Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Santorini, Greece - Greedy Diva's Gluttonous Travels

It's one thing to be constantly engaged in far flung travels to escape the British winter, but when you find yourself escaping the British summer in pursuit of clearer skies, you can't take any chances - there must be guaranteed, beaming sunshine.

Hellllooo Santorini.

In Santorini, you never need to check the forecast or pack too much more than a sarong. Although a bit of grip on the shoes to tackle the slippery stoned streets wouldn't go astray. The salt water has medicinal qualities after a long rainy spell at home, and it doesn't hurt that you're never too far from a crispy batch of fried calamari either.

Vegetables at Sunset Tavern, Amoudi

The island is dramatically spectacular - high black cliffs overlooking the remains of a vast volcano contrast with the deep blue sea, turquoise shores and endless blue skies. They're dotted with glistening white villages and domed rooftops. On the other side are black and red beaches where you can party hard in beach bars (like Chili) or escape the droves. Most of Santorini is super touristy, and after one glimpse of some of the world's best sunsets, it's easy to see why it's a major honeymoon destination.

The sunset view from the spa at Perivolas

Where to eat:

Green salad at the Sunset Tavern, Amoudi

The food scene is hit and miss, at least in the tourist hubs of Oia and Fira. Local treats include fava beans, delicious white eggplant and Santorini cherry tomatoes, although we found the latter to be lacking in their famed sweetness and to be quite minerally and lacking in flavour.

The views from Thalami taverna

The fresh fish is divine, although things like calamari, mussels and shrimp are flown in from the North and generally frozen since the waters are too deep for a local source. Most days you'll find it hard to spend much more than €30 for a feast for 2 at a taverna with million dollar views. This price will include an obligatory (in my book) bottle of ouzo (nothing goes better with a plate of dolmades - my favourites are from Mytilini, but there are local ouzos too) with a bucket of ice or a glass of surprisingly excellent local white wine - our favourite was Assyrtiko, a great value, crisp but juicy white from grapes grown in the local volcanic soils. Of course, the fresh fruit is fabulous too - load up with peaches and watermelons of the gods.

Divine local peaches, cut up for pool side

Most days we settled straight from the pool in to a taverna with some variation of a piece of grilled fresh fish, a Greek salad, horta (steamed spinach like greens with olive oil), thick, creamy tsatski, meatballs, cheesy moussaka and fresh dolmades. Try Skala or Thalami in Oia, which have fabulous ocean views from the top of the cliff. You could also book into Castro to get the famous sunset view at around 8pm (although I didn't try it).


Ouzerie in the centre of Fira was also fun, and is somewhere the locals go (although it's also teeming with tourists like everywhere else).

Greek salad with a view

The best place we tried for fresh fish was Sunset Tavern, located right next to the water at Amoudi which is a tiny fishing port at the bottom of the cliffs from Oia. We loved it at lunch, but this is another place with sunset views. There are about 4 or 5 other tavernas in the same location. Just watch out for donkeys on your way back up.

Cheese and spinach pies - part of the delicious breakfast at Perivolas

The best meal of the lot was at Ambrosia in Oia, where you can experience modern, Greek fine dining on a candlelit balcony overlooking the ocean. We paid around €140 for 2 including wine and service (which was about 3 times more than our average meal, but it was worth it). The food was generally superb - try mille feuille of white Santorini aubergine with fresh tomato, mastelo cheese and smoked metsovono cheese sauce, or tender beef fillet with Vansanto wine sauce, fresh truffles, mushroom trifolate risotto and caramelized grapes. The desserts are wonderful (I had the Moroccan sweet tower of Greek honey flakes, nuts, yoghurt mousse with dates and apricot, and with mastic icecream and rose preserves). The wine list will add to your costs as it's lacking in half bottles or wines by the glass, but don't be afraid of the house wine by the glass here - both the red and white are terrific. We also tried the more casual sister cafe, Nectar & Ambrosia, but it was more patchy and lacked the views/atmosphere.

1800 in Oia (which looked great) and Vaniglia in Firostefani were also recommended to us, but we didn't make it. You'll find out why I found it so hard to tear myself from the pool in a moment....

Where to stay:

I was invited to sample a few places in Santorini and you'll note there's a heavy leaning towards the luxury blow out variety - anything with a view in Santorini will cost you, but that's partly why you're there. And Santorini is a place for indulgence - people come here for splurges, honeymoons, romance, some of the world's best sunsets, and for the general having of breath taken away.


The infinity pool overlooking the caldera

The massive Perivolas Suite at Perivolas has to be the ultimate in luxury accommodation. Its airy domed ceilings, private outdoor pool and indoor spa, steam room, 2 bathrooms and views of Oia perched on the cliff over the deep blue Aegean sea don't come cheap (at around €1500 per night in high season), but just walking in for 5 minutes has the peaceful effect of a week in your own private spa retreat. It's the most amazing place to stay I've ever seen.

Our gorgeous junior suite at Perivolas

Our junior suite was a mini taste of all this extravagance, and equally tranquil - high vaulted cave like ceilings with the clean lines of smooth, rounded white cave walls, wooden furnishings built by local craftsman using local materials and the odd splash of fuschia or lilac remiscent of the local flowers - often handwoven by the owner's wife into giant cushions or rugs.

I also took a peek at the smallest studios on offer and they're gorgeous -  they still feel stylish, calm and spacious.

View from the spa at sunset

Whilst never going even close to tacky or twee, Perivolas has a style which is uniquely Santorini. Sit back by the infinity pool or the outdoor hot tub, and drink you sweet Vinsanto (provided on arrival) as the sun sets in a bright pink sky over the blue domed church of Oia. You don't see the sun hit the water from the hotel, but this sunset view is just beautiful. There's also a "wellness studio" with a sauna and steam room, as well as an outdoor jacuzzi with sunset views - where I could generally be found if otherwise missing in action. TPG also loved the gym with ocean views.

Perivolas is a 10 minute walk into the heart of Oia - but there isn't much motivation to leave too often. You can even have a romantic candlit dinner by the pool (which is probably better than much of what you'll find in town).

The crowd is mainly honeymooners, couples and the occassional flush lone traveller. Perivolas has consistently been featured in the Conde Nast Traveller Top 100 Hotels list, and won the Best Small Hotel in Europe in 2010.

There's nothing not to love about this place. There's wifi, but no TV or DVD - just lay back, unwind, order another frappe and and feel the weight of London life slip effortlessly off your shoulders. Utter bliss.

Perivolas, Oia, Santorini, Tel: +30 22860 71308,
Budget: Extreme splurge. Rates vary for rooms and seasons (from approx €500 upwards in high season). If I had the budget to stay here for night's on end, this would be my pick for ultimate luxury.

Breakfast with quite the view
(beat's my usual Vegemite on toast looking down Sex Alley in Soho)

The view from our balcony at Andronis Suites is a little slice of heaven on earth. 

Hard times at the Andronis Suites

 The view from the pool's not bad either.

The spacious cave like rooms have, again, the tranquility of a spa. There's a huge bed, big, comfy rocking chairs, a massive wide couch and flat screen tv - but that's only relevant if you can take your eyes off the views. Soak them in from the private balcony where your fabulous silver service breakfast is served (fruits, pastries, cakes and your choice of Greek or American cooked breakies are among your many options), or even from the spa tub in your room. We had 2 balconies.

Night time in the cave

The bathrooms are a cave like oasis with soothing, dark tiled and a huge rainfall shower head. Oh, and there's a view of the caldera from the shower. Of course.

And I still haven't mentioned the infinity pool overlooking the caldera, with sun lounges and hammocks. Enjoy a sundowner as the sky slowly fades to pink, and I can vouch for the awesome frappes.

Dinner anyone?

Service is 5 star - lovely staff take care of your every whim with a smile - right down to the bright pink wedges of refreshing watermelon served poolside mid morning. Call to have a DVD or book brought from the library, or - get this - a laptop with wireless connection brought to your room or sunbed. There is WiFi in the rooms, although we found our connection cut out a lot. Flourishes include champagne on arrival as well as a welcome bottle of deliciously crisp Santorini white wine and a taster plate - fava bean puree with capers and onion, and strawberry poached in cognac with yoghurt.

We didn't join the diners perched on the cliff edge for a romantic private dinner, but this taste of Andronis was gorgeous. There's an all day menu, and they also arrange wine tastings and on site spa treatments.

A tip for new arrivals - make sure you close the blinds over the spa at night while you're still in a state to wade in to do so - otherwise you'll be woken by the light sooner after sunrise than you might wish.

Hotel Andronis Luxury Suites, Oia Santorini, Greece, (Tel: +30 22860 72041), 
Budget: Extreme splurge, as for Perivolas. Rates vary for rooms and seasons (from approx €500 upwards in high season).

Aria Suites:

The beach home away from home...

For more action, and no shortage of jewellers and souvenir shops, head to Fira. At Aria Suites you can have a mini apartment bigger than my flat right on the fringe of the main drag, but somehow in a little pocket of peace and quiet.

Walls and linens are crisp and white, with heavenly goose feather pillows, chic beach house style furnishings, gorgeous Korres bath products, small flat screen tv, wifi and with pool and ocean views.

Our bright pink bathroom had a jacuzzi and our balcony with caldera views was perfect for watching the ships sail by over a champagne breakfast, or for staring down that sunset, which was even brighter thank those we caught at Oia, even if our photos were obscured by the local telephone wires.

Without all the honeymooners, this is the hotel that we would feel least out of place in as a lone traveller or travelling with children.

Sunset view from our balcony - we also had a huge breakfast delivered there in the morning

A chaser to our eggs and bacon

Again, friendly faultless service (Dimitra on the front desk is a champion) and lots of nice touches like a welcome bowl of fruit and a bottle of Sigalas wine on arrival and free transfers. The pool area has a bar and loads of lounge chairs, although the pool is not infinity style - but you won't be complaining.

A great choice for that glamorous home away from home feel, within a hop from the action of Fira but a world away from the hustle and bustle.

Aria Suites, Fira, Santorini, Tel: +30 22860 28650,
Budget: Medium - from €180 - €480 per night depending on the room and season.

Esperas Traditional Houses:

View from inside the caves over the pool at Esperas

Still with the breathtaking luxuriousness, but a price bracket down, Esperas Traditional Suites is terrific value.

Open the shutters to amazing ocean views

Each cave like suite is built into the cliff facing the sunset with a private balcony overlooking the ocean - each room has it's own character but individual quirks and shapes. This is one of the rare hotels in Oia where you get that famous sunset view from your own balcony. Just sit back with a bottle of Santorini white, a platter of dips and olives, and watch the crowds crawl in from Fira to rabble for the same view from the castle above.

One of the few hotels in Oia with a sunset view from your own balcony

The crowds jostle for the same view from the castle, while you sip your ouzo in style...

Our standard suite was less ostentatious than at other hotels, but still gorgeous, and with more distinct local character - charming and more lovable in some ways. Traditional furnishings (like painted plates), blue shutters and lots of sunshine create a happy haven. The beds are THE most comfortable that I have EVER slept on - and being built into a romantic alcove, you can lie back and feel like you're nestled into a cloud above the sea. Open your windows in the morning to some amazing views.

The bed sent down from HEAVEN

The blue tiled bathrooms are flush with light and also have the to die for views.

Service here is again fabulous. Lie back by the infinity pool next to miniature olive trees overlooking the ocean and the ships sailing past the island, swim into the tranquil caves over the pool, and forget there are any worries in the world.

We took breakfast by the pool - with a full range of delights like cheese or spinach pies, sausage omlettes, santorini cherry tomatoes with olives and cucumber, fruit salad, creamy, thick Greek yoghurt with local honey, cereals, toast etc.

The friendly staff will recommend places to eat, and make your reservations for you. DVDs and CDs are supplied and there's a small TV in the room (quite hard to see from the bed - if you want to).

This place is chilled back and gorgeous. It feels like a quiet village a million miles away from the throng. It's directly above Amoudi where you can have lunch or dinner on the waterfront at the bottom of the cliffs.

Esperas Traditional Houses, Oia, Santorini, Tel: +30 22860 71088,
Budget: More affordable luxury from 200-800 per night depending on the room and the season. This is my pick of the places to stay for more affordable luxury.

Other things to do:

- Hire quads and scoot around the island to the iconic red and black beaches of Santorini.
- For about 50 euros per head you can hire a boat and be sailed around the island for half a day of beach hopping and meals - the late afternoon shift includes dinner and sunset.
- Island hop on ferries to Mykonos or to Naxos for some great beaches.
- Reeelaaax

How to get there:
We took a charter flight with Thomas Cook directly from Gatwick Airport to Thira (Santorini) for approx £226 in peak season.

Greedy Diva was a guest of the 4 hotels mentioned above.


  1. WOW what a great time you had in Greece! The accommodations look well appointed. I like the look of that cheese and spinach pie.

  2. Bloody hell! I almost needed to wear sunglasses reading this post. BTW - are you heading back to Oz soon?

  3. Thank you for that sparkling break from looking out at bleak London today! I went to Crete for a week a couple of years ago and while it was gorgeous and fun, by the end of the week I was really ready for a change in menu options!

  4. What an utterly stunning post. I can't believe summer is over already, I want to do it all over again - beautiful fruit on the terrace for breakfast, clear blue seas and skies and the freshest seafood ever. Santorini is now on the 'to visit' wishlist :-)

  5. I've just got back from Santorini. Amazing place - didn't find it to be a foodie heaven particularly though but great all the same.

  6. Hi,
    Great post - brings back lovely memories of a trip to Santorini eight years ago.

  7. Perfect timing - THANK YOU! I have been researching romantic holiday destinations in Greece/Italy and this is such a useful guide for Santorini. What beautiful places to stay - just what I'm looking for!

  8. Thanks all - enjoy the little glimpses of sunshine!

    Hi Mr Noodles - Yes, I'm heading back to Melbourne in November where I plan to report back faithfully on brunches, coffee, Thai food, Italian food, Chinese food and travels! I will miss London so much!(Fine print: except for the weather).

  9. For good? You and Greedy Chick both?!

    Are you in fact the same person?!

  10. The Perfect Trough - Hah! You've uncovered my ruse! I think you mean Gourmet Chick! Very confusing. Two Australians, both from Melbourne and, yes, both going permanently back to Melbourne about the same time!

  11. Nah I was joking. I know the difference!

    Will miss you both, but looking forward to the Melbourne content (I spent some months there).

  12. The Perfect Trough - Funny, but we actually do get people mix us up all the time - our real life names are very similar too! And we both eat a lot!!

  13. And I shall miss both of you!
    What a lovely trip! x

  14. Perfectly timed for my trip to Santorini - just to confuse people more! xx Greedy Chick/ Gourmet Diva.

  15. My goodness me!!! Could I be any more envious... What a beautiful place. x

  16. It looks like a dream :)


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