On our second RTW we decided to spend at least one week in each location … hopefully longer if it captivated our interest.
This luxury of time lets us visit the tourist sites, see what the local folks do daily, and explore to our heart’s content by getting off the beaten path. Our discoveries make our travels so rewarding, and are part of the learning experience we want.
When we spend this extra time, ultimately we come across elements that are unique to that location. These details are what make it special and memorable! Here’s what we discovered to be uniquely Santorini.
Cave Houses: From Humble Beginnings to Hot Properties
The earliest inhabitants of Santorini learned how to shield themselves from the blazing summer heat and bitter winter winds. They carved cave houses into the soft, volcanic soil on the cliffs and hillsides.
The simplest cave houses were divided into two parts – living room in the front, with the bedroom in the back. And because they were underground, they stayed cool in summer and warm in winter. The entrance extended out a bit from the slope, then there was a yard with a garden, cistern for collecting water, and small stone kitchen and toilet.
Today many of the cave houses have been renovated and turned into modern dream houses and five-star hotels. In many cases, what were houses for the poorest people, now are for millionaires only.
And when owners remodel a house that’s clinging to the side of a cliff, guess how they haul all the construction supplies in and debris out.
Santorini Donkeys: An Old-Fashioned Answer to a Modern Problem
The signature hillside villages of Santorini are lovely to look at, but they present some challenges when it comes to moving heavy loads. Modern roads only go so far up the caldera hill, and then the narrow, undulating, cobbled stairs and paths begin. This is where the incredibly hard-working donkeys take over.
As we’ve said, it’s low season, and much of the repair and renovation work takes place at this time of year. Time and again on our walks, we’ve had to duck out of the path to let a mini-caravan of overloaded donkeys clip-clop by. Normally their driver is in the rear shouting orders, and the donkeys wind their way through the maze of streets loaded with sand, rocks, and construction debris.
It’s almost painful to see, but the system has worked effectively for hundreds of years. The drivers aren’t cruel, and the donkeys are well cared for. For some of you farm-raised folks out there, this may not seem unusual at all, but for the rest of us who are so accustomed to gas-powered vehicles, it’s unusual to see domestic animals truly work for a living.
Vineyards: Grapes Grown in a Bird’s Nest
When you hear the word “vineyard” you probably think of long rows of vines, tied to wire supports, stretching across the rolling hills. Santorini is proof that there’s another way to grow grapes.
The technique for growing grapes on the island is called “kouloura,” which means bird’s nest. Basically, the vines are coiled on the ground, and woven into a grapevine wreath. The grapes grow protected on the inside, and the foliage channels dew to the roots, which is the only irrigation the vines receive. The grapes are harvested in August, and then pruned in late November.
Our hotel has a wonderful perk that we hadn’t encountered before … a free, bottomless pitcher of wine. The friendly manager gave us a small pitcher on checkin, and said, “Bring it back for a fill-up.” The wine was a nice, distinctive white, and we were doubly surprised to find that it came from the vinyard of the manager’s father.
Peace and a Glass of Wine,
Terri and James
Santorini Wines By Marcelo Costa via Wikimedia Commons
I could live with that view for a year or two.
You had me actually liking those donkeys, too. No mean feat!
Thanks Jo. Other than the friendly donkey we ran into, most of the donkeys on Santorini were are all business. We also has a couple of other animal encounters on Santorini – a crawl-into-your-lap-for-a-snooze cat, and the ugliest, friendliest dog in Christendom. Watch for photos. ~James
Will do! Hope you’re having a good Easter.
It looks like absolute bliss!
Thanks Hannah, and I agree that Santorini is a wonderful place. It’s like Bali, in that it’s on everyone’s bucket list. ~James
I can’t believe what has been done to those cave homes! And the vineyards are quite unusual.
LuAnn, I grew up 15 miles from one of the largest cave systems in the world, Mammoth Cave, KY. Also, I’m a geologist. And strangely, I’ve never been terribly enamored with caves. However, a bit of stucco, mood lights, and sculpted walls, and all that changes. The Santorini cave houses give me a sort of hobbit-like cozy feel that I think I could get used to. ~James
They look lovely. 🙂
This was fascinating! I could definitely stay in Santorini for a week or so. 😉 I know you two have been to Turkey- were you able to visit the cave dwellings in Cappadocia? I wonder if the same turnover is occurring as the spot gains popularity- humble abodes to millionaires’ mansions.
Thanks Miranda. No we haven’t been to Cappadocia. Our time in Turkey was limited to the west coast. However, it’s definitely on our list. One of our commenters on another post said that she had stayed at a hotel that was in one of the “fairy chimneys.” It sounds pretty cool. ~James
Peggy and I were just in Santorini before Christmas and loved it. (I also blogged on it.) A beautiful place… and the mules almost stepped on me when I was trying to get a photo. (grin) Nice blog.
Thanks for the comment Curt, and for dropping by the blog. I checked out your post, and your photos are great. We visited Santorini in November, and the place was deserted (thankfully). Other than the one friendly donkey we encountered, most of the rest were all business. Other commenters have also talked about getting bowled-over by the donkeys. ~James
We found a friendly donkey as well… not to mention numerous dogs, who seemed to mind their own business, which included perching on ledges that would have made a cat nervous. (grin)
I don’t know about these Santorini secrets. Until now I’ve only know about the party side of the island. Nice shoots and nice place!
It was a really nice surprise for us, too! We’d read about the cave houses, but knew nothing about the vineyards. And the donkeys were an added treat. ~Terri
The cave hotel looks really lovely, and that bottomless wine pitcher captured my interest!
Thanks Jodi, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. The wine was definitely a plus for this hotel, and it made for memorable happy hours each night. It was also particularly nice that the wine was made by the owner’s dad. ~James
I think the “bottomless pitcher of wine” sold me on the whole place – but the view certainly helped!
Jen, you’re right on both counts. We’re budget travelers, and perks like this are wonderful for the budget … and not bad for the palate either. ~James
I can almost feel the cool air coming from those caves. I have never seen a bad picture taken in Greece. The colors are so unreal. The only experience we’ve ever had that came close was on Sanibel. It’s like stepping into a fantasy sequence of a movie.
Yes Anita, the cave houses were unique and great to see. I imagine that the coolness would be much appreciated in the summertime. And yes, Greece is incredibly photogenic, especially the islands. We visited Sanibel years ago, and had a wonderful time. I remember the “Sanibel Stoop” posture for collecting shells. ~James
Terri and James, After reading your post I feel like scheduling my trip to Santorini! And tasting this exquisite wine.It is been some years I have not visited. You make me feel proud looking again at my native country through your clear lens. Lisa
Thanks for your comment Lisa, and for dropping by the blog. Santorini was on our list for years, and we were happy to finally be able to visit. It’s an almost unbelievably beautiful place, and must have been a wonderful place to grow up. I see that your book is set in Athens. Is that where you live now? If so, that must have been quite a transition. ~James
Thank you so much for your interest in my blog, James. My book of short stories and novellas are set in Athens where I was born and still live. I have been visiting our Greek islands since the 60s as a child and it is spectacular to see them changing. I find it most interesting to ‘revisit’ them through experienced travelers with insight! I am following you, Lisa