Crete & Santorini

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.