Go Greek or go home.
12.09.2013 - 23.09.2013
The room is so dark and the bed is so comfortable that it is hard to wake up, but something inside my head tells me I have to see Santorini in the early morning light.
That something is right. Everything is quiet and still and the light casts a soft pastel glow over Firostefani.
Our breakfast is brought to our terrace and we can’t help but notice that Tsitouras kicks it up a notch with silver servers, china, and small details like sugar cubes and fresh squeezed juice.
It’s our first day on Santorini and we decide to spend the morning walking around Firostefani. Our hotel is located in a small part of town outside the bustling tourist center of Fira and far from the tourist-heavy town of Oia.
It is quiet on the streets. We pass an elderly man with a snaggle-toothed dog and a small table filled with his homemade wine, olives, and capers. We buy a bottle of unlabeled wine for 3 euro and a bag of fresh grapes.
Not ready to face the cruise ship crowds in the more popular sections of Santorini, we drive to Megalochori, a small, traditional village in the center of Santorini.
We find Megalochori nearly deserted. The streets are quiet. It’s just us and the donkey.
Megalochori is in vineyard country and we see fields of grapes surrounding the town. The volcanic eruption that took place around 1650 AD covered the island with ash, lava, and stone and created the perfect growing conditions for the unique variety of grapes found on the island. The grapes are grown low on the ground to protect them from the strong winds.
We even see grapes being dried in the sun to create “Vinsanto,” the sweet wine we were given upon our arrival. Basically, Vinsanto is raisin wine, created from sun dried grapes that must be barrel aged for at least 2 years.
We wander down the streets of the quiet town. Megalochori dates back to the 17th century and is filled with historic mansions, old traditional houses, and a central square where we see tables placed under the sprawling bougainvillea where men play cards and backgammon. The town is a maze of winding cobblestone streets and smooth pathways. There are hidden doors and passages just waiting for us to find them.
As we turn a quiet corner, the street filled with the bright pink petals of a bougainvillea, I see a sign for Gavalas Traditional Family Winery. I was hoping for a chance to try some of the famous Santorini wines, so we follow the arrows and find ourselves in the most charming winery.
The family has been producing wines on Santorini since the late 1800s and it turns out that we have stumbled into one of the oldest wine houses, or “canavas,” in Santorini.
The sun is growing higher, we are getting hotter, and our breakfast is starting to wear off, so we drive to Perivolos Beach for lunch at Seaside, at the recommendation of Georges.
When we get to the beach, we are amazed at the sheer number of beach bars/restaurants/cafes that line the entire length of the beach. I will be honest, Santorini beaches are not beautiful, but what they lack in aesthetics, they make up for in amenities. If you’ve got an ugly beach, give people enough good food and drink and cushy lounging areas and they probably won’t notice.
Seaside is GORGEOUS.
Situated at the far end of Perivolos Beach, it is far from the crowds and seems to afford a little peace and quiet. We have a choice of dining inside the beautiful beach-chic restaurant, grabbing some sunbeds underneath a palm umbrella and ordering our lunch Oceanside, or hitting it in the middle with these cute beach tables.
I practically run to a beach table.
Matt eyes the short little cushion suspiciously.
“Am I supposed to sit on that?” he says, warily. “My legs are too long. I’m going to look like a giant at a tea party.”
I am not dissuaded. I plop down on one as though to declare, “I HAVE CHOSEN,” and look up at him expectantly.
He grunts. He groans. He huffs and puffs. He thinks it’s making some impression on me. It’s not.
I sit patiently during his entire show and he eventually settles.
“I kind of like this,” he finally admits, when he realizes how much more fabulous it is to be on the beach than to be up in the restaurant.
We have been told that the food is incredible so we order some variety: shrimp with mango, chili, and lime; tomato salad; a trio of dips with bread; and fava with caramelized mushrooms.
We are stuffed, but I have already spotted something on the dessert menu that simply can’t be ignored: Banoffee Pie. A pie made from bananas, cream, caramel, and pastry. Just reading the description makes my teeth hurt.
Wrap me in phyllo dough and dip me in honey! This pie should be called DANGER PIE. Why? Because with it you can increase your waist size in about 9 seconds.
Oh, Banoffee, where have you been all my life?
After lunch, we waddle out to the beach chairs. I have read that you can burn about 50 calories an hour while sleeping. I just need to lay on this sunbed for 10 hours and it will be like I never ate that pie at all.
Eventually, we rouse ourselves from our food coma and make it back to Tsitouras in time for another beautiful sunset.
For dinner, Georges has made us a reservation at Metaxi Mas, rumored to be the best restaurant in the history of Santorini. He says it is a perfect night to eat there because the moon is still very full and we can see the moon rise from their outdoor patio.
Metaxi Mas is not easy to find. It is in a small village of Exo Gonia in the central part of the island, far from the tourist trail. We find the restaurant housed in a stone cottage overflowing with potted plants and flowering vines with an expansive terrace that seems to have a view of the entire island from its elevation.
Unlike the tourist-centered restaurants in Fira and Oia, Metaxi Mas is simple, genuine, good food. As we are seated, the moon begins to rise.
Before we even order, the waitress sets down cheese and olives and a small carafe of clear liquid and two tiny glasses, about the size of a shot glass. We assume it is to be downed like a shot.
As I begin choking, Matt breathes fire.
“What is this,” he manages to say in between bursts of flame.
“Raki,” she tells us.
A cousin of ouzo, Raki is a ridiculously strong alcohol that is commonly, and appropriately, referred to as “firewater,” and is intended to be sipped very slowly.
I stuff down a few cubes of cheese to put the fire out.
As the moon rises higher in the sky, we order several dishes to share: crusted pan fried feta with sesame and honey, a Cretan salad (much like a Greek salad but with potatoes), sausages, and spicy pork with peppers and feta.
After dinner, the waitress brings us another glass of liquid. This time I am careful and sip tentatively.
“Rakimelo,” she tells us as she also sets down 2 pieces of complimentary cheesecake. “It is Raki with honey, cinnamon, and cloves.”