Santorini is without question the most beautiful and atmospheric place I have ever visited with an other worldliness I’ve only felt a couple of other times in my life when visiting Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Langkawi Island in Malaysia. We flew in to the island on from Athens given I have children who aren’t great on boats and were picked up by our driver from boutique luxury hotel Aressana, which I had booked on booking.com months earlier after much deliberation given the cost. I had decided to splurge here as I’m not sure that we’ll ever visit Santorini again and a colleague had advised me to stay in Fira – the capital – rather than elsewhere on the island. Mr Rosanna and I have always had a tendency to stay in budget accommodation but there are times in your life when the expense is worth it and I have to say the Aressana was the accommodation highlight of our whole stay in Greece.
It’s located at the very bottom of Fira as you come in by bus or taxi and right near the stunning Atlantis Hotel which is the beginning of the sunset walk along the volcanic rock cliff edge known as the Caldera in front of the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. While not on the Caldera side, the Aressana was an oasis of calm and we had our own family room located further away from the main pool and breakfast area, which had a semi private lap pool of its own shared only with 5 other rooms – some of which were empty so we pretty much had the pool to ourselves the whole time we were there (see main pic above).
Santorini is breathtakingly beautiful – Mr Rosanna and I weren’t sure what to look at first as everything is a photo opportunity. White washed buildings, flowering herbs and plants in pots on steps and walls and framing buildings, beautiful churches, paved stone laneways, the Caldera itself forming a massive ring around the island in the sea from the geographic remains of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago or the amazing blues of the ocean and sky. We had lunch in the first of many roof top terrace tavernas (and I will come to the subject of Greek food a bit later on) as our room wasn’t quite ready and it was like being in a dream. It was indeed the culmination of a dream – Mr R and I have wanted to visit Greece for a number of years now – so the fact that we were actually finally there was a very big deal and I have to say our minds were completely blown away. The whole time we were there was dream-like despite the commercialisation of the place. It is full of tourists from all over the world including many honeymooners, families and backpackers. And yes, while it was very expensive to stay there (although we later heard that Mykonos is even more expensive) we had three magnificent days in Santorini, memories of which will stay with us forever. We had a walk down one of the laneways where I noticed the cool WD Concept Store similar to Forget Me Not in Athens located next door to the White Door Theatre – a group of performers who parade down Gold Street every night at sunset (see main pic below) promoting their interactive Greek Wedding show. The store is actually run by the performers during the day – a very clever and entrepreneurial move from some clearly talented and creative people with an eye for style.
We spent the afternoon settling into our room and having a swim before going out for dinner to another taverna and just making it to the Caldera edge at sunset for the first of three majestic evenings where the going down of the massive sun in the sky over the sea horizon is an event in itself with people clapping once the sun actually disappears. It is magical to experience.
On our second day in Santorini we decided to take the very short but very steep cable car down to the water’s edge to the port where all the boats leave if you’re wanting to explore the nearby volcanic isles for a day trip (which I had heard were a bit disappointing so decided to pass). There are actually two lines moving cable cars up and down on a constant basis rather than the one line which rotates around and it is faster (and less pungent) than taking a donkey ride down and up hill although there were old Greek men at the bottom who run the donkey business for interested people so we did say a quick hello to the donkeys. We had frappes at the beach bar on the right hand side of the port marvelling at some of the doors built into the cliff where people used to live and had a chat to the wait staff who were relieved that no cruise ships were in port. The cruise ships are so big that they can’t actually dock but have to anchor further out in the ocean and then boat passengers (up to 3000 people) across to the island. When there are three ships in port at peak times, the island’s population explodes with an additional 10,000 people (including staff) so I’m glad this wasn’t the case while we were there.
We ventured out further along the streets of Santorini on our second day there taking in the feast of sights and sounds, stopping to do some shopping. There are beggars on the island who we gave money to near the churches including the man with one deformed leg only who was clearly disabled but again, there were far fewer homeless people in Santorini than here in Melbourne. It was a good opportunity for our children to see that hardship can happen to anyone and remember how lucky we truly are. We witnessed our second amazing sunset in Fira but had been told to visit Oia by friends and family as it is apparently even more spectacular surrounded by the quaint blue domed churches and other buildings at the village further up from Fira. We sadly didn’t make it there due to exhausted children but I’ve heard it’s almost a spiritual experience to see the sunset in Oia against the backdrop of such a dramatic landscape.
We bought a few more touristy things in Santorini – worry beads for my eldest son and more evil eye key rings for family. There are some high end jewellery shops and galleries on Gold Street and even if you aren’t a fan of gold, it’s an interesting walk to have a look at all the over the top jewellery which glitters in the sun. Lalaounis is worth a look as well as Mati Gallery where we spotted a bronze fish sculpture by artist owner Yorgos Kypris, which also made it home in our hand luggage as a special piece and keepsake. Mati sells its own jewellery as well as that of other contemporary artists and I have a handmade matte silver sardine pendant which Mr Rosanna bought for me as an early birthday present, also from the gallery which has become a symbol of our trip to Greece – evil eyes and fish. Just as an aside, the Greek toilets are still the same in that you have to use bins for used paper and additionally, tap water is not safe to drink in the islands (while it is in Athens) so bottled water is the way to go.
On our last day in Santorini, we put on our running shoes and spent the morning doing the cliffside walk making sure to avoid the donkey poo and walked all the way to the next ‘town’ of Imerovigli. We stopped along the way at the Underground Tunnels (above) where a new art exhibition had just opened ‘Cyclades Iles De La Mer Egee’ by French artist Roger Tourte with some beautiful original drawings, posters and illustrations (which I would have happily bought if they’d been available as prints) from the 1920s.
We had drinks at one of the terrace cafes on the Caldera side and got the chance to walk past some of the cool cliff-side bars including the one above Franco’s Bar where we later went for pre-dinner drinks on our last night in Santorini. Where did we go for dinner? We chose to spend our last sunset dinner at Naoussa restaurant just across from the Aressana, which has been there for a number of years and recommended by the hotel staff. It may also give you a clue too as to where we were headed next on our Grecian tour of the Cycladic islands.