Read the news headlines of late and you know that parts of Europe are going through some hard times with budget cuts and austerity programs. Read between those lines, however, and you can be inspired with trip ideas. With the dollar strengthening against the Euro and demand for hotels in those areas softening, now is the time to take that shoulder-season vacation to southern Europe. As such, we’re highlighting our favorite Greek Island, Santorini, as this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination.
There have been some sporadic demonstrations in Athens (hey, we have those here too), but Santorini is worlds away from any tension. You’ll feel all of your own tensions melt away when you arrive to this idyllic postcard come to life with its cobalt-blue-topped, white-washed buildings spilling down the hillsides of the crescent-shaped volcanic island. Winding alleyways, public walking paths, hillsides terraced with bushy grapevines and mesmerizing beaches await the traveler. What’s not to love?
Santorini, also known as Thira, is the southern-most island of the Cycladic group of islands located in the Aegean Sea. It’s 63 nautical miles north of Crete, has a population of about 14,000 distributed among 13 villages, and covers 28 square miles. Here are some of our recommendations should you find yourself visiting this light-bathed beauty:
Take a Walk
Our favorite times on the island have involved unscheduled exploration. The six-mile walking path from Fira to Oia, along a ridge that used to be the lip of the volcano, is not to be missed. You’ll follow the path through small villages and churches that practically demand dawdling. If you can time your meanderings to end up in Oia (also known as Ia) at sunset you’ll be rewarded with one of those moments that sears into your memory for years. Just follow the troops of Apollo worshipers to the zigzagged levels of walkways that offer the best viewing spots and watch a red ball of fire descend into the Aegean.
Take a Swim
Although there are many beaches in Santorini, one of our favorites is Red Beach at the far southern end of the island. The beach, comprised of small red volcanic pebbles, is backed by a soaring red cliff and fronted by a clear blue sea. It can be reached from Akrotiri on foot or from Perissa by boat. Be sure to bring some money to rent a chair and umbrella, as the pebbles heat up quickly in the sun. Hopefully the charming local named Spiros is still at work hawking cold drinks from a cave in the side of the mountain. The rock formations in the water here are interesting, so carry a snorkel and mask along if you have one.
Take a Seat
Trekking and swimming are great, but to really feel the magical charm of Santorini one must take the time to just sit and soak up the views. Hopefully you can book a hotel like the stunning Heliotopos that offers plenty of places to admire the vista. I’ll remember Heliotopos as one of my favorite hotels in the world simply because of the private balcony facing the sea. I spent hours “reading” there. This involved opening my book and then looking out at the ocean. Reading a few sentences and then watching the changing light reflect off the white-washed buildings. Re-reading those same sentences and then admiring the blue domes around me. Finally putting down the book and just enjoying the view.
Take a Meal
Excellent food can be found all over the island. Whether you wander into a taverna frequented by locals for fresh grilled fish or lobster with eggplant; enjoy appetizer mezedes with a few shots of anise-flavored ouzo at an ouzeri; or splurge for a gourmet meal with views, you’ll be happy with your choice. Should you opt for the splurge, we highly recommend 1800 Restaurant in Oia. Located in a restored house built in 1845, the restaurant serves Mediterranean-inspired Greek dishes accompanied by distinctive Santorini wines.
All this writing about the Greek islands has us checking airfares to Athens. (I’m finding prices in the $800 range from New York as opposed to the $1200 it was last year.) Hopefully it inspires you to do the same. We’ll see you there…let’s meet for sunset in Oia. Just #tuneit!