After one long ferry ride, we spent several happy days in Rethymno and Venetian built Hania, Crete, doing nothing much (bar a trip to Knossos, home of the Minotaur), before excitedly trading the Cretan sprawl of Iraklio for the Cyclades.
When people dream of the Greek Islands, it is of this they dream. After Iraklio, described by one person we met as “the worst of Athens shitted onto an island”, our first Cycladic destination was always going to be breathtaking. Home to a succession of great civilizations—Minoans, Venetians, and (perhaps!) Atlanteans, Santorini’s beauty was well earned, forged by cataclysmic violence. As if struck by a cosmic hole-puncher, the centre of her simply disappeared one day, when the volcano sleeping beneath her awoke with empire razing violence, robbing us of one land mass, yet gifting us with another. A sight unprecedented is the gargantuan submerged caldera about which Santorini’s villages perch like a string of pearls around a dragon’s neck.
We spent two days exploring her stuccoed streets, crowded with visitors, locals and donkeys, each turn surprising us with new views of the caldera and the ships passing over her. Away from the villages, Santorini’s beaches are of an unearthly aspect, recalling the island’s volcanic past. Red Beach, with its soaring red cliffs and rocks, is as surprising as a resort on the surface of Mars, and almost as unpopulated today. More than slightly sunsmacked, we find the perfect ending to our stay in Santorini, catching the bus to Oia to watch the sun go down. Oia, village of a thousand postcards and credit card commercials, is – as promised – perfect. And there, like ancient sun worshippers, hundreds of people gather at that special vantage point to witness the moment when Greece—whose geography jealously guards the light—passes the flame to other lands, as she must.
Never before have I seen a place whose beauty was so dependent upon light. With her red cliffs, blue waters and whitewashed architecture, Santorini disappears when the light fades, to be held in a holding pattern of fairy lights upon sea. Come morning, and the colour reignites around you.