I left my heart on Santorini.
12.09.2013 - 23.09.2013
We head to Santorini today. Santorini is the island that sparked my interest in Greece in the first place. I saw a photo once of a hillside covered with white houses and blue domes, the sea stretching in the distance as the sun set gently on the horizon.
Santorini, with its hillside towns spilling blue domed churches into the sea and its massive caldera where the world’s most beautiful sunsets can be found.
Just the name is like music…Santorini.
I know that it will be much more heavily visited and touristy than either Milos or Folegandros, but on my first trip to Greece, I have to see Santorini. It checks off a box in my travel dream folder. I must see it.
Folegandros bids us farewell with beautiful blaze of sunrise.
We have breakfast and take one last walk around Chora before heading for the ferry dock.
Our ferry is an hour late, but that’s better than being cancelled.
While nice, this boat is much more “ferry like” than the cruise-ship-love-boat-yacht that brought us to Folegandros. It is crowded, hurried, and the boarding process is frantic.
Matt is pointed in one direction and I am pointed in another. Luggage is being thrown in a pile near the door, but I am rushed off so quickly that I don’t have time to put my bag down. I find myself being shoved between ferry seats, pathetically dragging my rolling suitcase and desperately trying to figure out where Matt went.
We both manage to make a huge circle and end back up at the luggage dump. I drop my bag, grab his hand, and we are shoved upstairs where we are shown to our seats. Once we are seated, I have a moment to realize it’s a very nice ferry, even if the boarding process is something akin to being shoved onto a Vietnamese refugee boat.
The ride is about an hour, and soon enough, we see Santorini beckoning on the horizon.
The disembarking process is no better than the boarding process, but somehow, we make it off the boat without being dismembered and with all of our luggage.
Many will tell you not to pre-book hotels on Santorini. They say to just show up at the port and find a hotel owner, who apparently meet every ferry and attempt to sell their hotel rooms. They say it’s a good way to save money.
I say it’s a good way to find yourself sitting on a cot at a boarding house next to a sweet old lady trying to explain why you can’t marry her grandson as you politely try to deflect the baklava that she has just pulled from the safety of her brassiere and offered to you.
The hotel owners descend upon us. “Rooms?” “Rooms??” They bombard us, trying to out bargain each other, showing us photo albums with images of their lodging options, despite the fact that we are shaking our heads “no” and motioning them away with our hands. I feel positively molested.
As I look around at the madness and mayhem of shouting hoteliers with signs reading, “Big Pool. Soft Beds,” or “Cheap Rooms, Sunset View,” I have visions of bunk rooms filled with backpackers sharing a six pack of cheap beer while trying to peer around the construction site outside their window to catch a glimpse of the famed Santorini sunset. I feel sorry for anyone who shows up here without already having a reservation.
Several of them shout at me at once, “You need room? We have room!” I shake my head no.
Athinios port does not give one a stellar first impression of Santorini. Having visitors arrive in this port is akin to having your drunk, toothless uncle pick up your house guest at the airport in his bathrobe and boxer shorts.
It is incredibly hot and crowded. People are shouting. There are 24 hour food stands and billboard signs for cheap baubles everywhere I look. Every time I stop moving, I get shoved by someone passing by. I feel like I’m in the middle of an open air market in Bangladesh.
My eyes fall on a well-dressed gentleman holding a sign bearing my name and the name of my hotel and I know I have made a wise decision. We head for the blessed sanctuary of the Tsitouras Collection van.
Unlike Folegandros and Milos where the accommodation choices are limited, the hotel choices on Santorini are overwhelming. First, you must decide what part of the island: Beach? Town? Caldera View? Then, you must decide what city: Oia, Imerovigli, Fira? Then you must choose a hotel….and there are SO MANY.
I have chosen the Tsitouras Collection, a small hotel with only 5 suites, an amazing caldera view, a location in the quieter town of Firostefani that would keep us away from the cruise ship crowds, and an infinity pool to die for.
When we arrive, we are greeted by Eleni Tsitoura and her husband Georges, owners of the hotel. Both of them are beautiful and look like they have just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine.
As our bags are taken to our room, we are given a small glass of vinsanto, locally produced sweet wine, and a tour of the hotel. The mansion was built in 1780 and was purchased in 1985 by Dimitris Tsitouras, an art collector, who renovated it with the intention of using it to host friends and family on Santorini. The mansion was divided into 5 separate “houses,” each house having a distinct personality and housing a collection of the family’s artwork that flows naturally with the theme of the house.
Part hotel, part museum, it is all beautiful.
We are shown to the House of Sea, a multi-room “cave house” with a private verandah.
It is perfect.
Georges recommends Vanilia, a nearby restaurant where we can have a late lunch.
It is late for lunch and Vanilia is almost deserted. The interior is gorgeous, filled with white tablecloths, climbing bougainvillea, and golden sunlight.
We are given a complimentary cup of zucchini soup while we wait for our order. I love these Greeks and their free food.
For lunch, we share an arugula salad with oranges and feta cheese, fried saganaki cheese with jellied tomatoes, peppers stuffed with risotto, and mussels in garlic broth.
We are tired, so we spend the afternoon at the hotel pool which looks out over the caldera.
Santorini is said to have the most beautiful sunsets in the world, and it is our first Santorini sunset. We are given two of the complimentary house “sunset cocktails” to enjoy as we watch the sun dip into the sea.
I don't mean to be a cliche, but it is so romantic that it makes me weak at the knees.
Tonight is a full moon, so we choose dinner at Saltsa. It is close enough to walk to, yet it is located on the side of the island with a view of the moonrise.
We start off with a Santorini salad because I have heard about the famous “Santorini Cherry Tomato,” rumored to be the most intensely delicious tomato in the universe.
Matt and I agree that they are.
For dinner, we have roast pork with mushrooms and sun dried tomato pesto and pasta with seafood.
For dessert, we share the “loukoumi” ice cream with sugared rose petals. It is divine.
So far, Santorini has delivered. Sure, there seem to be more people here and I have seen a few pockets of touristy hell, but it is also exquisitely beautiful and our hotel is an island of perfection.
We sleep….. the full moon shining in on the House of Sea.