Santorini: not just a pretty face
Santorini views form the archetypal image of the Greek islands. For those who wonder “what could really be so special about a view”, wait until you set foot on this volcanic rock. The sheer cliff face, the beautiful architecture, the volcano itself and those blues add up to the ultimate summer scene. You literally won’t want to stop looking at it, it’s strangely mesmerising. You’ll know you’ve been ‘Santorinied’, it’s an unmistakable feeling.
Try and avoid the busiest months of the year if you can, so you don’t have to deal with the crazy crowds who also want to take all of this in. Almost an independent state, Santorini seems unaffected by the economic crisis. It is one of the first island destinations to be actively working on a year-round tourism model so it’s not just about July and August here. Even if you can only visit at the height of summer though, choose your accommodation and dining options wisely and you’ll be guaranteed an incredible time.
Apart from the views, that ‘Santorini light’ artists talk about and the extended tourist season, the locals have also spearheaded a movement in promoting produce which is unique to the island including, above all, its wine. Santorini has plenty of exceptional food produce to offer because of its volcanic soil and weather conditions. Look out for tomatoes in all formats (fresh, sundried or in various pastes), white aubergines, local cheeses, which aren’t usually sold outwith the island, and fava in particular.
Whether you’re a wine buff or not, Santorini and its many wineries will turn you into a fan pretty quickly. The unique combination of indigenous varieties, which happen to be some of the oldest in the world, the unique climate with its limited rainfall and the volcanic soil, make for some very special wines. Combined with the expertise and sense of adventure some local oenologists are demonstrating alongside investment in some rather unique visitors’ areas, a wine tasting has to be part of your trip. We loved Argyros Estate (http://www.estate-argyros.com/), Venetsanos Winery (http://venetsanoswinery.com/) and Sigalas (http://www.sigalaswinetasting.com/) but the list is endless. There are plenty of wine tours you can join but this is something that should be enjoyed at leisure and not in a hop on and off tour style. Do look out for a number of other organised activities though, from all kinds of sailing trips to hiking, cooking lessons and everything in between. This is a place aimed at a 5* crowd which elevates the prices but has also brought a lot of expertise to the island and a sense that a lot of the business people here truly understand good customer service. The high prices do require some extra research on your part before you visit or the use of a concierge service (like ours funnily enough!) as some on the ground knowledge could really save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
When trying to choose that all-important accommodation, there is no shortage of impressive hotels in Santorini. As you will be parting with substantially more money that you would in most other parts of Greece, you might as well make it extra special. We stayed at Kapari Natural Resort (http://www.kaparisantorini.gr/), one of the best hotels on the island. A great location in Imerovigli with views towards the volcano and Skaros, the site of an ancient castle, with the best service you’re likely to find even on an island already offering plenty of high end options. We dream about those poolside views most evenings!
The golden rule in Santorini is to go for the best your budget can stretch to as this is not a location where cutting corners will compensate you. You’re coming here because of those views, sunsets and colours so you will be mightily disappointed if your bargain hotel deprived you of all of that.
Another thing worth splurging on is your evening dining experience. There are so many options, including the glaring “avoid me please” tourist ones but this is a land of great ingredients and great local and international cooking. Go for it at least once during your stay. You will have your pick of gourmet restaurants but we would recommend Selene Restaurant in Pyrgos and its more affordable sibling (located just below the main restaurant) Selene Meze & Wine. Owner Yiorgos Chatzigiannakis has been at the forefront of raising awareness of locally produced specialities from the Cycladic islands and other parts of Greece for the last 30 years. Nectar & Ambrosia and Red Bicycle are also high on our list.
When you’re done with all your wining and dining though, Santorini also has a cultural side worth exploring. Akrotiri, a potential site for mythical Atlantis, is breathtaking. Don’t expect temples and statues here but the sight of such an ancient settlement and the fact that some artefacts are in situ make it very special. The state of the art building it’s housed in means that you really get a feeling of how this civilisation operated as you get to walk around the old town.
Our top tip though has to be Atlantis Books (http://atlantisbooks.org/) in Oia; a totally unexpected find in amongst the tourist shops and designer boutiques. A proper old school bookshop, where you can find books in various languages, rare first editions and interesting titles released by their own publishing house. The staff, who come in human and animal format, will make you feel like a long lost friend. Another reason for you to come back to Santorini as if witnessing the best sunset in the world with an award winning glass of wine in hand wouldn’t be reason enough!
This article was first published in Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos on 20th August 2016. Reproduced with kind permission, all rights reserved.