Oh, island in the sun
The lyrics of Oh, Island In the Sun by Irving Burgie and Harry Belafonte could have been written about Santorini and not some mythical Caribbean archipelago.
Well perhaps the words ‘all my days I will sing in praise of your forest, waters, your shining sand’ aren’t a complete fit.
Santorini is a volcanic blob surrounded by the emerald blue waters of the Aegean approximately 120 miles south of the Greek mainland … and it is beautiful.
Best of all you can fly from Bristol Airport – or Gatwick or Manchester direct.
A last-minute change of holiday destination saw us basking in the sun for a week at Perissa courtesy of Thomson the German-based giant travel and tourism company.
May was a particularly good month to choose as the temperature hoovered around the mid-20s degrees but in the hazy hot months of August expect to melt when the mercury hits 30 degrees plus.
We stayed at Perissa in the pretty four-star adults-only Kouros by Meltemi hotel.
While the blurb tells you ‘the long, sandy beach is only a couple of minutes’ walk away’ so is the coach stop and what you learn later is the ‘sand’ is black volcanic grit.
With a beach full of sunbeds and thatched umbrellas the lack of yellow sand isn't a problem.
Like Weston-super-Mare when it’s windy – and that’s a lot - everywhere is covered in a fine dust.
The hotel has white walls and blue shutters and mostly a contemporary feel although a peep in some vacated rooms on checkout day revealed a more dated Greek décor.
Be warned even on the hottest days the pool is freezing … and there are quite a lot of outside steps.
Next door is a construction site but this was quiet as a Greek Orthodox church mouse as local regulations forbid building work between May and October.
Best bits were the ‘can-do’ immediacy of the fantastic staff to any queries/requests, overall cleanliness of our accommodation – maid service and fresh towels daily (even Sundays), first floor breakfast balcony with those tiny frankfurter-type sausages foreigners mistakenly think are British cuisine and the lovely open-air ground floor bar area.
But the very best bits in the seven nights we stayed were our fellow travellers.
A nearly 40-year-old called Jo-Lo from Ironbridge was the life and soul of the party and by the end of the week got everyone – staff and guests alike – on first name terms.
The long seafront is full of friendly tavernas, trendy shops, local agents selling adventurous excursions on land and underwater and places to hire all-terrain quad bikes which are the favoured mode of transport along with donkeys.
Alarmingly crash helmets don’t seem to be in vogue or compulsory on this island and the coach trip to the old port involves some pretty scary hairpin bends as the narrow winding road drops down a sheer rock face.
It's no wonder the eucalyptus trees lining the roads have white painted bases to act as cat's eye, the fungus-repellant paint is good at detracting bugs too.
We avoid the ‘pub’ at the hotel corner but many did not and joined Jo-Lo for the obligatory karaoke sessions.
Our funniest moment was when we accidently gatecrashed an evening with four people who we mistakenly believed were best mates with the aforementioned Jo-Lo.
It was only many hours and many drinks later we discovered ‘shock horror’ they were just brief acquaintances of the Salopian lass.
Never mind a good time was had by all and we intend to re-unite with our new friends on a trip to the European city of culture – Hull – later this year.
The helpful Thomson reps were totally word-perfect on the script so by the end of the holiday we knew most of the historical facts about Santorini which is known officially in Greek as Thira.
We found out the Kardashians; Angelica Jolie – while making the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider; Peter Andre – while promoting Oykos yoghurt; and Mick Jagger have all made visits to amazing Oia in the north of the island allegedly staying in a high security gated community which has its own helicopter pad and rooms cost up to £5,000 a night.
We paid a fifth of that for a whole week.
Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera.
A caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, making it a large, special form of volcanic crater – see I was listening!
Escaping islanders are believed to have drown in the ensuing tsunami which gave rise to the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.
While staying on Santorini we climbed a volcano, declined a Shirley Valentine-style dive into a deep lagoon full of hot springs and mud baths from a wooden sailing boat and tasted several glasses of local vino on a fact-finding tour of the Santo vinery.
Despite downing a tipple or two we managed to absorb how the grapes grow in ‘nests’ on the ground and saw some lush mono photographs in the Megaro Gyzi Museum – ooh and we also visited the Museum of Prehistoric Thera full of fossils, ceramics, marble statues and Minoan frescoes from way back.
We also learned the round roof building design and the limit of two storeys for private homes are an earthquake precaution.
For future reference if you want to climb a volcano take hiking boots as the shale and jagged rocks on route pose a potential health and safety risk likewise perhaps not best to down a few tots of Ouzo before venturing into the crystal-clear waters – ask Jo-Lo!
The last big earthquake was in 1956 and during our stay we went to see a deserted village with some cave houses which had suffered devastating losses although some descendants were beginning to cautiously return and rebuild.
Best street fashions spotted on the island were wore by the over-the-top cute Japanese tourists and the mother-and-daughter matching outfits of Jo-Lo and Jo-Hi.
Food wise the moussaka and fish dishes were fabulous but not quite up to the culinary delights of the French and personally I prefer the Mediterranean cuisine of Spain or Portugal.
I dined on shrimps most nights unlike my husband who played it safe by ordering pizza nearly every evening.
The Greek salad is good but for the die-hard English gourmet chips can be served with all main courses.
Worst bits – ashtrays and smokers abound on Santorini and the drunk from Sheffield who made disparaging remarks about Liverpool football fans and led me to miss a pre-paid tour of the monastery the next day in case he was on the coach.
Would we go back – definitely; would we use Thomson again – definitely; and a reunion with the same gang would be the icing on the baklava.
This holiday blog is written with Joanne and Hilary; Claire and Hafed; Jenny and Andrew; Andrea and Chris; and the Yorkshire wedding party in mind – nearly forgot lovely Irma and Cecille and their husbands - thanks for all the happy memories especially of the lovely sunset evenings and poolside chats.