Monday, 23 September 2013

The sheer beauty of Santorini

Santorini has that kind of beauty that blinds you: everything is photogenic, from the blue domes of the characteristic churches  to the flowers hanging from the balconies, from the omnipresent trellises to the churches with multiple bells, not to mention the white-washed houses crammed one against the other. These white "cubist houses" overhanging an impossibly blue sea are the trademark of the Greek islands. Even though images of Santorini are on every poster advertising holidays in Greece, to wander its cobbled streets that endlessly go uphill and downhill offering breath-taking vistas in every corner is quite another thing.


I reached Santorini with an early morning boat from Crete, a mere two-hour-and-twenty-minute journey that led me to another world. It wasn't exactly cheap (55€), but if there was one island that I really wanted to visit it was Santorini. When you get off the boat you'll find yourself at the bottom of a very high cliff and you'll necessarily have to take a bus  (€2,20) to tackle the long hairpin road to the main town, Fira (also spelled Thira or Thera).

View of gorgeous Santorini
In many parts, Fira is very touristic, with endless souvenir shops and frozen yogurts places, but the view of the caldera is stunning.

Santorini Panorama
Panorama of the caldera

In Fira you will be tempted to sit down in one of the many chic bars overlooking the sea, or you will be invited to climb down the stairs to the small port on top of a donkey. I chose not to use the donkey because I felt sorry for him, all day up and down the stairs! In the end it was a bad decision, because the stairs to the port were never-ending and it was scorching hot. The stink from the donkey's "droppings" didn't help, ugh!

Donkey, Santorini
Donkey in Thira
Once I climbed down the stairs, I found out that the small port in Fira is really nothing special, so go there only if you intend to do the excursion to the volcano, a very popular activity in Santorini. I didn't have that much time on the island, so  I skipped it for this time. Luckily, I found out that there is a cable car (4€) that leads you back to the main town, and even though it was not cheap I took it. 

If you want to avoid the crowds, head for the small picturesque village of Oia (pronounced ee-ah) in early afternoon or in the morning, because in the late afternoon it gets crowded with people watching the sunset. Make sure that you explore the back alleys, the quiet corners of both Oia and Fira Town. There isn't much to do in these small towns, aside from walking and admire the beauty of the island. It can't be quite explained in words, but Santorini may be one of the most beautiful places you'll ever visit. Everything seems created to please the eye, so I compulsively took pictures of everything I saw.

Enchanting Oia

Quiet corner of Santorini
Quiet corner of Santorini

Quiet corner of Santorini
Another of my favourite shots from the quiet parts

Another pastime could be browsing through the bookshelf of Atlantis Books in Oia. It was opened by two friends who were on holiday in Santorini a few years ago and ran out of books to read. Upon finding out that Santorini had no bookshop, they decided to open one. It's an inspiring place, where books are cherished, recommended, and always treated with love. Check out the name of that box of used books: pre-loved books, isn't it lovely? 

Inside it's cosy, with literally pyramids and piles of books, quotations from famous writers, Greek classics and a lovely but uncomfortable staircase that you have to climb to reach the terrace.

Atlantis Books, Oia
The lovely Atlantis bookshop

The terrace is perfect to watch the famous Santorini sunset or relax reading a book. Too bad I was worried about my Ryanair hand luggage and I couldn't buy any book.

Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini
The terrace of Atlantis books

Santorini sunset
Waiting for the sunset

One thing that fascinates me about Santorini is its history: there once was a Minoan settlement on the island, near Akrotiri, but a devastating volcanic eruption - one of the biggest recorded in history - has wiped out all traces of this civilization on the island, covering the site with volcanic sediment, like in Pompeii. The eruption - which occurred approximately in 1600 BC - made the centre of the island collapse and sink into the sea, forming the spectacular caldera. Today it is possible to make out the form of the original round island, and take trips to the volcano, which you can reach with a short boat ride to the island of Nea Kameni in the middle of the caldera. 

It is said that Plato was thinking of Santorini (then called Thira) when he wrote of Atlantis and of a mysterious lost civilization, now under the sea. The eruption was also one of the causes of the decline of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. It is possible to visit the archaeological site of Akrotiri, which dates back to 4000-5000 BC, but it takes a lot of imagination to make out the houses out of the ruins. To reach Akrotiri you can take a bus from the main station in Fira (€1,80). Take into consideration the possibility to hire a guide. I didn't, but I eavesdropped a little and I think it's the way to go: the guide will bring ancient Thira back to life.

Akrotiri, Santorini
The ruins of Akrotiri

One thing that I want to recommend is to visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thira in the main town of the island. Here you can find the frescoes found in Akrotiri. There are two museums almost one in front of the other: the other is the Archeological Musuem, which is rather small and somehow unimpressive. The frescoes on display in the Museum of Prehistoric Thira are truly astonishing, and they give an idea of the sophistication of the civilization. Historians and archaeologist are not yet sure if Akrotiri was an independent settlement with contacts with the Minoans or if it was an entirely Minoan colony.  

Museum, Santorini
The boxers

Museum, Santorini

In the next post: how I struggled with hordes of tourists in Santorini. Oh, and the famous sunset!


  1. It looks impossible to take a bad picture in Santorini! I enjoyed this entire post but what really got me is that book store! I'm a huge book lover so now I'm dying to visit Atlantis. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels :)

  2. I love your pictures - especially the ones in the quieter parts of Santorini. I love how you captured the shadows. I know a couple that's getting married in Santorini next year - too bad I can't go. But I will definitely make it there someday!

  3. Santorini is really a beautiful island, it was easy to take good pictures. Oh, and the bookshop is really worth looking for.

  4. Wow that place is absolutely stunning! Must remember to add it to my bucket list. I keep forgetting how beautiful Greece can be.

    It's really stupid but, I spent the summer in Turkey just 1 hour ferry ride away from some of the Greek islands and never got to visit, such a waste :(

    1. Well, I guess that Turkey is beautiful too. I've only been to Istanbul but it left me with the desire to see more of it!


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