We were lured to Santorini by the beautiful photos of white washed houses on cliffs that you see in travel magazines and postcards. So even though it was a 7 hour ferry ride away from Athens, we went.
Formed after a devastating earthquake 3,500 years ago, Santorini is a croissant shaped island with the largest caldera in the world. Akrotiri lies in the south, the capital Fira lies in the middle, and the famous Oia lies on the northern tip. Santorini is an exporter of volcanic soil, china clay and pistachio nuts.
On our first evening, we checked out Fira, a village with irregular architecture because of the lack of planning regulations after the earthquake in 1956. We walked around cobbled alleyways filled with shops selling souvenirs, jewellery and frozen yogurt. We taste tested Vin Santo, a dessert wine unique to Santorini. There were plenty of jewellery made from volcanic lava and coral. For dinner, we headed to Pirouni in Firostefani, a village 15 minutes walk from Fira. We had a lovely (private) table overlooking the caldera so that we could see the beautiful colours of the sky as the sun dips behind the volcano. On the menu were the famous tomato balls and fava (split pea).
We woke up bright and early the next day to a wonderful breakfast spread which we took on the terrace. We were staying in a beautiful boutique hotel, the Markezinis Suites which used to be home to the Greek prime minister in the 1900’s. I think we had the master bedroom too! The ceilings were hand painted and the toiletries smelled of oilve.
We then hiked 10km from Fira to Oia. It was the perfect activity on a warm and sunny day, even though we weren’t so well equipped with our loafers and flat soled sneakers. We were rewarded with stunning views of the white washed villages and the caldera as the route follows the cliff or the ridge most of the time. Along the way, we could see many new hotels being developed. No doubt that the island would be increasingly popular in a few years’ time and we’re glad to be visiting now rather than later! I wonder if there might be a cable car running from Akrotiri to Oia one day. After a gruelling 10km which earned me some sunburnt skin, we reached the famous village of Oia which features white houses, smooth marbled walkways and dome shaped roofs.
We also enjoyed a photography safari which to our luck, turned out to be a private tour. For 6 hours, we had the renowned photographer Tryfon, whose works have been used for Bvlgari ads, giving us tips on lighting, framing and style. We went to the non-touristy parts of Santorini where there was literally no one. We could shoot as many photos as we like, testing again and again until we had the perfect postcard shot. We heard stories about how the island used to be, before it became commercialised. It was only back in 1980 when the population was 500 and the inhabitants were struggling economically. How the population shot up 10 folds in two generations is a mystery to us. Perhaps the good weather, delicious food and very relaxing lifestyle encourages reproduction. According to Tryfon, the sunset in Oia which is frequently promoted as the most beautiful sunset in the world is a myth. He took us to his favourite spot on the island, Pyrgos, where we could watch the sunset with a view of the entire island, from Akrotiri to the volcano to Oia. Pyrgos itself was a village which exhibits the influence of the Venetians’ colonization, as illustrated by the colourful buildings using okra, cream blue and coral pink.
It was an enjoyable and informative tour in which we learned lots. At the very least, we now know how to operate the manual function on our cameras! Watch out for more professional photos in our future blog posts.
A bonus from the tour was the restaurant recommendation. We had our last dinner at Casa Atla, a small cosy restaurant inside a cave. We ate the most scrumptious fresh crab salad, fried cheese and squid, paired with some raki and white wine. The whole squid turned out to be too stressful for our digestive system.
There were so many couples taking wedding photos in Santorini and I could absolutely see why it’s a honeymoon destination. In April, we could already see many tour groups and you know this is a definite sign that a place is too touristy and commercialised. Can’t imagine how crowded the alleyways will be when summer arrives!
The more authentic side of Santorini lies in the less popular areas and I’m so glad we got to experience them now instead of in ten years’ time.