Friday, June 03, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Holiday: Santorini

The next stop on our family holiday is to the spectacular island of Santorini in the south Aegean Sea. Santorini epitomises the quintessential Greek holiday -- dramatic cliffside villages, dazzling beaches, white-washed blue-domed buildings, and the views overlooking the caldera are amazing.  Just beautiful.


Like Crete, we booked a traditional villa just a short 10 minute walk from the charming village of Oia. The two-level 3 br/2 ba villa had a nice patio area with a BBQ, sunchairs, a hot tub, and two donkeys (not for use though). We also had an amazing view  of the caldera. It was all very lovely! 

We spent our first day in Santorini exploring delightful Oia starting from Ammoudi Bay, the little picturesque harbour below Oia, and worked our way up 273 odd steps to the main village. It is is easy to fall in love with Oia. Famous for its glorious sunsets, sunny verandas, blue-domed churches, and artsy-bohemian atmosphere, Oia is filled with cute little shops, restaurants, and cafes  to keep you busy for a few hours. With nothing else planned on our agenda for the day, my family and I stopped  for leisurely late afternoon lunch of traditional Greek specialities of squid and seafood pasta before retiring at the villa for some sunbathing, rest and relaxation, and watching the first of three glorious sunsets whilst sipping Greek wine or cold Mythos beer on the patio. 

The next day we went on hike from Oia to Fira along the lip of the caldera. Most people do the reverse hike from Fira to Oia in the late afternoon, arriving in time to catch the famous sunset in Oia. My sisters and brother-in-law aren't big fans of hiking, but they were good sport about it and thought the 10 km hike was well-worth it for the dramatic views of the caldera, plus it was a good way to work off the copious amount of food we've consumed over the last few days. 
Three hours later with many photo stops along the way, we finally made it to the town of Fira. Perched 260 meters on the cliff with equally impressive views, Fira the capital of Santorini located right in the middle of the island, is far more busy than Oia as it is the main port call for cruise ships. We spent some time wondering around the town of Fira, which was nice but heaving with tourists. We all agreed, Oia is the place to stay in Santorini.  We didn't have time for a leisurely lunch in Fira  so we went for a quick lunch at a little souvlaki joint called Lucky's for some  delicious and cheap gyros.
Later in the evening, we invited our newlywed friends who happened to be in Santorini for their honeymoon over for dinner. As per usual, I ended up cooking dinner for a party of 15 (we were a party of 7): tzakiki, baba ghanoush, spanakopita, chicken kebab, roast chicken, grilled sausages, pesto orzo salad, French-style potato salad, ice cream, Greek wine, Alfa beers, sweet santos wine and Greek ouzo. It was great seeing old friends in new places -- congratulations again! After dinner, we moved inside to watch the Champions League between Manchester United and Barcelona, the same match-up we watched in Istanbul two years ago. And like 2009, our English team lost again...enough said.

Beyond beaches and sun, Santorini has a lot more to offer such as a thriving wine industry. The volcanic soil gives Santorini wines a distinct aroma and hints of smoke and minerals. Most white wines of Santorini are cultivated from the Assyrtiko variety and it is generally very dry with high acidity. We picked up an ATV four-wheeler, which is highly recommended in Santorini to zoom around town, and visited the nearby Domaine Sigalas winery for some wine-tasting.

As native northern Californians, we are spoiled with a plethora of excellent wineries in Napa, Sonoma, and the Russian River, however, while small Domaine Sigalas is worth a visit. If you have time and your own transportation, there are several other wineries on the south end of the island such as Santos which also has a view to die for. Our only regret was not being able to visit Santorini's black, white, and red time I suppose...
For last night in Santorini, we went up to Oia and found a  beautiful spot with a view of the classic windmill for one last sunset. We watched as the sun dropped deep into the was just beautiful. We were sad that our Greek holiday was coming to an end, but Athens still awaits us the next day. More to come...

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