Thira sloping to the Sea
I had expectations that the Greek Islands, and Santorini in particular, would be idilic and beautiful. I knew that people came here for their honeymoons, to bask in the Mediterranean sun, and to see blue and white everywhere, and for these reasons, I expected them to be too perfect. Luckily, Santorini isn’t quite perfect in every way. It still has a life that is local, flawed, and vibrant without the polished price tag.
Yes, if you want to come on your honeymoon and stay in the whitewashed resorts with infinity pools, breakfast al fresco, Greek wine on demand, and staff dressed head to toe in white linen, that Santorini exists and is thriving. In fact, I had several moments where I desired nothing more than a deck lounger on the stepped terraces of Thira and Oia with a glass of wine in hand. But that is only one dimension of this volcanic island.
During our week here, we sought out the other side and found it quite easily. First of all, we didn’t stay in town. For our first couple nights we stayed just south of Thira so that we could walk into town, but it was a long walk. For the rest of the week we rented one of three studio apartments in a small house on the northern coast. The property is on the sea side of the main loop road, and is set down so that the main living space is below the road. While the three apartments are compact and efficient, the outdoor space is generous and opens up to the sea. The place was so nice that we had two days where we didn’t even leave. Not once. It felt like a vacation from traveling which is something we didn’t even know that we needed or wanted, and it certainly isn’t something I expected from one of the most touristic Greek Islands.
For five of our seven days, we had no transportation but our feet. This saved us some cash, but it also meant that we saw everything at a slower pace on the days when we did leave the apartment. It forced us to walk along donkey paths and through farmland that even the motorbikes and ATVs that tourists rent would not have been able to navigate and that the tour buses and rental cars could not have even come close to. Along the backroads, we saw that most of this island is occupied by farmers that bail their own hay, maintain their crops of grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and figs with makeshift irrigation techniques, keep livestock, and build structures by hand that can only be built out of necessity.
At the end of our countryside walks, we visited Thira and Oia which are the two main towns on the island. Both are filled with buildings stacked on top of one another where outdoor lounging trumps indoor living. The pedestrian stairs and terraces and pools and hot tubs and umbrellas and stone walls and resort-wear clad couples were all so beautiful. The towns oozed the Greek luxury lifestyle where everyone was young, sun kissed, and happy. It certainly made me wonder how deep the Santorini bubble runs. Were all of the non-locals here this week foreigners? Or were some Greek natives? Is this island boring to the Greeks? Can they even afford this given the current economic struggles? I know that I cannot answer these questions, but I ask them anyways.
For the two days that we did have wheels (a Fiat 500 because Nik has wanted to drive one of those little buggers ever since he saw one in San Francisco), we used the car to drive up and down nearly every single paved road there is on this island. We explored north, south, east, and west and drove slowly through every town on the way. We discovered half built houses and resorts at every turn, and found a few towns that I didn’t expect would exist here.
Pirgos surprised me because it is a town where local homes are actually adjacent to small inns. The town is at one of the highest points on the island giving the residents and guests 180˚-360˚ views of the island and the sea. It is pretty removed from the sea so maybe that’s why it isn’t as popular, but it is quite lovely.
The other surprises were Perisa and Kamari. These beach towns on the southeastern coast each have their own beachside “strip” for a lack of a better term. We drove south to north, so on our left were outdoor bars and occasional hotel pools, and on our right was the black sand beach lined with lounge chairs, beach umbrellas, and dining patios. Perisa seemed a little more casual and where I expect all of the college kids hang out and the focus is on the bar with grass skirts, while Kamari seemed a little more adult with dining patios outnumbering the beach loungers and espresso machines outnumbering tiki bars. But it is still low season, and there were very few people at any of the beach side establishments, so I might have my assumptions completely wrong. Regardless, if we weren’t staying at a place that had its own beach, I would definitely spend a day of my vacation in each of these towns people watching while sipping beer and eating Greek salads.
Our next stop on this adventure is Folegandros, which is a smaller island in the Agean Sea that we will reach by ferry boat this evening. I will be sad to leave our seaside haven on Santorini, and I really do hope to come back. Next time, we will convince two other couples to join us so that we have our ultimate vacation home to ourselves, I will rent a motorbike for at least one day, we will spend a day at a beachside bar, and we will hike up to Ancient Thira. Otherwise, I could only dream that my next vacation here is very much like this one. Amazing!
Pedestrian paths through whitewashed walls
Our home for most of the week
Southwestern Point of the Caldera
Plug pulled on completion
Soon to be beech-side bathing
Volcanic black sand and stark white rocks
Dressed to blend in
Oia in moonlight
The northwest point of the caldera at dusk