The last stop on our trip was the island of Santorini.
On a few of the other Greek Islands, people told us Santorini was the most beautiful island in Greece.
They weren’t wrong.
The geography of Santorini is part of what makes it so amazing. It’s the largest of a ring of islands in the middle of the Aegean.
The caldera started off as the top of a massive volcano. When the aftermath of the eruption caused the top to fall inwards, the space it left filled with water and became a lagoon. The cliffs on the inside of the caldera go straight down, revealing a cross-section lots of different layers of rock.
There’s another island in the middle of the lagoon but it’s the top of a volcano that appeared later. It was active as recently as 1956 when it last erupted but it’s now dormant enough that there are tours around the crater.
You can see other signs of Santorini’s origins everywhere you look, particularly on its beaches. They have either red, white or black pebbles or sand depending on the type of lava they’re made of.
They also make a great sound when the tide comes out.
Cave houses, churches and windmills
We stayed in Fira and Oia, which are towns on the inside edge of the caldera. The houses there are all built into the cliffs in a mass of (mainly) white geometric shapes.
There are also lots of small, blue and white churches that almost always have pleasing blue domes.
We saw two excellent windmills at the top of the island in Oia. There are a few more in the town but these two were the only ones with the frames of their sails still intact.
Out of season
Arriving in the middle of December, we were in Santorini out of season. This meant most of the shops and restaurants were closed.
The majority of the houses in Fira and Oia are for tourists. Most of the actual islanders live on the other side of the island - away from the tall cliffs. Clever.
According to local shopkeepers, at peak season they get up to 1.5 million visitors a day. Off-season, there are only a few people around so it feels like a bit of a ghost town.
We were told that most of the people working in the local tourist industry live in Athens. They come across to work for the season so when it’s over they close up shop.
Free of tourists, off-season is when the locals of Fira and Oia get most of their building and repair work done.
The houses are built into the cliffs and accessed by passageways and flights of steps. The builders still use donkeys to move all their heavy materials around.
They were everywhere.
Even when we didn’t see donkeys, we usually saw trails of their poo wherever we went.
Cats and dogs
We read that one of the outcomes of the 2008 final crisis in Greece was that lots of people gave up their dogs because they couldn’t afford them any more. This led to a big increase in strays.
There are stray cats and dogs everywhere in Greece but Santorini had the most. They were all pretty friendly.
At one point, a spookily co-ordinated group of cats almost tripped us up. The way they organised themselves we started to feel like we were in a feline version of The Birds.
We always try to walk on well-defined routes with as few steep drops as possible. But the bit of Santorini we were in has a steep slope inland on one side and a sheer drop to the sea on the other side. This made hiking much more… interesting.
In theory, there are a few walking routes around Santorini. But we found that a few of the surfaces were a bit sketchy and some routes had been covered by rocks after landslides. That, together with Roz’s vertigo, meant we didn’t do as much hardcore walking in Santorini as we did everywhere else.
The famous bookshop
Atlantis Books in Oia is a beautiful bookshop built into in some cleverly organised caves.
It’s got a lovely mix of new books, rare editions and some original works from its own print shop.
We loved it so much it was hard to leave. It was only later that we found out that Atlantis Books is kind of famous.
On our last night in Greece, we read this quote by Odysseas Elytis in a restaurant menu:
“If you take Greece apart,
in the end you will be left with
an olive tree, a vineyard and a boat…
which means that in the end with these items,
you can rebuild Greece…”
Not that we’re planning on taking Greece apart or anything. It just seemed like a neat quote.