Santorini offers all the delights of the Greek islands in a unique and spectacular setting. Ian Taylor is bewitched
Santorini is something else. The first sight of waves lapping black rock and the red caldera soaring hundreds of metres above the sea is unforgettable.
This island in the southern Cyclades is essentially a volcano that blew its top – and looks like it too – but visitors have nothing to fear; the massive eruption took place 3,600 years ago, destroying Europe’s first great civilisation, the Minoans.
Today’s tourists come looking less for lava flows and more going with the flow. Santorini’s unique beauty and tranquillity attracts holidaymakers from all over the world, and it is no coincidence the island has one of the healthiest tourism markets in Greece – demand means prices are likely to hold up.
SELL: SMALL AND STYLISH
Santorini isn’t for everyone. It’s not a bucket and spade destination as the beaches are volcanic sand or pebble. Families seeking a holiday would be better directed elsewhere, as would 20 to 30-something clubbers wanting nightlife.
Santorini best suits chilled, higher-end clients – couples, in particular – looking for an awe-inspiring backdrop to sun, sea, fresh food, local wine, history, culture and spa treatments in fine accommodation.
The island is small – it’s seven-and-a-half miles long – and there are fine walking paths, but walking is unthinkable in the summer heat so consider carefully where clients wish to stay and whether they need to hire a car to get around.
Access is fairly easy: this summer easyJet will fly direct to Santorini from Gatwick and Manchester, and Olympic Air will offer thrice-weekly connections to the island from Heraklion (Crete) and Mykonos, (both served directly from the UK) from June 30 to September 15.
SEE: HISTORY AND GASTRONOMY
Aside from the scenery and the marvellous food, three aspects of the island should not be missed: its wine, its most ancient site and its charming museum.
Greece does not have a reputation for great wine, but this is changing rapidly and Santorini has vineyards of exceptional quality and antiquity. The mineral-rich volcanic soil retains so much humidity that vines are not watered, even after months without rain, and lie curled on the ground so they remain protected from the wind. About 70% of wine is of the assyrtiko grape variety, which is indigenous to the island and produces a selection of whites and, more recently, reds.
The Sigalas Winery is among the island’s leading vineyards, producing 11 wines. Visitors can tour and taste the wines with local food – fava beans, aubergine, sundried tomatoes, houmous, vine leaves, caper leaves, olives and homemade bread.
The remarkable ancient city of Akrotiri, on the southwest tip of the island, re-opened last year following pressure from the local community. A €5 entrance fee takes you back to the moment in 1635BC when the city’s population fled to escape the erupting volcano.
The 12,000sq metre site comprises 55 buildings, of which five have been fully excavated, revealing molten casts of beds, chairs and tables. Although the level of detail doesn’t rival Pompeii – Akrotiri is older – it’s a more rewarding site to visit than the more famous Palace of Knossos in Crete.
Magnificent wall paintings found in another building have been removed to the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, in the centre of Fira. This small museum combines particularly well with Akrotiri and contains art and artefacts from the ancient site. Entrance costs €3.
STAY: CHIC BOUTIQUES
Hotels and restaurants in Imerovigli and Oia – a Unesco World Heritage Site – nestle on the edge of the caldera and have stunning bay views.
Specialist operator Islands of Greece reports continued demand for boutique properties here, particularly among honeymooners. Current best-sellers include the Belvedere Suites, where all 15 rooms, three junior suites and five VIP suites boast a balcony or terrace; and Pegasus Suites & Spa, where many rooms and suites have outdoor Jacuzzis with unbeatable views of the Aegean.
Sunvil Holidays has added two Yades Greek Historic Hotels this year – adult-only Esperas Traditional Houses in Oia, and the traditional Aigialos Hotel near the capital, Fira. Aressana Hotel, also in Fira, combines luxurious accommodation with a large spa, superb dining and easy access to the capital’s shops and restaurants. Even more central is the charming 15-room Aria Lito Mansion in the old quarter, new for Olympic Holidays this year.
Olympic commercial director Photis Lambrianides says clifftop properties remain dominant among clients willing to splash out for the superb views, but adds: “East coast resorts such as Perissa and Perivolos are also popular because there’s a good range of well-priced, family-run hotels that offer quintessential Santorini style – white-washed walls, domed roofs and blue-painted shutters.”
The operator now brochures the all-suite Imperial Med Resort & Spa in Agia Paraskevi, and the 9 Muses Santorini Resort, just a few minutes’ walk from the famous black beach at Perissa. Meanwhile, Santorini Kastelli Resort, in east coast Kamari, is one of Classic Collection’s most popular properties on the island.
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