Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Santorini, Greece: Wine Tour

Actual date of this event: 13 June

For our last day in Santorini, we decided to do a wine tour. The southern half of the island is actually full of vineyards which make some really nice wine. I have learned when doing research for our travels that so many countries make their own wine, some better than others obviously, but I have never heard or seen some of these bottles even though they are supposed to be "world famous". Santorini has a few different options for wine tasting. One can go to each winery on their own to taste, one can go to the Wine Museum, or one can go with a tour. We went with the tour group option and chose Santorini Wine Adventures Tour because it also made a stop at the Yellow Donkey Brewery, which was a must do on Eric's list. Our guide picked everyone up from their hotels starting around 9:30am before we made our way to each winery. Our small group consisted of Australians, Canadians, and the four Americans (us). I can't remember all that we learned or even my favorite of the bunch, but we had a great time! In the end, we tasted around 15 different bottles and also 3 beers. As we went to each place, I tried to take notes, but it got a little bit difficult toward the end... you'll see why...
I feel it is necessary to point out that some of these pictures are just absolutely awful - our tour guide apparently can't work a camera properly and neither can someone who has had a bit too much wine. Ooops! For example:
{I mean, really, what is this picture?!?! All right, they aren't all this bad...}
The Boutari Winery was more commercial than the others we visited. It was very nice, and set up for visitors. We visited a small theater where presentations and performances are done, then walked out to the vineyard where we learned about the wine-making process in Santorini. We learned that the grapes are grown in bushels on the ground rather than on vines, and 80% of the island's wines are white. The main grape of Santorini is the Assyrtiko, a white grape grown in volcanic-soil. Since Santorini doesn't receive much rain, the plants get their water from the humidity off of the sea. Then, we went inside for the fun part! We tasted five wines at Boutari: Kallisti (white with a dry citrusy flavor), Kallisti Reserve (white with a smokey flavor - my favorite), Grand Reserve (red with a tomato flavor), VinSanto (dessert wine), and Ampeliastos (dark dessert wine made from red grapes). We also received some meats, cheese, olives and bread to go with our tasting.

{Eric Goins' photo}

The Gavalas Winery was a totally different experience than Boutari. It was a very small family-run winery. They still have all of their old methods of wine-making set up, and even still occasionally stomp grapes. We tasted four wines at Gavalas - Santorini (white with a chardonnay flavor), Nikteri (made from the white Nykteri "night grape", the strongest in Santorini), Xenoloo (dry red made from two red grapes and one white grape - my favorite), and VinSanto (sweeter than Boutari's, it was the last VinSanto made from stomping). With this tasting, we were given some bread to munch on.

{Eric Goins' photo}

The Yellow Donkey Brewery was such a refreshing stop for us. After having tried nine wines already. our taste buds really appreciated the beer! We had already tried two of the YDB beers in Athens, but we were not going to pass up another taste! The YDB opened in 2011, so it fairly new and still very small. Our group did not receive a tour of the brewing process as we had all done that before, so we went straight into the tasting. At the Yellow Donkey Brewery, we tasted three beers - Yellow Donkey (a blonde, ~5.1%), Red Donkey (more malted, ~5.6%), and Crazy Donkey (the first and only IPA brewed in Greece, ~5.9% - my favorite).

When we got to the Gaia Winery, things started to get a little hazy, haha! I took ZERO notes at Gaia. While I could blame it on all of the wine, I can't. This place was out of this world amazing! The Gaia Winery is located right on the beach. We were taken to their processing room and given a short lesson, but let's be honest, no one could focus at this point. We were then led to a table in the shade with a view of the water. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven! The setting was perfect - wine, sea breeze, sea view, more wine, good company. It was so difficult to get us to leave, and it didn't help that the Gaia hostess kept bring out more and more wines to try. We tried six wines and a vinaigrette - Thalassitis (dry white), Assyrtiko Wild Ferment (dry white), Thalassitis Oak Ferment (dry white), Agiorgitiko 14-18h (dry rosé, the only rosé we tried), Assyrtiko 2012 (dry red), VinSanto (dessert wine), Assyrtiko Aged Vinegar (the vinaigrette). We were given some bread to munch on and to go with our vinaigrette.

All four stops were so different which I really enjoyed. The wines starts to blend together toward the end, but we could still taste the difference. It was a great tour, but we really didn't get much to eat at all, which is pretty rough when wine is involved. The tour ended up being just over five hours long (it was supposed to be four hours). I thought it was a great tour despite the lack of food, and I really enjoyed the wines we tried. I just wish I could remember which was my favorite... I guess I need more wine drinking practice!
{Eric Goins' photo}

Other posts from Greece: IntroCorfuThe Acropolis in AthensPanathenaic Stadium in AthensGeneral AthensIsland of Milos (Day 1)Sarakino in MilosIsland of Milos (Day 2)Santorini SailingSantorini Wine TourTHE Santorini SunsetGeneral SantoriniWrap-Up

The Assyrtiko grape of Santorini is naturally immune to phylloxera, a small insect that feeds off of grape vines and destroys them.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Santorini, Greece: Sailing

Actual date of this event: 12 June

We had a bit of bad luck on our way to Santorini. Some of it could have been avoided on my part, but out of all of the travel planning I do, this was my one and only mistake (although Luke may say differently, but don't believe him). Long story short, DONT go without booking a cab when you arrive to Santorini. And DONT go without confirming said cab will be there to pick you up. I did the former, but did not do the latter. Continuing with long story short, our ferry from Milos was an hour late, which means an hour late arriving to Santorini. Since the cab was not confirmed (again, my fault) to pick us up at the port, we had to find our own way to our hotel. Once we rented ATV's, we, not realizing it, took the long route to get to the hotel. Once we got to the hotel, the sunset catamaran cruise I booked for us told us we were too late and couldn't go. We were told that they were fully booked for the rest of the time we were in Greece - super bummed. Fortunately, we received a call later that night that they had spots for us on the daytime cruise for the next day, and we GLADLY accepted! Hallelujah!
Back to the point of this post... the catamaran cruise!! My friend, Jill, recommended we sail with Santorini Sailing, so we went with that. I had requested to go with the owner, Captain Ted, but since we were already on thin ice, my request was not fulfilled, but we enjoyed it anyway! Sailing around Santorini is pretty much a must do if you are on the island for a few days. It is the ONLY way one can swim in a volcano. Swim in a volcano... so.so.cool! Anyway, the company picked us up from the hotel along with others, and took us all the way to the southern end of the island to Vlyhada port. The English-but-sounded-Australian captain gave us a few instructions, rules, and an overview of the itinerary before we set sail. We actually followed another catamaran from the same company most of the time.

The first of the exciting things to see from the water was Red Beach. The cliffs and beach are red from the volcano. There have been recent rock slides on the cliffs, so it is advisable to be very careful when on the beach. The captain pointed out to us an area that had fallen just the week prior. If not on a boat, the beach is also accessible by foot, but it is a trek on rocky ground. 

Just around the corner from Red Beach is White Beach. This is one reason Santorini is so unique - the cliffs go from red volcano rock to crisp white so quickly! White Beach is only accessible by boat or by swimming around a rock from Red Beach. 

We decided to stop here for a quick swim. The water was ridiculously cold as it was only June. It warms up toward later summer, but it is never super warm. Thankfully, we were given noodles to sit on so we didn't have to tread water. It was refreshing, but we didn't stay in for very long. 

Moving along the waters, we passed Akrotiri which is a huge archaeological site. An ancient city was discovered underneath the volcanic ash. It is believed that the settlement at Akrotiri was what inspired Plato to write the story of Atlantis. The strange thing is no bones have been found, so apparently, the civilians were given warning of the eruption and fled from the island.

Turning the corner from Akrotiri sailed us into the six mile wide volcano. From here, we could see Oia across the way - six miles across - and the main town of Fira. It all looked so small, but those cliffs were giant! Pictures really do not capture the height of the cliffs.

We sailed right into the center where the caldera is. We could see sulfur lining the rocks where it met the water, and were told that the volcano is still active. Yikes! We stopped again so we could swim in the sulfuric waters. We were told the waters would be warmer if we swam closer to the caldera, so that is what we did. It was so neat feeling the water temperature change as we swam! It was very very neat!

{See the orange sulfur line?}
We were called out of the water to eat lunch and were given a big surprise! The sulfur from the water coated my pasty white skin which rubbed off with a towel, but then stained the towel. And since Luke was wearing a white swim suit... well it wasn't white anymore. Hah! On to lunch though which was soooooo delicious and there was soooooo much food! No one really wants to pig out while in a bathing suit, right? But it was impossible! We were given gobs and gobs of tzatziki. Mounds of chicken. Mounds of pork. Greek salad. And other stuff that I can't even remember because Im getting full just thinking about it. 
{That little plate got filled about five times.}
To give you an idea of how much food they had for us, Luke couldn't eat anymore. LUKE! That boy has never ever ever left food on his plate! His Catholic nun teachers would not be happy! He was in such pain though.
After lunch, we sailed passed the new port which is where we had arrived to the island. The ferry port has a long back and forth road that leads all the way up to the top.

The second port is the old port (Skala) where the cruise passengers arrive. Cruise ships do not dock at land. The ships dock in the water, and passengers are taken by smaller boats (called tenders) to the port. From there, they can make their was up to town by cable car, donkey or walking up 580 steps.

At the top of the old port is the main town of Santorini called Fira. It is the most lively of the towns due to all of the cruisers that hover there each day. It gets quieter at night when the ships leave, but it is still the best place to be for nightlife.

Finally we were sailing closer to Oia, but were still so far away. The waters weren't very calm and it was pretty windy which was good for sailing. At one point, some girls, who chose not to swim (I guess because they were too cool to get wet), got soaked as water splashed up through the netting on the catamaran. That totally made the journey (besides the food of course)!!

Oia (pronounced EE-uh) is usually the town that everyone sees pictures of when they see Santorini pictures. Especially sunset pictures. It's extremely difficult to navigate, but that's the charm of it. It is filled with little shops and restaurants, but a little too ritzy for my personality. We stayed in an outer area of Oia in Finikia, so we spent our evenings there. We probably would have had more fun if we had stayed in Fira, but Oia was a nice place to stay anyway.

The place to be for sunset in Oia is the castle ruins which is perched on the edge of the top of the cliff. How amazing would it be to live here?
Around the corner, we sailed to Amoundi Bay which is located below Oia. Amoundi Bay is know for their seafood restaurants. To get to/from the bay, there is a road, lots of steps, and again donkeys.

We ended our catamaran cruise in Amoundi Bay, where we were taken back to our hotel. It is a shame we did not get to do the sunset cruise like we planned, but the daytime cruise was still enjoyable and relaxing. Our time in Santorini would not have been the same without it. Thanks for the recommendation, Jill!

Other posts from Greece: IntroCorfuThe Acropolis in AthensPanathenaic Stadium in AthensGeneral AthensIsland of Milos (Day 1)Sarakino in MilosIsland of Milos (Day 2)Santorini SailingSantorini Wine TourTHE Santorini SunsetGeneral SantoriniWrap-Up

Santorini is crescent shaped. The inner portion has extreme cliffs due to the volcano, and most of the outer ring is low and flat with beaches.

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