GREEK ISLAND IDYLL
Greek Island Idyll - Luxury Travel Magazine
Greek Island Idyll
|By: Susan Gough Henly, Issue 31 – Winter 2007|
|SANTORINI IS A DREAM IN BLUE AND WHITE, A PLACE WHERE THE AZURE AEGEAN SEA LAPS AT DRAMATIC ROCKY HEADLANDS DOTTED WITH NEW DESIGNER HOUSES.|
|Late afternoon and the blue domes above the blinding white curves of the village of Oia dribbling along the caldera’s edge soften to violet and dusty peach. The setting sun slants across a shining sea embraced by the purple arms of the crescent island of Santorini. Santorini’s geography, history and very psyche have been shaped by volcanic eruptions. Some might say that today, thanks to its volcanoes, it ranks at the top of the list of must-visit islands.|
Santorini’s location on trading routes made it an outpost of the sophisticated Minoan civilisation centred to the south in Crete. Then in 1640BC a massive volcano split the island in two and deep blue sea water flooded into the caldera, whose vertiginous cliffs were striated red, black and ochre. There are those who believe the mystical culture of Atlantis is buried deep in its watery crater.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, wealthy ship captains built their mansions and blue-domed family chapels on the cliff tops of Oia in the island’s northwest, paving its narrow streets with marble. Their sailing crews burrowed into the hillside below, constructing tiny cave houses out of pumice and volcanic rock to hide their possessions while they were away at sea. It was only a matter of time before well-heeled tourists would follow in the path of donkeys that wend their way along the village’s steep steps. And it is one of those curious ironies of the world of the wealthy that most of the exclusive resorts are found in the diminutive cave houses and not the captain’s mansions.
Forget the capital, Fira, a noisy congested jumble of packagetour cruise ships, expensive shops, and throbbing clubs. Forget the bitumen-hot black sand beaches of Kamari, with its concrete apartments and packed tavernas, and the only slightly less congested gritty beach at Perissa. Ironically, the beach is not what this island is about, although the remote red-sand beach at Kokkino Paralia, beneath deep-red lava cliffs, is more interesting.
Oia, pronounced Ia, is the only place to be on Santorini. Although it weaves a meandering line between a sublime symmetry of white and blue and a postcard cliché, its jewellery store and art gallery-lined main street are full of sunset-bound tourists. The daily setting of the sun is what put Oia on the modern map, while glossy magazine spreads of cubist white cottages and sleek infinity pools superimposed on the deep blue of the caldera, got the travel-savvy salivating all over the world.
The pick of the skafta or cave-house resorts is Perivolas, owned by Costis Psychas. His father, Manos, was a sea captain who returned to his family’s roots on Santorini after the 1956 earthquake and spent $US3000 on a piece of cliff dotted with 300-year-old caves, stables and wineries in the garden area of Oia. Today, 17 unique, carefully restored domed suites, each with their own deck, step down around a central stone terrace where the black volcanic rock-rimmed infinity pool seems to brim over into the caldera itself. An old winery is now a blissfully cool poolside café; a delightful wellness studio is buried into another cave. Fuchsia bougainvillea, wild fig, red geraniums, and orange cactus are bright against the white washed cave houses, whose sparse interiors are furnished simply with Aegean antiques, and naturally dyed hand-woven rugs. There are no televisions, or hot and cold running waiters, just elegant, low-key luxury, and space to relax.
Closer to the village is Katikies, under the moniker of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a modern incarnation of 22 whitewashed cave houses wedged into the flank of the caldera. Each has wide plank floors, country antiques and its own deck. A tiny dreamy outdoor restaurant under white calico tents and an intimate white cave restaurant are found near the smallish infinity pool where guests are known to jostle for lounge chairs. The long stairs make for quite a workout, but the hotel does provide complimentary mobile phones and super service.
Between the two, is Canaves (for ‘wine caves’) 1 and 2, each with a pool and wide bougainvillea-dotted decks, the second, newer resort complete with elevator. Both have spacious domed suites, whose décor resembles more a suburban home than an island resort, but the mahogany antiques lend an authentic air. Guests can also rent a 26-metre motor launch to cruise the Cyclades.
While all three resorts have front and centre caldera views, the western tip of Oia, at the entrance to the caldera, is the obvious location to see the setting sun. Here the traditional barrel-vaulted Fanari Villas, under the Oia windmill and above the colourful fishing village of Ammoudi, offer the best sunset views from the privacy of your spacious deck, where a delicious breakfast is also delivered, at the stark bright end of the day. Even the fresh-water pool is partially burrowed into a cave. Fewer bells and whistles mean lower prices too.
The newest resort is the three-suite 1864 Captain’s House, a Renaissance-influenced mansion with arched doorways, red-volcanic- stone faux pillars and cross-vaulted ceilings, not to mention luxurious sundecks where delectable breakfasts are served well into the afternoon. Ask for the upstairs Captain’s Suite with its antique four-poster king-size bed. A catamaran, Jeep and Peugeot convertible are available for rent, but best of all, owner Tony Mosiman, who treats guests like royalty, is also part-owner of Ambrosia Restaurant, which supplies lunches and dinners on request. Ambrosia, with its art and antiques-filled dining room and two intimate terraces cantilevered over the caldera’s edge, offers a sublime dining-with-view experience with the friendliest of hosts. Its inspired cuisine incorporates fresh seafood with local specialities such as chloro goat’s cheese and cherry tomatoes. Across the tiny pedestrian-only main street is Restaurant 1800, a staunch member of the slow food movement, housed in another lovingly restored captain’s mansion with two delightful crossvaulted dining rooms, a garden terrace and rooftop. The chef creates imaginative dishes using the finest ingredients that are as pleasing to the eye as the palate. For simpler fare, head down the 214 steps to the family-run fish tavernas lining the aquamarine waterfront at Ammoudi. Katina is the first of the bunch. Afterwards, pay whatever it takes to ride a donkey back up the hot and dusty hillside.
We fall into a ritual of early morning adventures by car before the blazing sun reaches its zenith. One day, we explore the ruins of ancient Thira, an impressive amphitheatre, a sanctuary carved with symbols of the gods, and foundations of temples and houses laid out on a terrace at a dizzy height above the blue Aegean. On another, we taste Santorini’s excellent dry and sweet white wines at Antoniou and Boutari wineries, near the pretty village of Megalohori. Santorini’s vines grow in volcanic ash, wound into crown-like baskets low to the ground, to survive the harsh almost rainless climate to produce wines of extraordinary fruit and acid balance. But most of all we lounge on the flawless sun-drenched terraces of Oia to watch the play of light on white and blue; to laugh, even, at the buildings tumbling like snow down sheer cliffs of brown, red and black; and to raise a glass or three of her spunky white wine to Santorini, the original makeover Queen.
Perivolas: 30 22860 71308, www.perivolas.gr;
Katikies: 30 22860 71401, www.katikies.com;
Canaves: 30 22860 71453 or 30 22860 71427
or 30 22860 71128, www.canaves.com;
Fanari Villas: 30 2286 024659, www.fanarivillas.gr;
1864 The Sea Captain’s House: www.santorini-gr.com
|30 22860 71983;|
Restaurant 1880: 30 22860 71485
or +30 22860 71800, www.1800.gr;
Ambrosia Restaurant: 30 22860 71413
or 30 6976560099, www.santorini-gr.com/ambrosia.htm