There may be no equal to Santorini as a romantic destination. I looked forward to seeing this island most of all because of how breathtaking I thought it was when I sailed into the caldera fifteen years ago.
Sometimes my memory exaggerates places — but in this case, not a bit. Santorini, seen by sea, is totally compelling. By day, it looks at first like snow is dusting the mountain — by night, it is a mass of twinkling lights, and you half expect everyone to break into dance and song a la Mama Mia.
There is not, however, dancing in the streets, but there are a few donkeys ambling down the cobblestones. Donkeys (or mules) are still one way you climb the steep hill from the water to Fira (the main town), and while this may be a bit too odiferous for some people in hot weather, I find it charming. Last time I was here I loved the trip up on the donkeys — this time I tried the chair lift which was efficient but not as memorable.
Santorini is certainly too commercial for some people’s taste, but not for mine. I love looking at the jewelry, art, clothes and other offerings. This is not always a romantic pastime — most men are not as enthusiastic about that much capitalist grazing. But it’s fun if you don’t overdo it. My group thought the shops were of better quality than in Mykonos, and we left several shops with a lot less merchandise than they began the day with.
Walking around, however, was a bit taxing for some of our group. The cobblestones are attractive but if you are an unsteady walker you could take a tumble (I saw two people trip and fall). This is simply not a town for someone with a disability.
We had decided to go to Oia, a town on the north of the island, reputably high on the charm and romance index. Rejecting the idea of a 30-plus euro cab ride we went to the central bus station and caught bus number one. After a decidedly uncomfortable but cheap (1.40 euros) bus ride, we arrived in town and headed off to get some food and a good view of the caldera.
The town proved to be smaller than Fira but more elegant. The views were spectacular (and there is no hyperbole here). Starving, we took a chance on a restaurant because it had a lovely walkway full of geraniums and because it seemed like it would face the caldera. We succeeded beyond our wildest hopes — so let my dumb luck be your plan for when you come to Oia.
The restaurant is called Strogili — it is right off the main shopping street — and the food was absolutely delicious. The eggplant so mesmerized my friend’s husband that he took pictures of it, and wheedled the recipe out of the waiter. The grilled grouper was perfect. The view was so awesome, so romantic that it would be on my list of places to propose. In fact, we were seated next to a group who had come there to be married, so I guess I’m not the first person to have this idea.
Santorini is very beachy. Perissa and Kamari have black sand beaches and people swore to us that the water was warmer there because the black sand absorbed more heat. I didn’t test that thesis — we ran out of time to try them and went back to the Asamara to shed our sweaty clothes and get cleaned up for the Greek feast and dancing.
It was a lavish affair — there were mountains of grilled lamb chops and an endless buffet; the whole boat was seated around the pool on three levels cheering on the dancers and in some cases, joining them. I was not drinking enough to get into a line of dancing strangers; my friends and I gravitated to the third floor where we played shuffleboard under the lights of Santorini, dancing intermittently when the classic rock and roll band came on. It was a swell end to a superb day.