Some people don’t know why the sea, sun, sand and bikinis have such a big magnetism to them. Some people do. For me it’s a combination of my family connection to Hawaii and my time growing up in the Greek Islands.
The Mediterranean is a stunning body of water and the numerous Greek Islands that are scattered through it are no different. It is said that there is an island for everyone. If you are into partying you go to Ios & Mykonos, new age you go to Skyros, chill destination Corfu. You get the idea.
I had the pleasure to grow up in Greece on two different occasions. While my mastery of the Greek language never occurred I did become proficient. While English is largely spoken, many residents of the more remote islands not so much. Don’t let this dissuade you from striking out.
My favorite romantic island is Santorini (Thira). If you fly it is to Santorini. If you take a ferry it is to Thira. Same place. I recommend the slow overnight ferry. I mentioned romantic didn’t I?
Santorini is the southernmost island in the Cyclades chain, located 120 miles south of Athens. The island is what is left of a massive volcano that exploded around 1600 BC, splintering the island. What remains of the 28 square miles is on the east side of the old volcano. The city is built on the edge of a 1,000 foot cliff facing to the west, perfect for sunsets. From the cliff face the island drops slowly east to the sea where the airport rests.
Heading to Greece and the Greek islands might sound like a lavish trip but you might be surprised. You can fly from most major U.S. airports to Athens for around $1,250. If you are aggressive or have a good travel agent maybe less.
You will arrive in Athens mid morning. The airport is east of Athens so there will be some transit time to get in. I recommend you stay central in the city near the Plaka and the Acropolis. Suck up being tired. Drop your bags, grab the camera and head out to see the highlights. If you are pressed for vacation time you can head to Pireaus the same night for the ferry to Santorini. If you can afford the time and expense, stay one night in Athens. The overnight ferry will take care of your travel to Santorini and a hotel room all in one.
You will find the ship a great time. Eat before you board and grab some beers on the dock prior. You do not need to board early this is not Carnival. Once aboard, go explore. There will be at least one bar, a nightclub and some lubricious Greek food to offset the Metaxa brandy and Mythos beer you are sure to drink. Just don’t get so shit faced you can’t get up in the morning for your stunning arrival into Santorini.
Ensure you are aware of your arrival time and be up prior. Grab some Greek coffee and a light breakfast and head up to the deck for a good view of your arrival. You will be greeted with a the city suspended on the cliff above you and a winding path alternating left and right as it climbs the 1,000 feet straight up. Many people take the donkeys. I recommend you walk if you can. You have just arrived at what some people believe to be the lost city of Atlantis.
Personal budget is always a consideration when you travel, but if you can afford it, I recommend you book a traditional hotel built right into the side of the mountain. These rooms are always the coolest, both in temperature and sheer wow factor. Many hotels redefine the concept of infinity pool.
Walking is the only mode of transportation you need. Lots of you love to rent scooters while on islands but that is a poor choice here. Theft of bikes does occur and the Greek drivers are more aggressive than you are used to. Cabs are cheap if you really feel you can’t walk. You are here to explore, use your feet and take your time.
The food and wine in Santorini is spot on. The white wine of Santorini is infamous. The grapes are grown in volcanic soil and are distressed from very little irrigation. This produces small intensely flavored fruit. You’ll find the wine light, slightly sweet similar to a Pinto Grigio. Perfect for a meal of grilled fish on a warm day.
As for the food, Greece is very much an appetizer culture. You can order small dishes one after the other until you can’t breath. Then the waiter, when he finally decides to grace you with his presence, will ask you what grilled meat you want for dinner. Seriously. All the while you are ordering wine, by the kilo, not the bottle. Dinner can easily take 2-3 hours done correctly. A note on Greek food, don’t expect it to be close to what you have been sold in America. I revere Greek food but almost never eat it at home; it’s as genuine as Barry Bond’s homerun record.
You have the perfect hotel, a belly full of Greek food, and enough Santorini wine to fill the hotel pool what now? Time to party! The nightlife and dance clubs in Santorini are great fun during summer season. Greeks are late night people, not as late as Spanish, but late. If you show up at a club around 1pm you are probably the first wave. You are still time warped from the travel, stay up and power on.
With all the food, sight seeing and dancing don’t forget to take time out to enjoy the view. If you are lucky enough to score a great room, grab a bottle of wine and some cards. Spend some quiet time with your significant other as you watch the sun set over the ocean. Take some pictures so you won’t forget the moment. Make some love. Feel alive.
Now that I live on Florida’s Gulf Coast I am much more focused on the Caribbean. Who can blame me? But if you are a true voyager and are looking for somewhere else to go and still enjoy the sun with that someone special, consider Santorini.