Just White and Blue.
It may seem rather an odd title for a travel article, but it
perfectly summarizes the destination in question. When you leave the Greek
island of Santorini the memory you take home with you with largely consist of
those two colors: the deep blues of the sea and sky and the brilliant white
that all the buildings seem to be painted with. On a sunny day – and most days
are sunny on Santorini – the effect can be blinding. Take a pair of shades!
Although it’s thoroughly Greek, the rest of Europe has always
referred to the island by its Italian name. To the locals it is and has always
been Thira. Thira/Santorini was a much larger island a couple of thousand years
ago. But in 1550 BC the island was ripped apart by a tremendous volcanic
explosion. Most of the center sank into the sea, taking several ancient towns
with it. Some scholars think that the Santorini explosion is the origin of the
The island today is simply what’s left of the volcano – an immense rim of
thousand-foot cliffs enclosing a huge lagoon where the rest of the island used
to be. It’s a fantastic natural harbor, and in the tourist season it fills up
with yachts and cruise ships. A reminder of the island’s volcanic past remains,
though: in the centre of the lagoon is a tiny island that belches out smoke and
steam. There hasn’t been any volcanic activity since 1956, however, when an
earthquake wrecked the towns of Oia and Fira, Santorini’s two major
They’re both tourist traps today, but incredibly beautiful for
all that. Both whitewashed towns sit at the top of the island’s inner rim of
cliffs. They are a dizzying height above the sea. If you happen to be staying
in a hotel high up in the old town of Fira the deep azure of the Aegean will
seem a very long way beneath you.
Each town has a small harbor at the bottom of their respective cliffs, reached
by zigzag paths. Although the economy of the island is largely based on tourism
these days, local fishermen still ply their trade. It’s great fun to stroll
down to the harbor of an evening and watch them fix their nets and unload their
catches of calamari and crab.
Santorini is a great place for a beach holiday – though the
environment can be a little unnerving at first. The island’s exciting
geological past has made its seashores very distinctive. The color of the sand
ranges from pure white to gray on the different parts of the island. If you go
to Perissa beach the sand is black. Black, as you’ll remember from highs school
science lessons, absorbs heat more effectively than lighter shades, and in the
summer the Parissa sands can get burning hot. It’s a bad idea to walk out
barefoot to your beach mat early in the morning - by mid-afternoon, shoeless,
you’ll either have to wait for the cool of the evening or sprint on tiptoe
across the blistering surface.
The big tourist beaches – Perissa, Kamari, Red – get very crowded. If you like
a little peace and quiet try Monolithos beach on the eastern coast of island.
It’s often practically deserted, even in summer – although it still has the
usual range of food and drink stalls.
The other big draw on Santorini is the churches. There are
dozens and dozens of them, often tucked away high on cliff tops. To reflect the
color scheme of the whole island most have whitewashed walls and a blue roofs.
This being Greece many of the churches are domed. You’ll see sweating, bearded
black-clad priests hurrying between services. If you’re really lucky you might
get to see a traditional Orthodox wedding taking place. Marriage is a big
business in Greece and whole streets get taken over by partying, drinking and
dancing. You can even get married on Santorini yourself – various planning
companies exist to help you organize the big day – and enjoy all the benefits
of Hellenic festival culture. Retsina, the Greek national drink, is something
of an acquired taste that few foreigners ever get to grips with. But the
island’s cuisine, and the seafood in particular, is superb. So the wedding
reception should be fun.
If you’re planning a simple vacation rather than some extravagant Mediterranean
nuptials, Santorini is a great destination. It is compact. Its inhabitants are
very friendly. It genuinely has something for everyone. If you’re going,
however, make sure you book your accommodation in advance. Planning
restrictions designed to protect the island’s natural beauty have prevented the
explosion of tourist hotels that has blown through much of the rest of the
Mediterranean, so rooms can sometimes be hard to come by. Book now, though, and
you’ll have an experience you’ll never forget.
Just don’t forget your sunglasses!