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March 25, 2014

A Taste of Santorini

When I think of Santorini, vivid images and flavors come to mind: the spectacular caldera view, the unforgettable sunset in Oia, the endless blues of the Aegean sea, the volcanic soil, the bright acidity of this special terroir’s white wines and the local produce and fresh seafood.

Santorini, or Thira, has been blessed by the gods with these abundant natural resources, making it a unique and unforgettable destination. The islands of Thira were formed by 12 volcanic explosions over the last 120,000 years.

On the main island, the coveted hotels all have caldera views. At the northern tip of the island is Oia, a town with picturesque whitewashed houses hugging the cliff and filled with shops, restaurants, churches and inns.

From Oia, take a boat ride to the island of Nea Kameni to hike the volcano and swim in the hot springs. The volcano is still active, though it tends to only erupt every 20,000 years. Save the afternoon for a relaxed meal and drinks, and make sure that you are well positioned for the most stunning view of the sunset in Oia. Believe me when I say that this view is just priceless.

Santorini is known for its cherry tomatoes, capers, white eggplants, fava beans and seafood. At Nichteri, chef Vassilis Zacharakis showcases fresh local flavors. The restaurant is on the black sandy beachfront of Kamari.

While in Kamari, visit Gaia winery. Once a tomato cannery, the stone building that houses the winery, with its beachfront open-air tasting room, is unique. Santorini’s main grape variety, Assyrtiko, is known for its strong mineral character and crisp acidity. Because it’s so windy in Santorini, the vines are pruned with wreath-like baskets to shelter the grapes from wind and sand. The bone-dry Thalassitis and my favorite, Assyrtiko by Gaia – Wild Ferment, are perfect food-pairing white wines. Gaia also makes red wines and Vinsanto.

In the southern part of the main island is the prehistoric town of Akrotiri. Much like Pompeii, the town was completely buried and preserved under ash during a volcano eruption in 17th century B.C. Excavations have revealed a civilization advanced in the arts with sophisticated wall paintings, many of which depict exotic plants and animals, suggesting that the town’s mariners were well traveled.

Close to the excavation site of Akrotiri is The Cave of Nikolas, a heartwarming taverna run by Nikolas Alefragis, his wife, Margarita, and their son, Minas. The home-style cooking and service will make you want to come back for more.

Just above the Marina of Vlichada is the excellent seafood restaurant To Psaraki. Needless to say, they have easy access to the freshest catch of the day, which happened to be scorpion fish when I visited. It was simply meaty, juicy and delicious.

Santorini is in full swing from spring to late autumn. Now is just the right time to plan a visit.