santorini

Ask anyone who has ever visited this volcanic Greek island in the southern Aegean and they’ll conjure up intense, dreamlike images of Santorini. It’s a place which etches itself onto the aesthetic memory, leaving you grasping for adjectives to convey it in your own personal snapshot. The island’s caldera towns with contrasting whitewashed Cycladic architecture built onto the dramatic red cliffs are unmistakeable, warm and inviting, the jewel among them the spectacular town of Oia in the north west. I rang my mother before leaving. “The magic donkey town!” she exclaimed. Apparently, on arriving in the harbour after a stormy sail through the Greek islands in spring 1970, there was a sudden apparition of donkeys, ready to carry her and her seasick party “up, up, up from the sea to the brightest, beautiful town we’d ever seen.”

Beyond spellbinding scenery, Santorini’s draw can be attributed to its abundance of cultural treasures. Aesthetes and sun-seekers alike make for the caldera’s vernacular architecture, getting lost in the mesmerising chaos of cupolas, domes, excavated houses and rooftops which intercept in a kaleidoscope of colour and light. A longstanding case study for architects (Le Corbusier is said to have drawn inspiration from here) it’s the perfect place to capture those mandatory social media holiday snaps.

Foodies also make the pilgrimage to enjoy fruits of unusually arid yet rich soil yielding intensely flavoured tomatoes, aubergines and cucumbers, as well as wine from one of Europe’s oldest vineyards. History nerds will be entranced by the mysterious traces of Minoan and Cycladic civilisation. Plato makes reference to an ancient civilisation on a prosperous land which vanished without a trace due to a sudden natural disaster, while in the legend of Atlantis a city sinks into the sea due to the anger of the gods. With ash fire still bubbling at its core, Santorini is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history and is commonly referred to as ‘the Pompeii of the Aegean’ – many believe it was the inspiration behind both myths.

And what for the fashionistas? When Berta Bernad, Camille Charriere and I arrived at Canaves Oia hotel, hot, sweaty and ever-so-slightly grumpy from an extremely early flight from London, we were floored by its stunning sea views and smooth-as-Greek-yoghurt white constructs. The friendly proprietor greeted us warmly, adding “You’re going to love it here. It’s the best place for Instagram in the world.” To ensure we looked the part, we were decked to the low-key nines in attire from M.i.h. Jeans‘ SS16 collection. Over-packing aside, all you really need are their nautical tees, oversized shirts and loose-cut denims to match the deep blues, bright whites and sunny yellows of the scenery. Outfits picked out, we set out to discover the island.

Walking is the best way to get to know Santorini. We started with Oia’s main street, where postcard-perfect cafes, bars and restaurants line narrow alleys and hidden passageways which lead down to magical sea views. It’s a place to enjoy being lost.

But don’t miss the enchanting Atlantis Books. Voted by The Guardian as one of the best book shops in the world, it’s a haven for bibliophiles, shelves stacked with short stories, biographies, poetry and philosophy – stock up on some serious poolside reading material. Then walk down the stairs to Amoudi Bay below, where there a handful of fresh-as-you-can-get fish restaurants to choose from.

Santorini is also known for its unique grey, black and red sand beaches. In pursuit of further adventure – though not quite brave enough for mopeds – we piled into our convertible for a day trip to Perissa. Following a spectacular 45-minute cliffside drive, we reached the best of the island’s beaches with deep water perfect for swimming traditional Greek tavernas lining the beach. Just around the bend, Kamari is a grey-sand tourist hotspot with water sports and picturesque deckchairs.

If you’re feeling sprightly take a hike from Fira to Oia. Many locals suggest this walk – which can take between two and five hours depending on how much retsina you stop to drink along the way – as the best way of taking in the island’s spectacular views. Beginning in Fira, it takes you through the rural villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli before you arrive at Oia on the island’s very tip. Easy on the eye, you’ll struggle to choose which of your many pictures to upload to Instagram.

While there are lovely restaurants dotted all over Santorini’s waterfront, the best food doesn’t usually come with a sea view. Instead, you’ll find it tucked away in traditional restaurants like the family-run Candouni, an old house with a patio restaurant where the owner’s handsome son, Pano, dishes up a menu of local produce and will happily sit and explain the island’s history over a bottle of wine. We went back three times, just to make sure that each of our M.i.h. Jeans’ denim dresses got a proper outing (and absolutely nothing to do with Pano, of course…).

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Unchartered: A guide to lesser known Greek Islands

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