I stood at the top of the cliff on the edge of the island and inhaled the salty air of the Aegean Sea. In front of me, the blackened volcano stood forebodingly in the midnight-blue waters of the caldera, daring anyone to assume that it had become docile. Behind me stood the iconic whitewashed buildings and blue domes of Santorini, resting precariously on the rocky cliffs. They formed the facade of the delightfully confounding labyrinth of cobblestone and marble alleys from which I had emerged. This was what I had come here for. This was what I had dreamt about for aeons.
Santorini was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions over thousands of years, giving rise to its unique beaches with white, red, or black sand. Adding to its mythical allure is the well-founded theory that the ruins of Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on Santorini, are actually the unearthed remains of the lost city of Atlantis.
For a long time, whenever anyone had asked me what my dream destination was, Santorini was the first name that sprang to mind. It was the pictures of the scene I was witnessing that had imprinted themselves indelibly on my mind – that same pictures that sold Greece to the world and had sold it to me too.
Determined to get there, I found myself on a Mediterranean cruise with one of its ports of call being Santorini. When our ship finally docked there on a sunny October morning, I couldn’t believe that my dream was about to come true.
We disembarked and were taken by tender boats to the port then driven by bus up a steep and narrow cliff, ascending higher and higher to the town of Fira, while the views below became more bewitching… and hair-raising. Our tour guide, Lynne, a British woman who had been living there for the past 20 years (talk about a dream job) said that our driver was one of the best drivers in Santorini which calmed our nerves a bit – until she added that “The others are all dead!”
As we drove through Fira, I realised that the Santorini I was looking at did not quite look like the one imprinted on my mind. Santorini Island consists of several towns and villages. The world-famous pictures are of the sea-facing buildings taken in the village of Oia (pronounced Eeya). Nevertheless other parts of Santorini also boast stunning picturesque views, sun-kissed whitewashed buildings, and endless photo opportunities. As one of Greece’s most popular tourist destinations, much of the island is crowded as expected but yet it is still possible to find quiet spots where the silence and serenity allow you to hear your inner thoughts and be at one with yourself.
Bric-a-brac shops, eclectic clothing shops, and Greek restaurants with panoramic views of the caldera below lined the narrow pathways and the scent of Mediterranean cuisine wafted through the air. Newly-weds posed for photos in their wedding attire that conceals the comfortable flip-flops they’ve worn on their feet. Now and then a donkey crossed our path. As we turned off the main pathway we were rewarded with the bewitching view that the world associates with Santorini and found ourselves to be part of the postcard. It was everything that I had imagined it to be.
This article was first published in the Sunday Times.