Having two weeks in a place is such a luxury when you travel. Holidays can be so expensive and I know so many who have had to sacrifice a second week this year due to costs. We're all familiar with that feeling that we never have enough time to squeeze everything in, well I'm definitely guilty of trying to squeeze too much into a break. I can't help myself, I just want to do, see, eat and experience everything a country has to offer, which doesn't often leave much time for relaxing! You'll know from my previous posts that I love keeping fit and active, even when I travel and so I'm sure you'll know that I'm game for trying any new ways of getting out there and pushing my body. So when I realised the amazing opportunity to try something a bit different that lay waiting in Santorini, I jumped at the chance. If you like to exercise this one is a great way to combine history and working out while taking in a spectacular view of the island.In the south-west of the island lies the biggest mountain of the island, Mesa Vouna. This stunning peak has the town of Perissa nestled against one side, while the town of Kamari can be found on the opposite side. At just 369m, it's only a baby in the mountain world, but it's still a worthy climb and well worth it for the experience. We set off at sunrise to try and find the path, which was just a few fields behind my apartments, along the way stumbling across some donkeys preparing for their huge climb over the peak. It was around 5.30am and barely touched by the light, we began our journey - why so early you ask? Well I quite enjoy an early start to the day anyway, and quite frankly it gets so damn hot there that you definitely wouldn't want to attempt this climb beyond 9am or you would be standing up there in 30 degree heat! With the incredible excavations and discovered ruins of Ancient Thira sitting at the top and just waiting to be explored, I wanted time to appreciate it.The walk is around 8km and if you're relatively fit it'll be a breeze, you can complete it in an hour or two - more or less depending on whether you stop along the way. We actually saw a couple of guys who were running up and down the mountain several times - so if you fancy a really grueling workout it's right there waiting for you. I wore running shoes when I took on the climb but my mum and dad managed it fine in sturdy sandals. We took breakfast and plenty of water along with us, you'll need both as the shop at the top is sometimes closed and you might not be able to buy anything for the climb down. I would really recommend hiking up the mountain from Perissa as you actually get the experience of walking up the rock face rather than a man-made path like the one waiting on the other side. It also means that in the morning you will walk in the shade which is a blessing when you're faced with bright, burning heat down the other side. Along the way look out for signs marking graves on the hillside and plaques explaining the history, these are worth a read if you're interested.When you finally reach the top - just stop and breathe it all in. The view is incredible across Kamari and Perissa with the ocean on either side and the volcano within view. It's definitely time to stop for a few photos before climbing the next short hill to Ancient Thira - the ruins cost 2 euros to enter and are more than worth it for the stunning views waiting from the top and a glimpse into a city of the past. The site is not open on Mondays and only opens unil 2.30pm on some days so be sure to check ahead of walking. The hilltop was first inhabited by the Dorians, whose leader was Theras, in the 9th century BC. Thira was later occupied in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras, with most buildings surviving today from the Hellenistic era (around 4th century BC). If you like history and visiting ancient ruins, you'll be in for a treat with remnants of the ancient houses, cemeteries and even a theatre overlooking the ocean waiting for you. It was amazing to what was found by German archaeologists between 1895 and 1902, and then later by N. Zapheiropoulos in 1961-1982. I personally love experiences like this, I love delving into the past and imagining the whole communities that might have lived in ruins such as Pompeii, Angkor Wat and Sukothai.When you're walking around it's worth checking out the boards that are placed around, they're all written in English and give you lots of information about the different buildings and what once would have laid there. Buildings from different periods are mixed together throughout the site along one main street, which is intersected by smaller streets. Sights worth checking out include the two agoras where you can see the ruins of several Greek temples, and don't miss out on seeing the Roman baths and stone church of Agios Stefanos. The arc of the theatre was one of my highlights with a panoramic view of the Aegean - to think Greeks long ago sat there watching theatre much like I watched movies at the open-air cinema later in the week was crazy. For a cheeky look into the past, you should check out the view over the site from the large Terrace of Festivals - in times gone by boys would have danced naked there to honour Apollo, and you can still find some nearby phallic graffiti.The climb is a great experience and was one of my highlights of the holiday, all three of us enjoyed it and the early start even meant that by the time we reached Kamari, we still had a whole day to top up our tans on the beach. The ocean at Perissa hides quite a strong current at times so be careful when swimming, Kamari on the other hand is much more sheltered and perfect for a swim or a snorkel. We spent a couple of days on the beach there, exploring the town and eating out at the many restaurants. And after such an early start and the steep walk up the mountain, I can't think of a better way to spend the afternoon than napping in the sun and swimming out to the nearby rocks. Just what the doctor ordered.
Have you climbed a mountain - where? What are your favourite ways to stay active when on holiday? Have you been to Santorini?