Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page > Greek Island Trip Report: Santorini, Folegandros, Milos and Sifnos in July

Greek Island Trip Report: Santorini, Folegandros, Milos and Sifnos in July

Reply

Nov 4th, 2018, 05:40 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
Greek Island Trip Report: Santorini, Folegandros, Milos and Sifnos in July

Last summer I spent two weeks 'island hopping' in Greece. This was the second half of a 5 and a half week trip, the first part in Germany and Austria with my husband, this part of the trip I was solo.


This was my third trip to Greece and my goal, other than just being on Greek islands, was to experience some slightly less popular islands. Previous trips included Santorini, Naxos, Paros and Crete - all of them among the most popular. Since I’d already been to Santorini on a previous trip, I really only scheduled time there because logistically it made the most sense to fly in and out of it to get to the other islands I wanted to see, but once there I realized I was really enjoying my time. It may not feel ‘authentic’ (whatever that means) but it sure is beautiful and I easily filled up the 2-3 days I had and would even have enjoyed more. I scheduled one full day between ferry and flight in each direction just to be safe, I actually wish I had added at least one more day.


I took SeaJets fast ferries between all the islands, booked on line well in advance. Then I started to worry as I read how awful they were. I had read things about how they throw your luggage in a huge heap and you can't get yours out from the bottom of the pile if you are one of the intermediate stops (and I was), and that the boats don't sail if it's very windy - and it seemed pretty windy, and that people get sea sick. On my first trip from Santorini to Folegandros none of that happened. It was like a gigantic, roomy airplane cabin. The trip from Folegandros to Milos was pretty bumpy and someone in the section in front of mine did get sick (although the crew had an efficient method of cleaning it up) and even I felt a bit queasy (and I rarely have a problem with motion). The last two trips were smoother but totally full with luggage blocking aisles, etc. All in all, it is an efficient way to get around the islands – most of my trips were under an hour, compared to over 2 hours on the slower ferries, but the slower ferries where you can sit out on the deck and watch the world go by are so much more enjoyable.



The ferry leaves Santorini at 8:30 daily and arrives at Folegandros at 9:30, at Milos at 10:30, at Sifnos at 11:30. I hopped the same ferry every few days to the next island.



In the second half of July, these islands, other than Santorini, were delightfully uncrowded. In addition to the ferries, I also booked all the hotels far in advance. While the islands weren't at all crowded, there aren't the number of rooms as some of the more popular islands so having reservations was a good idea.


Photos are here: https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/f320347206


To read the report in blog form it's here: https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/blog

Last edited by isabel; Nov 4th, 2018 at 05:50 AM.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 4th, 2018, 05:48 AM
  #2
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
Part 1 Santorini


Santorini – Σαντορίνη, population 15,500, is in a class by itself – no other island comes close – which is both a good thing and a bad thing. The scenery – both the setting and the buildings, which have been built onto it – is unique and gorgeous. Curving around the caldera the towns of Fira – which almost blends into Imerovigli and Firostefani, and then further on Finikia, which blends into Oia – cling to the side of the hill, literally spilling down the sides. White cube houses, blue domed churches, white and grey stairs connecting buildings, the occasional earth tone pink or gold building all combine to form one of the most striking landscapes I’ve ever seen. Almost every thing is a hotel, restaurant or shop. All the ‘regular’ people live in one of the inland villages. But while it is so striking and gorgeous that it’s definitely worth visiting, it really doesn’t feel like actual towns.



Σαντορίνη, pronounced [sandoˈrini], officially Thira, Θήρα, is the remnant of the ancient (3,600 years ago) volcano, one of the largest eruptions (known as the Minoan eruption) in the history of the world, felt as far away as Scandinavia. The land that remained, the caldera, almost encircles the huge lagoon. This may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) to the south, through a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thira eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.

Santorini gets 1.5 million visitors a year. There seem to be three types of tourist – the cruise shippers who arrive by little skiffs from their mother ships anchored in the center of the caldera, and then take the cable car up. They shop, eat, look at the view, and then go back down without ever venturing more than a few feet from the cable car but when they are there (one day there were five cruise ships in the caldera) they definitely overwhelm the place. Then there are the people staying in the boutique hotels with a view, and many with tiny pools, they also shop and eat at the expensive restaurants with a view. Then there are the ‘other’ tourists, who are staying in the ‘low rent’ (although this is a relative term on Santorini) district a few blocks in from thecaldera – small hotels and ‘rooms’ as well a at least one campground and a few hostels. The main street and square are full of inexpensive eateries, people driving ATVs and mopeds zipping around. Very chaotic, but in a nice way.

Large buses (more like inter city coaches than city buses) go back and forth between Fira and Oia about every 20 minutes so you don’t even need to be aware of the schedule. They also go to the various inland villages, which feel much more authentic and interesting, as well as to the few beaches on the other side of the island from the caldera and to the archaeological site, Aktrotiri.The inland towns (where the people who work in all the hotels, restaurants and shops live) are worth visiting as well. Emporio has a ‘castelo’ district that has no shops/restaurants at all, just ancient houses and very narrow twisting lanes. Beautiful. I did go fairly early (before 10) and I was totally alone. On our first trip (2009) we visited Pyrgos which was similar, although I hear now it gets tour groups.

At the beginning of the trip I only had one full day, and while I thought about taking a boat ride out to the volcano, or going to the archaeological site, I ended up doing neither of these as I was so enjoying just wandering around Fira, and then taking the bus to Oia and wandering around there. At the end of the trip I had a day and a half but only managed to do one thing (other than more wandering) and that was to visit Emporio, which I really enjoyed. The buses to there aren't as frequent as to Oia so there's more waiting around.

I used to advise people to go to Santorini to see it, but don’t plan to linger for a Greek island experience, because, as I said, it’s in a class by itself, which is bad as well as good. I think that advice still holds, but there really is a lot to do on the island, and except for the center of Fira, the crowds, even in late July, can be escaped if you seek out the less touristy areas, and go at the right time of day.

Last edited by isabel; Nov 4th, 2018 at 05:54 AM.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 4th, 2018, 07:33 AM
  #3
 
Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 378
Following
ToujoursVoyager is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 4th, 2018, 05:14 PM
  #4
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 856
I am following along, too. I hope to go to Greece and the islands in 2020.
KarenWoo is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 4th, 2018, 05:20 PM
  #5
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 856
Your photos are beautiful!
KarenWoo is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 4th, 2018, 06:42 PM
  #6
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,138
Following along too. I hope to visit Greece someday soon. Would love to get to one of the islands for the classic experience but donít know if that would be Santorini given the number of visitors it gets.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 5th, 2018, 01:08 PM
  #7
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
tripplanner001 -not sure what you mean by 'classic experience'. If you mean you'd like to see what is on all the calendars and posters of Greek islands - then definitely Santorini. But if you mean a 'less touristy' experience then I think Folegandros would be good. Of the three islands besides Santorini I visited this trip, Folegandros was my least favorite. But it's really close to Santorini (45 minutes by fast ferry) so would be very easy to combine with it. Could even do a day trip if you timed it right.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 5th, 2018, 01:10 PM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
Folegandros, population 650,is a small island, barren and arid with tall hills (300 m above sea level). I had read that if Santorini didn’t exist Folegandros would be famous. The main town, Chora, is one of the more aesthetically picturesque, traditional villages of the Cyclades islands, and the view is almost as good as Santorini. It is perched high on a hill, and there are dramatic cliffs down to gorgeous blue and turquoise water. But there is no ‘caldera’ type view, and no villages perched on the edge, spilling down the slopes as in Santorini. Chora town is small and totally pedestrianized, one ‘main’ square with numerous restaurants and several lanes going in all directions; narrow little alleyways, white stonewalls, courtyards, wooden balconies and Aegean-style churches.

I had just about 48 hours on Folegandros. I stayed at Vardia Bay Studios, which is a 5-minute walk up the hill from the dock (although the hotel sent a mini van to the dock, mostly I think to take other guests to there sister hotel up in Chora, but they drove me right to the door of the hotel). I had a spacious studio with little kitchen and balcony. Around the back is the beautiful Vardia Bay beach. I arrived around 9:30 so of course my room wasn’t ready so I left my bag and took the bus up to Chora. The bus goes up to the 'Chora' from the port about hourly and only takes 5 minutes. It’s only about 4 km/2 miles and I had read that it was ‘walkable’ in 45 minutes. Well that may technically be true but it would be a horrible walk, very barren, not interesting, no shade, uphill. I frequently walk when people say to take a bus or tram but no way I’d do this one, even down hill. Chora is 650 feet above the harbor.

The most interesting part is the Kastro, a medieval-era district (Venetian fort) that makes up part of the main town, essentially two really narrow alleys marked by ranks of 2 storey houses, repetitive, almost identical stairways and slightly recessed doors that are very appealing. The houses are all white with trim painted in shades of blue and green.

After thoroughly exploring the town (which took about an hour, even photographing every doorway, alley, and cat) I went to the one bakery and got a cream pie and frappe and enjoyed it with a book and a cat at a little table in the small square. Then I ‘hiked’ up to the chapel above town.

Above Chora, a striking white path zigzags across the face of the mountain up to the church of the Panagia (St Mary). The walk is not as bad as it looks, took me about 45 minutes up and back including quite a while sitting inside. The church is a rare example of Aegean ecclesiastical architecture with three domes. Built on the ruins of the ancient sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Artemis. The sign (and my research) say it is open from 6pm-9pm but it was open at 13:00 in the afternoon the day I was there. They are doing some renovation on part of it and there were a couple workmen up there, perhaps that’s why it was open but it was very nice inside so I’m glad I got to see it. The inside of the main dome is blue. There was also a ‘box’ of water and cups – don’t know if that was for the workmen or the tourists but it was nice after the walk up in the blazing sun. I passed about 5 or 6 people in each direction – no tour groups, no crowds, so peaceful.

The port town (Karavostasis) is tiny, few restaurants/small market, tiny boat harbor (fishing, pleasure and ferry) and a couple beaches. One is the harbor beach, the other, around the backside of the tiny peninsula that Vardia Bay Studios is on, named, Vardia Bay, is small but secluded and quite lovely. Other than go to one of these beaches or have a meal, there is quite literally nothing to do in Karavostasi (the port town). There is one boat that does a cruise around the island a few times a week, and another smaller one that goes back and forth to Katergo beach, about a 20 minute sail, stopping for a minute at a little sea cave. That beach is very pretty, but small and really no better than Vardia Bay. The water at both beaches is crystal clear, light turquoise and warm.

This is definitely a 'laid back' island. There are some luxury resorts here and I think it's become popular with people who want a spa vacation on a beautiful island. But it is really quiet and peaceful and feels like what a Greek island must have been like before the tourist onslaught. Some of the guys in the main square were playing backgammon, others walking around with worry beads. There are a few shops in Chora selling clothing, jewelry and ‘souvenir’ type things. But certainly nothing on the shopping scale of any of the other 7 Greek islands I have visited.

isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 5th, 2018, 03:11 PM
  #9
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,138
Sorry I wasn't very clear, Isabel. By classic, I am referring to what I typically see in travel magazines: the white and blue domes, the stoned lanes, donkeys, etc. From your description, it sounds like Folegandros has it too.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 6th, 2018, 04:04 AM
  #10
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
tripplanner001 - yes Foleganddros does have that but I still think Santorini is more what you are looking for. How long will you have for the trip? The 'classic' first time Greek Island experience is Santorini, Naxos and Paros - that's what I did on my first trip and I would do it again. There's just a little more happening on Naxos and Paros compared to the island I went to this trip. But look at the rest of my report (and the photos), possibly Milos would work for you. If you have any specific questions I'd be happy to answer. Whatever you decide you'll have a great time.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 6th, 2018, 04:06 AM
  #11
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
Adamas Port in Milos is MUCH bigger than the port town in Folegandros, and to me much more inviting and interesting. Nowhere near as chaotic as Santorini though. I stayed at Hotel Delfini, to the left as you leave the ferry, about a 5 minute walk – just follow the harbor till it turns, past the small beach, and one block further.

They say that besides Santorini, Milos has the most extraordinary terrain of any of the Cyclades due to its volcanic past. There are amazing rock formations, incredible views, and as many as seventy beaches. Lots of coves and sea caves. What they don’t say is that most of the beaches are tiny and only accessible by boat. Milos has vast mineral deposits and a fairly large (for a Greek island) mining industry (there is a mining museum). The varied mineral deposits make for an abundance of colors of rocks around the island. Milos emerged from the Aegean Sea during a period of intense volcanic activity. The contact of the emerging red-hot material with the seawater resulted in the creation of rocks and formations in an astonishing variety of colors and shapes. The flow of lava when the island was created also accounts for some amazing landscapes. It reminded me of Death Valley – only in the middle of the sea!

I arrived on the 10:30 ferry, was able to check into my hotel and explored a little of Adamas town. Then got the bus up to Plaka for lunch and the afternoon. I spent about 5 hours between lunch and exploring (photographing) the town and climbing up to the chapel on top of the castro. Words can’t describe the views, you have to look at the pictures. The climb up there is steep but only about 15 minutes. I saw a total of four other people. Back to Adamas for dinner.


The main village of Plaka is a typical Cycladic village with a warren of stepped and winding alleys lined with white buildings with lots of blue trim, plenty of bougenvalia and lots of small tavernas, with views out to the sea around every corner. There are three main churches, one in the center of the town, one half way up to the Kastro, and another at the top. Of course as in all the Greek islands, there are tons of tiny churches scattered all over. The island is rich with archeological sites including Christian catacombs, a roman amphitheater, and Venetian castle. The Venus de Milo was found here and a copy of the statue is in the small archaeology museum in Plaka. The Venus de Milo is actually Aphrodite, who rose from the foam of the Greek sea.

At the top of Plaka, on a steep hill of 280 m above the town, is the old Venetian Kastro topped by a white church. The Venetian family Sanoudoi, who since the 13th century had dominated the Cyclades and the Aegean, first inhabited it and used it as a stronghold against pirate attacks. The view from there, looking down on the slightly larger church half way up, the Plaka below, and the coast line – a 360 degree view, is incredible.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 6th, 2018, 05:41 AM
  #12
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 656
bookmarking - really interested in your take on the 3 less visited islands. planning on doing one of them next year so this is extremely useful. many thanks
littlejane is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 6th, 2018, 01:18 PM
  #13
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
The port town of Admas is in a large bay that is considered the safest in the Aegean (was used by the Germans in WWII). Built on a small hill (topped with a white church) sloping down to the harbor filled with sailboats, yachts and day cruise boats. A few fishing boats off to the side. Large enough to have a selection of restaurants, tavernas, ice cream shops, bakeries and shops. There is a fairly large grocery store with pretty much anything you could need at prices way below mini-market prices. The bus stop is across from the bakery under the Portinia Hotel, just as the harbor road turns, a block from the ferry dock.

The buses go to most places with some regularity. They are about hourly to Plaka and Pollonia, every two hours to Sarakiniko. Pollonia - is a small fishing village, built around a pretty bay, in the northeast of Milos. The church of the village, Agia Paraskevi, stands on a small peninsula, above Pollonia. A few hotels, mostly ‘rooms’ to let, a few tavernas and some pretty fishing boats, one or two shops. Beach is better than Adamas but not as amazing as some of the tiny secluded ones.


Of course most of the amazing coastline can only be seen by boat. An excursion sail around the island and to the neighboring island of Kimolos is the best way. The boats all get back from their cruises around 7 pm and the crews stand out on the promenade trying to tell you why their cruise is better than the next guys, most also have pamphlets describing where they go, etc. There are full and half day cruises, the ‘best’ I though being the €40 Captain Yiangos – it’s a ten hour tour that stops for lunch at the island of Kimolos plus 3 or 4 stops to swim off the boat, including at Kleftliko. All the other cruises were more expensive, did not include Kimolos, some only went part way around the island, included (what reviews say is pretty bad) food. The boat was big enough that you could move around, get out of the sun, etc. There’s a snack bar for cold drinks at prices less than mini-market prices.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 6th, 2018, 05:00 PM
  #14
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 3,776
Isabel, this is one of the most USEFUL and insightful reviews of these islands, that I've encountered lately, I've bookmarked it to share with newbies I counsel .... I agree with you about the ambience, and what's worthwhile & what's not, on all 3 islands so far, cannot wait to hear what you think of Sifnos.
travelerjan is online now  
Reply With Quote
Nov 7th, 2018, 03:39 AM
  #15
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
travelerjan - thank you so much for saying that. I'm sure you know you have helped me plan all three of my Greek trips and your advice is always spot on.



I did love Sifnos. The only one of the three that disappointed me was Folegandros - and that was probably more due to very high expectations. I'm still glad I went. Funny about how expectations can influence you so much. With Santorini I knew I loved it the first time I went - but that was 9 years ago and in the mean time I just read so much about how crowded it is (which is true) and since I'd already seen it I wasn't really expecting to enjoy it so much - which probably made it even better for me.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 7th, 2018, 03:52 AM
  #16
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
The ten hour boat ride was wonderful but I'm glad I chose a larger boat that you could really walk around on. Some of the boats that do the round the island cruises are smaller which at first seemed better but ten hours is a long time to sit in one spot - even though you do get to go swimming 2 or 3 times. And the fact that this cruise stopped for a couple hours at Kimolos was also nice. Kimolos is a much smaller island just across a bay from Pollonia. It has a small port (half dozen tavernas on the beach and one shop) and a larger (yet still tiny) town up on top of it’s hill. There is a ferry from Pollonia but very infrequent so doing it as an independent day trip would be possible but you'd really have to time it right.

The highlights of the cruise were seeing the two most outstanding features of the Milos coast, Sarakiniko, an area of bone white rock surrounded by turquoise blue water that looks like a moonscape, and Kleftilko, huge white rock formations jutting out of turquoise water with caves and arches. Just before you enter the harbor (and around the tip of that part of the island) are three fishing villages that are unusual in that the houses are built right into the rock walls. They are referred to as ‘syrmata” and were built in the mid 19th century after fear of Turks or pirates abated so people began living right on the water, rather than up in the Plaka. They have brightly painted doors to their boathouses on the ground (sea) level, with living quarters above. Kilma is the largest, also Mandrakia and Firopotamos.
So between the buses and cruise you get to most of the island. To really see the tiny fishing villages and some of the beaches up close it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rent a car for one day (seemed to be plenty of places) – or if there in the spring or fall when the temperatures are more moderate, you can probably walk to a lot (e.g. the catacombs, Kilma). But you still need to do the boat ride.

I had four nights, so almost four full days on Milos which I think was perfect. One full day was the cruise, and I went up to Plaka a total of three times (once was for sunset, once mostly to see the archaeology museum - that took half an hour tops), went to Pollonia. Still had plenty of time to just laze around. Unless you want a lot of beach time, or to see every little thing, four days was enough but certainly not so much to get bored.

Last edited by isabel; Nov 7th, 2018 at 03:55 AM.
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 7th, 2018, 06:23 AM
  #17
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,138
Thanks Isabel. I don't have a trip to Greece planned, although it's high on my list. I hope to get there over the next couple of years. What you described about Milos has a lot that would interest me; would definitely consider it.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 7th, 2018, 08:50 AM
  #18
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 3,776
Isabel, one query about the Milos round-island boat trip that you liked so well .... was it a "motor vessel" going entirely via motor, or was it a sailing vessel? And how many passengers were involved -- 20? 30? A few years back my friends & I did go on a half-round trip for about the same price, on a large catamaran (14 psgr capacity, actually only 9 that day) with motor-assist & were under sail about half the time. We enjoyed it, but I'm interested in your option... at the time we visited (late May), no larger vessels were running. Thanks for any info!
travelerjan is online now  
Reply With Quote
Nov 7th, 2018, 12:10 PM
  #19
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,457
No, this boat was much larger, maybe a hundred or so. Upper deck with seating both under shade and in the sun, lower deck partially enclosed. No sail, just motor. But I noticed that while most of the boats had masts for sails, many didn't even have any sail so they were certainly using motors. Like I said, at first I was turned off by the size but when I thought about it I liked the fact I could walk around, change seats, etc. Here's a link to a photo of it - https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/p437403546
isabel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 7th, 2018, 12:22 PM
  #20
 
Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 378
I am so grateful that you are posting on these three islands. I was thinking about visiting them this summer. Funny, how I think that I will enjoy Folegandros more, but now that I read your description of Milos, I might just stay there longer. How did you choose which village to stay in Milos?
ToujoursVoyager is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:55 AM.