March 25, 2020

Santorini, Greece

May 2018

Santorini is rated as the best island on the planet by polls in Travel magazines.  We agree.

Imagine an island shaped like a crescent, located in calm azure waters.  Three sides of the island (the long concave Western, and short Northern and Southern sides) are entirely made up of 300 m tall cliffs with a near vertical fall.  No beaches.  One side of the island (the long Eastern side) has a normal coastline with surf meeting sand.

One volcano created this geological wonder.  About 3,600 years ago.  The volcanic eruption fell around the volcano; sank rocks at the most appropriate places; filled the void with water; and created the islands of which Santorini is one.

Santorini is about 73 sq km in size (17% of Chennai); has a population of 16,000 (<1% of Chennai).  Santorini does not have any local source of water.  Rain water, captured and saved, is one major source!

The two major towns on the island are:  Fira (the Capital) and Firostefani (with just one street)!

Two towns (Firostefani, left and Fira, right) perched on top of cliffs of West Coast

Half the Western edge has a very narrow walkway at the edge of the cliffs that provides a natural rocky pedestrian promenade (marked by stairs at various places) offering a spectacular view of the landscape and seascape.  If you stand anywhere on this footpath you can see the entire Western edge and the four towns/villages perched on the cliffs.  Every spot on the walkway is a good spot for a view that befits a picture post card.  Most of the hotels and resorts are accessed through this walkway (no cars; some stairs).  You need to be fit and capable of walking for sustained lengths of time to enjoy Santorini.

Walkway at the edge of cliff on West Coast.  Takes 3 hrs to cover entire distance.

One can see entire concave West coast cliffs from anywhere on walkway

Fira, the capital, is picturesque.  The skyline is dominated by the Greek style domes of the Orthodox and Catholic churches.  Exquisite restaurants at the edge of the cliff offer an awesome view as you eat the healthy Greek food.  The Main Street with small boutique shops is quite narrow.  The town has a port.  The port is accessed by cable car.  When a cruise ship docks in the port, the entire town gets very busy and one needs to stand in queue for hours to get into the cable car!

Fira, as seen from walkway (with a cable car access to port at coast level)

A closer look at Fira

Main Street of Fira!  Shops are mostly aimed at tourists.

Yet, the 16000 people town is visited by 2 million tourists each year.  Gold Street.

Firostefani, the other town on the Western coast is much smaller and has just one street!

Firostefani, as seen from walkway.  Oia, at the northern end is visible in background.

Firostefani Main Street

Pyrgos is a small village in the middle of the island, perched on a hill.  The Orthodox church atop the hill sports the traditional blue and white pastels that is typical of Orthodox churches in the island.  Climbing up the hill through its narrow walkway full of shops is fun.  When you do, you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the landscape.

Pyrgos Orthodox Church atop a hill, accessed through a narrow path full of stairs

Shops near the summit of hill at Pyrgos village

Shopping street in Pyrgos!

Another place that can offer a 360 degree view of the island from a commanding height is the Prophet Elias Monastery in the middle of the island.  The entrance to the monastery itself is quite picturesque.

Entrance to Prophet Elias Monastery (that offers a panoramic view of the island)

While all of Santorini welcomes visitors, the light house at the rocky edge of Akrotiri deters visitors and alerts them about the rocks that can destroy ships.  The view from the light house is breathtaking.  (Minoans lived in Akrotiri 6,500 years back!)

Light house at the village of Akrotiri

If you need to do one thing in Santorini, it is eating healthy Greek food.  Second in the list?  Watching sunset.  We asked Tony, the manager of the resort where we stayed, about the best place to watch sunset in Santorini.  He said the best place in all Santorini is the window in our bed room.  He was right.  The room was at the edge of the cliff providing a picturesque backdrop.  We enjoyed it all week.

However, doing it on a sunset cruise is more fun.  You catch a boat at Oia in the North, cruise along the beautiful West coast, go past Akrotiri village at South and take an exclusive spot where your view is not affected by the boats of a zillion others trying to do the same thing.  And secure a spot on the deck of the boat, and wait patiently for the most appropriate moment to get a good shot.

Sunset at Santorini.  Aboard a cruise boat.

The Western coastline has one very small sandy strip accessed through a steep path from the top, giving rise to the quite famous Red beach, renown for its nude sunbathers.  Access is not easy.  However, that does not deter young ones and nosy/curious tourists.

Red Beach

The Eastern coastline of Santorini is normal "sand meets water" stuff.  The Black beach (black thanks to powdered lava) is a popular one.

Black Beach

Tesos (short for Anastasios), our guide for the day, recommended "Seaside by Notos" restaurant at Black Beach for lunch.  We dined there.  Two things are etched in my memory:  one, the food was outstanding and two, the lunch was leisurely and took almost 150 minutes.  Tesos said in a nearby island, people live to the age of hundred plus years as a routine.  This, allegedly, is due to healthy food taken over a long period of time, lots of walking, and a stress free lifestyle.

You can manage healthy food anywhere; long duration lunches too.  However, for a stress free life, you need those nicely decked up beach chairs under thatched umbrellas in front of a calm sea.  That is available only in Santorini.

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