Tag Archives: Santorini

I’m On A Boat

Mr. Wonderful had one last surprise before we headed back to reality (aka London). After a few days of exploring Santorini by more traditional modes, he manned up and chartered a speed boat for the day! He reasoned, this was the only way to truly delve into some of the island’s best kept secrets. Hey, I’m not going to argue with that.

Our captain, Panos, would be waiting for us at the old port in Fira at 1100 hours. But first we had to get there. The old port lies 800 feet straight down the sheer cliff face of the Caldera, and is used mostly by the ginormous cruise ships shuttling boatloads of tourists on and off the island. My inconvenient fear of heights meant that the two-minute cable car ride down was out of the question. So we opted for the 600 steps on foot. Which would have been merely unpleasant – were it not for the herds of mules that traverse the path everyday. Now I had to totter down the hazardous route in my flimsy sandals, the cobblestones slick with donkey mess! It was awful – not to mention stinky!

old part

600 steps

donkey

Miraculously, we made it to the bottom uninjured. I practically threw myself onto the boat – let’s get outta here!

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We sped off toward Nea Kammeni and motored into the secluded sulphur spring inside the volcano. The warm waters have a distinctly sulphur smell, and are a murky orange color, tingeing the volcanic rocks at the water’s edge. The minerals are little metallic flecks shimmering near the surface which have curative, spa-like powers. We dove in and, clinging to a life buoy, paddled into the opening of the volcano. It was like swimming on Mars!

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sulp swim

After climbing back aboard and rinsing the mineral water from our swimsuits, Panos steered us around Pallea Kammeni, where the sea was a crystal clear blue.

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Thirassia is one of Santorini’s satellite islands. This little village has a population of only around 100 year-round inhabitants. Village elders have steadily refused foreign tourism, turning down lucrative offers to build hotels and resorts on the island. The result is a humble little seaside town that survives off of fishing. We anchored in a quiet cove just in front of Thirassia and got down to business – poppin’ bottles!

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Love these anchor beer glasses! Where can I get a set?

Love these anchor beer glasses! Where can I get a set?

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We talked, and laughed, and toasted the advancing conclusion of our Greek escapade – until the captain called us into the cuddy for a traditional meze lunch. What he served us was a comprehensive tasting menu of all the Greek staples – tomato keftedes, white aubergine, saganaki – seven dishes in total.

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After a wonderful lunch – and plenty of champagne – the real silliness began.

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As we rested on the bow, Panos whizzed us around underneath the sky-high cliffs of Santorini’s perimeter. It was so spectacular, gazing up at all the places we’d visited over the week. As we swerved around the jagged rock outcroppings, we passed Amoudi Bay where we’d dined the night before.

cliffs chapel cliffs2 5 amoudi in daylight

I could not think of a better way to say farewell to Santorini than a day on the water touring its most remote borders. As we sped back into the old port, I tried to capture the memory of the sparkling sea, the dizzyingly tall cliffs, and the sense of perpetuity that reassured me if I ever come back, I’ll find it untouched by time.

Sunset in Oia

It’s rumored that Oia has the best sunsets on the island. Curious to see what all the fuss was about, we decided to head over before dinner.

Along the way, we paid our friends at Grace Santorini a visit atop the vertigo-inducing village Imerovigli. Keeping cool with a saffron mango margarita by the pool, I was able to take in the jaw-dropping views of the Caldera.

Grace pool

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We arrived in Oia just in time to witness the mad rush of tourists (some of them literally stampeding) down to the tip of the island where throngs assemble every evening to await the sunset. We shied away from the crowds, opting instead to take advantage of the suddenly deserted streets. We wandered around watching the fading glow of twilight bounce off the town.

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With dusk upon us, we wound down the coastal road to Amoudi Bay for dinner at Sunset. We heard about it in our trusty copy of Where Chefs Eat, but this place is no secret. Reviewed in the New York Times and featured on Travel Channel,  it’s one of Santorini’s most famed dining spots. Nestled at the base of the cliffs with the gleaming white villas of Oia above, Sunset sits on the edge of a twinkling bay. As we walked to our table, little fishing boats were returning to the cove and coming ashore with their catch. We sat right on the water and shared the Sunset trademark dish – lobster pasta.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if this dish was a favorite of the Greek gods themselves. The restaurant insists the recipe is “top secret.” But word is already out amongst the feline foodies – this discerning lad definitely wanted in on the action.

Rest Amoudi 8 Rest Amoudi3 Rest Amoudi 9A shame we were too full to taste this complimentary sweet yogurt brought to our table – it looked lovely. I have a feeling I’ll be dreaming about this meal for some time to come…

Monks, Ancient Ruins, and a Seafood Pouch

When I’m on holiday, there is only so long I can lie idle by the pool before I start to get restless. A couple of days lolling about under the sun’s heat reading my Kindle and sipping chilled Pellegrino is all I need to clear my head and feel relaxed – then I’m ready to explore!

We set off early for a day traversing the island by jeep from end to end. Our first stop was the Holy Orthodox Monastery of Profitis Ilias (atop a mountain named after the Prophet Elijah). This working monastery has been home to Greek Orthodox monks since 1712, where they care for a valuable collection of religious texts, icons and devotional objects. It’s the highest point in Santorini, where you can see whole other islands in the distance!

view Monastery monast1 monast chapelInside this chapel, I lit a candle for my Nana – so a little flame could burn from a mountaintop in the middle of the Greek islands in her memory.

candle2 candleNext stop was the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri – a prehistoric settlement preserved under ash following the volcanic eruption of Thera more than 3,000 years ago. This is like hallowed ground for art historians – how fascinating to see archaic pottery preserved untouched for so many thousands of years! I also couldn’t help but marvel at the airy wood-paneled structure built over the site for protection against the elements.

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Just minutes down a dusty dirt road from Akrotiri is one of Santorini’s most famous hidden beauty spots, Red Beach. It’s a perilous dash down the rocky path to the rust-colored sand, and the waves wash up quite a lot of straw-like ocean debris, but it’s a refreshing – and visually majestic – spot to escape the midday heat.

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After knocking the pebbles from our shoes, we got back on the road, driving further down the island in search of an exceptional Santorinian lunch spot. After a couple of u-turns, and one stop for directions, we eventually tracked it down. It sits right on Perivolos Beach near Perissa. It’s called, quite simply, Sea Side. It’s incredible.

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Fried doughballs with a selection of dips - the tuna spread was the undisputed winner!

Lightly fried dough balls with a selection of dips – the tuna spread was the undisputed winner!

Lunch me

Avocado from Hell - a Sea Side signature dish

Avocado from Hell – a Sea Side signature dish

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Santorini Salad with cherry tomatoes, fava, peas, zucchini, caper leaves, and galotyri cheese

Santorini Salad with cherry tomatoes, fava, peas, zucchini, caper leaves, and galotyri cheese

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But the piece de la resistance was by far and away the house specialty Seafood Pouch – gorgeous linguine noodles bubbling in a seafood sauce, delicately wrapped in parchment paper.

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It’s so good, I got the recipe just so you can try it.

Ingredients:
500 grams pasta (linguine) 
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 onion, minced
handful of fresh basil leaves
1 chilli pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
olive oil
white wine
6 shrimps
6 fresh mussels
4 clams and/or cockles
4 large scallops
1 can of tomato juice
Directions:
  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in a casserole dish with the olive oil until golden brown, and then add the already cleaned seafood.
  2. Once the seafood steams, pour over a glug of white wine.
  3. Add the chilli, sun-dried tomato, tomato paste, and tomato juice.
  4. As soon as the sauce starts boiling, add the linguine and boil for about 7 minutes until the sauce is absorbed by the pasta.
  5. Throw in the basil leaves, season with salt & pepper, twist up in parchment paper, plate, and serve!

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Greece is so full of history and rich in cultural traditions. I was impressed by the variety I found on just one little island. In one day, I was able walk amongst the ruins of a once-thriving prehistoric settlement, offer a silent prayer from a monastery in the sky, sample the local Mediterranean flavors, and end up on a beach with my toes in the volcanic sand. All that – and the day’s not even over yet!

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Zannos Melathron, Pyrgos

The best part of our hotel was its fantastic location in Pyrgos – a quaint, sleepy Santorinian village that has managed to lay low despite the overwhelming crush of tourism besieging most of the island. When we arrived in the town square, this dashing young lad was waiting to carry our luggage up the steep ascent our room.

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Zannos Melathron is a Relais & Chateaux property at the tippy top of the village. Settled into the slope of the hillside next to the brilliant blue-domed Agia Theodosia, the hotel has a bird’s-eye view of the island’s northern tip. From the restaurant terrace, you can see the cliffs of Fira, and then Oia further in the distance.

The mansion is the former mid-19th century home of a powerful Greek shipping family. The main public rooms of the interior still evoke a nostalgia for the charmed life this glamorous home once contained.

front

Agia Theodosia

Agia Theodosia

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The suites are cavernous – in the truest sense of the word! While some might find this cosy, I actually felt a little bit claustrophobic. Everything was clean and thoughtfully arranged – and I loved this little nook.

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Outside on the terrace was shaded seating for two, a couple of stripey sun loungers, and a jacuzzi.

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And how about these views from the pool?

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After settling in and unpacking at the hotel, we made our way down into the village to the best lunch joint on the map – Selene. It serves mouth-watering local dishes with the warm welcoming service characteristic of the region. I have to admit, it was so good we went back again (though I won’t say how many times).

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House baked bread with tomato tapioca

House baked bread with tomato tapioca

Squids with tomato crust

Squids with tomato crust

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Octopus carpaccio with white eggplant salad

Octopus carpaccio with white eggplant salad

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Chicken leg (gyros style) in pitta bread with grilled Santorini zucchini and yogurt-spearmint sauce

Chicken leg (gyros style) in pitta bread with grilled Santorini zucchini and yogurt-spearmint sauce

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And of course, what Greek meal would be complete without an oozy warm slice of baklava? baklava

On that sweet note, I’ll save the rest for tomorrow – when the real adventures begin!

Santorini “The Old Way”: The Hilltop Village of Pyrgos

After catching a high speed ferry to Santorini and disembarking at the old port, I wanted to start exploring right away. Pyrgos is a hilltop village in the center of Santorini with stunning panoramic views of the island. It’s also one of the least developed villages on the island, preserving its traditional charm. From the main square at the base of the hill, steep footpaths lead upwards through the densely clustered stone houses and neo-classical ruins. These labyrinthine streets are only navigable on foot or by donkey. With no traffic, you can really experience the medieval authenticity of the place – despite its gradually emerging status as a tourism village. Pyrgos path3 flora and sarah path us walking pyrg 2 domes dome flag view Grab your sunnies and hike to the top of the hill, strewn with the ruins of an ancient Venetian castle (Kasteli). The sunsets from up here are sensational. path2 funny face leaning wall church inside church inside church two Just beyond the front steps from this lovely church is the terrace of Franco’s Bar –  softly playing a mix of sultry wartime jazz and classical music. It is the perfect place to sip a gin fizz in the warm breeze and watch the sky change colors. francos patio francos church francos drink Sunset3 domeflag dusk sunset2 sunsetview sunset Pyrgos is a little spot of unspoiled ground where you can experience Santorini “the old way.” And with gobs of historic charm, and heavenly views like these, I hope it never changes.

 

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