Thebeautiful –and in particular the most beautiful by the majority of the rest-places of this planet are eternally cursed to fall victims of exploitation;commercial, tourist, “developmental” exploitation. They gradually lose some oftheir prestige and much of their authenticity, until they become paleimitations of their real attractive self – something like the Eiffel Towerbeside the Pyramids in Las Vegas – and hide their beauty under tons of touristbrochures and restaurant menus with photographs of the offered dishes. In thisrule, Santorini stands as an exception. Not because they (we?) haven’texploited it to the max; But because, as much as you want to complain about allof the above, “she” will never let you.
Even if youdeclare yourself as alternative, fan of the untouched nature, or you arepossessed by the urge to feel sorry for her fate, or to hate her because sheallowed to be trampled by hordes of tourists who take pictures with huge lensesand applaud her sunset, she will take you by the hand and lead you through thesecret streets of Oia – to avoid the typical tourist route that makes you whineso much – the nose of the village from where the you can catch the best sightof the sun dipping behind the Caldera.
She willlet gaze too, together with all these people, the most beautiful sunset in theentire history, and as your ironic smile fades away into an expression ofmodest admiration, she will also laugh a little with you, because of theapplause –like you laugh with something that, even deep down, seems to be,besides funny, a little cute. Then she will take you again to leave, againfollowing the back streets, and wondering how you can hear your steps on thecobblestones, while two blocks further prevails absolute uproar – you are guessing,because for some mysterious reason you cannot hear it.
She willmake you climb to the Firostefani –which must be the most beautiful Greekplacename ever existed- so you can look down, the almost still waters ofCaldera from the steepest point of the cliff, and will tell you not to listento anyone, because here is the best view. You can also try the Imerovigli, youwill like it, even if it may seem a little snob if you don’t live there. AndFira, you will love them, especially if you feel somewhat mainstream or you areunder 30. And the Oia –it will always be Oia, the magical and beautiful Oia,even if human works tend to hide its natural beauty. You won’t find a moredirect contact with the mysterious image of Caldera. Its awe in all its gloryis diffused here. This is where you will begin to make sure that, under thesestill waters, under this silent volcano, the Lost Atlantis is eternallysleeping.
She willtake you down to the Amoudi, the small port under Oia, with the bright red,gigantic rocks beneath it to protect it. She will buy you ouzo with meze andwill challenge you for a dive from 6 meters height from the chapel of St.Nicholas – you will find it by following the footpath after the taverns. Untilyou dry up, you will already reach Foinikia, and walk in its stone cobbledpaths, between colorful, caved houses while gazing its vineyards. If you havetime, you will also make a stop at the Sigalas winery, for a glass of Athiri.
She willget you in the car to show you around the outside villages, those which areunknown, authentic, and hidden from the lights of publicity. In Karterados,with its painted, paved streets, its bell towers of Ascension and the bakery ofKalimeris – who according to rumors makes the best traditional barley bun wreath(kritharokouloura)-, the Vothona, dug entirely in a five-kilometer gorge, andthe Megalochori, with its famous vineyards and the visitable wineries ofBoutaris, Antoniou and Gavalas.
She willclimb with you to Pirgos, where Franco’s bar moved this year, bringing withthem the fans of its classic melodies and panoramic view. She will guide you toits Venetian tower settlement from the 15th century, with itsspecial architecture of stone house, and to the monastery of Prophet Elias,from where you can gaze across the whole island, as also as those locatedaround it.
She willsurprise you at the Kasteli of Emporio, in the ruined Goulas, the picturesque,narrow streets of the village with the white houses that seem to belong to adifferent island –the characteristic dialect that is spoken by the locals ishelping to that-, and the lined up windmills, the sleepless guards on theGavrilos hill and the hewn tombs of the ancient Echentra. She will also takeyou, of course, to the seaside, at the tourism-developed Kamari, the newestvillage of the island, built to house the victims of the 1956 earthquake, andat the tiny Akrotiri, with its ancient city that was covered with lava from thevolcano in 1600 BC and maintained in excellent condition –unfortunately theexcavation remains closed, due to restoration works.
She willsmile sarcastically the moment you tell her that, according to rumors, thebeaches aren’t worthwhile, and will take you to dive into the Red Beach, withthe shockingly colored sand and the imposing rocks behind it, and then to thelunar landscape of Vlichada, with the white rocks of pumice giving you theimpression of dunes that, with the first gust of wind, they will scatterquietly at your feet. If you are a lover of beach bars, water sports andcrowded places, she will recommend you the Perissa and Perivolos, if not theKoloumpo and Pori, near Oia.
If you arein the mood to discover things, she will enter a boat with you, to get to divein Armeni, behind Amoudi, and in Mouzakia, between Oia and Imerovigli. She willalso reveal you the secret about the Inner Wells that are connected through acave with the White Beach – on which she will advise you to come with a mask,because its bottom is simply staggering.
And ifafter all these you can still keep hard feelings for the tourists that trampledyou, for the music in the club that didn’t let you sleep at night or for thefrappe that you paid 4.80 euros, she will come with you to the old port ofFira, so you can take the boat that makes the tour of Caldera, to admire hercaved villages from afar, to bend towards the bottom while searching for theAtlantis, to listen to the secrets of the chthonic forces of the volcano, whilecrossing its dark rocks on your toes –so you won’t wake it up-. Exactly thereyou will forgive her –and forget- about everything.
Where to stay
The rightquestion is how many of the top hotels in the world are located in Santorini.And the answer is many. Some of the top options:
*LaMaltese: At Imerovigli, with private balconies gazing at Caldera and pricesstarting from 476 euros for the double room
* Katikies:Also located in Oia, suites with private Jacuzzi and private view at the Caldera,from 415 euros.
* SantoriniGrace: In Imerovigli and, among others, in the Hot List of Conde Nast TravellerUK for 2009. Prices from 250 to 1000 euros.
Iliofos:The top low-budget option. Uniquely decorated, traditional caved rooms inFoinikia, with prices starting from 80 euros for a double room in June and from90 euros in July and August.
Where to eat
Like everydestination with developed tourism, Santorini requires some attention to avoidthe pitfalls. If you do that, you will get to taste wonderful local cuisine,great homemade delicacies and high gastronomy – the choices are infinite. Someof the best:
* Nixteriin Kamari for local tastes with a twist (Vinsanto chicken and fava withcaramelized onions and basil are a must) and the prices don’t exceed 20-25euros per person.
* Selini inFira, for the creative Greek cuisine with the signature of G. Chatzigiannakisand wonderful view at the Caldera from its rooftop. Prices for ...specialoccasions, at 45 euros per person.
* Aktaionin Firostefani with a history that goes back to 1922, when they opened theirdoors for the first time. Fantastic local cuisine, while their fava balls and vinegrower’s lamb are a must. Prices are pretty reasonable, at 20 euros per person.
* Nicolasin Fira for his famous cooked dishes. Very low budget, as hard as you may tryyou won’t pay more than 15 euros per person.
* Saltsa ofDimitris Lazarou, a modern cuisine in Fira. You must try the cuttlefish risottowith leeks and fennel, and the spring rolls with syglino from Mani, fennel andorange.
*Koukoumavlos in Fira, a name connected with Santorini and high gastronomy. Thechef is Nicos Pouliasis, and the signature dish is the scampi tails with whitechocolate sauce with lime and ginger. Great environment –caved in Caldera-prices around 60 euros per person.
* Lava inPerissa for Santorinian cooked dishes strictly with local products, since 25years. It can’t get more low-budget: around 15 euros per person.
* 1800 inOia for high gastronomy with Mediterranean direction, breathtaking view fromthe terrace and prices ranging around 35 euros per person.
* Ambrosiaand Nectar, also in Oia, with no view of the Caldera, but with fantastic Greekand Mediterranean delicacies and prices around 35 euros per person.
* Catina inAmmoudi for fresh fish and fantastic homemade cuisine – some are talking aboutthe best fava in Santorini. You won’t need more than 20 euros per person.
* Metaximas (Between Us) in Ekso Gonia, for Cretan cuisine with Santorinian touches andrakomelo, and great prices that are ranging from 15 to 20 euros per person.
* Raki inMegalochori for great local meze dishes that show respect to our budget: around15 euros per person.
* Kallistiin Pyrgos for... everything: local specialties, fresh fish, seafood delicaciesand a very “strong” grill. Very good prices also, with around 18 euros perperson.
Where to drink
* Local,incomparable wine –which you will take home- in all the wineries of the island.Note the names Mpoutaris, Koutsogiannopoulos, Sigalas and Gavalas, who are alsooffering tours to their facilities. Don’t leave without trying the Vinsanto ofArgiros from 1988, insider tips are saying.
* Fantasticcocktails with magical view at Terpsi in Fira and at Terpsi in Oia. Cleandrinks under the sound of classic music at the famous Franco’s Bar that thisyear relocated from Fira to Pyrgos so they can gaze at the Caldera from evenhigher.
* Cleandrinks –and the occasional cocktails- at the mainstream hit of the island, theKoo in Fira, the Kira Thira jazz bar also in Fira, and the rock-indie Hasapiko,in Oia. Great mojitos can be found in the ethnic Casablanca Soul at Fira.
* The fansof greek music are going to Club 33, those who love the mainstream sounds go toEnigma and the kids of 80s go to Tango – all three in Fira.