The (Hidden) Paths of Santorini

Tip #1: The Greek Islands do not believe in signs.

I stared at the map again; then flipped to page 219 in my guidebook. “A magical way to reach the village [of Oia, Greece] is along a cliff edge walkway that rambles north from Firá… You’ll pass sage green slopes splattered with wild flowers, rich red- and coffee-colored earth and views of blue, blue sea.”

I looked up and down the dirt road, and plucked a sweaty piece of hair from my forehead. You can politely assume that I too looked “magical.”

“Alice, let’s ask this guy where the footpath is.” My travel buddy and I explained to the teenage boy what we were looking for, only to be told he’d never heard of it. We then walked toward the coast, confused, and began to follow a stone street through a quaint marketplace. Finally, we found two women who knew of this ever-elusive footpath. 

“You’re on it!” one of them said with a grin. “But it’s very far till Oia, and too hot.”

This was not the first time we’d been told that Mediterranean weather would destroy us. Every morning, Alice and I munched on Greek yogurt with sweetbread at our B&B in Perissa Beach. And every morning, the House Mamma would ask us our plans, then exclaim, “Where are your hats!?” It was my assumption she’d seen many pale-skinned guests turn into depressed lobsters.

“Thank you, we’ll be fine. We have water!” Alice and I said to our helpers. They wanted to know how much water, how much sunscreen, and how much time we had. This interrogation was only slightly concerning—but we passed their quiz and began our journey.

Tip 2: Always listen to Greek mothers.

“Going to DIE,” I said dramatically to Alice a few hours later. 

The views of Santorini and had been more than breathtaking. But after walking through a pristine resort town, full of infinity pools with sunbathers sipping cold cocktails, and then skirting the edge of a cliff, we’d arrived at a steep hill full of hot pumice rocks that burned through my shoes. 

Hot rocks on the long road to Oia. Don't wear sandals. 

I looked like a fool, hopping up the slopes of the coast like an ungraceful mountain goat, with a heavy camera attached to my neck. There were only two sips left in my water bottle, and yet we had hours till our final destination. To make matters more absurd, we'd lost the "magical" path again.

(Note: It was at this exact moment that I thought about those Israelites who wandered the desert for 40 years—how utterly terrible.)

“Tomorrow. Beach. Vacation,” I said through dry lips. I knew Alice would agree. The heat was truly incredible, killing off our conversation until we found a patch of shade under a lone tree.

Seven miles and four some hours post start time, we dragged our feet into a taverna on the cliffs of Oia. I ordered a beer while Alice sampled their honey-encrusted baklava. We didn’t talk much as our bodies unwound. 

Then that beautiful globe in the sky began to sink into a blanket of reds, pinks, and purples. The sun moved faster in Santorini—it appeared to be diving into the horizon. We watched from the roof of the taverna, completely transfixed. How could that be the same sun I admired back in New York City?

Tip 3: Cliffside hikes in Santorini are always worth it. But bring at least 2 bottles of water—and read Tip 2 again. 

[Editor's Note: This blog post is centered around a 2014 trip to Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, and Istanbul. I finally decided to blog about it a year later. Below are some photos and tips, in case you ever decide to visit!]

While in Santorini, Alice and I stayed at the Santa Barbara Hotel, about a block away from the black sand coast of Perissa Beach. Breakfast was included for about $35/night. 

One of the resorts in Fira we walked past. How we longed to jump into that pool... 

On the hike from Fira to Oia, you'll pass several pockets of resort towns, go over a few rock-filled hills, and occasionally lose the "path." Tip: Just follow the coast and keep going north.

Cliffs on the outskirts of Fira. 

The case for sunscreen. 

Santorini was formed by a volcano (not pictured), hence all the pumice rocks and multicolored beaches around the island. 

When you Google Santorini, the town of Oia is what comes up first. Note: The sunsets are world-famous, so pick your viewing spot out early. People start arriving about an hour before the sun sinks.

Alice's baklava, which I definitely sampled.