Santorini, Greece is one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. And Oia, our home for a week, is one of the two major towns that clings to the side of the cliffs above an underwater caldera. The buildings are mainly white and the town is dotted here and there with the infamous brilliant blue domes. They gleam in the sun and provide a striking contrast to the whitewashed walls of homes and the dry volcanic earth they are nestled upon. The beaches are not long stretches of sand, but composed of red, black and white lava pebbles, and the sea that kisses them is the shade of blue you’d expect Prince Charming to possess. Before our trip to Santorini, I had for many years longed to see this place with my own eyes. And as I scan the view from our lovely rental, Poseidon’s Mansion, I am not disappointed.
One of the highlights of our trip to Santorini, is a sunset cruise aboard a catamaran called the Sunrise, run by Sunset Oia. Stepping onto the deck of the Sunrise we are greeted by a small crew of three. We sit briefly for a safety briefing and then we’re off. We sail along the bottom of the caldera that was created during the huge Minoan eruption in the 17th century BC.
Legend says it is here that the inspiration for the story of Atlantis stems from. I’m thinking about that as we head away from Oia. I watch as the houses clinging to the side of the cliffs get smaller. It’s mind boggling from this view point, the way they stick to the steep incline without slipping down into the sea. The buildings sit on top of the multi colored rocky cliffs like bumpy vanilla frosting on top of a poorly-made cake.
Up ahead Palea Kameni gets closer and upon arrival I see there is only one lone house, a miniature church and a bunch of chickens scrambling over the volcanic rock of the tiny island. In the small inlet in front of the tiny stone house several boats of bright colors – canary yellow, firefighter red, blood orange and a pale blue, bob up and down in the water like a handful of a child’s bathtub toys. I turn to our captain and ask who lives here. He tells me about an old man who has lived alone on this rock for over thirty years. I think about what it would be like to live in such an isolated way, with only the noise of the whispering sea winds and a gaggle of chickens for company.
Beyond the small boats and just between two rocks lies a smaller inlet which is known as the Hot Springs. The water here is heated by an under water thermal vent from deep within the earth. A reminder that this area is still highly active. On this mostly cloudy day, the water near the boat is deep emerald green and I’m tempted to hop in. But it is early March and still too chilly for me to brave the swim from the boat to the warmer waters. The water where the hot springs are is a muddy orange color and the swim between the two proves too much of a hinderance for all but my husband and one other man on board. They swim as quickly as possible toward the rocks that mark the spot where the water warms. Once there, they lie on their backs and float as we watch from a distance. The cliffs are deep black, almost ebony and so smooth they shine despite the patchy sun. I marvel at what once took place here and try not to think about the fact that it could happen again. Santorini is not only a highly volcanic area it is also prone to earthquakes.
After thirty minutes we pull up anchor and head toward our next destination, the waters in front of Red Beach.
Though it’s cloudy, it’s not the flat grey of the Seattle skies that lay like a wet blanket above the city. These clouds are a mix of whites and grays, some streaked like brush strokes, some puffy like the Toy Story wall paper -and in between the sky is blue. It’s the kind of dramatic that forces one to pay attention. I ponder that I spend a lot of time thinking about the stars, but today my head is in the clouds…and I love it. I see hearts beat softly, trees stretched in the wind, and angels drifting past.
When we arrive to Red Sand beach, it’s not the namesake of the beach that grabs my attention. It’s the doors that are built several feet above the ground, directly into the side of the cliff. There’s nothing on either side of them but earth. The dirt is black and red and the cliff is not near as high as those where Oia sits. It’s like someone has split open gently rolling hills of a light moss green leaving them as a roof and fashioned doors on its earthy sides so that one may enter as if they were a hobbit.
Our next stop is sixty minutes at the White beach. The itinerary calls for swimming, snorkeling and for the barbecue on board. However, when we drop anchor the rain starts. First, I notice single drops surrounded by ripples then more and more join in, and I slip into the covered part of the boat with my husband and the other two couples to stay dry. The barbecue is the only part of the schedule we adhere too. But I’m not disappointed because the music they’re playing is heavily laden with all my favorites, mixed into an island-style jam that one can’t help but smile too. The food is delightful. Traditional Greek dishes like Dolmas with Tzatziki and Feta, Cucumber, Olive Salad are served up next to the grilled kabobs of steak and chicken. The rain lessens and I head back out on deck to film the gulls that are diving toward the water for leftover bread. One final time, we pull up anchor and head back toward Oia.
Where the sun sits, the clouds are laced in a halo and all around us, the sky exclaims its magnificence. We sit near the harbor while the famous Oia sunset turns another day to night. I am happy and fulfilled and wish for this sense of peace to last. I highly recommend this experience. For information on boat tours with the company we used, you can go to their website.
Artemis Karamoleggos Winery
Another highlight is our meal at the Artemis Karamoleggos Winery. It is located away from the touristic areas (approx. 8 kilometers away from the capital Fira) at the southeastern side of Santorini in Exo Gonia. The space is well decorated with large windows surrounding the tables, from whence we watch as a cow and her baby munch on tall grass. The room is bright and comfortable, but we soon find that it is the food that will be memorable! We decide to go tappas style and have several different appetizers with our wines. We order the homemade “Kafteri” (Cheese spread of P.D.O. greek cheese variety with hot peppers), the pork pancetta with caramelized pearl onions, and the sesame seed crusted feta cheese with homemade tomato marmalade. By a resounding majority, our favorite dish of all is the Cake Salad (Green salad with caramelized nuts, oregano pesto and marinated fresh tomato chutney)! It’s simply amazing! Our favorite wine is the red Mavtargano (2014) and we decide to taste more after the meal. We wonder out the front door and to the right where they have a wine tasting area. We choose a table outside where we are greeted by a very sweet woman by the name of Irene. She brings us each a pamphlet with descriptions of the wines and we choose several to try. We end up buying a few bottles for the rest of our week on Santorini and head back toward Oia full and happy. For more information on the lovely Artemis Karamoleggos Winery you can visit their website.
Now, one might not think pizza when in Greece, but as we are currently living in Portugal, where good pizza is hard to come by, I’ve always got my eye out for it while traveling. I’m happy to report that we found it in Oia at Skiza. Not only was the pizza really good, the desserts were fantastic! We ended up going back several times just for the desserts. They served favorite Greek treats like baklava and kataifi but our favorite was the walnut cake! On paper walnut cake is not necessarily the thing I’d gravitate toward, but trust me on this, it was capital A -Amazing! They also have an beautiful view out over the sea (though we ended up there at night most often). You can find their website at skiza.gr. While writing this article I did run across another pizza place there in Oia that people rave about, Restaurant Pizza Edwin. However, we did not get to try it, as it was not open for the season yet. Next time!
Breakfasts were spent daily a few steps away from our accommodation at the Vitrin Cafe Creperie. Wow! The view is amazing, the service friendly and the food great! The Greek Yogurt (obviously, they don’t call it “Greek” yogurt there, it’s just yogurt) with fresh fruit, honey and nuts was fabulous! And our favorite savory crepe came with honey and goat cheese. As for the savory crepes the favorited for our group was the ham, cheese and egg. As we were there early, i.e. just before tourist season, the local mules wandered by often. Wandered, isn’t quite the right word…they were working hard! Though somewhat sad, it was interesting to watch. They were adorned with colorful yarn and shells and are used in lieu of cars since the paths are too narrow for autos to carry supplies to the various renovation projects. Though I couldn’t find a website, you can visit Vitrin’s Facebook page.
For our accommodation we chose the Poseidon Mansion. Poseidon Mansion is situated in Oia on the cliffs over looking the sea and famous caldera. The mansion is light and airy and nicely decorated. There is a fabulous hot tub on the patio, from which we sat and stared at the stars above while sipping wine. One of the local cats befriended us and spent it’s time dozing in the sun with us. We wanted to take her home!
The house has an interesting history as it dates back to before 1880, at which time it was a traditional cave house. The original cave structures were constructed by Captain Anthony Manolessou as an endowment for his daughter Marigo, who married captain Christodoulos Dakoronia. In the early 20th century, it was renovated as a bungalow, which added another floor. Dakoronia remained the owner until her death in 1996.
In Christodoulos Dakoronia’s will he left the ground floor house and upper yard to the daughter Catherine and cave buildings to his son Matthew, who then transferred their property to their children.
Today the cave buildings belongs to his son and widow of the prematurely deceased son of Catherine Dakoronia. Due to financial problems, the owners abandoned Oia and settled in Piraeus shortly before WWII. The property was used by the family for summer vacation, which they still do today. During the Italian occupation in Santorini, Dakoronia house was the seat of the Italian government and suffered destruction. During the devastating earthquake of 1956, the house next door fell on the house and demolished the second floor which has not been restored. Another interesting point is the homeless residents of Oia entered the house and removed many wooden items of value, such as a figure-head boat and various furniture in order to burn and keep warm. During 2004 and 2005, the property was fully renovated with attention to keeping the original style intact. For more information on this fabulous Oia rental, go to their website.
Akrotiri of Thera
Other things worth mentioning when visiting Santorini are the archeological site of Akrotiri of Thera and the hiking trail from Oia to Fira.
Akrotiri of Thera is touted as one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean. The first habitation at the site dates from the Late Neolithic times (at least the 4th millenium B.C.)! We found the self guided tour of the site interesting. As a heads up, a building has been erected around it (so you are not outside in the hot sun). Akrotiri was an extensive settlement that came to an abrupt end in the last quarter of the 17th century B.C. when the inhabitants had to abandon it as a result of severe earthquakes. The volcanic materials from the eruption that followed the quakes covered the entire island and the town itself and, as in Pompei, have protected up to date the buildings and their contents. I always find it fascinating to look at items from times so long ago. It’s hard to fathom what the world was then, so much different than that of today. But visiting places like Akrotiri gives one a window into the past. For more information go check out their website.
Oia to Fira
We also enjoyed the hiking trail from Oia to Fira. It is a winding narrow trail along the ridge line between the two towns. We started in Oia and had a sweet brigade of three local dogs join us for the walk. There are very few spots of shade, so be prepared and be sure to bring water. The walk can take anywhere between 2 and 4 hours or so, depending on how often you stop, etc. So make sure you wear sunscreen! Also, good to note is the fact that you can catch the bus back for 1.80 euros. The hike affords one the opportunity to enjoy fabulous views and work off some of those delicious Greek treats! I recommend leaving early if possible to avoid the heat of the day. Some stop at the town in between for lunch, which would provide a nice break. Enjoy!