Waking up early has its perks. Who doesn’t want the cool breeze early in the morning with the sun still sleepily rising over the horizon, with a cup of coffee in hand or maybe a cigarette on the other and with the prospect of a great day that’s just waiting to happen. Waking up has its perks – especially when you’re at FIRA in SANTORINI ISLAND, opening your eyes to the blissful beauty of a traditional Cycladic guesthouse (my feature about our hotel in Santorini here) with views that deserve a postcard and vibe that is truly Greek (checkout the earlier parts of my Santorini Blog Series here and here), reminiscing about how amazing the night before was (find out more here) and looking forward to what the day has in store for us. Planning about things to do in Fira, Santorini today, we were quite sure we wanted to have this literal cliff-hanging Greek town all to ourselves, so we woke up before 6am and left our hotel around 6 thirty-ish to explore the small, winding, idyllic streets of this beautiful paradise on earth.
-FIRA, SANTORINI ISLAND MORNING WALK DAY 1-
True enough to our wishes and expectations, going around early in the morning is definitely one of the best ways to enjoy Fira – with most of the other tourists & travelers still busy deciding whether to face this side of their beds or the other, with the cruise ships still silently moored at the lagoon and the old port of Fira just starting to come back to life again – we had the streets of the town all to ourselves and some other few early birds which was quite a nice change from the usual notoriously large amount of crowd plying every corner of Santorini Island.
Santorini Island has long been on our travel bucket list and one of the main reasons why we wanted to have the place for ourselves (at least for a couple of hours) aside from really enjoying the scenic vistas was to get photographs without any fear of unsuspecting photo bombers ruining the shot – we consider our Greece vacation to be our long-delayed honeymoon so please bear with our selfie-loving vanity ha-ha! I bet you yourself would love to at least have a picture or two in this world-renowned darling of the Aegean!
Turning left from the street where our hotel was towards Agiou Athanasiou Street and then making a sharp right turn up to Danezi M Street, free from our friendly Greek acquaintance tirelessly offering ATV/Motorbike rentals, we began our unforgettable and most definitely one of the best early morning walks in our life around Fira!
Fira seemed to be overwhelming when we first saw Santorini maps online and even in Google Earth, with all the intertwining tiny streets & stairs or stair-streets (which won’t usually have names), but once we’re there, we realized that it wasn’t at all that difficult to navigate – it was actually part of the fun trying to figure out where each step leads you or what rustic beauty each corner is hiding or when this church or that would suddenly pop out in view.
Deciding to look around the back streets of Fira and leaving the Ipapantis Walkway (the main walkway of the town offering priceless views of the caldera) last, we followed the directions painted on the steps leading to the cable car station of the town.
The Fira Donkeys
A couple of meters and some turns in the still sleepy alleyways of the town, we started hearing some small bells ringing from somewhere…we drew closer and closer to where the sound was coming from…then with the sound of the small bells followed some distinct foots steps and then lo and behold, there they were, the infamous donkeys of the Santorini, ready to traverse the adrenaline pumping Karavolades Stairs
The Karavolades Stairs, steeply angled on the downward slope of Santorini Island towards the caldera once was the only connection and access way of the town to its old port, Gialos, until the cable car was built back in the 1980’s. Locals and visitors back then had the only two options to make the journey upstairs, stretching a thousand feet up the cliff face to the town of Fira: either by foot if you have the strength or by a riding a donkey (which by itself for me takes a lot of courage as its only a matter of a single slip of the good old donkey and you risk yourself falling at the edge of the abyss as the height of the concrete side rails are barely enough to protect you from doing so – their about the height of the donkeys or less).
Nowadays, these donkeys are more of a tourist attraction, taking travelers up and down the Karavolades Stairs and are specially popular among the passengers of the cruise ships docking in the lagoon as their point of entry to the town is through the old port (especially when the queue for the cable car gets really long due to the number of visitors). I actually wanted to try it on foot by then we wanted to save time to maximize our stay in the island and given how my wife’s stamina is with climbing (we climbed the stairs leading to the High Place of Sacrifice in Petra a year back and she cried out of exhaustion – to be blogged hopefully soon), we just made a rain check on the idea.
Following the donkeys towards the Ipapantis Walkway, we were greeted by one of the most stunning views we’ve ever had (can’t resist to take a photo with us in it)…
Hard to describe in words alone how it felt, high up from the sea with the view of the most fantastic glimmering whites that characterizes the town of Fira…
It felt like a dream, being transported somewhere out of this world, especially with the soft light emanating from the morning sun, seeing the dome of the Orthodox Cathedral with the rest of the island in the background..Stunning and surreal – waking up early definitely has its perks!
The more time we spent in Santorini, the better we understood why it has been a much sought after place to visit by lots of people around the globe. I know that I keep on mentioning how beautiful Santorini Island is for the past parts of this blog series and it may feel so redundant – but that’s just how I feel every time I try reminiscing about the days we spent there and truly such grandeur cannot be fully expressed and felt, given justice to say the least, unless you’re really there – to truly appreciate Santorini Island, you really need to be in Santorini!
There are lots of things to see in Fira but the most iconic ones would definitely be the churches of Santorini. The island itself is known to have over a total of 600 churches, mostly styled after Byzantine or Classical Greek Architecture, simple yet elegant and surely eye catching with all their pastel colored brilliance.
Agios Stylianos Chapel
Walking along Nomikou M street it is difficult not to notice this pretty ochre chapel clinging at the edge of the cliff named Agios Stylianos Chapel. The church is dedicated to Stylianos of Paphlagonia, born in Adrianopolis in the then province of Paphlagonia, now in Modern-day Turkey.
Agios Stylianos Chapel commands a more overall, yet not less stunning views of Fira – I’ve been eyeing the chapel ever since we got there and even got tempted to go straight there the night before when we’ve spotted it from V Lounge.
Such obsession and enthusiasm to go to the chapel might be because it was from somewhere in the area where one of the photographs in our most trusted travel book was taken and I wanted to see the town of Fira from that very angle in person – my wife and I are always ecstatic whenever we can tell ourselves,”Before we can only see it in pictures, now we’re actually here!” – I guess most people can relate to that!
The Frankish Quarter of Santorini
Going a couple of meters uphill from Agios Stylianos Chapel, we cam face to face with the buildings that compose the Frangika or the Frankish Quarter of Santorini/Fira.
Famous for its arcaded streets, we really wanted to explore more of the quarter, however, we were afraid we might miss the bus going to Oia at 10am that day (Santorini’s Town of Oia to be blogged soon) so we decided to just turn around and see more of central Fira – but not till we got a shot of our little friend in the picture below, enjoying the chilly morning breeze under the Greek Sun.
Dominican Convent of Santorini
Retracing our steps down Nomikou M Street, we were excited to explore some more of the churches of Fira seeing some more domes (there are literally domes anywhere you look) along the town’s skyline. Turning a sharp left, we were greeted by the imposing Rozario Church, perched on higher ground from where we were.
Rozario Church is the magnificent Baroque cathedral that belongs to the Dominican Convent in Santorini located in the predominantly Catholic Quarter of Fira. To reach the convent, we had to traverse a narrow flight of stairs.
They say that if you’re lucky enough, you might hear the nuns singing Vespers from behind the walls of the Dominican Convent. The convent is located at Agiou Ioannou Street.
Catholic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist
Just on the right though of the flight of stairs leading to the Dominican Convent is what must be for me the most colorful and beautiful church in Fira equaling, maybe not in size but in splendour, the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of the town : The Catholic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist.
Badly damaged in the earthquake of 1950s, the church has been restored in the 1970s – and what an amazing sight it is, visible from almost all parts of central Fira. We tried to see if we can have a look inside but the church was still close at the time we arrived there. We just had an opportunity to peek through the windows but it was kinda dark inside so we weren’t able to fully appreciate how the interior looked like. Searched the church timing for you guys just in case you may want to visit the church during times of service:
Weekend Mass Times
10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Daily Mass Times
8:00 AM monastery next door
Probably, the most imposing & defining part of the Catholic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist is its clock tower proudly overlooking the whole of the town. Pastel colored, its seems like something straight out of a wonderful dreamland! How we really wished we could’ve attended mass there!
Megaro Ghisi Museum
Just a few meters downhill along the same narrow street of the Catholic Cathedral is the Megaro Ghisi Museum – housing manuscripts dating from the 16th to 19th century, maps, paintings and photographs of Fira before and after the 1956 earthquake. Since it was already almost 9am and we still had to had breakfast back in our hotel and catch the 10:00 AM but to Oia, we sadly skipped the museum. But for you guys who are interested, the Opening Hours of Megaro Ghisi Museum is 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM from Monday to Saturday and the entrance fee is just 3 Euros.
Erithrou Stavrou Street
Lying perpendicular to the downhill street of the Catholic Cathedral is the long street of Erithrou Stavrou. We wanted to explore more north of it but then again due to time not being on our side, we decided to follow the street southwards going back to our hotel.
Not until we looked around a bit though of the rustic Cycladic structures the way.
Who won’t fall in love with Fira, it’s like everywhere, there’s something splendid to see!
Roulis Souvenir Shop
Just around 20 metres down south of the Erithrou Stavrou street from the cathedral alley, we passed by this interesting souvenir shop named Roulis. At first, we were planning to buy our souvenirs back in Athens – as they say they are cheaper there than in Santorini (which is not always the case as we soon discovered). Being us, we couldn’t resist getting souvenirs of places exactly from the place itself so when Jill got attracted to some Santorini Canvas Bags, we went inside Roulis where we were warmly welcomed by its owner Mr. Fanis. And what a joy it was to look around and shop at his place! There was so much variety than the other souvenirs shops we saw in Fira, and for the quality & variety, the prices were amazingly reasonable than the others. The shop sells jewelries, bags, figurines, Greek Gods & Goddesses Chessboards, flag, lamps, religious icons, even painting of Mr. Fanis himself and lots lots more! If you are planning to shop for souvenirs in Santorini, I highly recommend for you to checkout Roulis and you won’t be disappointed. As for us, we ended up getting ourselves an Icon of Christ in a Crucifix (hand carved and hand painted by a Greek Artist, complete with certification at the back and the artist’s signature), Santorini-inspired lamps, Santorini canvas bag and even got a free Greek Flag (starting from that moment, we decided that we will be collecting flags from our travels ha-ha). The shops is pictured below, on the right hand side of the photo where you see a guy checking out some items down the street.
Done with our shopping spree, we hurriedly strolled down Erithrou Stavrou street though giving time to appreciate some of the most varied and interesting doorways and building that is so famous for Cycladic villages.
Even the massage parlor’s door is amazing – I seriously want something like this in our house!
At around 8:55 AM, we reached the end of Erithrou Stavrou Street where the Parea Tavern is and turned left, going straight back to our hotel. Thus, ends our early morning walk of the day of Santorini’s capital town – not quite satisfied still and many more places to explore (the south side of Fira and the Port Area – to be blogged soon – or checkout the links below if I’m not able to update this), we decided to go around more the next day. For now, were quite hungry for some breakfast and excited for our trip to Oia.
I hope you enjoyed our stroll around Fira as much as we did – and till now, we couldn’t but smile every time we reminisce about our early morning adventure at the town. See you next time!
For the rest of my Santorini blog series, just click on the links below:
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