Its quite difficult to write about Santorini. Like Rome, it has had every adjective and metaphor already used for it. But I’m gonna add mine just the same. Actually maybe I don’t need to. Maybe I just need to say that I have been ten times. That out of all the places in Europe one can go on holidays, I keep choosing Santorni, every year. I have tried to stray, and have occasionally done so, testing out other Greek islands or holiday spots. But I always come back to Santorini, my tail between my legs, begging forgiveness for my foolhardy attempts at being able to find another holiday spot so great. I must also clarify at this point that it isn’t just Santorini but specifically, Oia, a village at the tip of the island that i keep coming back to.
It is like a little holiday camp for exhausted, over achievers. Once you have crawled up through the car park and entered the magic kingdom that is Oia, you never have to leave again, until your flight back is due. That means you never have to be in traffic again (coming from Rome this is an important relaxation variable), or hear it. Or hear anything except the sound of the wind. It means everywhere you want to eat, shop, swim or gaze you just have to walk to, via marble paved paths, with traditional white greek architecture on one side, and the view of the Caldera on the other (see photo). It means you never have to book anything, or turn up anywhere at a particular time. Its like a permanent cruise ship. When you feel hungry you dive into any one of the magnificent (oops used an adjective here) restaurants or cafe’s who will prepare you a delicious greek feast. When you feel like walking around or shopping, you just do so. When you feel like a cocktail and gazing out over the view, you just enter into any bar and do so. Some days i find myself gazing from one meal time to the next. Before i know it, its time for bed again. Lovely!
Oia seems to attract the same sort of people. It has no loud bars, no clubs, only bars facing out over the Caldera, that serve continuous cocktails and play classical music, yes classical music. On any evening one can walk into any bar and see twenty people (they are very small bars) sitting silently, cocktails in hand, gazing and listening to classical music. Oia is a salve for the senses and the nervous system and is therefore also the perfect antidote to Rome. In fact I am just back and have had to stay locked up inside my apartment for four days as i can’t stand the assault to my senses of noise, traffic, dog poo, dirt, and people shouting. Normally I love it. It just takes me a while to get back into it and so it is better seen from my top floor apartment, from a distance for a few days, before I enter into the fray myself.
Santorini is actually the result of a volcano eruption (over 3,500 years ago) where the lava formed the island in an almost circle, around the bottom of the volcano, and the centre of the volcano sunk back into the bowels of the earth and filled up with water to make the Caldera, or Cauldron in Latin. This is what makes the island so unique and beautiful. It is this view out over the water filled vocano from the high cliffs of Santorni that is so breathtaking. Sunset is particularly spectacular and Oia is flooded with hundreds of people that come from all over the island to watch it dip into the sea. They stand two and three deep, crowd the paths, sit on roofs, and all clap when the sun finally goes down.
So it is picturesque to say the least. This is what i find so relaxing about it. As well as the no timetable lifestyle, it is the continual view of sky, sea, sun, clouds, water, where ever you are on the island (we can see it from our bed) that provides a continuous entertaining backdrop to whatever you are eating or doing. As I said, some days it is enough to just sit and watch it all day. It is soothing to the senses. All you see before you is space, miles of sky and miles of sea (again something I never see in Rome). It also changes every hour. It is like watching a movie, the sun (and the moon) change the colours and texture of the scene before you as they move around it, bringing out different shapes, shades and visions.
We mostly swam and ate on holiday. We stay in a traditional Greek cave house, the same one every year. It is carved out of the cliff and is spacious and cosy with a stunning view over the Caldera. It is part of Alta Mare Studios. Here is the view. The island you can see, we swim to. It has a church on it and there was a wedding on it while we were there. The island is only accessible by boat or swimming. The water in Santorini is clean and deep and clear. It is like swimming inside of an emerald (use of metaphor I know). Swimming in the caldera is fantastic because it is so deep and so clean and so blue. We snorkel around the island you can see in the photo. At first when you leave the rocks and jump in, the water is medium deep then it goes straight down into the centre of the volcano. Swimming over it is like jumping off a sky scraper. I always feel a little scared and need to calm myself down or my breathing goes a little funny. When i first started snorkeling there I was so proud of myself (I am a bit of a scaredy cat about those kinds of things, and I am an asthmatic which makes breathing difficult at the best of times, let alone through my mouth only, and underwater). I thought to myself “I am doing great. Now if only there wasn’t that moaning sound coming at me”. After awhile i realised it was me. At the end of every breath of was kind of doing an underwater groan, I was so scared. Nowadays i am much better at it (the snorkeling not the groaning).
Now about the eating……Santorini has some spectacular indigenous tastes such as their tiny tomatoes that are flavoured by the volcanic soil they grow in, and wild capers that they are famous for. Wild herbs can be found growing all over the island. Other indigenous tastes are their white eggplant and sweet, sweet, sweet watermelon. With of course the delicious fresh swordfish, calamari, shellfish and goats cheeses. Lets begin with breakfast. I ate fluffy and slightly tangy sheeps milk yoghurt with walnuts soaked in local honey flavoured with Thyme. It truly is food for the gods. That’s when i didn’t start with an omlette from Flora’s, our favourite cafe. The chickens are local and the eggs are almost orange. She makes them with ham, tomatoe, cheese and lots of olive oil and salt. Heavenly! Tomatoe balls are also a big favorite of mine and a speciality of the island made with Santorini tomatoes. Chopped tomato, capsicum (pepper), oinion and mint rolled in a batter and deep fried to look like meatballs. Of course there are home made dips of yoghurt (tzatsiki), fish roe (taramasalata), fava beans and white eggplant (indigenous to Santorini) and oven stewed lamb in lemon that makes you cry.
One place we always go for dinner is the old port in Oia which you do need a car for unless you want to descend the cliffs via the stairs. It is quite doable if you don’t mind the fact that there are a zillion of them and that you have to walk all the way back up them. Donkeys can also take you back up however i do not reccomend it. They try and ram your legs into the wall everytime you take a corner, half jump and half run, which is not a comfortable way to ascend stairs, and are whipped continuously by an old Greek guy who looks like he was bitten by a vampire two centuries ago and has stayed that way ever since.
The bad thing about having gone to the same place every year for ten years is how much you notice you have aged. When we first went to Santorini my husband and I did the steps every day, twice a day. We couldn’t afford a car and we were young enough not to notice the steps. Then we got rich enough to be able to hire a motorbike to get around on. Rich enough to be able to buy nice dinners. You can easily see how in ten years the exact proportion of calories to income is related. More food, less stairs. For a few years we had the discussion about whether we would get a car or a motorbike this year, cars costing more. Now we don’t even raise the subject, and i look at the stairs from on top of the cliffs and wonder whether i ever really was that girl. Nowadays my husband has to push me up the twelve stairs there are from our cave house to the street.
But back to the Port. It is tiny and nestled at the foot of huge cliffs directly under Oia. There are four restaurants set up there with tables that are right at the edge of the water. It is an acqua color. Small boats bob around in it while swordfish is hacked off a gigantic fresh one lying on a board on the floor, straight in front of you. The grill is behind you. Octopus hang on lines around you and legs are hacked off and also thrown on the grill. It is the best octopus I have ever eaten and my husband and i salivate all year thinking about it. The sun sets slowly in front of you and the night closes in. Soft greek music flows out and the wine begins to work its magic. It is truly a Greek cliche but reminds me of why things become so, they are so appealing to so many!
Lastly about the wine. It is a big industry in Santorini. The vines are thousands of years old and grown low on the ground, infused with the taste of the volcanic soil and watered mostly by dew which Santornini gets a lot of. We discovered a fantastic winery (Sigalas) and tasted and supped on mezze (Greek antipasto) of goats cheeses and hams while sitting under trees and looking out over the vines. My favourite are the whites (from the Asirtiko grape) which have all won several awards and have very distinctive tastes. Then there is the Vin Santo, also famous from Santorini. It is a sweet wine that warms the cockles of your heart. It is always a highlight going wine tasting on Santorni. The whites remind me of Australian Chardonnays which i miss terribly. When we left the island we innocently asked the flight check in attendant if we could put the wine in our hand luggage. It was already in the case but i was quite afraid it would break. She told us that we were not allowed to take it on as hand luggage and not allowed to put it in our checked in luggage either. Unless she didn’t know it was in there. We asked her if she knew it was in there and she replied no, she didn’t know, all the while placing a ‘Fragile’ sticker on our suitcase.
We met Michael on our holiday, an aussie who has moved to Oia after dreaming about it for twenty years. We always think about living for a year on Santorini. One of these days i think we will.
Michael basically excavated a cave out of the cliffside and made it into a home for him and his family. If you want to know more about Oia, his blog is great.