Food and Leisure

Santorini: Escape to another world

RENDEZVOUs - Christine S. Dayrit - The Philippine Star
Santorini: Escape to another world
Walking through the winding, cobblestoned streets of Santorini in October was extremely pleasant. The peak tourist season just ended, providing you the space and luxury to stop and admire the amazing views, distinct architecture and bougainvillea that adorns most homes.

It is better to see a place once than to hear about it a thousand times.

This thought runs in my mind as I remember one family vacation in Greece pre-pandemic.

I’d never seen so many shades of blue in my life. As the waves crashed against our ferry, my eyes were fixed on the sparkling, clear water. Despite living in a tropical archipelago with one of the longest coastlines in the world, it was as if I was seeing the ocean for the first time.

The Mediterranean Sea is astonishingly clear, showcasing blue water that’s perfect for diving, swimming, and taking incredible photos. The secret lies in the slow movement and exchange of water, which is lazy and relaxed, just like laidback Mediterranean life.

My family and I were aboard a ferry from Athens, the capital of Greece, to one of the most popular islands in the world: Santorini. This holiday was unforgettable, largely in part because it was our last trip abroad pre-pandemic.

Who doesn’t know Santorini and it’s famed blue and whitewashed Cycladic houses, dramatic sea views and dreamy sunsets? It’s one of the most iconic places of all time — with good reason. No matter how many times you set foot here, entering Santorini is like escaping into another world.

As our ferry pulled into the island, we were treated to sweeping views of the jagged cliffs and wild landscape of the fiery island. From sea level, we had a spectacular view of the half-moon shaped Caldera, the island’s famed bay, and approached the active Santorini volcano itself.

A catastrophic eruption in the distant past wiped out a large part of the Minoan civilization, but the volcano’s power was as creative as it was destructive. It gave Santorini its unique natural beauty and scenery.

No way this is not a postcard? Again, this is just from our smartphone gallery. Santorini is just breathtakingly perfect. The famous windmills are scattered around the island but these are the ones that appear in postcards and magazines. Located in Oia, the scenic village is on the northwest edge of Santorini island.

The volcano is the heart of the island, and we were very excited to hike towards it the next day. Without a doubt, the best thing to do in Santorini is to take the Fira-Oia hike. This would take you along the Caldera cliff and through the scenic villages of Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia.

We checked into our hotel in Fira, a colorful, lively part of the island with a great selection of luxury and boutique hotels, restaurants and bars. While it’s often overlooked in favor of the honeymoon destination Oia, it offers better value with the same great views of the caldera at a friendlier price point.

There are so many options for great hotels in Fira. Our family stayed at Aria Suites, one of the best-rated hotels in the area. We had a deluxe suite to ourselves along with a beautiful outdoor pool overlooking the scenic caldera and volcano.

Our room looked like it was straight out of a postcard with its whitewashed finish and minimalistic, Cycladic design. While simple, it still exuded luxury, as the boutique resort was very private with only six rooms.

Whether you feel like staying in all day or taking part in the countless activities on Santorini, I would highly recommend staying at Aria Suites. Our room had its own plunge pool, where you could sit in peace and take in the unbelievable view. I found it hard to leave the hotel despite the full itinerary we had planned.

For those who are up for excursions and adventures, the location of the hotel could not be beat. Right at the beginning of Fira, it was the perfect jump-off point for all our Santorini adventures. Amid Santorini’s high slopes, the hotel stands as a wonderful haven to rest after a full day of fun in the sun. While it sits close to the action, literally in the heart of Fira, it still manages to stay quiet as it sits on its own isolated mini peak.

You will never go hungry as there are several restaurants nearby and a grocery just around the corner. The breakfast was superb and gave us the energy we needed for an active holiday.

The hiking trail is a mix of paved sidewalks, dirt paths and cobblestone-lined roads. It’s an easy stroll that stretches about 10.5 km and takes two to five hours depending on how many times you stop.

Our family took it easy and allocated the entire afternoon. We enjoyed taking in the picturesque architecture and landscape, snapping photos and grabbing some frozen Greek yogurt along the way. It seemed like other tourists had the same idea, as practically every corner we turned had people taking pictures.

Walking through Santorini really allowed us to experience its unique beauty. The volcano’s creativity shone through every bit of the island, from its amazing red and black volcanic beaches to its crescent-shaped caldera with the most dramatic sea view.

At the end of the hike, we were treated to the ultimate reward. We sat along the sidewalks of Oia together with other tourists to enjoy the highlight of any visit to Santorini: Before our very eyes, the sky was painted multiple shades of red. The sunset cast its magical light over the caldera and colored the entire island. Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of this moment and no camera can capture how breathtaking it is.

Santorini is another world where new shades of blue can be found in the sea and the volcano paints the sky for unforgettable sunsets. Even before the luxury hotels and delicious restaurants were built, Santorini already had its own kind of magic. That’s what keeps drawing visitors here. I keep dreaming of the day that I’ll be able to escape back. In the end, we only regret the chances we never took.

Father and son unwinding at a popular Mexican rooftop bar in Fira after a long day on foot exploring the vibrant island of Santorini.

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