My idea of a vacation — a real vacation — is lying on a beach watching and listening to the surf, allowing all thought to drain from the brain. There is no more relaxing fantasy and for most of my life, while the energy of a bustling city such as Paris keeps life going at a refreshingly whirlwind pace, the beach is my haven.
Paris boasts of “Paris Plage,” and even though the Seine is a magnificent backdrop for the sandy strip, it’s a rather zealous substitute for the real thing. So, it’s not every day an American-turned-Parisian has the chance to head for a real bona fide ‘beach.’
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When old friends from Germany suggested we meet in Greece to celebrate our acquaintance there 30 years ago, the only logical answer was YES. It was so easy to book the flights to the island of Santorini (also known as “Thira”) and very lucky to get the last available room at the “Aroma Suites” where they would be staying.
Clearly the room was meant for me to have — a cozy white stucco-formed mini-apartment named “Kanela” (The Cinnamon Room) with a semi-private balcony overlooking the sea and the entire western coastline of the crescent-shaped island backdropped by the capital city of Fira.
The apartment was so much like the little “viager” studio with the terrace on rue de Saintonge for which I (finally!) signed the deed Friday before leaving for Greece, that it gave me lots of ideas for how to make “Le Saint-Tropez” (the name I’ve bestowed on it) the perfect beach-like haven in Paris. The only thing missing is the view of the “caldera” (crater), but the substitute of the rooftops of Paris is as beautiful a view in a very different respect.
The range of colors one finds in Santorini are similar to the colors of Saint-Tropez: whites of the stucco houses nestled into the hillsides, blues of both the sea and sky, greens of the vegetation with touches of fuchsia from the bougainvillea that drips over the round shapes of the dome-like homes and churches. The arm chairs and tables on the balconies were made of wicker. The plants in terra cotta pots were succulents to thrive in the sun with little need of water. In Santorini, the sand and pebbles on the beaches (almost all) are black from the volcanic rock — very different from the white powdery sand in Saint-Tropez.
Santorini is made up of a small group of volcanic islands in the Cyclades that has recreated itself as one of the most romantic tourist destinations in the world. Like the Riviera, Greece makes a perfect summer vacation spot for those who want total R and R. Every spot on the island is designed to awaken your senses making it impossible not to throw your cares to the wind — letting the sun and surf soothe your deepest anxieties.
Young lovers embracing are at every turn. Newlyweds abound. They are tan, happy and very much in love. The hotels and restaurants cater to romance on every level (pun intended — one must step up or down to arrive anywhere!). The tiny streets of the larger villages are overrun with jewelry stores anxiously awaiting the display of a gentleman’s affection for his lover.
Over the course of the week, we explored as many of the beaches and villages for which there was time. It is a fantasy of mine to wander the world in search of the best beaches and write a guidebook in great detail, but that must be left for another lifetime. For now, I can tell you now that “Perissa Beach” was best for fine sand (black, of course), “Red Beach” best for dramatic scenery (but void of amenities), “Kampia Beach” best for serenity (and a great little “taverna” for fresh fish) and “Koloumpos Beach” best for complete seclusion (where one can bathe nude or be intimate).
The town of Oia in the north is charming — and famous for its sunset for which hundreds of people flock daily. We’re not really sure why — as we discovered the sunset from our own balcony to rival it fully.
The cuisine in Santorini focuses on fresh grilled seafood. That, along with a traditional Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives and feta cheese makes a delightfully light summer meal. Add a plate of “tzatziki” to start with along with a glass of white Santorini-produced wine and dining gets close to perfect. Almost any taverna can serve up these simple elements for under 20 euros, yet there are many more sophisticated and expensive restaurants should one choose to splurge.
It crossed my mind that Monsieur N. who held the rights of usage of “Le Saint-Tropez” for until relinquishing them to me last week, must have been of Greek descent, considering how the architecture and interior design of the little studio so closely resembles that of Santorini. It is all white stucco, hand molded with arches and curved shapes. He must have been thinking of his homeland when he created the decor and painted the mural of a beach on the back wall. I’ve often wondered what beach it was!
Now that I am back in Paris the renovation can begin to first demolish and then rebuild the studio apartment mirroring the old with new ideas gathered in Greece and on a research mission to the Riviera planned for mid September. The reunion in Greece was “synchronistic” with the apartment plans — to prepare me for the months ahead of renovation to turn the apartment into the haven I long for and know rental guests will enjoy.
This week, my sister, an interior designer, arrives from New Orleans to help me finish the details on the fractional ownership apartment, “Le Palace des Vosges” — to choose the final accessories and prepare it for occupancy at the beginning of September. She is also being recruited to assist in the plans for Le Saint-Tropez. Together we look forward to a weekend stay at Le Palace des Vosges to equip it and ‘get the bugs out’ — ensuring its perfection for the lucky 13 who will own it together, as well as shop for ideas for the “Viager with a View.“
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. There is no Parler Paris Après Midi coffee gathering in August, but do join me for the Three Musketeers at the Place des Vosges on August 13th. Meet from 7:30 p.m. with picnic goodies in hand and a blanket to spread on the grass. See you there!
P.P.S. Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group is open all summer long! Now’s your chance to practice speaking French and English. For further details, visit http://www.parlerparlor.com