NANCY BROWN enjoys explosive sunsets, scenery and star-spotting on a volcanic Greek island...
The gorgeous Greek island of Santorini is the perfect place to holiday if you’re searching for romance, dramatic sunsets and stunning scenery. Located just off the southern tip of mainland Greece in the Aegean Sea, Santorini was formed by a volcanic explosion some 3,500 years ago when the centre of this once-circular island sank into the sea, leaving behind a crescent moon-shaped island of jagged cliffs and black sand beaches that today look out onto the still-smouldering volcano. A handful of picture-perfect villages dot the coastline of this tiny island and the whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches cling to the sheer cliffs. Oia is one of the most charming towns, with its narrow cobbled streets and chic boutiques. It’s also the most popular place to watch the sun set over the caldera – the volcano’s seven-mile wide lake-filled crater. Fira, the island’s capital, and Kamari offer up a lively nightlife, while Perissa boasts a 7km black sand beach.
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WHERE SHOULD I STAY?
OK! stayed at the five-star Aria Lito, a traditional Cycladic mansion that’s been converted into a 15-room boutique hotel. Situated in the old quarter of Fira, the modern suites and cave rooms take inspiration from Lito, the goddess of simplicity, and are decorated in a soothing cream and oatmeal palette, with high ceilings and ornate light fittings. Breakfast was amazing – fresh fruit, Greek yogurt with honey and pastries are served in the hotel’s pretty garden. There’s also a sundeck by the pool and a shady tree if you want to escape the heat.
Over at the five-star Aressana Spa Hotel & Suites, also in Fira, the emphasis is very much on amenities. OK! loved the pool, which is surrounded by cabana-style day beds, and the Ifestioni Restaurant, which is decorated in turquoise and white hues and spills out onto the pool deck. We enjoyed a club sandwich here while sipping a frozen Mojito made by the lovely Harry. The 48-room hotel is also home to the Tefsion Kallos Spa, with its couples’ massage room and relaxing thermal beds. The signature treatment includes a foot massage using Santorini pumice stone and a full-body massage using hot stones from the volcano.
WHAT STARS WILL I SEE?
Sharon Stone, Gerard Butler and Steven Spielberg have all been spotted on the Greek isle, nicknamed the black pearl of the Aegean due to its rugged landscape. Bill Gates and Roman Abramovich have parked their mega-yachts here, Catherine Zeta Jones spent so much in the shops here she joked she’d raised the gross domestic product, while Beyoncé shot an ad campaign in Oia. Last summer, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie visited Santorini and reportedly went house-hunting in Oia. They also went on a family boat trip out to the volcano.
WHERE CAN I EAT?
OK! enjoyed a gorgeous lunch at Kapari, a traditional open-air taverna in Fira. The friendly owner served up a feast of grilled halloumi, Santorinian fava (a yellow split bean dip), baked potatoes and a crisp Greek salad. While contemporary Athiri, in the centre of Fira, serves a mean lunchtime pizza.
Dinner is best served al fresco with a sunset view. In Fira, we loved Argo – the feta-stuffed squid is the house special, while the seafood linguine was the best we’ve ever tasted. For creative cuisine, dine at one of Nikos Pouliasis’ restaurants, the new Asirtico or Koukoumavlos, where OK! enjoyed a sublime dinner. Our potato veloute with cumquat, lemongrass and scallop mousse was followed by a delightful beetroot risotto and a dessert of chocolate mousse with mango sorbet and black olive paste. Nikos has cooked for Harvey Keitel, Angelina Jolie and Jack Nicholson and told us he loves to experiment with flavours – something we can vouch for after sampling his sage ice cream!
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If you’re staying at one of the Katikies hotels, visit the Chromata in Imerovigli for dinner. The town sits at the highest point on the island so the views of the caldera are amazing – as was our chocolate pud that was finished with gold leaf!
WHERE CAN I DRINK?
Fira’s bars don’t start getting busy till midnight. For popular music, a great happy hour and dancing on the bar, head for Murphy’s Irish pub. We loved the cocktails at Casablanca Jazz – try the strawberry frozen Mojito and the delicious apple Martini. The drinks at Koo Club might be a little expensive, but the huge open-air nightspot is the place to be. Giorgio Armani has been spied here.
Santorini is famous for its wine production, so with that in mind we travelled to the Katikies hotel in Oia for a spot of wine tasting. Perched on the side of the cliff at sunset, it really was an ideal setting for an introduction to the island’s wines.
WHERE CAN I SHOP?
Considering it’s a small island, the shopping on Santorini is fantastic, with the majority of the island’s shops situated along the maze of cobbled streets in Fira. You’ll find designer clothes, shoes and bags in Milo, while Ammos stocks Dsquared, Missoni, Paul & Joe and Diane Von Furstenburg. There’s also an entire street full of jewellery stores, aptly named Gold Street. OK! bought a delicate rose gold bracelet in Jupiter and a handcrafted gold heart bracelet in Petra Art & Jewellery. We also picked up a hand-embroidered table runner in Costa Dimitrokalis.
WHAT MUST I DO?
Take to the water and explore Santorini from the sea. We hopped aboard a plush motor yacht, courtesy of VIP specialists Caldera Yachting (www.calderayachting.gr), and enjoyed a glorious afternoon sipping cocktails on deck as our gorgeous guide Vassilis pointed out sights such as the hot springs at the foot of the volcano, before we jumped in for a swim in a private cove. After sunset, the captain turned up the music and we breezed back to shore feeling like an extra from a Mariah Carey video!
A trip to Oia to watch the sunset is a must. For the best views, head for the ruins of the 13th-century castle. Afterwards, browse the jewellery stores that line the cobbled streets and enjoy the gourmet fare at Roka, Ambrosia or 1800.
Or spend the day at a beach club. From Fira, hop in a cab to Kamari or Perivolos – we opted for the latter and soaked up the sun at Wet Stories, where chill-out music, frozen mango Daiquiris and topless boys playing beach volleyball were the order of the day! As the sun goes down, action moves from the beach to the bar and a DJ takes over the decks.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
Thomson (0871 231 4691; www.thomson.co.uk) offers a seven-night holiday in Santorini, staying at the five-star Aria Lito Mansion on a bed and breakfast basis, from £757 per person. Price based on two adults sharing a room and departing London Gatwick, Manchester or Birmingham on September 27 2011. In high season, a double room at the five-star Aressana Spa Hotel & Suites (www.aressana.gr) costs from £215 per night. Note that many hotels close during the winter months.