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Let’s Visit Santorini, by Peter Minaki

This past summer was one of the most memorable (all trips to Greece are memorable) but anytime one visits Santorini – it’s special. Santorini has been called the “Jewel of the Mediterranean”, arguably one of the prettiest islands in the region. It boasts lots of sunshine, traditional architecture throughout the island, a sophisticated tourist industry to accommodate visitors, a storied history of volcanos, earthquakes and the legend of Atlantis all about Santorini.

The volcano is quiet (for now) but the island still evokes one’s emotions with its stunning sunsets, sharp cliffs and vibrant colors. Anywhere you go, the sea is in full view: to the south you have a view of the Caldera (volcano) and further down the neighboring island of Thirassia. On the other side, you still get a view of another neighboring island – Anafi.

One can get to Santorini by ferry boat from Irakleio, Crete, Athens or from one of the other nearby Cycladic islands. Santorini is included in the itineraries of most cruise liners that sail the Mediterranean. As always, there are frequent flights into Santorini from Athens and several charter airlines fly to the island from continental Europe. The airport is located on the north, flatter side of the island, near Kamari Beach and most ferry boat travelers will arrive at Santoroni’s port, just below the main town of Fira.

f you want to stay is a central location on the island (near airport and port), Fira is your best bet. The island’s capital has many car/motorbike rental shops, it’s one of the most photographed towns in Greece, it faces the Caldera and you can sit on your balcony or at a café and watch the cruise ships pass by as the famous sunsets of Santorini paint the sky.

Fira contains lots of souvenir shops, clothing and jewelry stores, scores of cafes, bars and restaurants and some museums that touch upon the history, culture and food and wine heritage of the island. Wear comfortable shoes, get lost in the narrow alleys, take a photo of the breathtaking view and walk some more…OH…there’s another breathtaking view….take another snap!

While in Fira, I was a guest at Aigialos Hotel, a 5-star property located in the quieter southern tip of town. Aigialos is one of two (2) Yades Greek Historic Hotels on Santorini.This hotel is housed in what used to be a Catholic, Greek-Orthodox church and monastery – making it a member of the Historic Hotels of Europe.  The area is quiet with a mix of other restaurants, hotels and residences…Shhh…be quiet!

At the Aigialos Hotel you have two options: use this a center point for your travels to other points of interest on the island – check out a beach, go to the Akrotiri archaelongical site at the island’s southernmost tip or visit one of the island’s many wineries, who proudly produce some of Greece’s best wines and they will share the island’s rich wine heritage.

You may take a trip to the Caldera or to one of the other small towns, like Oia (we’ll visit this town soon) or take a boat ride which takes you to between Oia and Thirassia, where you will have one of the best view’s of the famous sunset.

Or, you may forget work, schedules, deadlines, traffic, noise and just stay at the hotel. Bring some books, or simply listen to your iPod and sit on one of the balconies, grab some sun and savour the view that is solely yours. Still, not recharged and you want to avoid the crowds? Aigialos has an in-house restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner – only to hotel guests.

One evening, I had the pleasure of having hotel Manager Vivi Tsota join for dinner in Aigialos’ courtyard. The menu was created by chef Konstantina Faklari and it utilizes much of the island’s traditional products like the white eggplant, split peas, dwarf tomatoes, caper leaves and local cheeses. The menu also proudly utilizes techniques and influences from another regions of Greece and the Mediterranean.

A bottle of Sigalas Assyrtiko was ordered and we were served with an amuse bouche of chickpea purée with crisp Chorizo sausage.

Next up was a sublime white taramosalata with caviar and homemade toastpoints.

I really loved this deconstructed version of shrimp saganaki with large prawns, Feta mousse and Santorini tomato coulis.

Next up was the salad course, with mixed greens tossed in VinSanto (local fortified dessert wine) dressing, fried Chloro cheese and ripe, very sweet figs from the island.

The main course was a compacted braised lamb, similar to ‘kavourma’ with smoked white eggplant and tomato vinaigrette.

Vivi ordered the grilled sea bream on a bed of grilled Santorini “globe” zucchini with sauteed sea asparagus.

It’s always wise to leave room for dessert because on this evening we shared two! The first was the chef’s take on a local tart called Melitinia. This version was a warm custard that was bruleed.

The second dessert was a chocolate semifreddo with crème anglaise and topped with white eggplant spoon sweet.

The folks on Santorini are very proud of their wine making heritage and most restaurants delight in serving local dishes on their menu. Santorini’s affirmation to remain traditional while accommodating the modern tourist needs are two of the many reasons why Santorini has been resilient with record tourist years, time and again.

Aigialos Hotel also can arrange a Santorini wedding for you, tailor your honeymoon vacation or anniversary vacation. Aigialos is romance.

Santorini declared 2013 the Year of Gastronomy and after spending four days on the island, it’s hard for me to dispute.

Getting around Santorini – rent a car/motorcycle, frequent bus schedules to all points, taxi

Eating/dining – the island has tourist traps, traditional tavernas with value, international cuisine and high end restaurants, something for every budget

Bars/cafes – the price of a drink/beverage is tied to the view you are enjoying…read the menu card before ordering

Currency – Cash is king and Euros are the currency. There are ATM’s in the main town and many boutiques and restaurants accept credit cards

Dress Comfortably – wear good shoes/sandals, bring hats, sun block, sun glasses and light colored clothing but bring a light jacket as the evenings can get cool.

Text by Peter Minaki www.kalofagas.ca

BOOK NOW your next vacation to the Aigialos Hotel in Santorini

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