SANTORINI- GREECE

Arguably Greece’s most beautiful island, Santorini is a mix of towering cliffs, inky waters and whitewashed villages. Perfect for a post-summer break. By R. Caligaris

Santorini, also known as Thera, is widely considered to be Greece’s most spectacular island. Thousands of tourists come every year to gape at the caldera of this volcano, a vestige of what was probably the world’s largest volcanic eruption ever.

This eruption which occurred sometime around 1450 B.C., caused the middle of the volcano to sink, leaving a caldera of high cliffs, one of the world’s most dramatic geographic spectacles. There is a theory, one that has fired the imagination of writers, artists and mystics since ancient times that postulates that the island was part of the lost continent of Atlantis. 

This eruption which occurred sometime around 1450 B.C., caused the middle of the volcano to sink, leaving a caldera of high cliffs, one of the world’s most dramatic geographic spectacles. There is a theory, one that has fired the imagination of writers, artists and mystics since ancient times that postulates that the island was part of the lost continent of Atlantis. 

Santorini is no secret and draws crowds for most of the year, yet it wears its tourism well and its offerings make it worth the bustle. The island’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating Minoan site of Akrotiri and the gorgeous traditional hilltop village of Oia. It also glides effortlessly into the future with accomplished artists, excellent wineries, a unique brewery, and some of the Cyclades finest dining experiences. The sandy, multicolored beaches are simply the icing on the cake.

Santorini is no secret and draws crowds for most of the year, yet it wears its tourism well and its offerings make it worth the bustle. The island’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating Minoan site of Akrotiri and the gorgeous traditional hilltop village of Oia. It also glides effortlessly into the future with accomplished artists, excellent wineries, a unique brewery, and some of the Cyclades finest dining experiences. The sandy, multicolored beaches are simply the icing on the cake.

ANCIENT THIRA

First settled by the Dorians in the 9th century B.C., Ancient Thira consists of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine ruins and is an atmospheric and rewarding site to visit. The ruins include temples, houses with mosaics, an agora (market), a theatre and a gymnasium. There are splendid views from the site. From March to October, Ancient Thira Tours runs a bus every hour from 9am until 2pm, except on Monday, from Kamari to the site. If driving, take the surfaced but narrow, winding road from Kamari for just over one mile.

First settled by the Dorians in the 9th century B.C., Ancient Thira consists of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine ruins and is an atmospheric and rewarding site to visit. The ruins include temples, houses with mosaics, an agora (market), a theatre and a gymnasium. There are splendid views from the site. From March to October, Ancient Thira Tours runs a bus every hour from 9am until 2pm, except on Monday, from Kamari to the site. If driving, take the surfaced but narrow, winding road from Kamari for just over one mile.

MUSEUM OF PREHISTORIC THIRA
The name may conjure up the idea of cavemen, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This modern museum is filled with amazing Bronze Age objects from the buried town of Akrotiri and other places on the island of Santorini. Both the Cycladic Island culture and the ancient Minoans are represented here.
 

OIA CASTLE
Just like the rest of the Cycladic islands, Oia attracted the interest of the Venetians, who expertised in naval activities, as a fertile place for trading business. They conquered Santorini and built five castles on it; the Castle of Skaros (Imerovigli) where the Latin Giacomo Barozzi settled with his family and other nobles, the Castle of Pyrgos, the Castle of Emboreion and Saint Nikolas Castle. Nowadays, just a few piecesof this fortification can be seen in Oia, as most of it was destroyed due to the earthquake (1956).

NEA KAMENI ISLAND
Nea Kameni Island, in the middle of the flooded caldera, is one of the most violent volcanoes on the planet; it is also, of course, one of the contested sites for the lost city of Atlantis. The eruption that destroyed most of Santorini 3,600 years ago produced tsunamis that reached as
far as Turkey and probably wiped out maritime Minoan civilization.

OIA
Santorini’s star - its most attractive village, Oia, is the ultimate Greek Island village - all white houses and domed churches tumbling over the lip of the caldera. The town must be one of the most magnificent hotel settings on Earth, with its converted peasant houses on the very edge of the crater and spectacular sunsets that draw coach parties from across the island.

MOUSSAKA
Moussaka is a casserole made by layering eggplant with a spiced meat filling, then topping it off with a creamy béchamel sauce that is baked to golden perfection. It is perhaps the most widely recognized of all Greek dishes and was made famous by the legendary Greek chef, Nicholas Tselementes.

KEFTEDES
Keftedes are Greek meatballs made with herbs and onions. The Greek word keftes, derived the Turkish word kofte meaning meatball. Keftedes may be one of the best Greek appetizers around. They are little round meatballs served with sauces like Tzatziki and not what you might be used to seeing with meatballs and pasta. One of the things that really stand out about Keftedes is that since is made of meat and spices,you really get to taste all the ingredients used.

BOUGATSA
It is said to originate in Serres, in the Macedonia region of northern Greece and is especially popular in the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki. Bougatsa is, arguably, one of Greece’s greatest gifts to the culinary world. Layers of buttered filo encase a sweet semolina custard, which is baked into a golden flaky pie. Dusted with icing, sugar and cinnamon, it’s the perfect accompanimentto, well, just about anything. svm

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Thailand

If lazing on the beach, soaking up some culture and sampling delicious food is your idea of a great time, visit Thailand for your next vacation.

It's not surprising that Thailand attracts more visitors than any other country in Southeast Asia. Laos and Cambodia border the country to the east, to the south lies the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia and to the west you'll find the Andaman Sea and Myanmar.

It's not surprising that Thailand attracts more visitors than any other country in Southeast Asia. Laos and Cambodia border the country to the east, to the south lies the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia and to the west you'll find the Andaman Sea and Myanmar.

The most famous of the floating markets is Damnoen Saduak, about 62 miles southwest of Bangkok. This buzzing market is at its best in the early morning before the crowds arrive and the heat of the day builds up. The colorfully clad merchants at these lively markets paddle along congested canals in sturdy canoes laden with fresh fruit and vegetables to sell to shoppers on the banks. There is lots of chatter and activity – bargaining is common – that’s all part of the fun -- but don’t expect to get the price down more than a few baht

The most famous of the floating markets is Damnoen Saduak, about 62 miles southwest of Bangkok. This buzzing market is at its best in the early morning before the crowds arrive and the heat of the day builds up. The colorfully clad merchants at these lively markets paddle along congested canals in sturdy canoes laden with fresh fruit and vegetables to sell to shoppers on the banks. There is lots of chatter and activity – bargaining is common – that’s all part of the fun -- but don’t expect to get the price down more than a few baht

Just 50 miles north of Bangkok is the old capitol of Ayutthaya. The city became Thailand's capitol in the mid-14th century and remained the capitol until the late 18th century. About the time that Americans were tossing tea into Boston harbor, the Burmese attacked and sacked Ayutthaya. The Ayutthaya period is looked on by many as the time when much of what is now thought of as "Thai style" was developed. In temples, this is when you see a marked transition from the Khmer style prangs to the bell shaped chedi. While Sukothai further north is seen as the birth of the Thai kingdom, Ayutthaya is seen today as its high point. Around Ayutthaya are signs of the Japanese, French, Dutch and Portuguese traders that came to the Thai court.

Just 50 miles north of Bangkok is the old capitol of Ayutthaya. The city became Thailand's capitol in the mid-14th century and remained the capitol until the late 18th century. About the time that Americans were tossing tea into Boston harbor, the Burmese attacked and sacked Ayutthaya.

The Ayutthaya period is looked on by many as the time when much of what is now thought of as "Thai style" was developed. In temples, this is when you see a marked transition from the Khmer style prangs to the bell shaped chedi. While Sukothai further north is seen as the birth of the Thai kingdom, Ayutthaya is seen today as its high point. Around Ayutthaya are signs of the Japanese, French, Dutch and Portuguese traders that came to the Thai court.

Tom Yam Goong This is the national aroma of Thailand, thanks to the generous use of fragrant herbs. Lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, and shallots provide the memorable smells, with chilies and fish sauce providing the kick. Substance comes in the form of jumbo shrimp (goong) and mushrooms. The flavor is a unique combination of spicy hot and sour and makes for an ideal start to a meal, or - when paired with rice - a worthy main dish.

Tom Yam Goong

This is the national aroma of Thailand, thanks to the generous use of fragrant herbs. Lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, and shallots provide the memorable smells, with chilies and fish sauce providing the kick. Substance comes in the form of jumbo shrimp (goong) and mushrooms. The flavor is a unique combination of spicy hot and sour and makes for an ideal start to a meal, or - when paired with rice - a worthy main dish.

Tom Kha Gai Possibly the world's most refreshing soup, tom kaa gai (boiled galangal chicken) combines coconut milk with lemongrass, galangal ' ginger's Asian sister ' and chicken. It's a sweet, tame twist on tom yam goong. On a table filled with delectable Thai dishes, tom kaa gai stands out; your spoon will return to this bowl time and again.

Tom Kha Gai

Possibly the world's most refreshing soup, tom kaa gai (boiled galangal chicken) combines coconut milk with lemongrass, galangal ' ginger's Asian sister ' and chicken. It's a sweet, tame twist on tom yam goong. On a table filled with delectable Thai dishes, tom kaa gai stands out; your spoon will return to this bowl time and again.

Today, with the influx of foreigners the high-end housing skyrocketed, and developers are building skyscraping condos in Bangkok and tourist destinations like Phuket and Pattaya. But there's a lot of debate over who will buy all them - rents start at around $300 a month (close to the average Thai salary) and to the roof from there. Foreigners, who aren't allowed to buy land but can own condo units, can only fill 49% of the total area of a building, so developers are offering significant discounts to Thais. Still, there may not be enough money around to fill all these pricey new homes, and many pundits were warning of a crash even before the global economic downturn in the fall of 2008.

Today, with the influx of foreigners the high-end housing skyrocketed, and developers are building skyscraping condos in Bangkok and tourist destinations like Phuket and Pattaya. But there's a lot of debate over who will buy all them - rents start at around $300 a month (close to the average Thai salary) and to the roof from there.

Foreigners, who aren't allowed to buy land but can own condo units, can only fill 49% of the total area of a building, so developers are offering significant discounts to Thais. Still, there may not be enough money around to fill all these pricey new homes, and many pundits were warning of a crash even before the global economic downturn in the fall of 2008.

With turquoise bays peppered with craggy limestone rock towers, brilliant-white beaches and tumbledown fishing villages, Ao Phang-Nga is one of the region’s most spectacular landscapes. Little wonder then that it was here, among the towering cliffs and swifts’ nests, that James Bond’s nemesis, Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun), chose to build his lair. Wanted assassins with goals of world domination would not be recommended to hide out here nowadays, since the area is swarming with tourists in motorboats and sea kayaks nearly year-round. Much of the bay, and some of the coastline, has now been incorporated into the Ao Phang-Nga National Marine Park.

With turquoise bays peppered with craggy limestone rock towers, brilliant-white beaches and tumbledown fishing villages, Ao Phang-Nga is one of the region’s most spectacular landscapes. Little wonder then that it was here, among the towering cliffs and swifts’ nests, that James Bond’s nemesis, Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun), chose to build his lair. Wanted assassins with goals of world domination would not be recommended to hide out here nowadays, since the area is swarming with tourists in motorboats and sea kayaks nearly year-round. Much of the bay, and some of the coastline, has now been incorporated into the Ao Phang-Nga National Marine Park.

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Punta del Este

Punta del Este, also known as the St. Tropez of Uruguay, is a chic, seaside resort that offers twenty miles of pristine beaches, upscale resorts, yachts, beautiful people and an ardent night scene. It is the perfect destination for those who are in search of sunshine, white sand, woodlands, clear waters and much glamour. 

Located in the Maldonado Department of southeastern Uruguay, this split of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Rio de la Plata was once known to sailors and fishermen as Cabo de Santa María. Today, this area is called Punta del Este, a scenic resort area with gorgeous beaches, luxury hotels and restaurants, glittery nightlife and an upscale summer population. The city is located an hour and a half by car from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. The Vegas-style Conrad Casino adds to the lively entertainment scene, which is a reason why the city is also known as the Monaco of South America.

What to See 

CASAPUEBLO (CASA DEL PUEBLO): An absolute must-see near Punta del Este is the unique Casa del Pueblo, a magical and enchanting construction located in Punta Ballena, which can be reached by renting a car or bike. Casapueblo is a majestic masterpiece built by the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró originally as a summer house and workshop. It became the permanent residence of its creator, where he worked and where he spent his last days. The combination of unique art, paintings and a breathtaking view over the Atlantic Ocean are able to transform the visit of this resort museum into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

LOS DEDOS - PLAYA BRAVA: The symbol of Punta del Este is a giant concrete sculpture of a hand emerging from the sand on the Brava Beach, with the colloquial name Playa de los Dedos. Designed by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal in 1982, “la Mano” (“The Hand”) commemorates the lives of drowned local sailors, and it has become one of Uruguay's most recognizable landmarks.

ISLA DE LOBOS: Another unique site to visit, this time towards the North, is Isla de Lobos (Sea-lions Island), located off the shores of Playa Brava. In addition to a big lighthouse, the third tallest in the world, the largest colony of sea lions in South America may be observed right on this spot. It is said that 15,000 sea lions and 250,000 specimens of South American fur seals reside on the island, making it the largest sea lion colony in the Western Hemisphere, and an official nature reserve.

CATEDRAL DE SAN FERNANDO: Visit the neoclassical Cathedral of San Fernando which took 94 years to complete and is among Uruguay’s most majestic churches. The 1895 cathedral’s façade dominates the public square of the nearby town of Maldonado. This historic monument is a 10-minute car ride from Punta del Este. 

LA BARRA: Summer in Punta del Este is as much about nightlife as it is about sun. La Barra’s sidewalks and restaurants are packed by midnight, and the clubs only pick up around 2 a.m. The chic lounge Tequila attracts such famous names as Naomi Campbell, Kate Uptown and the Rolling Stones.

 JOSE IGNACIO: One of the hottest beach destinations in the southern cone and a short 30-minute drive from Punta del Este, the fishing village of José Ignacio (population 200) has wonderful examples of local architecture and cuisine. La Huella is perhaps the town’s best restaurant and has excellent seafood and an optimal location right on the beach. Try the filet of brotola, a light, white-meat fish.

LIGHTHOUSE (FARO): The faro was built in November of 1860, by Tomas Libarena. It was made with a mix of volcanic sand from Rome, which is harder than cement. That allows it to be perfectly preserved until today.

What to Eat 

CHIVITO AND CHORIPAN: Chivito and Choripán are two popular sandwiches in the food stalls on the streets of Punta del Este. Chivito is a type of sandwich filled with a filet of grilled beef, ham, bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomato, olives, egg, green pepper (a type of the spanish paprika), and seasoned with mayonnaise. It is usually accompanied with french fries or a Russian salad (potato, carrot, and peas with mayonnaise). Another traditional sandwich is Chopiran, a kind of baguette filled with grilled spicy sausage, lettuce, tomato, and different sauces.

 CHAJA DESERT: One of Uruguay’s gastronomic icons for excellence is, undoubtedly, the Chaja dessert. This delicious peach meringue cake is originally from Paysandú, a city in western Uruguay, but it has it has become a traditional Uruguayan product. The Chaja is a light, spongy cake made up of sponge, meringue, lots of whipped cream, dulce de leche, and peaches. In this traditional cake you’ll find different tastes and textures in surprisingly delicious layers. 

FISH & WINE: The cuisine of Punta del Este is an eclectic showcase of the best of regional cuisine with a variety of international specialties and a great selection of dishes based on fresh seafood. Seafood, in fact, figures substantially in the cuisine of Punta del Este, with fresh produce brought directly from the port, and some signature dishes that will delight the most discerning palates. The local Brótola, a flaky whitefish similar to grouper, is usually served in creamy sauces with tiny shrimp and mussels. They also serve up finger-licking good chipirones, tiny fried squid, together with a tangy homemade pimiento mayo, perfectly enjoyable with some local wine, such as Viognier Juanico, a rich, dry local white. The famous Uruguayan wines made of the Tannat grape, can be enjoyed with a tasteful roasted meat or with a savory spicy cheese. There is also a popular drink in all Uruguay called "medio y medio" (half and half) which is a mix of sweet sparkling wine and dry white wine.

By Paola Cigui. Southern Views Magazine. All Rights Reserved. ©