I had a lot of mixed feelings about booking a holiday in Santorini. I wanted to visit the island more than anything and see the pretty blue domed churches and watch the sunset from the edge of the cliffs. But I also wanted to relax and was wary about the crowds that the island attracts in summer. So we booked in May, the shoulder season, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Well, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time of year!
You’ll Beat The Crowds
I’m okay with crowds when the hustle and bustle adds to the atmosphere, like in Athens. I’m not okay with fighting people just to get a glimpse of the setting sun. After a few really busy months at work and then the non-stop action that was Montreal, Athens and Mykonos at the start of our trip, all I wanted I wanted was a little peace and solitude in a picturesque setting. I was wary about visiting Santorini because of its reputation of being jam-packed with cruise boat tourists in the summer. The lure of the island, however, was too tempting resist and all I could do was hope that Santorini would be relatively crowd free in May.
Talking to Nick, the owner of our hotel one evening, he explained how in summer he has to stand guard at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the hotel’s swimming pool. He said that it gets so busy and hot that people just wander into other hotels to use their pools. “Like animals these people,” he added in growl. “You would not even believe it!”
Johnny and I were the only people sitting at the pool that evening waiting for sun to disappear into the sea below us. Perched on the edge of the pool wall, glass of wine in hand and a platter of plump dolmades in arms reach, it was hard to imagine this idyllic little spot crammed with people.
It’s Surprisingly Cheap
We stayed in the lovely Langas Villas, the highest hotel in the village of Imerovigli, with a plunge pool that looked out over the Caldera and a private balcony with sunset views. We dined at what was considered one of the more expensive restaurants, Anogi, just next the hotel and indulged in their fresh seafood dishes and lamb kleftiko.
We picked up most of our souvenirs in Fira, including beautiful olive wood and funky Santorini Brewing Company t-shirts. We did all of this and didn’t blow our budget, despite Santorini’s reputation for being one of the priciest islands in the Cyclades.
After chatting with some of the locals, we found out that the prices were (of course) also due to the time of year we were visiting. Towards the end of the month they would start to hike their prices, even swapping out menus for more expensive ones. Sure there are hotels on the island whose prices will make you gasp, but that’s everywhere.
Santorini is one of the most visited Greek islands during summer. Even the budget hotels hike their rates significantly during this time.
If you’re smart, shop around, avoid peak season, and Santorini suddenly becomes very budget friendly.
The Scenery Is Spectacular
Brilliant azure skies, blazing sunsets, cubic white washed houses and iconic blue domed churches; Santorini’s scenery does not disappoint. But in May it’s extra special because everything is still green after winter.
On our first day, the weather was kind of grey, gloomy and cool. We decided to take advantage of the perfect hiking weather (and work off some of the baklava that was now part of our breakfast routine) by walking from Imerovigli to Oia.
The distance is roughly 15km and took us two hours, despite the numerous photo stops. This actually ended up being one of the highlights of our trip, especially since you have the option of getting the bus back to Imerovigli or Fira when you reach the end.
Throughout the morning the sun flashed in and out of the clouds; the bleached buildings glowing brightly against the moody sky. And although I lamented not being able to get any of the classic Santorini shots – blue dome, blue sky – we couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic back drop.
Everywhere wild flowers were blooming. They cascaded from the ancient walls along the path and snuck up in between the gaps in the rocks. The air even smelt of honey and lemons. I can’t imagine you get to enjoy lemon-scented air or wild flowers in the heat of July.
The Weather is Perfect
Refreshingly cool evenings and beautiful warm, sunny days was our experience of the weather in Santorini. Okay, so you won’t be basking on the beaches or diving in the coves, but we enjoyed exploring the island and discovering all the great things you can do that don’t involve the sea.
It also means you don’t have to time your activities around the hottest or coolest times of the day.
We visited the site of Akrotiri, Greece’s Pompeii, during the middle of the day. Although the site is technically indoors, I’d been told it’s better to stick to the cooler times of the day when visiting. In May, this obviously isn’t an issue.
In addition to hiking from Imerovigli to Oia, we also did the Skaros rock hike. We lucked out with incredible weather: deep blue skies and a blazing sun. As we set off from the church of Agios Georgios with the sun warm on my bare shoulders, I briefly wondered if we shouldn’t have bought water or worn sun screen. But the rock is on enough of an outcrop that it had a light sea breeze blowing around it, just enough to keep us cool.
At the end of our hike I stood on the cliffs staring out over the Mediterranean, filling my lungs with fresh air, just contemplating how incredibly beautiful Santorini is.
It’s More Romantic
Santorini is one of the most romantic islands in the Cyclades. As we planned our trip to the island, I was already picturing Johnny and I enjoying bottles of wine while the sun set, taking long walks through prettily lit avenues in the evening, and sharing a quiet breakfast on the patio of the hotel. Then I would remember that Santorini is also famous for its cruise ship crowds and that it’s getting quite a heavy party scene in summer. I’m all for tequila shots and blasting music beachside, just not in Santorini.
Santorini also has that awkward design where everything is staggered down the cliff face. While this means your views of the water and bay below are interrupted, if you look directly down you’re usually staring into someone’s swimming pool or balcony.
In spring the clubs are only just starting to open and the beaches are empty. We were able to enjoy our wine without an audience staring down on us and we didn’t have to squeeze through the masses while wandering the streets with ice cream. If you visit Santorini in spring, you’re much more likely to get the romantic experience Santorini has become so famous for.
Have you been to Santorini? When do you think the perfect time of year to visit is?