25 November 2011

A Santorini sunset

An ex was something of a sunset chaser, so I’ve seen the sun disappear into the sea many, many times. Whether California or Wales, I’ve seen and photographed them all. However, the sunset over Oia in the Greek island of Santorini takes some beating, and renewed my faith in the magic of a sunset.

Although the crowds tend to flock to Oia to watch the sun slip into the caldera, if you get a good spot early, you’ll feel like the only people in the world.

We watched the spectacle from a hidden away bar called Sun Spirit. Claiming to be the “most proposed to point” in Santorini, the romance was lost on me as I was there with a friend. But there was quite an air of anticipation both from those waiting for the magic to happen, and from the numerous women who were dressed for the fatal question to be posed.

View from Sun Spirit
You’ll find it by going to the main viewing platform above the castle ruins, and turning right towards the sunset. When you reach a wooden windmill, you’re there.

Kastro is another classy restaurant with an even classier view that’s perfect to watch the sun fade from yellow, to orange, to deep red. Tables can be reserved, and it’s good for small groups and for enjoying the delicious mix of Greek and wider Mediterranean food.

Wherever you watch the sunset, ensure you have a glass of cold, dry Assyrtiko or Nykteri white wine in your hand. Two local grapes that are best enjoyed bathed in an orange glow or in one of the many island vineyards. Such as the Santo Winery which is also a great place to go and watch the sunset while enjoying a glass of wine. In fact, when I was in Santorini a couple we met were getting married there and the photos with the orange sun meeting the sea in the background were just beautiful. The vineyard sits in a small town called Pyrgos, near to the middle of the crescent shaped island, and the small town is worthy of a wander if you if you fancy venturing outside of the winery itself.

View from Fira
Fira is slightly trumped by Oia in my opinion for the sunset. None the less, the town is probably slightly more interesting than Oia, and so a sunset trip there is a must if you are not sunsetted out. The eve we went, the sea was literally swamped with cruise ships, which were putting on a light show of their own as the happy cruisers attepted to capture the moment on their cameras. We went to a restaurant called Ristoroni to watch the show. Possibly one of the best meals we had in Santorini and the company and the view made it a night I'll never forget. Despite the many margeritas.

There are several UK flights a day directly into Santorini. Alternatively, you can fly to Athens and get a boat to the island as part of an island hopping experience. You’ll dock at the island base and get a donkey to the cliff top. Not for the feint hearted (or the sensitive nostrilled) but perhaps worth it for the experience.

14 November 2011

Make me love you

Working in marketing (yes I do have a day job) I'm pretty cynical about stunts and promotions. Especially if they're too blatantly selling product. However, this summer, Cono Sur ran a Show What you Grow competition that really entertained me and quite possibly made me a fan.
Some of the tomatoes I grew in my garden
People could send in their pictures of goodies they'd grown themselves, and the best ones would be rewarded with a bottle of wine. Good clean fun. Well sometimes. Some of the vegetables were questionable shapes to say the least! Take a look at the gallery in their Facebook page, it is quite amusing.

It's a tough job doing alcohol promotions. There's a whole load of regulation around targeting the right age groups and not encouraging people to drink too much. That's why I think this campain hit the right level. Firstly because they understand their audience. People who grow their own produce are likely to be pretty middle class and like the good life. Secondly because, other than more wine, food's the best thing to go with a nice glass of something tasty. And thirdly, it gives fans a moment of fame, by displaying real pictures of people online page whether they're winners or not.

Finally because it works as a great sampling opportunity. Allowing people to try Cono Sur even if they hadn't thought of buying it before.
Me, a large courgette, a tomato and a bottle of Cono Sur
I, for one, had never really tried this brand before. However, I won the competition twice (yep, it's true) and I got to try a Pinot Noir and a Viognier from their Bicycle range. Both were delicious, but I was particularly impressed with the Pinot Noir since I am a bit of a snob and only tend to buy PNs from New Zealand or France. They also sent me a selection of recipes to give me ideas for what I could do with my home grown fare, and what to enjoy with my freebee wine.
A bottle of the Pinot Noir I won for my marvellous photo
All this must have engaged me with the brand because I even downloaded the Cono Sur app. Which, although disappointingly isn't configured for iPad, and doesn't do much more than list their range, I was surprised by how extensive their range was. Especially the 20 barrel range, a premium wine range which I had never seen before.

So the moral of this story is that well targeted promotions work. And did it make me drink more wine? Am not sure that is possible!! Would I buy Cono Sur in the future? Almost certainly.

6 November 2011

My review on reviews

I first discovered Trip Advisor a few years ago when increasingly, hotel and holiday searches brought up the review before the official page.

Since then, I have written 24 reviews and actually look forward to coming home from a holiday so that I can share experiences. You can see my profile: Pinotnoirgirl on Trip Advisor

Trip Advisor has also started to include reviews of restaurants which is great because, for me, what you eat and drink when away tends to add to your overall holiday or travelling experience. The site also updates you on how many people read your reviews or view your profile. I love this because it gives you an indication as to whether people are looking at what you write and are finding it useful. Apparently, my reviews posted this year have been read 1,027 times so far, which I find really interesting.

However, lately, I've fallen a bit out of love with Trip Advisor. And so I wanted to explore this in an attempt to renew my love.

People don't give feedback directly
One of my favourite UK hotels is Hotel Terravina. Based in the New Forest, it's run by the guy that set up Hotel Du Vin and has the perfect mix of delicious food and drinks coupled with friendly service.
My balcony when I stayed at Hotel Terravina
On the Hotel Blog the hotelier's wife, Nina Bassett, recently wrote about the frustrations of visitors who rant about their experiences on review sites after they have left, having given only positive feedback during their stay. Nina finds this difficult because it gives her staff little opportunity to rectify issues during a visitor's stay, meaning they only find out about mistakes after the point.

This seems mental to me. Absolutely write about your experience on review sites, as it helps other travellers to make informed decisions. However, you've paid for your holiday (or if you're lucky someone else has!) and you deserve to enjoy it while you are there. So if something is not right and can be rectified, speak up and try and get it resolved.

The reviews aren't real
Increasingly I hear people claiming that most of the reviews on Trip Advisor are made by hotels or travel companies rather than genuine holiday makers.
Beautiful Santorini - the reviews are great, but I believe them
This upset me because I have made many a decision based on reviews on Trip Advisor. Whilst I'm sure this does happen, I just can't believe that the majority of reviews are false. I recently stayed at a lovely hotel in Santorini called Hotel 28. Everything about this experience was brilliant. The staff couldn't do more to please, the rooms were spotless and the whole place was classy and relaxed.

On Trip Advisor the hotel is currently rated second in Kamari. I've read the reviews and many are from people we met while there because they're talking about the same things! One of them is quite mixed, and I know the occasion they are referring to, so I know it to be true.

It's the only way you can get poor experiences dealt with
These days, some people believe the only way to get a problem dealt with is by complaining in the social sphere. Many companies have become savvy to the fact that publicly responding to complaints on review sites or on other mediums such as Twitter can reflect well on the hotel or supplier.

Yet I believe that, like in many other areas of life, customer centric companies tend to respond to complaints and those that don't care, well, don't.

For example, I recently booked a cheap and cheerful holiday to Ibiza and chose Hotel Buenavista. While there were some positives about the place, there were a great deal of bad points. The staff were sourly to say the least, the rooms were scruffy and dirty and the pool was treacherous. I gave feedback to our tour operator, Thomson, directly through the forms on the plane and the post holiday email questionnaire and indirectly through Trip Advisor. None of these complaints have been dealt with or acknowledged in any way.

Reviews take too long to get published
Due to Trip Advisor's popularity, it's taking them longer and longer to approve reviews, especially if they contain photos. I once put up a review that took 14 days to be sent live, and then some of the pictures had been moderated out without a reason being given.

Whilst I understand that the site wants to minimise spam and offensive comments or photos, this can be frustrating because you want your review to be available to travellers as soon as possible, and no one likes to wait!
One of my photos that did not get published. Maybe my foot was offensive!
It astounds me that Trip Advisor has not invested in better technology to get around this and it's clearly all still manual. I know that in other social media spheres such as Facebook you can invest in monitoring tools such as Conversocial which immediately remove spam or swear words. And when you build forums or blogs you can plug in technology which operates similarly. For something as big as Trip Advisor, it seems crazy they are still relying on a manual work around.

The verdict?
Overall, I still love Trip Advisor. It's not perfect, but it's the biggest and most comprehensive holiday review site. I'll never go on holiday without having a little look at the review first, but probably take the following things into account:
  • If the review sounds like something out of a brochure or too good to be true, it probably is
  • If the review sounds like a rant or nit picking then ignore it
  • People have different standards so look at their other reviews. Are they just serial complainers
  • Those with more reviews tend to be more trustworthy and look at more than one review
  • Load up your pictures separately as the photos can take ages to load
  • Don't expect companies to respond or even look at Trip Advisor. It isn't an official complaint medium. If you have a problem, tell your operator or hotel at the time and try and get it fixed
  • There are other places to look at reviews or holiday experiences. Travel blogs like mine can be a great place to get a more informed view of a destination, rather than a snapshot
  • And finally, hey it's your holiday. Don't let yourself get too stressed, sometimes a lovely glass of wine can make everything seem better