I have written before about the stunning walk from Fira to Oia along the rim of the caldera on the Greek Island of Santorini. Clearly, this is something you must do while in Santorini and the sunset from Oia is doubtless one of the most beautiful in the world.
However, both Fira and Oia are crawling with tour groups and I was soon desperate to get off the beaten path and away from the tourists. So we set out on foot to find the real Santorini, wandering down through the vineyards toward the coast little white chapels with blue domes shelter beneath the shade of pine trees.
In the south of the island are vineyards where the dark volcanic soil nourishes the grapes of the dark and heady “crater wine”. The vines are not staked or trained to grow upright but crouch close to the stony, grey loess soil – trying to gather as much nutrition as possible.
Long tendrils snake out along the ground and the older vines have curled up like a snake in the sun, forming a crown-of-thorns shape, only without the thorns. Visiting Santorini in October meant the vine leaves were just starting to change colour, although the weather was beautiful.
Plodding through the eroded valleys that are typical of Santorini, sandy mule tracks and wine-growers’ paths criss-cross the landscape but we kept heading onward towards the coast.
At last a triangle of sea came into view through the trees and we emerged onto a shingle beach to see the dramatic pumice cliffs, scoured and carved by the wind into fantastic shapes.
There is a lot of pebbly shore where you can find a lonely spot to sunbathe and splash in the sea. After awhile we walked along the base of the cliffs to the line of weather-beaten fish restaurants and a little dock where an old man waits with a boat.
He can take you around to the red, black and white beaches but first we were hungry. Grilled fish, Santorini tomato fritters, salad, bread and glass of wine for the Wandering Kiwi family cost 20 euros at Melina’s tavern.
Next day in the shady village square of Megalochorio we discovered the best setting to eat a meal in the whole of Santorini. And it is nowhere near the coast. The warm welcome at the Raki tavern in the bougainvillea-painted square beside the church was just another example of the island’s charm when you escape the crowds.
Another such village is Pirgos, which was the capital of the island until 1800 and has winding lanes and a Venetian fortress.
For me Santorini will always be about such peaceful villages and the warm hospitality – the filoxenia – of the local people.
By Natasha von Geldern
While visiting Santorini I was a guest of the Majestic Hotel – a member of Great Hotels of the World Luxury Collection – but my impressions and opinions remain my own. The Majestic is 10 minutes outside Fira and a great base for exploring Santorini and relaxing by the pool. Remember that outside of the summer months the sunset views from Santorini will be better when in other parts of the island, such as from the hotel balcony on the ridgeline below Fira.