Natasha Blair is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and where possible, travels with her passport carrying dog, Trixie. Not a beach worshiper, she is always on the lookout for new and interesting places to visit, preferably in comfort.
Santorini in Greece is known as one of the world’s romantic hot spots. The volcanic, crescent-shaped island is famous for its sunsets and white-washed buildings that perch on top of seaside cliffs. Many of the island’s hotels are housed within these cliff buildings, offering stunning Mediterranean views and a magical setting.
Fira: Shopping and Nightlife
Fira is Santorini’s capital and is centrally located on the island’s caldera. For those arriving by cruise ship or ferry, the ascent to town is either by donkey or cable car. If you are already on the island, getting around is quite easy in air-conditioned coaches. More fun are the quad bikes, known locally as “piglets,” which can be rented. Fira is probably the best place for shopping with tiny, hilly, cobbled streets packed with individual boutiques. Gone are the times of the cheap bargain. The “leather” bags may appear affordable until you discover that they are imitation. The same for the silver jewelry, which, if you delve, is more likely to be silver-plated.
For those looking for a nightlife scene, Fira is the best option on the island. Many of the bars and clubs are located on the caldera, built into renovated cave houses. There are also many cafes, bars and tavernas tucked along the town’s cobblestone side streets.
Oia: Scenery and Sunsets
Oia in the far north is very beautiful, and known for its artists’ colony. With its blue domed churches and white buildings set along the cliffs, this is the scene that many people envision when they think of Santorini as it is the island’s most photographed city. It is the best placed to see the sunset, however the sunsets in Fira are spectacular as well. A bit more quiet than Fira, Oia is a honeymooners’ destination. The cliff hotels are intimate and romantic and many offer spa treatments and terrace pools looking out onto the Mediterranean. There are also a variety of upscale restaurants and tavernas located throughout the town.
Don’t expect typical Greek food in the hotels. The tendency is to serve Mediterranean-style cooking with fresh seafood and produce. Typical Greek dishes are to be found in the villages and tavernas lining the beaches. Be sure to try the “Santorini Salad,” a unique spin on the Greek Salad that appears on many menus throughout the island.
Being volcanic, the island is very hilly, with vineyards everywhere. Not that long ago the country was known for Retsina, a rather harsh local red wine, but in the latter years the quality and variety of wines has increased enormously. Visiting the wineries is one of the best ways of getting to know their wines. Because of the windy climate, the vines grow close to the ground, and are not watered, taking their moisture from the soil and humidity. The vendage or picking season takes place in August. Domaine Sigalas is considered one of the better producers, with plaques on the walls displaying awards including some from the English wine magazine, Decanter.
The exterior of the island (the side not facing the caldera) is a sandy coastline with beaches. The majority have black, grainy volcanic sand. In the south, a beach with red sand reflects the color of the surrounding rocks.
The island is a place where you are guaranteed the chance to switch off and relax. The best time to go is between April and October. It can be accessed by ferries from Athens, cruise ships and flights from Athens or several other European cities.
Greek National Tourism Organisation: http://www.visitgreece.gr
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