As I sit on the porch of my hotel overlooking Fira and sipping a Greek coffee that is thick and black as molasses, the owner, Lambros joins me with a plate of shriveled black olives, salty kefalotyri cheese and a bottle of wine made from Santorini’s unique assyrtiko grapes.
He insists I swap my coffee for a glass or three, despite the early hour. It’s a far cry from the rough and ready retsina for which Greece is famed – its smoky yet crisp flavor a result of vines growing in ash-rich soil. The air is pungent with the smell of herbs from his small garden – wild oregano, mint, basil and dill – and a scrawny cat picks at fish bones around our feet.
In the distance, a bell from one of Santorini’s hundreds of churches rings out – and like anywhere in Greece, talk of the country’s financial plight is never far away. “Things have been difficult these past years,” he sighs, his heavy, grey moustache trembling. “But I would rather people come here and enjoy themselves and me not make any money rather than have an empty hotel. They would at least then go away and tell others about what a good time they had. If people don’t go home with a smile on their face, I haven't done my job properly.”
“I love Greece more than any other country,” says Eva, a Dutch woman who has been visiting the islands for decades. “The Greek people are very lively and friendly and remain true to the past. You can still see people who look like Socrates walking the street. Sit on a beach on one of the islands and look out to sea – you’re in the same place where the ancients trod thousands of years ago – and little has changed in the view.”