Silver Travel Advisor writer, David Graham, tells us why it’s one of his favourite places. Cliche time, but there’s one Greek holiday island that really deserves its place on any ‘must see’ list before you take the final trip no traveller ever returns from.
No surprise to be told that it’s Santorini, which stakes a firm claim to being the inspiration for the mythical paradise of Atlantis and still manages to cast a spell on everyone lucky enough to go there.
The approach is simply stunning, especially by sea, as you sail in under the towering, multi-coloured cliffs, with the picture-postcard clusters of gleaming white houses and blue-domed churches icing the top at the capital, Fira, and picturesque Oia.
Once ashore, the first thing that strikes you about the beaches is that the sand is black. Or sometimes white. Or even red – but mainly black, for mile after unspoiled mile. It becomes even more bizarre the more you look at what you’re walking on – and realise you’re visiting one of the most amazing places on the planet – the remains of a volcano that erupted around 1,500BC. Visitors are astounded by wind-carved rocks which look like a Star Trek set, cave houses dug into hillsides all over the island, and cliffs sculpted into shapes which would be impressive in the Tate Modern.
That said, there are vineyards too which produce very drinkable wines, offered in settings just perfect for the most romantic of Santorini sunsets. There are trendy new establishments on the island, although it’s not too hard to find a traditional taverna, where the whole family is involved in cooking and serving exceptional local dishes. Akrotiri on the south coast is a good spot for such an experience. Perissa and Perivolos are also here and cater very much for the tourist market, which might not be for everyone’s taste, but are certainly worth a look.
We stayed in Kamari, just around the huge, high headland which is the site of the island’s ancient capital – a five-minute trip by handy water taxi from Perissa, or a scenic drive by car, via Emporio and back to Pyrgos, gateway to the rest of the island. It is a bustling resort in summer and also an established little town with family life at its heart, where locals live all year round. Excellent for the more authentic Greek holiday.
If you love the high life, you can also discover that luxury hideaways in Fira, its upmarket neighbour Imerovigli, or sunset spot Oia. Spoiling yourself in such a stunning place is easy to do!
Silver Travel Advisor’s Jennie Carr visited Crete, where she was thrilled by the peace and quiet to be found on the western side of the island, with weather still perfect in October.
Heading up into the White Mountains, there are villages which step out of previous centuries, and a languor in the air which induces relaxation within seconds. Although the roads and switchbacks here do require a wide-awake driver, with an inclination to rallying! We happened upon a Byzantine church, open every other Tuesday afternoon, with original icons, and several tiny cave chapels that seemed to have grown from the ground.
One of the great games in Crete is spelling because place names need to be translated from the Greek alphabet into Roman letters. What is seen on a road map may not reflect, by quite a few letters, what is seen on the actual road sign. And given that some road signs have suffered the odd bullet scar due to historic feuding, finding where you want to go can be a cross between orienteering and good guesswork. We loved it!
Back on the more popular coast, the city of Chania has everything you’d expect from a former capital: Venetian harbour and lighthouse, a well-stocked produce market and restaurants ranging from Italian to tiny tavernas literally in archways. There’s a strong cultural life too, the English National Ballet were due to visit. Rethymnon charmed us – cobbled streets, wooden doorways aplenty and a flock of black-coated Orthodox priests popping up on every square. The Fortezza here is impressive, with Venetian origin and Ottoman overtones including a masque within the fortress walls.
For a relaxing beach afternoon we sampled Kalives, good sand and a warm sea – wonderful in the warm October sun. What could be better?
The serene charms of Crete and Santorini provide the perfect setting for an archaeological odyssey into the deep-rooted antiquity of European culture. Meet the Minoans, Europe’s earliest civilisation. This creative, prosperous society, named after the legendary King Minos, was the forerunner to Classical Greece and has been shrouded in an aura of mystery and mythology ever since. Here was the birth of Zeus, the seduction of Europa, the labyrinth of the Minotaur and the fabled city of Atlantis.
Get off the beaten track to where myth and reality converge in one of the Mediterranean’s most significant and sought after destinations. There is a fascinating array of archaeological sites to explore, including the palaces of Knossos and Phaistos, and a wealth of artistic treasures to see in the island’s museums, including superb frescoes, snake goddesses and golden-horned bulls. More details from Hidden History Travel.
Simpson Travel offer villas and hotels on Crete
www.simpsontravel.com Telephone 020 3393 0610
Sunvil offer wonderful holidays on Santorini.
www.sunvil.co.uk Telephone 020 8758 4758
For archaeological discoveries in Greece, Hidden History Travel offer super escorted tours.
www.hiddenhistory.co.uk Telephone 0121 444 1854