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Just White and Blue.

Santorini, Greece

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!

Santorini Panorama

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 Atlantis myth.

Santorini 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 settlements.

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.

Santorini Houses 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.

Santorini Beach 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.

Santorini Church 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!

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