dock there were no obvious signs or paths explaining where to go, and an atmosphere of absolute chaos. I was starting to regret my decision and considered jumping right back on the ferry. I could also see two large cruise ships docked at the island which made me shudder at the potentially thousands of day-trippers swarming into Santorini at that very moment.
Once I arrived at the hotel it was a completely different story. The property was incredible, from the breathtaking views to the hardworking staff and the refreshing swimming pool they had cleverly managed to build right into the side of a cliff. It was an oasis of peace and calm and I felt immediately relaxed. The hotel was reasonably full but in the village of Imerovigli in October there were very few other tourists around.
The sunsets right from the hotel weren’t bad either.
I could have happily stayed at the resort my entire time in Santorini but I had one more obstacle to overcome – braving the chaos of Oia to witness those world-famous sunsets over the blue church domes.
In October, I needn’t have worried. There were some people around and the most popular viewpoints were full of people holding a favourable spot to watch the sun go down but it was nothing like I feared it would be. Virtually no selfie-sticks, the cruise ships had now gone and though a very diverse crowd of people from all over the world remained, everyone was pleasant and respectful.
It wasn’t the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen in my time but I’m glad I got to experience it. There are plenty of stairs to face in Santorini but the weather was mild enough that I wasn’t wiped out from sunstroke.
After the sun went down it was an easy, well-organised bus ride back to Thira (near Imerovigli) for a cheap and cheerful seafood dinner at a local taverna before wandering back to the hotel.
The key to enjoying Santorini for me was being strategic about my visit. If I was to travel there during the summer peak periods I would have undoubtedly had a different experience, likely mirroring the horror stories that had kept me away for so many years. Even visiting in the months of May and September in the shoulder season would still have seen more crowds and higher prices.
For me, I think October was the perfect time to visit (as I imagine May would also be for many too – outside of peak season but still fairly warm). Accommodation prices dropped considerably at this time of year, and while it wasn’t a ghost town like Ios was, there were just enough people to provide genuine atmosphere, without it feeling crowded or unpleasant.
Choosing to stay in an area far away from Oia was also a good idea – it was pleasant and peaceful in and around my hotel while giving me the option to head into (and out of) Oia whenever I pleased.
Oh yeah, and the weather was absolutely perfect too – around 24 degrees and sunny each day. Perfect for topping up my tan before the long, cold U.K. winter set in.
Greece upgraded many of their airports during the COVID-19 pandemic and Santorini (JTR) airport is a lovely new, modern, shiny airport that was very easy to use.
I thoroughly enjoyed my October visit to Santorini and it’s now one of my favourite Greek islands. I visited alone and my wonderful hotel oozed so much romance I would love to return there with my partner next year. While I still would never dream of visiting in peak summer, if you are strategic about it you can still experience all the very best that the island has to offer in the off-peak/shoulder months.
I now fully “get” the magic of the place that attracts people from all over the world – I’ve seen a lot of ocean views in my travels and these endless caldera views from high up the cliffs on Santorini are amongst the best I have ever seen. There’s plenty of Greek islands you don’t need to do any research or preparation to enjoy – just arrive and relax. Santorini definitely takes some planning but it’s well worth the effort if you have the flexibility to avoid the crowds, heat and high prices.
Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy
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