Santorini is the Audrey Hepburn of the Greek islands: not the most beautiful yet incredibly popular, not the sexiest nonetheless wildly desired, and with a myth bordering the legendary in its name.
It looks like one’s day in Santorini should be centered around the sunset, when the formidable tourist machine gives its absolute best (and worst). It is basically compulsory to find oneself in the northwest tip of the island, namely Oia, to be blessed by the sun last rays. You will not be alone in the experience, even if you are at sea, because the waters boils with tour boats all boosting very loud music to accompany the ritual – mostly Celine Dion. Bars in Oia are packed and every single taxi on the island, be it a rickshaw or a 58pax coach, tries to go down the beach to bring the cruise ship people, turn and eventually come back when the inevitable gargantuan traffic jam is liquefied.
Yet a cruise to Santorini is worth a few imperfections and the island, with a little local knowledge, can provide emotions, relax and surprises. Being the tourist mecca of the Eastern Mediterranean means yes a lot of tourists but also a level of service and quality unknown elsewhere in Greece.
The charming villages of Thera are built on the rims of an ancient volcano that exploded probably in the second millennium BC, devastating the area and annihilating the Minoan and, to the believers, Atlantis civilizations. The active remnant of the caldera can still be visited in the centre of the bay, where rats and sulphur fragrances reign supreme. Still, it provides probably the best anchorage of the island, far from the madding crowd. Most tourists are disgorged by the ships by a hellish wharf under the Chora and then use a rail service to reach the top, unless one still wants to use the picturesque but still smelly donkeys. Yachts have more choice of places to disembark but still everyone has to climb or take a ride to the rim, which is where life is. So forget the usual charming fishing harbor and think more on the lines of an endless succession of boutique hotels, sexy restaurants, flashy bars and numberless design boutiques. Basically the languages spoken, the brands sold, the general atmosphere and the tourist types are exactly the same of Saint Tropez, Capri, Porto Cervo, Eivissa. The main – and possibly the only – difference is the style of the houses, greatly enhanced by the deep blue roofs and windmills. So yes, as far as style goes we are not ranking high, because the Ralph Lauren boutique is cheaper in Bond St., but lots of character in hotels and restaurants.
It’s indeed a pleasure to get out of the street and into the charming inns and excellent restaurants, all of which are of course built on the main plus of the island: the views. Few, if any, islands in Greece offer better emotions when looking at the horizon. Of course the shape if the island helps, with amazing cliffs on the inside and gentle slopes of vineyards and olive trees on the outside. Just work out some white building in strange shapes and you cannot go much wrong. We spent a very beautiful night enjoying the fresh evening breeze tasting traditional and revisited Greek cuisine at Finikia’s place and we would certainly do it more often!