Jade McLean enjoys an engaging holiday on the Greek island of Santorini, soaking up the sun, the local food and spectacular views of the Aegean Sea.
When my partner proposed to me on the island of Santorini, at sunset, overlooking the spectacular caldera, it didn’t really come as a surprise. He had promised me some time ago that he planned to pop the big question on this island, and when we sat down to dinner on the balcony at Chromata Hotel’s four-table restaurant, there was no doubt what was coming. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect spot – an incredible view, an exclusive table, impeccable service and a meal to die for. I said “yes”, of course. I’d challenge anyone to say “no” under those circumstances!
Located in the southern Aegean Sea about 200km from the mainland, the island was formed after one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history. In 1956, it suffered another major earthquake and eruption that destroyed all of the towns.
Relatively small at only 73square kilometres (about an eighth of the size of Singapore), the narrow and winding alleyways that make up the main town of Fira can be crowded in the popular summer months. Our end-of-May visit was perfectly timed, with just enough people there to create a holiday atmosphere. The temperature was also perfect, with baking sunshine and the occasional light rain.
Since my recently acquired fiancé works silly hours, he tends not to skimp on hotels when we manage to grab that elusive holiday; the Chromata Hotel in the town of Imerovigly (just five minutes from Fira) was no exception. Set into the cliff edge and painted entirely in grey and white, every room, or “cave” as the owner calls them, enjoys a spectacular view of the ocean and surrounding islands. The rooms have literally been carved out of the volcanic rock, providing a cool or warm retreat depending on the time of year. Listed in what has become our bible, Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it lives up to its name, with a staff that will go out of its way for you.
Indeed, when we arrived at the hotel our personal host showed us around the resort and left us in our room, grinning and wide-eyed with a complimentary bottle of chilled wine and a hot whirlpool spa. We realised quickly that staying here was going to be a unique experience. Having been provided with a mobile phone when we arrived, we were able to contact the hotel at any time to make arrangements for dinner, trips, taxis and anything else we could think of. Admittedly, we did spend a lot of time just lounging on the huge sun-beds surrounding the dramatic infinity pool on the edge of a sheer drop down the 300-metre cliff face. It was hard to drag ourselves away.
And the food! I can honestly say that I have not eaten this well anywhere else in the world. During our five-day stay we didn’t have a single bad meal. From the gourmet chef’s menu at Chromata to the five-euro gyros (kebab) on the street, everything was fresh, delicious and plentiful. Thanks to the very special volcanic soil here, the farmers and winemakers produce the sweetest and most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted and wines that rival the best of the New World. You’ve not had a Greek salad until you’ve had one here, topped with a huge, thick slab of creamy feta and fresh, crusty bread on the side.
From donkey rides down the cliff face and catamaran trips around the caldera to shopping in the town of Fira, it would be unusual to find yourself bored on the island. Fira, which seems to cling precariously to the lip of the cliff, has dozens of quaint little restaurants, all with slightly different breathtaking views; and it’s quite easy to while away an afternoon just gazing out at the ocean, grazing on olives and fresh bread and sipping the local vino – if you can drag yourself away from the shops.
Shopping in Fira is really quite good, and with so many places to stop for a tea break, you can easily spend a whole day wandering around the cobbled alleyways, browsing the array of silver jewellery, local art and Greek produce, like olive oil, vinegar and ouzo, before settling down to watch the sunset and feasting on fresh fish, hummus and pita.
Santorini really does have everything you would expect of Greece – and thankfully slightly less. If the main criteria for your holiday are nightclubs, all-day fried breakfasts and hot, young, scantily clad bodies parading along the beach, there are other Greek islands that can cater for you. Santorini, it seems, is the distant and much more demure cousin of Corfu.
Or try Icons next door (5 star, with a fabulous restaurant)
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