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April 14, 2015, Greece

Gem of the Aegean Sea

Time stands still for Christine Amour-Levar as she is charmed by magical Santorini island.

Christine Amour-Levar

ABOUT a year ago, I was lost in thought, contemplating the beauty of the sparkling Aegean Sea, from a balcony high above the cliffs.

As I stared at the horizon, I felt as if I was sitting at the very edge of the world, at the foot of a heavenly gateway, far from the realities of my usually purposeful life.

Indeed, I was on idyllic Santorini, the celebrated southernmost island of the Cyclades, just a few hours from the mainland of Greece. Directly ahead of me was the spectacular caldera — a cauldron-like lagoon formed by the collapse of land following a massive volcanic eruption some 3,600 years ago.

Lawrence Durrell, the 20th-century expatriate British novelist, who spent his childhood on the island of Corfu, once wrote: “It is hardly a matter of surprise that few, if any, good descriptions of Santorini have been written: the reality is so astonishing that prose and poetry, however winged, will forever be forced to limp behind.”

Thus, it is no surprise that the exquisiteness of the island has a way of plunging those who visit into a trance-like state.

And there are many who still believe today, that Santorini was once Atlantis, one of the most mythical lands ever described, and mankind’s oldest lost paradise.

A childhood dream

All throughout my childhood, I had heard about the beauty and unique charms of Santorini from my mother.

She had been fortunate to vacation on the island in the late 1960s, before it became internationally famous as a holiday destination.

Despite the modernity that has taken over this island almost 40 years since mum’s first visit, I was not disappointed in the least. In fact, much to the contrary, I too, became completely and utterly enamoured. My husband and I stayed in Santorini for a few days to celebrate a special wedding anniversary.

During that time, we explored as much of the island as we could.

We learnt that Santorini is home to one of the most significant excavation sites in the Mediterranean — Akrotiri. The ruins of this ancient town are well preserved because, like Pompeii, it was buried in a volcanic eruption.

Additionally, we also discovered that there are close to 250 churches on the island, and that it only takes an hour and a half by car to traverse it lengthwise. The locals venerate the Virgin Mary, considered to be their guardian goddess, and are mostly of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic faiths.

Indulging in Greek delights

As we took in the view of sea and sky on a quiet evening, awaiting one of the sunsets for which this island is so renowned, we made our way to a friendly taverna, where the owner served us a delectable dinner.

He brought out a whole sea bass, baked in thyme salt crust, and drizzled with sage-infused olive oil, accompanied by a plate of perfect cherry tomatoes with Feta cheese, and a bowl of freshly roasted vegetables.

For dessert, we devoured a ripe peach, sliced and garnished with fresh mint, served with a dollop of Greek yogurt, generously coated with local honey. And let me not forget the wines! Santorini’s volcanic soils produce notable vintages, whites especially, that are dry, citrusy and simply delightful.

The vineyard owners are welcoming and knowledgeable. Later in our stay, we spent a day bumping along dusty roads in our rented Jeep, strolling through rows of grapes and tasting the offerings.

At another time during our holiday, we devoted the day to just walking up and down the cobblestone streets of the quaint town of Fira — relaxing, picking up charming little souvenirs, visiting churches, always eating magnificent food and taking in the beauty all around us.

Sailing the Aegean Sea

The highlight of the trip, however, was renting a magnificent 12m catamaran boat and speeding up and down the pristine coast with the sea wind on our faces, visiting neighbouring islands, and enjoying the hypnotic swell of the magnificent Aegean Sea.

Lunch on the boat was unforgettable — we savoured wonderful local wines and feasted on an exquisite selection of native seafood, barbecued on board by our skipper, while we swam in the invigorating waters of the little cove where we had dropped anchor.

Naturally, it was very hard to leave this magical island, where sea and sky, heaven and earth, seem to meet in perfect accord.

There are only a few places in the world where time stands still — surely this must be one of those rare havens.

Santorini has unquestionably cast a spell on me, for there are times when I simply have to close my eyes and reminisce to feel that warm Aegean Sea breeze on my face, beckoning me to return.

GETTING THERE

- We flew on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Istanbul, where we spent a few days, and then took an Aegean Airlines flight to Santorini.

TRAVELLER’S TIPS

- We stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel called Grace (www.gracehotels.com/santorini), which is conveniently located close to all the shops and restaurants of a little town called Fira. The Grace hotel also offers stunning views of Santorini’s caldera.

- English is widely spoken in most hotels and restaurants in Santorini, but the official language is Greek.

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