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. We took a little field trip, and would you believe that this is a vineyard?
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