Discovering the Cyclades Islands
The best moments of my most recent visit to Santorini and Ios—the ‘It Girls’ of the Cyclades islands—were defined entirely by the spontaneous exploration of places a little off the beaten track. These are my top 3 experiences deep undercover during the Grecian summer.
Volkan on the Rocks outdoor cinema
Hidden on the edge of the cliff at the border of Fira town is Volkan on the Rocks, a restaurant, bar and open-air cinema rolled into one. I found this little gem purely by accident when wandering lost along a deserted section of the path to Firostefani, but it was probably the highlight of my soujourn in Santorini—so, you’re welcome.
Running from May to September, the program alternates nightly between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mamma Mia (as of 2019). Whilst a trip to the movies back home means stale popcorn in a dark stuffy room, audience members at the Volkan cinema can sing along with Meryl Streep as they snack on the fluffiest (complimentary) pita dipped in fresh tzatziki with a side of Greek olives and aperol spritz—all as the sun sets behind the famous caldera in the background.
It’s best to book a table on the patio in advance, and worth arriving early enough to watch the sunset from your chairs. Each session starts at nightfall and tickets cost 15 euro, including a set of headphones and a grazing board featuring everybody’s favourite Greek meze. But if the free snacks aren’t enough, you’ve got free rein of Volkan’s incredible evening menu.
We joked about being its biggest fans but I am seriously ride-or-die for Saini’s, a precious little tavern where they serve heaven up on a plate.
It had been highly recommended to us by some friends, who raved about its cheap, delicious, and authentic food—but they weren’t wrong when they said it was hard to find. Using a combination of Google and the little cartoon map drawn on the back of their business card, we finally managed to find Saini’s Taverna nestled amongst winding little streets somehow free from the hustle and bustle of the town centre only a stone’s throw away.
Shown to our table by the owner’s pre-tween daughter and greeted with a shot of homemade wine sweetened with honey and cinnamon, we quickly fell in love with its local charm and family-owned feel. I’d recommend ordering a few dishes to share, because everything is so damn good you’ll want to try it all (the saganaki alone was 100% worth ignoring my dairy intolerance for). Paired with jugs of wine that were surprisingly good for how stinking cheap they were, it was a meal I’m still dreaming about, and makes for a great location for pre drinks before exploring the island’s infamous bars.
The secret oasis at Ammoudi Bay
Most holidays to Santorini include day-trips to famous but overcrowded beaches lined with overpriced sun beds. But unseen by those high above in town and hidden from the view of most boats by some big old rocks, this secret swimming spot just off Ammoudi Bay is the real-life version of those picturesque watering holes that seem to exist only on Pinterest boards.
From the Oia castle ruins, a stony staircase leads down to the little Ammoudi harbour. If you walk along the base of the cliff and follow a slightly hazardous rocky path, you’ll emerge at a scene of total paradise, a tiny cove with the brightest and clearest acqua water you’ve ever laid eyes on. Those who wish to stay land-bound must fight for a space on a very small ledge or one of the few flat rocks scattered around, but once you enter the magical waters you won’t want to come out anyway.
Be warned though—the journey to get here involves a steep, slippery staircase and a choice between walking along a precarious ledge or doing parkour over some jagged rocks. I may have almost perished walking back up the ten million steps to Oia in the blazing sun (if you’re really struggling you can rent a donkey for a couple euro), but it was certainly worth it for a dip in perhaps the most stunning swim spot in all of Santorini.
Written by Souszy insider Carli Tesoriero.