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Oh Santorini…

October 23, 2012

I should have known to take the beautiful sunrise we saw while pulling up to Santorini as a sign that it would be a stunning day.

Please forgive me for the gratuitous use of scenic photos in this post.  As someone who lives in an area of spectacular natural beauty, it takes a lot to really blow me away.  But Santorini is beyond gorgeous, and I couldn’t stop alternately gawking and snapping photos.

Santorini was formed by a massive prehistoric volcanic eruption (possibly the largest ever, according to our tour guide).  The island is the rim of this ancient volcano, and it forms a semicircle around the sea which has filled in the caldera, or collapsed land left behind following the eruption. The caldera is the largest in the world.  Thanks to all this volcanic activity (there are several active volcanos in the vicinity), there are hot springs between two small islands in the middle of the caldera.  We didn’t have time to take a dip, but I’d love to try them out on my next trip.  Somehow, there will be a next trip to Santorini.

The boat parked (do boats park?) in the middle of the caldera and we took tenders to the island to begin our tour.

My dad and me on our way to shore.

We signed up for a tour that morning, hoping to get an overview of the island before exploring on our own that afternoon.  Much like the other tour Silversea arranged for us, this one was fantastic.  Our tour guide took us to the main villages of Fira and Oia (pronounced “Ia” – I’ve never encountered a silent “o” before) , a winery and the island’s high point of Profitas Illias while sharing information about the island’s history along the way.

Oia is a beautiful, romantic town perched on the rim of the caldera and we spent our time there mostly shopping and snapping pictures.

After spending about an hour in Oia, we headed to Santo Wines for a wine tasting.  I think I said in Istanbul that I’d found the most beautiful setting ever in which to drink wine.  I was wrong.

That was our view from the expansive terrace of Santo Wines.  Between the scenery and beautiful weather, it was hard to pay attention to the wines.  The white we tasted was quite good, but the red was pretty weak and the Vin Santo – a traditional Santorini dessert wine – was too sweet for me but probably very tasty if you like sweet wines.

I could have spent all day on that patio, but we had places to be.  We went next to the top of Profitas Illias for a view over the island.  It was pretty up there, but I preferred the up-close views we experienced in the villages to the bird’s eye view.  Then we went to Fira, Santorini’s capital and largest village, to conclude the tour.

With the tour over, we sat down for a stellar lunch at Rastoni, a new restaurant that fit our primary criteria for lunch – an amazing view.  According to our waitress, Rastoni is Greek for “relax,” and it’s hard to imagine how one could do anything but relax on this patio.

Luckily the food was delicious too, as was the bottle of Greek Amethystos wine we ordered (when you start drinking wine at 11 a.m., why stop?).  I will definitely return to Rastoni if I ever get the chance.  I know I keep saying this, but it was one of the best meals of the trip!

After lunch, we wandered around Fira and got our first view of the famous (or infamous) Santorini donkeys.  When you come to Fira by boat, you arrive in a harbor at the bottom of a steep cliff with the town hovering above you.  Your options for ascending to town are walking the 588 steep steps, taking a cable car or riding a donkey.  The advice from friends and the cruise ship operator was unanimous: do not ride the donkeys.  I was still tempted by the thought of a ridiculous once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but I declined when I thought about smelling like a donkey for the whole day.

Back to Fira… After a fabulous lunch we strolled through the town and did a little more shopping (I know. We never stopped shopping.).  Then we decided to hike a portion of the trail from Fira to Oia.  When planning this trip, the hike was high on my to-do list for Santorini because it sounded like a beautiful way to see the island.  However, since we had more than one set of bad knees in our group and had already had a long day, we decided to just walk as far as we’d like and bail out when we’d had enough.

People describe this walk as a hike, but I have a hard time using that word to describe walking on pavement.  That said, the path had some weird, slippery stone sections and required decent walking shoes and careful footing.  We ended up walking from Fira, through the next village of Firostefani, then through the village of Imerovigli.

Along the way, the path clung to the side of the cliff offering nonstop views of the caldera.  We also passed countless adorable cafes and gorgeous little hotels with pools that we were all dying to jump in.  If I get the chance, I’d love to spend a few days at one of those hotels!

When we reached Imerovigli, we decided that was the last likely spot to grab a cab without going the next 3 or 4 miles to Oia.  Plus, we had plans to catch sunset in Oia and wouldn’t have made it before dark on foot.

It seems that every sunset is an event in Oia.  People fill the cliff-side cafes, toasting the end of the day and waiting to see a spectacular sunset.  We got to a primo spot early and ordered another bottle of Amethystos and a few appetizers at Restaurant Kastro while the sun sank lower in the sky.

The sunset wasn’t as dramatic as the one we experienced in Rhodes the night before, but it was still just gorgeous.

When the sun finally sank down into the sea, people on patios all around us started clapping.  As my sister remarked at the time, “I love it when people applaud for inanimate objects!”

After sunset, we dragged our feet on the walk back through Oia.  A bus ride later, we were back in Fira boarding the cable car back down to the docks, then the ship.  I hated to leave Santorini, but am happy to  say that we truly made the most of our day there.  And seriously, I will be back!

Oia by day and night.

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