We were not deterred. Wielding a crude map delineating highways and dots marking wineries, we plotted our own itinerary.
We were not fazed. If we couldn't find our way, we would ask for directions.
We thought it would be fun to travel as the locals did and ride the public bus. To places where transit might not go, we figured on hailing a taxi. A couple of wineries appeared to be next to each other on the map, so we could hoof it as well.
And so we set out — I in platform sandals, Peggy in rubber flip-flops with plastic daisies between her toes — as effervescent as the day was young.
Our journey began at the transit hub of Thira, the island's largest city with a population of 2,500, where we stayed during our four days on Santorini. A 90-cent ride in a rumbling public bus took us into the scenic countryside.
August is Santorini's grape harvest season, and we passed farmers with their donkeys in fields dotted with clumps of vines tightly coiled like baskets, a traditional practice to shield the delicate fruit from the island's brutal winds. After the tendrils are untethered and plucked clean, they are left sprawling on the dirt.
Our bus driver spoke no English but understood enough to suddenly lurch to a stop and motion us out when he arrived at our destination. We wallowed through a bitter cloud of diesel exhaust toward the private pathway of Volcan Winery, also known as Koutsogiannopoulos Winery to locals who call it by the owner's family name.
We kicked off our tour at Volcan because it has a museum. Winemaking is among the oldest trades in Santorini, dating back thousands of years. We wandered through Volcan's cavernous chambers, past mannequins posed in reenactments of bucolic scenes. Here, a peasant stomped on grapes with bare feet. There, a winemaker cranked a press. We learned that because of Santorini's arid climate, its fields are not very productive: Every 11,000 square feet yields only about 882 pounds of grapes, compared with amounts 10 times greater in wetter regions.
Our museum entry price of about $5 included three tastings. We sampled a dry and mild young white wine made from Assyrtiko grapes; a slightly acidic red wine; and a vinsanto, Santorini's musky and syrup-sweet dessert wine made from grapes ripened for two weeks after harvest.
Ready to move on, we asked our server whether we should wait for a bus or walk. She seemed bewildered that we hadn't come by rental mopeds, ubiquitous among Santorini's younger set. She knew no one who had walked that route but after pondering said brightly it would take "15 minutes" to walk at most. It was all we needed to hear.
We soon realized why we were the only pedestrians out there.
The dusty, undivided roadway had no sidewalks. The pavement was barely wide enough for a car lane in each direction. We repeatedly crossed from one side to the other. To escape the intense sunshine, we dashed for tree shade. We scrambled the other way when a wider shoulder offered more distance from cars.
The noon sun grew so ferocious that I squinted through my sunglasses. Half an hour into our trudge, my straw-hatted head sweltered as though under a salon hair dryer.
Then we saw a small sign at the side of the road. A painted arrow directed oenophiles and art lovers alike to a place called Art Space. We hadn't planned on going there and, in fact, had not even heard of it.
A five-minute trot off the main highway, past modest backyards with garlands of dripping clothes, took us to Art Space, where modern paintings and sculptures are the main attraction and the wine is almost an afterthought. Though it had been a winery for more than 100 years, the buildings had been nearly emptied of winemaking equipment. Instead, colorful works by contemporary Greek artists lined its cave-like halls. All were for sale.
Owner and curator Antonis Argiros was so animated about art during our free guided tour that he nearly forgot our tastings afterward, which included a throat-burning raki followed by a soothing vinsanto.
Our spirits revived by the wine and gales of air conditioning, we resumed our hike. Fortunately, our next stop, Canava Roussos, was less than 10 minutes away.
Wine and good food