One of the places I always wanted to go was Greece. Specifically a beautiful island I once saw on Pinterest. I actually didn’t bother to check which one it was at the time, but when I arrived I instantly recognized it.
This year I’ve been lucky enough to find myself there on a surprise trip. As in, I didn’t know where we were going. Not until the plane started landing circa islands with white buildings and blue roofs did I realize I was in Greece. Unexpectedly I felt overwhelmed with emotion and things didn’t get better until I was offered some local wine in our hotel.
Speaking of hotel…it really appealed to my OCD - sparking white bedding, meticulous room… But the best part was breakfast with a view. Santorini has many charming places to stay, but as I only visited one, I will talk about ours, as it's something I can honestly recommend.
Mill Houses has a few unique features:
1. You pre-order your breakfast each day by ticking boxes next to many choices of food and drinks, and you can have as many of the same choice as you like…so it’s essentially a buffet without self service.
2. You eat at your own table just outside your room, with a view of very much alive volcano nearby in the beautiful ocean.
3. Their restaurant - Mylos is what looks like, a very fine dining, Michelin-aspiring establishment.
We were very happy with our cosy room and the level of service. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and made you feel like they don’t see 100 new faces each week.
The island it self is very special indeed. Night-time views are magical, mornings are very tranquil and set you in a good mood for the day, the evenings…well, Santorini is famous for its sunsets.
In general, many (including myself) report Greece to have an instant calming effect on people. Which is handy considering some only have a weekend here or there for getaways and don’t have 24 hours or so to get used to not being at work.
Something to consider – if you’re elderly, it’s probably not the best place to be, as there are many many many steps and up-hills to be walked in the heat, due to the fact that hotels with the best views of the sunsets and volcano are on top of one side of the island, but the beaches are on the other, which means you have to take a bus, taxi or rent a car from the centre of the city (quite a walk).
When not going to the beach, people go to visit the volcano or go out on boat trips. We went on a boat trip to the volcano. I must say – I didn’t think it was necessary to include that in our long weekend because once we were on the volcano climbing a huge dusty mountain for half an hour, I wasn’t sure why anyone would that. It’s perfectly ok to see it from your hotel. There’s no crater or anything interesting on top, in fact, the crater is under water…and one of the edges of that crater is the island you’re sleeping on.
We were told that the only reason Santorini is inhibited and full of hotels is because it has a view of an active volcano. Which, personally, I find strange. I’m all for nice views, but do they have to be dangerous? Just in the 70’s the thing blew up and blinded a bunch of locals with its sulphuric smoke…that’s why there are so many churches on the island…they’re praying for volcano's lengthy sleep.
When we were taken to swim in the hot springs…we were warned that light bathing suits will be stained. I’m not one to ever miss out on adventure because of faric, but once I saw these “hot springs” I decided to just take a dip nearer the boat and spare my swimsuit. They’re basically just warmer currents nearer to the land, which smell and stain. No complaints, just not something I personally think it's a must.
Although relatively far (if you’re not in the hotel by the beach) beaches are rather nice. Lots of lovely restaurants and free sun-chairs and umbrellas. Non-pushy and very welcoming waiters will get you anything you wish while you’re sunning. People talk about this beach or that beach being more amazing than one another, but in reality they’re pretty much the same, except maybe the red beach, which looks a bit more interesting visually, but you have to rent a car to get there. Most beaches are black pebbles (lava) and, a warning – you will need swimming shoes to go in the water, pebbles make it a bit painful getting in and out.
If you opt for Kamari beach, which I recommend because of this...I highly recommend you take your lunch at Nichteri restaurant. And to make it easier on yourself, you should probably take up a sun-chair there too. Chef Vassilis is clearly very proud of his food, clued up on modern techniques and very much aware of what tastes good – fresh, local, organic, simple and traditional. Everyone around us was talking about how amazing the food was, which is always a clear sign. This is the place for incredibly delicious Souvlaki...as quality, taste and freshness is guaranteed.
Back on top of the mountain there are a couple of restaurants I want to mention as well. We ate at Vanilia, Mylos and Aktaion Taverna. All recommended by the hotel. Vanilia was good, but there are better places. Not the best value for money, but not bad and the sunset view was great.
Mylos is high-end, but worth the spend in terms of the elegance, the view and chefs efforts as well as the exceptional service. However, I thought some of the food was not spectacular for the price. For instance, the fish was lovely, but only OK and in French portions. But my country-style lamb and potato creations inspired by the chefs memories of his grandfathers village – was truly mouthwatering and satisfying. This was the kicker – they were told it was my birthday, so they baked a cake. A whole cake. It was absolutely gorgeous and so delicious we ate the whole thing (with a little help from our neighbours) by breakfast. I felt really touched.
Best for last – Aktaion Taverna. A tiny, very old tavern with the most incredible food. Where better to eat on holiday, than somewhere truly authentic? This place was my dream. Old furniture, old photos everywhere, very traditional menu, cheap local wine, which is delicious despite its price tag and of course, spectacular food. My aubergine wrapped goat cheese and piping hot moussaka were so good, we came back the following day and ordered more before we headed for the airport.