The Greek Islands is where Greece really comes into its own. The Greek flag; the simple striped and cross design of spectrum blue and pure white, all seems to make perfect sense when you are standing dumbstruck on Santorini, looking over the crystal clear waters and the blindingly flawless houses.
Santorini is the result of an ancient super volcano which spewed molten lava out in a ring, before falling dormant and allowing the waves of the Mediterranean Sea to fill in the crater, leaving a shattered ring of islands where the mountain’s rim once stood. The inside of a volcano’s crater is known as a caldera, and Santorini’s caldera is home to all of those picture postcard shots you’ve seen in travelogues.
Santorini, and the coastal towns which face the caldera really is the place of your dreams. We landed at Santorini’s smallish airport one morning, and were immediately whisked away by our driver to the accommodation at Oia (pronounced ee-ah). Oia is the northernmost town on Santorini, and affords spectacular views of the sunset across the placid Mediterranean waters.
Santorini is many things to many people – for some, it is a place to do things, for others, a place to relax. It’s an eating destination (fresh island produce is delicious), an art destination (private galleries line the streets), a photographer’s paradise, a place to be pampered, and above all, a place to go and simply do nothing but sit on your private balcony of a morning and read a book in paradise.
Our first day in Santorini was spent perusing the shops and chilling in the swimming pool, where I got some really, really great photos taken (apparently three months in Pakistan followed by a sojourn in the Greek Islands suits me). That night we went out for a seafood dinner. Greek food is right up my alley – salty and savoury, with just enough sweet dishes to round it out. We feasted on a spinach pie, haloumi (a local cheese), olives, and saganaki prawns (shrimp cooked in a gravy of tomato and pan-fried cheese). Breakfasts on Santorini were also a treat – generous cuts of succulent summer fruits, thick, creamy yogurt, thyme and orange blossom honey, ice cold coffee frappes… all served on our balcony at the Atrina Traditional Houses overlooking the ocean; heaven!
The next day we took a bus ride into Fira, the main town on the island, to walk around and take some pictures. Fira is large, but not overbig – it’s still a lovely, if busy place to see. We jumped on a cable car which belted down the side of the caldera to the water’s edge below, and then realised that the queue to come back up on the cable car was ridiculously lengthy. After some discussion, we realised that the most entertaining (if not the most logical) way to get back up the mountain would be to hire a donkey each. The donkeys looked more like horses, but either way they hauled our asses up the mountain, bruising one of my friends in the process. Hysterics done with, we sat down to frozen yogurt before taking the bus to Kamari, one of Santorini’s black beaches.
The local bus system on Santorini is very user-friendly, and cheap too – just E1.60 per person to get between towns. Kamari, on the southern end of Santorini near the airport, is a bend of black lava pebbles and rocks which make an intriguing (if not totally comfortable) alternative to a regular beach. The contrast of the black beach, the brown barren headland and the flawless blue sky made for a scene that photos just do justice to. That night, it was time for a gyros, a Greek kebab, loaded with salad, roasted chicken, yogurt and salty hot chips – good bad comfort food.
Our last day in Santorini was a perfect canopy of blue, delightful sailing weather, and a perfect way to round out our time in this lovely country. Mid-afternoon we set out with Santorini Sailing’s catamaran and around ten other travellers for a special cruise around the caldera, stopping off for swimming at a red sand beach (also a consequence of volcanic deposits), and then later off an island in the centre of the island ring. Back on the boat, we were treated to a perfect barbecue dinner, before dipping in the ocean one more time at a spot where the undersea volcano heats up the water to a bath-like temperature.
The catamaran eventually sailed back towards the port, but hung out off the island for a while to allow us to take in the sunset. The golden skies were reflected in the placid water, lending it a luxurious milky-golden sheen. The picture postcard blue of the Greek flag, the deep mysterious water and the endless sky gave way to a deeper indigo. Arriving back in Oia that night, the moon rose into the magical atmosphere over the chalky white and blue domes of the town’s churches, preparing us for another nocturn where we dream of the perfection of Santorini.
Culture shock: 4/10
Language difficulty: 2/10
Quality of food: 7/10
Physical demand: 3/10
Advice and warnings
Santorini is a safe place to be, and the biggest threat to your health and safety is sunburn. Be sure to pack sunglasses, as the white buildings can be blinding in the sunlight. As always, use common sense, and be aware of pickpockets in crowded places like bus stations.
Most Australians may enter Greece without the need for a visa, but Pakistanis and Indians must apply for a Schengen visa, which grants entry to several European countries which are part of the Schengen agreement. Pakistanis must pay €180 – the process takes around one month. Applications in India cost €60, and take less than 15 business days to process. Apply through your nearest Greek diplomatic mission (Islamabad, India VFS Service).
Getting there and around
Emirates flies to Athens via Dubai daily.
Melbourne (from $1,660 return)
Lahore (from PKR 99,491 return)
Sydney (from $1,775 return)
Chennai (from INR 56,533 return)
We stayed at the delightful (but not exactly cheap) Atrina Traditional Houses. If you’re looking for something a bit easier on the wallet, there are plenty of great budget and economy options available through HostelWorld.com.