Sunday 22 September 2013

Sites of Santorini, Greece

I’ve just returned from a stunningly beautiful small island in Greece called Santorini, where I holidayed with my sister. The island itself is relatively small and yet holds a good variety of shops, restaurants, beaches and site-seeing possibilities.

I took along some Greek translation cards explaining I had coeliac disease and couldn’t eat wheat, bread etc. This helped a lot in restaurants, although the waiters still seemed to insist on bringing bread to the table. I even had one who insisted that some seeded bread was different to the normal bread, so I don’t think it was always fully understood. I also had to watch enviously as my sister tucked into the most delicious looking cakes, baklava, spanakopita, waffles, stuffed pitta bread on offer. Thankfully the islands fruit and yoghurt was amazing, so I didn’t go hungry.

On our first day we visited Oia. This town is located at the top of the island and is a bit more up-market than the rest of the island. We had a lovely time exploring the cobbled streets and admiring the truly spectacular views. All the buildings are painted white and the churches have matching blue painted roofs, which make a great contrast to the dark rocky cliff they are set into. Being built into the cliff means everything is very steep so we both developed some good walking legs by the end of the holiday, but it’s worth the climb for the wonderful views over the sea.

In Oia we found a lovely taverna to eat lunch in, which had the most spectacular views. I sat gazing out at the view, almost not believing I was really there.

I sampled my first traditional Greek salad. I was amazed at the enormous wedge of feta they placed on top, but it was very creamy and nicely salty, which you need in such hot weather. The base was very chunky cut tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and green pepper. The side of the plate was smeared with a black olive puree and everything was sprinkled in oregano and capers. It was so fresh and tasty, and even though it was swimming in a pool of olive oil it didn’t taste greasy at all. Just what you need on a hot day.

Another town, Perissa, had a beach famous for its black sands. We spent a very relaxing day swimming in the sea and reading in the shade of the palm parasols.

I enjoyed a dish of Greek yoghurt, honey and walnuts. The yogurt is Greece is amazing!! Its so thick and creamy, it’s almost like clotted cream, and yet a lot fresher tasting. The walnuts were crisp and almost had an oven baked flavour, but I think this is due to their freshness and the heat from the sun. I usually had honey and fruit for breakfast but did have it as a dessert a couple of times. The restaurants were exceedingly generous with the honey. It was almost too much, very sweet and slightly floral tasting.
My sister enjoyed a delicious looking waffle with ice cream and fresh fruits.

For dinner I had one of my favourite meals on the island in a restaurant called Stani in the main town of Fira, where we were staying. It was baked stuffed tomatoes and green pepper which had been filled with a creamy herby rice filling. I think the main herb was dill, which was a surprising choice but worked really well. Santorini is famous for its tomatoes, which are large, plump and full of flavour. You can see them growing amongst grape vines in the land surrounding the villages as you travel around.

The restaurants table clothes had been printed with a map of the island which was a great idea as it meant we could point and talk about where we wanted to visit next and how to get there.

In Akrotiri we visited its famous red sands beach which involved a perilous clamber over the rocky cliff to the beach below. Sadly it was a scorching hot day and there was not the merest hint of shade so we didn’t stay too long. We walked along the base of the coast to a lovely restaurant that had a short walkway stretching out into the sea which had the perfect lunch spot.

I sampled another local dish I’d been longing to try, Fava Beans, which are a chunky puree of yellow split peas. This was topped with fresh and sundried tomatoes, red onion and caper leaves, another Santorini specialty. These are the leaves of the caper plant which have been pickled and brined in the same way capers are. They added a great salty tang and the fava beans were creamy and similar to a milder version of houmous. I couldn’t eat the bread it came with so had some fried potatoes instead.
My sister tried Tomato Balls, which actually turned out to be thick tomato fritters served with a cheesy, yoghurty dip. Anyone know what this dip is? It wasn’t tzatziki. I tasted a bit and it was delicious and not something I've come across before.

Dinner was back in Fira at a wonderful restaurant we happened to stumble across. It was an open air courtyard set back from the road, filled with plants and wicker tables and chairs which gave it a nice secluded feel. They even had vines complete with large bunches of dark purple grapes growing from the overhead trellis.

I had a green salad which comprised of green apple, avocado, lettuce, green pepper and spring onions in a citrus and herby dressing that had an aniseed tang to it.

Afterwards we both treated ourselves to some gelato from the market square. Dark chocolate for my sister and I couldn’t resist the pistachio. So creamy and full of flavour. I think Greece is a great place is you like nuts, they are so fresh and seem to be in abundance.

Fira has an old port that you can book boat trips from to either visit nearby islands or explore the sea. We walked down the 600 steps, yes 600! that snaked down the cliff to get to the port. You can get a donkey ride down if you wish, but we decided to walk it. At the port we caught a very pirate-esque looking ship and set sail. 
After a short sail we stopped a short distance from a cove where we were informed there were hot springs to bathe in. We had to jump overboard into the sea – so much fun – and swim to the cove. The water started out freezing cold and then slowly got warmer the warmer the nearer we got. The worst bit was having to swim back again when the water got colder and colder, but once back on board we soon warmed up again. The springs themselves are muddy and sulphurous, the heat coming from the nearby volcano. This gave the water a brown hue and stained us and our swimming costumes a murky brown colour. (The stains in our swim wear didn’t come out in the wash, so don’t wear your best bikini)!
We then sailed to a nearby island which had a large volcano in the centre. We were dropped off to climb up the steep rocky slopes to the crater top. It is apparently an active volcano, but thankfully there were no trembles while we were there. The views again were spectacular.

Once back in Fira we treated ourselves to a sunset cocktail, which was lovely and refreshing, but probably not the best idea when you are hungry and a bit dehydrated. I don’t drink much and really felt its effects, thankfully it was only a short wavering walk to dinner. We ate in a taverna overlooking the sea and were treated to the most spectacular sunset. The sun looking stunning sinking below the small island opposite. Simply amazing.

Our final excursion was a visit to Kamari. We’d hired a quad bike and drove up a perilously steep and windy road to the very top of the island where the old ruined town of Old Thira resides. I’d recommend hiring a quad to get up here, it’s very steep and winding and even on the bike it took us nearly half an hour to get up there. I wouldn’t want to walk it. There was one hairy moment where we got stuck on a very steep bend after stopping to let a lorry pass us, we then didn’t have enough momentum to get up the slope and I had to hop off quickly (my sister was driving). As there are no barriers or walls of any of the roads and we were on the edge of a cliff this was a bit hair rising.
Thankfully we made it to the top and explored the old ruins. It was again quite a steep winding walk up along the cliff top and no fencing to stop you plumping off the edge, so not the best idea for young children. The views once again were stunning.

Once back on steadier ground we spent the rest of the day relaxing on Kamari beach before returning to Fira for dinner. I had another classic Greek dish of Dolmades, which are wine/vine leaves wrapped around rice. These came drizzled with a herby lemon sauce and were delicious. Salty, savoury creamy all at once.

I had an amazing time in Greece and was sad to say goodbye to it. The weather, views, sunsets and buildings were beautiful. I was a little sad about all the food I wasn’t able to eat, and it did make choosing places for meals a little more difficult, as they don’t seem to have any gluten free alternatives, even in the supermarkets, but the food I did have was delicious. I’m so jealous of their thick Greek yogurt, here even the expensive stuff doesn’t compare. It’s a holiday I’ll remember forever.


Gluten Free Alchemist said...

Good to see you had a great holiday and managed to find lots to eat. I agree, the yoghurt and honey is amazing in Greece!

The Caked Crusader said...

What lovely photos. My best friend has been on holiday to Santorini and she loved it too.

peps said...

Very nice post!!!
Santorini is a beautiful island!!
I am glad you had a great time!!!

Johanna GGG said...

looks like a fantastic holiday - makes me full of yearning to go to the greek islands - never been there - glad you found some good meals to eat - and it looks like you could have eaten all the greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts you wanted and walked it off with all the walking and steps

Chocolate Shavings said...

Those photos are so gorgeous! I've always wanted to visit Greece. And the food looks delicious!

Unknown said...

WOW what a great time you had in Greece! The accommodations look well appointed. I like greece.
Places to visit in Greece