Santorini, with its buildings of icing white and blue, set against cerulean skies with the sea glittering far below. When people mention Greece, this is the tableau I immediately picture in my mind. It is an idyllic picture, and one that warms my soul. Who can resist those unending blue skies offset by the blinding white of the buildings, bright in the eternal sunshine?
I had priced up the trip prior to my holiday, as an add-on excursion through my tour operator. The price was a little more than I wanted to spend, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I knew it was something I couldn’t turn my nose up. After all, it is Santorini! A destination that has forever graced my bucket list.
It was as beautiful as I expected.
We were picked up by coach from our hotel early on the Sunday morning and taken to Heraklion harbour to board the Seajet, a huge boat with a seating area that was likened to an airport lounge. We arrived late and were herded on with the rest of our group and deposited in the centre of the seating area. I was a little disappointed. This was my son’s first boat journey and I would have preferred a seat by a window. However, once we set off, we were able to go above deck, as well as purchase snacks from the concessionary on board, which was an advantage as the two hour journey had the potential for tedium.
Above deck, the view as we came into Santorini was amazing. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and we looked forward to the day ahead.
We docked in Athinios and were given instructions to proceed to a numbered coach, where we would be escorted for the rest our day by our guide, Ilias. Originally from Athens, Ilias was a font of knowledge about Santorini culture, along with a quick, dry wit. During our coach trip that wound up and up into Santorini, through vineyards and olive gardens, and even past the gated holiday homes of the Hollywood elite, he kept up a steady stream of chatter, pointing out the best views over the Caldera rim, briefing us on Santorini history, its weather, and the story behind the blue and white buildings, and even giving us a rundown of the best wines produced on the island. It was all very informative and interesting. According to Ilias, during the Ottoman rule of Greece, which lasted for 400 years, Greeks were not allowed to fly their white flag. In defiance, the people of Santorini, Oía in particular, painted their houses bright white to signify freedom. The blue they added to represent the sea and sky, which you cannot possibly ignore whilst there. The most impressive houses in the village are the cliff houses, literally carved into the caldera slopes. I was impressed before I even arrived.
After 20 minutes or so, we reached Oía, the fairytale village that has made Santorini so famous. And I can assure you, it was as beautiful as you would imagine, and also extremely crowded. Leaving the coach, Ilias lead us up onto the main street in the town, in the central square, which is called Nikalaou Namikaou. From here, surrounded by white buildings and blue domed churches, we looked out over the Aegean Sea where the volcanoes Palia and Nea Kameni and the island of Thirassia lay. The beaming sun glittered off the waters below and the crowds bustled up and down the winding, cobbled streets, pausing to explore various alcoves in search of the perfect backdrop for those holiday pictures. It was all very idyllic. I felt like I was in a dream. I only wish we had been able to stay longer, but the excursion moved on.
Back on the coach, we headed south towards the town of Thira, the Santorini capital, teeming with tourists and with similar beautiful views. From here, the option was to stay in Thira, take a boat ride out to the volcanoes, or continue on to the black sand beach at Perissa, where we could dine at a beachside restaurant. We chose the beach, although my ideal choice would have been all three. Therefore, Thira was merely a pitstop, and we had only 30 minutes to take in the sights. We bought an ice cream and met some of the dogs that rested on the street.
Back on the coach, accompanied by Ilias, who obviously preferred the black sand delights himself, we were looking forward to eating more than anything else. Despatched right outside Aquarius, a bar cum restaurant situated right on the black sand beach, and where we were promised 10% off any food ordered. Bonus! We found a table for two looking out onto rows of sun beds and parasols, and beyond the glittering sea.
It was glorious, and, as the sun dipped low in the sky and we dipped our toes in the warm waters before returning to the coach, heading back to the fast cat and Crete, we reflected on the day we had had.
A day trip just isn’t long enough to fully experience the delights of Santorini. It was like a taster, an aperitif. I felt like I had merely read the blurb on the back of the book – there is so much more to see. It is something that will remain with me for a long time, until I can return and explore in more depth.
But one thing that I am sure of. Santorini is as beautiful as I expected, and one day I will return.