Ahhh, Santorini; the island of romance, sun and purity.
The journey of this blog begins on Sunday, 3rd July when Hatice (my mum) and I flew from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to Athens International Airport with Turkish Airlines. Once we arrived the weather was scorching hot and very humid to say the least. We decided not to walk around due to the chance that we could have either a) melted or b) caught fire, especially me as I am very prone to these unrealistic and impossible incidents…
Day 1: Istanbul to Athens, Athens to Santorini
After we landed we headed straight for lunch. Thanks to the beloved Happy Cow app (which shows you vegetarian and vegan cafes in your area), I randomly chose Avocado (Nikis 30, Athens, 105 57). Okay maybe not so randomly. I think it was the name. Okay it was definitely the name.. because…holy guacamole, literally. Located right next to a health store, the equivalent of ‘Whole Foods’, this vegetarian restaurant welcomed us in immediately with it’s colourful and quirky front. Downstairs creates a calming environment with wooden tables and chairs covered by soft green cushions, whilst a hidden but homely upstairs consists of floor cushions for a unique dining experience. Avocado shared with us it’s crispy marinated tofu, hummus avocado, falafel plate and fresh fruit juices followed by a digestive herbal tea served in a hand-painted clay mug. The food here was absolutely delicious and the staff were very welcoming and attentive. Tables had been reserved and long queues had formed as we were leaving, which does nothing but support what I have mentioned above. I would highly recommend this sweet little location to anyone looking for a relaxed and healthy meal whilst escaping the hustle and bustle of the noisy city.
After our tummy’s were more than content with the scrumptious food, it was time to head to our real destination, the Island of Santorini.
Our holiday home for the week was booked via Airbnb. Gemini Caves (also known as Thireon Houses) is located in the hidden area of Finikia, a 15 minute walk to Oía centre (pronounced Ee-yah) which is the main gem of the island. This cave house was painted a beautiful chalk white colour, almost as if it were out of a postcard. Within the property, there is jacuzzi, a small table with summer chairs, a private terrace and plenty of space to sunbathe. The reason this house is named “gemini” is due to it’s construction. Within the area, there is another cave house right next door with which the terrace and patio are shared, however guests of both caves can still maintain their privacy whilst easily exchanging conversation at the same time.
The manager Christos was extremely helpful and organised through out our entire stay and the whole experience was perfect. From it’s peaceful location to it’s impressive amenities, from it’s sweeping sea view to it’s friendly neighbours, there wasn’t a single thing we could fault about this place, and believe me when I say, we can be a very picky duo..
At first we looked into staying at a boutique hotel in Oía with a sea view and a private pool. The prices are beyond belief. The average for our dates in July was between 5,000 and 11,000 Euros per night. Ridiculous and really not worth it. No doubt the views are miraculous, but there is no seclusion and you are constantly surround by the owl like eyes and ears of the tourists curiously spying into your “private” area from above. (I am also included within this group of people of course).
We were very tired on the night of our arrival so we decided to pop open a bottle of wine and munch on some fruit, crackers and nuts bought from our local market (5 minute walk from the house). We bought the wine from a German lady, Ursula Deneke, who owns Oía’s famous Iama Wine Shop (Oia 847 02) on the main road. We stumbled in there by chance and couldn’t reject the complimentary welcome gift, also known as a pure shot of raki. Raki is a traditional Greek liquor and is offered at all restaurants either before or after a meal which tastes like a mixture of Sambuca and Grappa. Ouzo is another type of liquor, it is similar to raki however has a softer taste and a richer aroma.
Day 2: Time to relax
We spent the entire day sunbathing, relaxing and making the most of our refreshing jacuzzi. Regardless of our olive skin, Mediterranean roots and SPF 30 creams, if you hadn’t seen a tomato before, you wouldn’t know any different. The island has a calm and cooling breeze which in turn diminishes the direct heat so it’s not even possible to feel that you’re literally being burnt alive. We also tested out my new GoPro Hero 4 underwater, which is an awesome invention and a must-have for any traveller like myself.
For dinner we headed to Meze Meze (Finikia 847 02), a newly opened meze bar (yep, it’s true) on top of the hill in Finikia. We arrived just before sunset and the view was mesmerising. As was the food. The Greeks are very keen on their cheese however there are many vegan options too. If not, everywhere we went the staff were very helpful and are happy to suit dishes to any requirements. Here, I had fava (mashed chickpeas), Greek salad (without the feta) and mushrooms baked in garlic and balsamic. Oh my. These were by far the most delicious mushrooms I had ever tasted in my life, and I’m a big mushroom junkie. Here, I also discovered capers. Ive always known capers to be a garniture and never really knew what they were however in Greece they are served as a dish along with their leaves. Delicious. Again a highly recommended restaurant. In fact, almost every meal we had for the rest of the week was compared to the dishes at Meze Meze, and this place won by far. Our romantic dinner was followed by a shot of raki (of course) before heading back to our cosy cave.
Day 3: Oía-Oía-Oh
After yet another half day of relaxation and laziness we started our discovery of the very busy yet stunning little area of Oía. When you think of Santorini, you immediately think of small cobbled streets, the perfectly shapes white domes of the perfectly painted white Cathedrals and a breathtaking sea view filled with yachts and fancy boats. This was everything we had imagined and more. It really is as beautiful as it looks on Instagram and travel magazines. There are a large bundle of stores and shops varying from local Greek designers to international brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren. We even found ourselves at the doorstep of a bookshop where you can ‘rent a cat’ for €5. So don’t worry if you’re on the island of romance with no romance, grab yourself a kitty to keep you company! The only downfall is the expected yet excessive amount of tourists. Especially during the peak season. We chased the sunset and followed her to the very tip of the town, however once we saw the swarm of people we decided to head far, far away to do what we do best. Eat.
We sat down in the centre of Oía with a panoramic sea-view and had a glass of local sparkling rosé before our standard meal of fava and salad. I was very excited to see an accidentally vegan main dish of grilled aubergine with sun-dried tomatoes on the menu and instantly gobbled it down. The weather is so hot that small plates of a few different tastes along with cold wine is all you can handle, and it is more than sufficient. A 10 minute walk to the other end of the town and we arrived at the famous ice-cream parlour Lolita’s Gelato (Oia 84702) to make up for the sugar I was experiencing (all desserts have dairy or eggs). Ice-cream flavours here vary from your standard caramel and vanilla to rose water to pink peppercorn, with the addition of fruit sorbets (melon,mango, lime, orange and cacao).
Walking around the town at night has a completely different atmosphere and has the power to bring out the romance in the least romantic of people. Suddenly the honeymooners who have been hibernating all day spill to the streets at night, and here, Oía awakes.
Day 4: Lots of booze on the catamaran sunset crooze
At 2pm our transfer bus picked us up from Finikia to take us to the port from which the Catamaran Sunset Cruise, Yachting Club takes off. Our catamaran was shared with 50 odd people, which at first seemed far too many, however due to it’s size you would hardly think so. The cruise was 95€ per person which includes the 7 hour trip, food on board and unlimited drinks (including white wine). The cruise stops at Red Beach, White Beach, Black Beach and the volcanic surroundings which felt surreal. Dinner was served as an open buffet consisting of lamb or pork, Greek salad, potato salad in mayonnaise, dolmades (suffer vine-leaves originally from Turkey) and bread. There was also a vegetarian option of boiled potato, chickpea and aubergine stew in olive oil which I was more than content with.
After a dip at every stop, a few underwater shots and more than a few glasses of ‘originally served cold but now at boiling point’ wine, the catamaran came to a stop at the middle of the sea and the excitement to experience one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets had begun. By this stage, almost everyone was drunk if not passed out on the benches inside which certainly added to this experience. From afar we could spot a large and perfectly circular, orange ball of lava slowly making it’s way into the sea. The views were unbelievable. Within minutes the sun said ‘waved’ good-bye and disappeared without a trace, leaving us all with nothing but a dark sky and a cold breeze.
Spending the day out at sea, swimming towards the strength of the waves had tired us out, but we were starving. At around 11pm we headed towards a brightly lit yet eerie villa, which at first seemed to be someone’s back terrace. Hidden in-between the white houses of Finikia was the stone coloured, Trip-Advisor’s special taverna, Krinaki. I must admit, the place was adorable, covered with deep purpley-pink flowers, vines and a few small wooden tables covered in paper tablecloths. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t the best, nor was the atmosphere. Maybe it was because we went an hour before midnight, or maybe because everyone in there was watching the France vs. Germany Euro Cup, or maybe it’s both, or maybe it’s neither.
Day 5: Wondering and wandering
Rise and shine, it was time to collect our beloved Suzuki Jimmy convertible which we rented for 2 days (€60 per day). The steering wheel covered by Hatice’s hands and a map of the island gripped by mine, we began our day of wandering around the island. Stopping at every view point possible, we discovered Saint Marina’s Chapel. It looked abandoned but that tempted me to nose around inside even more. So that’s exactly what I did. Following the route of map, we had a stop over at Pyrgos, a traditional settlement hidden with secret alleyways and cute cafes. In the quiet hills of this village we found yet another white cathedral and houses with wooden doors that were painted blue. This was definitely the true Greek experience. Our next stop was the highest view point of the island. Driving through both windy and windy roads, we were able to experience the entirety of the island below our feet.
Is it wine time yet? Obviously. Santorini is very famous for it’s wineries, vineyards and local produce. After some online research we decided to go to Art Space, (Exo Gonia, 84700) both a winery and art gallery in one. Hidden behind the green trees and sand, lies an entrance into cold caves where the wine experience begins. Despite being so popular, we were the only people there which was lovely. As the private tour came to an end, I realised I have never been more excited to drink wine in my life. Santorini is known as a Greek wine region which produces vinsanto, a sweet dessert wine made 100% from local, sun-dried grapes. It’s so sweet that a few sips will suffice, any more and you’ll probably get a sugar high. I bought a 200ml bottle (2005) which is expected to last me months, and, you can store it for up to 6 months (in the fridge) once opened.
Despite the lethargy hanging over us (sunstroke..?), Hatice and I found a Greek taverna near our accomodation and enjoyed an incredible night filled with food, drinks, laughter and great live music performed by the owner himself. A few shots of raki later and the energy levels were sky high. We even made friends with a group of English women known as the “school gate mums” as they met over 30 years ago when their daughter’s went to primary school together. Very sweet. Santorini Mou (Hellas 847 00) is a traditional taverna located inside an old villa. It has a small and private patio/garden area with wooden chairs and tables. The walls are filled with thousands of photographs of visitors over the years whilst the flags hang high across the ceilings, welcoming guests from all over the world. Before taking a seat, the waiter will ask where you are from and will then place the relevant flag on your table. Not only does this original and fun idea add to the authenticity of the, but it also becomes the initiation of small talk with your Australian neighbours (or “school gate mums”).
Dinner was very similar to the previous nights and by now I had realised that there was only a handful of dishes which were suitable for vegans and that I would be eating similar, if not the same meals every night. At this taverna I once again opted for the Greek salad with no feta with the addition of mashed potato balls, fried courgette slices (no egg or flour), and an aubergine, potato and red pepper stew, exactly how my great grandmother used to make back in Turkey.
Overall, we had an amazing evening accompanied by great company and traditional Turkish music performed especially for us. A definite must go when you visit Santorini. They even keep record of every single customer. A photograph is taken by the waiter which is then printed and glued into a guest memory book, separated by year and month, watch out for us…
Day 6: Life’s a beach
The second and last day to make use of good old Jimmy so we head straight to Red Beach. Although the catamaran cruise did to a quick stop off there, it wasn’t enough time to enjoy the surroundings and the volcanic stones. Red Beach is located on the most southwestern point of the island. We parked our car at Akrotiri and walked 10 minutes or up and around large volcanic debris. Tip: bring decent shoes as flip-flops weren’t ideal. Oh my was the weather windy. There was dust and dry leaves flying everywhere. But apart from that, the waters were crystal clear and the heat was almost bearable due to the height.
Now exhausted, it was time for some food and a dip in a less windy and more quiet area. Perissa. Positioned on the east coast of Santorini, this beach and coastal line was overflowing with cafes, restaurants, markets and little boutiques. It has one long promenade providing the best of both worlds; sun ‘n’ sea to your right and booze ‘n’ food to your left (or the other way around, depending on the direction in which you’re walking). Tranquilo (Beach front, Perissa 84703) was one specific bar/restaurant tucked into the corner of a right turning, hidden behind leaves and trees. I say hidden but due to the bright orange coloured furniture and signs outside, as well as the loud but chilled reggae music carried by the wind towards our ears, it was less of a secret. We later found out that the owner is vegan so there were quite a few vegetarian/vegan options on the menu. I opted for homemade guacamole (avocado, tomato, chopped red onions, lemon) and hummus. The hummus was warm with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh herbs. Scrumptious! Originally served with a drop of butter, both dips arrived with a very rich olive oil instead. Wether you want a quick snack and coffee, a sit down meal or to drink the night away, there is something for you. It’s not possible to connect to the wifi outside however this is the perfect opportunity to cut off from the world and soak in Tranquilo’s youthful and Caribbean-like atmosphere. If you do pay a visit, don’t forget to try their famous ‘masticjito‘. This is a unique tasting drink made by mixing mastic (a gum obtained from the mastic tree) into an original mojito.
As we were leaving to head home, we noticed a stand opposite the bar where 2 girls were making clay jewellery. Each piece had a separate stone attached to it (if they are there when you visit Perissa, go and check out their designs!). I headed straight for a black roped necklace with a green stone and a grey ring with a grey stone. Hatice picked up an orange necklace. After assuming I was seeing double, one of the twins picked up her bible (an encyclopaedia for the stones). She told us that each stone has a special property and that she believed each stone which a client is attracted to, is for a reason. Both the green and grey stones I had opted for was made from labradorite (a protective stone allowing one’s innate magical powers to surface. It enhances telepathy and communication with the higher spirits as well as blocking out the bad energy which may cause depression and rob
energy. It aids with digestion, vision, respiratory problems and stress reduction). Hatice’s stone was the eye of the tiger (for good luck and fortune which brings in a flow of money. It’s most beneficial for those in business and protects from the eye of competitors as well as increasing energy levels and reduces cravings). Of course, both stones have many more properties and it’s all very interesting to read about. I truly believe in greater powers and energy. But It was true. We had both chosen stones who’s powers we were in need of. The girls were so sweet. They gave us a great discount and a free ring because they were so happy to meet such friendly people like ourselves. They even took a photograph to put on their Greek website. An hour of chit chat later, they asked us to come back the following evening for drinks at their friends bar, Tranquilo.
But our day doesn’t stop here. Now that we’ve spent the past 6 days living like a local/casual travellers, we thought we needed to spice up the romance. We booked ourselves a side view table at Lauda (Oia 84702) which is the high end restaurant of the Andronis Boutique Hotel, hanging at the edge of a cliff. The views were spectacular. However our overall experience was not so great. We were seated in the corner, as far away from the sunset panorama as possible and the service wasn’t the best. I must admit, i’m not all about the class. I would prefer wooden chairs a paper plate and trainers over a €200 gourmet meal any day. But that’s life. You have to experience as much as possible in order to adapt to every occasion and environment that we may find ourselves in. Anyway, I had a lovely plate of perfectly grilled vegetables with a beetroot sauce as a starter, and a vegetable risotto as a main. The prices were so ridiculous that I thought, “I know it’s going to be a heavy meal for a summer’s evening but I refuse to pay €30 for a tiny plate of leaves which I could pick from someone’s garden”. The food was top quality, and it well right should be in such a prestigious location. Our meal was yet again accompanied by a few glasses of sparkling rosé and vinsanto (the sweet wine mentioned earlier) to replace our need for dessert.
Day 7: Seven is Heaven
Now even if you don’t believe in Heaven, you can’t deny the power and beauty of Mother Nature, or at least Heaven on Earth. Our last day in Santorini began at 5:45 am as Hatice, Jimmy and I headed for Kamari Beach to watch the sunrise. Dodging the tide and the cobbled shore, Hatice and I managed to perk up on top of a large rock and wrapped ourselves in our beach towels. Unfortunately, we had to leave Jimmy in the car park. Having left us with a chill on the catamaran cruise, this ball of lava had now returned to warm us with it’s presence, and peaked the tip of it’s head out from the sea. A new day had now begun.
It was now time to say goodbye to our dear friend Jimmy and as horrible as that sounds, exchange him for new company, an ATV (approx. €45 per day). I’m terrified of heights. Hatice has never driven an ATV before. We are driving on mountain roads with no barriers. Our only safety mechanism is a helmet. A recipe for disaster. However, placing all of my faith in Hatice and her amazing driving skills, we whizzed all over the island…and I have never had so much fun. At first my hands moulded around the metal handles on the side of the ATV but after a few minutes I let go and felt so free. It’s a no go. It’s a thrilling experience and something that has to be done when in Santorini. The roads are so small and tight that everyone, including the locals, prefer driving motorbikes and ATV’s instead of cars. The majority of the cars were Smart, Mini or Fiat 500, which makes perfect sense.
Cruising through Fira town centre I spotted Falafeland (Danezi M, Fira), a vegan and vegetarian falafel bar, with seriously good food. Everything is the bar is vegan as long as you don’t opt for the yoghurt and mint sauce. I’m generally very against going abroad and having any sort of cuisine that lies outside the boundaries of the country, however to see an almost all vegan place on the small island of Santorini was a great feeling.Once again, a highly recommend place to eat.
Our next stop was Perissa Beach for a few drinks and a refreshing dip (but not the guacamole kind). JoJo Beach Hotel (Georgios, 847 03) was very appealing from the outside.. Filled with young people, a private pool and blasting music, this modern beach bar was perfect for a group holiday but not for us oldies who wanted to have some peace and quiet. It’s a very well designed place, one of the very few with a pool and sea front, however your fondness of the place depends entirely upon your mood, and we just weren’t in the disco-disco-party-party mood. Nevertheless, we couldn’t leave without a mojito… or 2.
As promised previously, we returned to Perissa Beach to see the twins for one drink. Around 15 masticjito’s later and 10 minutes left to midnight we slowly made our way through the windy roads of Santorini, back to our beloved Gemini Cave. Packing after a holiday is awesome. Everything’s dirty or creased by the end anyway so no need to fold and organise the suitcases. Shopping however, is a different story. Every time I pack a suitcase I remind myself to leave space for shopping and souvenirs..and a few bottles if necessary. Yet every time, I run out of space and shove everything into my hand luggage..so you can only imagine our state returning from Santorini with 3 bottles of wine, which of course can’t be shoved into the hand luggage.
Day 8: This isn’t a ‘goodbye’, it’s a ‘see you soon’
Fira Airport was chaos. Be prepared. Hundred’s of people with their shoulders touching. Slow service and never ending queues. Our Ellinair flight to Athens was quite appalling too as there was no air-conditioning on the aircraft. Bearable to a degree as thankfully, the flight was only 45 minutes long. In Athens we were greeted by Hatice’s friend Lilly. Hatice and Lilly were in the same class at language school in London (1989) and had not seen each other for 18 years. So you can only imagine the joyous and emotional atmosphere. She had even bought us a red rose with a sign saying “welcome” in Greek (Kalos orisate). Her son Savas and daughter Katarina joined us for lunch by the Acropolis before we headed to Bar 360 (Ifestou 2, Athina 105 55) for a drink. We then walked around the centre for no more than 20 minutes as the heat became unmanageable. It was my first time in mainland Greece. There was so much I wanted to see and learn about the historic city of Athens, however I decided it was best to leave it for now and to join Hatice on her next business trip instead. As the day drew to an end and our holiday time was over, it was time to make our way back to Athens Airport.
We had an fun-packed week cramped with relaxation and adventure, land and sea, living like a local and exploring like a tourist, and it was incredible. I always believe that every destination becomes what you make of it. Santorini has so much to offer. Beautiful scenery, historic sites, local food and wine and very amicable and welcoming locals. But you have to get out there and find these places yourselves. Don’t be afraid to discover and learn, because that’s what opens our minds and allows us to merge and adapt into the society in which we live today. It’s how we can find the greatest of places, learn the most about ourselves and make the least expected of friends.
Greece, you’ve been a pleasure.
This isn’t a ‘goodbye’, it’s a ‘see you soon’…