The island of Santorini takes your breath away, metaphorically and literally. Metaphorically, because it is a truly spectacular setting; its villages perch high on the semi-circular rim of a volcano, staring straight into the caldera, filled with water. Cruise liners famously line up their passengers on deck to show them the dramatic, rising cliffs of Santorini with the white sugar-cube houses along the top, dripping down the dark rock-face like icing on a chocolate cake. The vistas from above looking down are equally stunning; we flew in and were driven to a villa in the town of Imerovigli, and took in our first views from a terrace. Beneath us, spanned the Agean Sea with scattered rubble islands formed of an ancient volcanic eruption. Sail-boats glided by with the elegance of swans. The beauty and silence of the panorama were soul-stilling.
Santorini knocks your breath out literally because one has to constantly navigate a lot of narrow pathways and steps. Exploring the picturesque towns of Fira, Imerovigli and Ia takes its toll on the lungs given the climbing and descending as you take in its unique architecture, and try to photograph its crannies.
To maximise views, all buildings along the rim cling like ivy to the sheer rock face, their terraces and balconies sprawl like tendrils grabbing hold of any available surface.
Our dazzling white villa was typical of Santorini's architecture, with a mainly vertical spread and very little depth. Its living spaces and bedrooms were carved into the rock and chimney flues brought in fresh air. There was an out-doors loggia for dining, and multiple terrace to take in the views. And then there were the stairs, all external, connecting the four levels.
Life On The Island
Alexander, our villa manager, and Yanni, the cook hail from mainland Greece, and they took it upon themselves to feed us in a way befitting the Greeks. Enormous dishes would arrive with every meal. Feta Cheese slabs lay atop enormous piles of fresh Greek salad, the fava bean soup, aubergine and grilled fish dishes came in bicep enhancing weights. Alex served us the local sigalas wine with pride, and filled us in on the island.
"There are only about 6000 locals," he said, "and they are mainly farmers and hoteliers. Many workers come in for the tourist season in the summer from Athens, Thessaloniki and Patras as drivers, sailors and hotel staff. All construction comes to a standstill over the summer, so you'll see no cranes and hear no drills. The nightlife perks up, and we make sure everyone leaves happy" Alex pointed the way to Fira, the main town, a short walk away. It was awash with lights and music, and as the evening cooled, people began arriving in droves. We ate at Selene, went on to Franco's for a drink, and danced into the small hours at Enigma.
The languid days were spent on the black sand beaches of Perivolos, Perissa and Kamari, sailing the Agean, and getting lost in Santorini's villages, chasing the sunset.
Ia, a village on the northern end of the island, is most appealing. There is a mad dash to get there in the evenings to catch the sunset, perhaps a conspiracy theory by the restaurateurs of Ia who nab the throngs straight after. There are plenty of other beautiful spots on the island, particularly Skaros Rock, which we discovered by losing our way. Along the path from Imerovigli to Fira, step downwards from the Blue Note bar, towards the Grace Hotel, and keep descending till you come to the massive Skaros Rock, which you can then climb and have to yourselves as you watch the sun slowly lower itself in a blaze of colour.