Earlier this year, as summer gave way to autumn, we escaped the big smoke for what must surely be one of the most beautiful islands on earth: Santorini.
Each of us had a myriad of reasons for needing to be away from London, and honestly, this little slice of heaven on earth is an ideal cure for those with heavy hearts and souls. After much deliberation, we chose Amber Light Villas as our base. A short drive from Imerovigli, it's on the non-caldera side of the island, and while this means it doesn't get the stunning sunsets you might associate with Santorini, it's blissfully quiet and devoid of the tourists who are actually allowed to traipse through the hotels on the caldera side. With wonderfully attentive staff, delicious breakfasts, a huge and mostly deserted pool and fantastic spa, I can unreservedly say that this is a perfect, luxurious choice for guests seeking rest and recuperation.
Our suite was airy and tranquil, with our own little private pool and gazebo to eat (the excellent room service food) under. On the first night we were gifted a complimentary bottle of wine; cakes, honeyed almonds and baklava followed on the nightly turning down service.
I spent many a contented hour lounging by the pool reading (J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World for my first few days, a terrifying fantasy of a swampy, submerged London), listening to music and being transfixed by miniature battles between lizards and their insect prey.
Arriving after dark on our first night, we ventured out to the nearby town of Fira to feast on mashed fava beans, cheesy shrimp saganaki and endless seafood at Argo. In the dark, it was impossible to tell just how beautiful the caldera was (though that's a story for my next post!)
The next day, after a morning of relaxing, we headed to Pyrgos, in the middle of the island. First on the agenda was a stroll around the monastery of Prophet Elias, perched on top of a mountain. You can't get much more remote than that. And remoteness from all things social media, Wi-Fi and other people is an ideal way to reconnect with one's spirituality...
Next we descended into the village below, where I promptly bought a sunhat to protect myself from the sunlight, which was strong even in September. Also bought: one big bag of pistachios, endemic to the area and thus cheap - and addictive. Thirsty from our time up at the monastery, we followed signs to a 'Franco's Café' through the town, passing through winding alleys, climbing up painted steps...
...making one friend...
...then another (I felt very sorry for this piteous-looking gentleman.)
Finally we got to Franco's, and boy, was it worth the walk. Ella Fitzgerald crooned softly from the speakers, the juice was cold and fresh, the biggest basil plant I've ever seen sat in the window, and...
...this monster was on the menu! So yummy, and the Santorini tomatoes were as fresh as you'd expect, positively bursting with flavour.
As the sun crept towards the horizon, we made our way to a restaurant the hotel had booked for us: Selene. Little did we know that it was one of the best restaurants in the Cyclades. There isn't a Michelin Star system in Santorini, but if there was, this place would surely have one. And we rolled up all dusty and red in the face from our walk, wearing Birkenstocks, shorts and t-shirts. Not exactly prepared for the elegant, sophisticated meal that was about to go down. Well, that's what I get for not doing my research...
But all my cares over suitable attire went out of the window when I saw my first Santorini sunset.
I felt there was a delicacy to all of Selene's dishes, evident in their conception, cooking and presentation. This is something that many restaurants in Santorini aspire to but don't quite hit the mark (something I can vouch for, as you will see in my upcoming posts!) Selene, however, is the real deal. My starter - scallops with crab, chickpeas, zucchini, ginger and cocoa butter - was truly delicious.
Pappardelle with cuttlefish, broccoli cream, tomato confit and anthotiro cheese.
My first taste of Santorini wine.
'Piglet' - with potato foam, chips, a wine reduction, pitta bread, baked onion, garlic butter and a tomato marmalade.
'Sea bass' - perched on a sea urchin risotto, with compressed fennel and a truffle cream with vinsanto.
'Rabbit stifado' - rabbit three ways. I loved the presentation of this dish, with blobs of red sweet pepper ketchup, peach compote, onion dolmas and rosemary oil. Just beautiful.
And finally, dessert. Always the highlight of a meal for me, and particularly so here. The 'Lemon' was playful and clever - two halves of a lemon, one filled with lemon buttercream, mizithra cheese mousse and Italian meringue, and the other with a brilliantly chilly sorbet with mojito and green apple flavours. Exactly what you need on a warm summer's evening.
B's choice reflected her ordering style over the years - always something fruity, and usually sorbet) - whereas mine was totally me - creamy and chocolatey. The 'Loukoumas', a deep-fried dough ball packed with molten chocolate and salted caramel, resting in a bath of spiced crème anglaise and black cherry, could not have been more up my street if it tried.
Our first couple of days in Santorini were a dream - but then again, so were the next few days...and the next. I hope you don't mind that I've waited so many months to post about the trip! I didn't want these posts getting mixed up with my blogging about Sicily, and I thought that the pictures of this sun-drenched paradise might be welcome in the deep midwinter. And they are...but if you're anything like me, they'll also have induced a deep sense of longing and wanderlust. Next stop, the magical and much-Instagrammed town of Oia!