I’ll be honest here – I’m a self-proclaimed mountain person, and, by extension, most definitely NOT a beach person. This wasn’t always the case, but it seems the older I get the less tolerant I am of the sand that manages to find its way into every crevice of my body. I much prefer an exhilarating hike in the Alps over the typical beach activities (or rather, lack of activity). Of course, I do still appreciate the natural wonders of beautiful coastal scenery, and Santorini provides amazing views from its hilltop villages on the rim of the caldera of an ancient volcano, without any need to ever set foot on a beach (we never did during our three-day stay there).
We chose to base ourselves in Oia, a picturesque white-washed village on the far north-western tip of the island where everyone goes to watch the sunset in the evening.
As soon as we arrived we noticed that prices here (for food and everything else) were much higher than what we were used to on Rhodes and Crete. Also, there was no complimentary dessert or raki offered at the end of the meal, and in fact we weren’t even given bread unless we ordered it and paid extra. I guess that since restaurants in Santorini are catering strictly to tourists and not to locals they don’t bother with this traditional style of service. One advantage of eating out in Santorini, however, is that the restaurant menus often list the ingredients of each dish, so you can see right away which ones are vegan.
On our first day we followed two recommendations from Kim Sujo of Brownble who visited Greece a few months before us and wrote several posts about her trip. I stumbled onto Kim’s blog while planning our own trip and researching vegan food in Greece. At that point I was still pretty concerned about whether or not I would be able to stay vegan while travelling, but Kim’s enthusiastic descriptions of all the delicious vegan food she had eaten there put my mind at ease and played an important role in inspiring me to make the full transition to 100% vegan all the time, and to start this blog. Thank you Kim!
The first of Kim’s recommendations we tried was lunch on a covered terrace overlooking the water at Pelekanos Restaurant, and I was very excited to see that their menu included briam – a typical Greek dish that I had read much about but had not yet had a chance to sample. While the vegetables used can vary, this particular version was made with diced eggplant, potatoes and bell peppers baked together with a generous measure of olive oil.
Like most dishes in Mediterranean cuisine, it was simple yet delicious, focusing on the natural flavours of just a few fresh ingredients. Nick ordered the tomato balls, which were crispier than the ones at To Steki in Chania and had more of a fried feel to them.
After our obligatory sunset viewing, we headed to Candouni Restaurant, which Kim had raved about, and with good reason. As promised, they offered a range of delicious vegan meze. I had planned to order both the fava (mashed yellow split peas, a Santorini specialty) and the melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), but the waiter informed me that if we ordered bread we would receive complimentary servings of these in any case. So instead I chose the skordalia (garlic-flavoured mashed potato dip), some sun-dried tomatoes and a portion of horta (boiled wild greens). The server particularly recommended the horta and assured me that I would like it, and he was right. I love it that the Greeks have such an appreciation for simple, nutritious plant foods. I’m trying to picture a server in a T.G.I.Friday’s or an Applebee’s back in my hometown waxing lyrical about the delicious boiled leafy green vegetables, and it just ain’t happening.
These three dishes, in combination with the complimentary dips accompanying the bread, made for a very filling meal. I had tried fava once already in Rhodes but wanted to taste it in Santorini where it originated, and I must say the Santorini version was noticeably better; the texture was creamier and more like a dip. As for the melitzanosalata, this was an item I had seen on menus many times before, but whenever I had asked about it I had been told that it was not nistisimo. The recipes for certain dishes vary throughout different regions of the country, however, and it seems that the Santorini version of melitzanosalata is made with vinegar rather than any mayonnaise or dairy products, so I was happy to finally be able to add this traditional dish to my list of Greek favourites. In short, everything we ordered was delicious, the service was impeccable and genuinely welcoming, and the atmosphere was incredibly romantic. While this was the most expensive meal we ate in Greece, it was worth every penny, and I have a feeling I will remember it for years to come.
The next morning we took a bus to Fira, the main town on Santorini, and then hiked back to Oia on a walking path that runs along the rim of the caldera. This took about four hours in total, including a few stops and detours, and really showed us the full range of all the breathtaking sights Santorini has to offer. I’m very glad that we did this hike, because up to that point I was still not entirely convinced of the island’s charms. It just seemed to have no soul and to be completely given over to the tourism industry (unlike Rhodes and Crete, which had plenty of tourists but also had a more authentic and lived-in feel). After the walk, though, I understood why Santorini held such allure for visitors from all over the world. With its whitewashed villages cascading down the cliffs of the caldera towards the sapphire-blue sea, it really is a uniquely beautiful location.
We arrived back in Oia just in time for lunch, which we ate at Skala, a restaurant on the main drag with sea views. As a starter we shared a mixed green salad, which was a scrumptious combination of greens, sesame seeds, walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes and bell peppers, all drizzled with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette dressing (which did contain honey).
Artichokes are one of my all-time favourite foods, but I don’t believe I have ever experienced them as the main ingredient of a dish until this meal. I know them mostly from Italian cuisine, in which they are a common pizza topping and also a famous appetizer in Rome called carciofi alla romana (for the recipe see this post). I must say they held their own as the star of the show in this dish, with supporting roles played by potatoes and carrots flavoured with lemon and dill. All in all, another delicious, naturally-vegan dish from traditional Greek cuisine. Nick ordered the baked eggplant, which looked incredible but came topped with feta. I found a corner without any cheese and took a bite, and it was absolutely divine. Keen to return to this restaurant before we left Santorini, I asked the waiter if it would be possible to order this dish without the feta, but unfortunately he said this could not be done. I was pretty crushed at the time, but don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.
We later returned to Skala for our last meal on Santorini. I ordered the fava and the melitsanosalata since I thought it might be my last chance to eat those dishes, given that the first is a Santorini specialty and the second seems to commonly be made with mayonnaise in other parts of the country. Both were delicious, though unfortunately my trusty iPod touch camera struggled to do them justice in the dark.
For dinner we went to Petros, another restaurant just a little further along the same stretch, with similar caldera views. Once again Nick and I shared the tomatokeftedes, which were nice but not the best we’ve tasted. I then had the traditional skordomakarona, a pasta dish that is a Santorini specialty. This is a typically simple Mediterranean dish of spaghetti subtly flavoured with just garlic, olive oil, tomato sauce, wine and parsley. Again, it was nice, but not spectacular. There was another pasta dish on the menu called “vegetarian Petros” that came with lots of different veggies and might have been a better choice for me, as I like to squeeze as many vegetables as possible into my meals. As it was, this meal was perfectly enjoyable, but when judged against the high standards set by places like Kandouni and Skala it didn’t quite measure up.
On our third day on Santorini we took a trip on a boat named Poseidon around Santorini and some of the neighbouring islands, including some hot springs that flow right into the sea, as well as the volcanic craters in Nea Kameni National Geological Park. The tour really rounded out our stay for me and gave me a better understanding of and appreciation for Santorini. This was largely due to our fantastic tour guide, whose name was Sophocles (no joke). Now, I know a thing or two about tour guides (I used to be one), and this guy was one of the best I’ve ever seen. His passion and dedication to his job was evident in everything he did, and he was able to explain volcanology in layman’s terms and get people really excited about seeing a bunch of rocks. I could almost see the light bulbs switching on over people’s heads as he spoke. If you find yourself in Santorini looking out at the views over the caldera and don’t quite get it, just go on a tour with Sophocles and all will become clear. He works for a company called Triantafillou and leads tours on the Poseidon every day of the week from March to November. Any travel agent in town should be able to book this tour for you. [Edit: A reader has reported that her travel agent was not able to specify which boat or guide she would be booked with, and consequently she got an inferior tour with a disinterested guide. BUT, she later met Sophocles and got his personal phone number! So if you want to book the tour directly with him you can do so by calling 2286022958. Thanks Cara!]
I should point out though, that this tour is billed by travel agents as a “sailing” tour, which is rather misleading because, though the Poseidon is indeed a sailboat, the crew never once hoisted the sails during our tour. We asked Sophocles about this and he said they never do it because with such a full itinerary there isn’t enough time, and because it would be dangerous anyway with all the tourists on deck. From what we saw, all the other sailboats did the same, though for the sunset tours they do hoist the sails briefly while the sun is going down, but this is just for the benefit of the tourists in Oia who want to take photos of the boats, like this one:
As part of the tour we stopped at an island called Thirassia for lunch. Initially we had planned to walk up to the village of Manolas, but as we approached the island we saw that the village didn’t look all that attractive, and Sophocles agreed that it wasn’t worth making the climb up there in the heat. So instead we had lunch at a place he recommended down at the harbour called Taverna Vrahaki. To find it, turn left from where the boats dock and it’s the next to last restaurant, just before the windmill. It was an amazing location right on the water, with simple but tasty food and insanely cheap prices by Santorini standards (which is to say, the prices were similar to what we had been used to in other parts of Greece). There were only a few choices when it came to main dishes, but even so these included two vegan options – gemista (stuffed tomatoes) and briam (translated as “mixed cooked vegetables” on the menu). I chose the briam, and we also shared some tomato balls as our usual starter.
As if I hadn’t eaten enough already, when we got back to Oia we decided to look for a gelateria called Lolita’s that Lonely Planet raves about. If you find yourself craving ice cream while in Oia you should definitely check this place out. The day we were there they had three non-dairy sorbet flavours on offer – dark chocolate, lemon and orange. I had a cone with orange and dark chocolate, which is always a great combination and did not disappoint.
On our last morning in Santorini we went to this local bakery, where I bought a delicious and very filling raisin bread for breakfast. It was chock full of juicy raisins and flavoured with aniseed and other spices.
We knew we would be on a ferry heading to Mykonos at lunch time, so Nick bought a sandwich from the same bakery while I went to a mini-market and picked up these delicious spreads. The carrot and tahini one was particularly scrumptious.
Ever since this trip, whenever I see Bake Rolls I immediately think of Greece. They are sold everywhere, particularly in bus stations and newspaper kiosks, and combined with some spreads like these (or olive tapenade, peanut butter, etc.) make a fairly healthy snack or meal on the run. Actually, there are lots of vegan snack options available in Greece. So many, in fact, that at some point I just might devote a whole post to Greek snack foods. That’s enough for today though. Next stop, Mykonos!