Postcard perfect Santorini

Monday, 19 August 2013

I have actually done a fair whack of travelling before I started what I would refer to as proper blogging - that being, blogging that I actually keep up to some extent and more importantly, enjoy. So it goes without being said that I have missed out writing up any adventure that I had pre-blogging. I always promised that I would turn them out into little sparkly blasts from the past but up until now I have never got around to it. However, when I heard that Travel Supermarket were running a Holiday Postcards competition asking you to relive your dream destination, I ran out of excuses. And so here I am about to spill all the deets about Santorini 2009: the trip of my little life so far.

"But where on earth is Santorini?" That's what my 21-year old self wailed one snowy night in February 2009. So snowy in fact, that from where I was staying in Surrey (rather than my usual hometown London residence at the time) I was Actual Snowed In. Capital letter importance. For a London girl this is serious business, and enough to get one a little jittery like a kitten out in the snow for the first time. It's too much! What do I do with it! Argh, I need sun! Sun sun sun sun. And thus began a trawl of Expedia that very evening, flicking though potential holiday destinations. I'd been with my boyfriend for a few months and we were thinking it was high time we were having a sunshine holiday. We wanted somewhere hot (obvs), interesting, with amazing cuisine and also, just to add a twist in the mix, somewhere none of our friends had ever been before. For once, we wanted to be the first ones to go somewhere. That's when we came across Santorini amongst the hoards of options and at the first photo, we were head over heels in love.

Little did I know at the time but after a few evenings researching - after booking naturally, 'cos that's how I roll - I was loaded with information and facts. It was undoubtedly famous for it's sunsets and blue domed rooftops and fava beans. It also turned out that Santorini was pretty much a volcano in itself: the islands as it's known today formed some 3,000 years ago after it literally erupted inside out causing one of the biggest volcanic explosions of all time, and splitting the main isle into three parts. Thira is the crescent-shaped main island basking in all it's rocky beauty. Thirasia is the middle-sized island in the brim of the caldera where it is said that the locals don't own watches or clocks for they run on "Thirasia Time". And finally Nea Kameni, which is the intricate and exciting island that is the volcano itself. It took three months of terribly overexcited waiting to get there. So much so, that I was probably counting down sleeps from about T-minus 40 days. Then finally on May 17th 2009, I boarded an early morning easyJet flight from Gatwick to the island that had danced in my dreams. To say that I had a megawatt smile and knots in my tummy would be a gross understatement.

Not only did it provide the snoozy sunshine setting that we so desired, Santorini actually provided a whole lot more in terms of sights and activities. Firstly it goes without saying that the island requires a whole lot of appreciating on the scenic front, with mountain ranges stretching along your entire eyeline from wherever you are in the island (the main mountains run in a line up and down the centre of the island and there are very few roads that cross through them). And the sea! If you were to close your eyes and imagine the clearest, bluest, most still and tranquil waters that your mind could dare to muster up, postcard-perfect Santorini has it times a thousand. The scenery played into a lot of island activities: some interesting beaches in the south required quadbikes to reach them, and there were breathtaking boat tours between the three islands that soaks up all the sights and the famous Santorini sunset. Needless to say, we did them all.

There are a few interesting beaches on Santorini. A lot of the sands in the east are black due to the natural ashes from the volcanic activity. There are also a few hidden beaches: the White Beach which is only accessible by boat and requires walking through waters to get there as there is no pier, and the Red Beach. We managed to make it to the Red Beach by way of quadbike (50 of your best cc's) and then disembarked to continue our journey on foot. The rocks are rich in iron which is what makes them and the sands so red. Because you have to access it through a small climb and a break in the rocks, it feels totally private and not at all full which makes for a pretty special experience.

I'll never ever forget sailing in those picturesque waters from Thira to Kameni to Thirasia and back, smack bang in the middle of the holiday. The classic part of the holiday that should technically be the most boring, yet this was the most active and exciting day. The itinerary included walking up the volcano itself and them immersing yourself in the nearby natural hot springs, which was at first an interesting (read: a little stinky) but quickly a most relaxing experience. Then a nip across the water to Thirasia, where you got to experience Thirasia Time for real plus seat yourself at the glorious beachside restaurant which jetties out into the sea and serves the most fantastic chicken souvlaki ever. The dreamy tang of grilled chicken still smoulders on my tongue as I imagine it, and the creamy full-flavoured tzatziki cannot be replicated anywhere but here. See it to believe it for sure! It was certainly well deserved after working up a hefty appetite walking up and down the stony-topsy-turvy hills of Nea Kameni, the volcano island. Still, anything was worth it for those incredible views...

...however, the best was yet to come. If you're anybody who's anybody (unless you're me circa February 2009) you will have heard all about the Santorini sunset. People have come from far and wide to witness this wonder and it's known that people will specifically tailor their weddings around the sunset to allow for the most spectacular and memorable of unions. From the northwest of the island in a little hilltop town called Oia, which you can reach by road, or by boat and foot at the bottom of the hill. You can choose to ride a donkey to the top or climb the trillions of steep steps yourself and since I believe in freedom for all donkeys (or something like that; basically let's not sit on donkeys ever and the world can be a happy place) I climbed those steps, baby. At the top of the hill, the best view is on offer for free and apart from Thirasia in the near-distance, the horizon line is near seamless. You can literally watch every dying second of the sun. And dang, Oia is a popular place for the pilgrims. Scores of people line the streets and rooftops to bear witness every single night of the summertime and you may not get half a space all to yourself but the atmosphere is sweltering with a strange crowded intimacy.

On the night we went to Oia, however, the clouds were out in full force and while the sunset was still superb, we still felt like there could be that little bit more oomph. So a couple of nights later while zipping around on the quadbike, we came across a middle-of-nowhere old abandoned entertainment restaurant that faced out into the caldera with the most perfect view of the sunset; even more perfect than Oia. I would never be able to tell anybody where it was, simply because I both don't remember and can never place it on a map, but it truly was the most special moment of the holiday. In the minutes before the sun slipped behind the sea the air took on a fresh and still feeling that got right inside your bones and made your heart swell, your lungs fill fully and your skin feel cosmic. The layers of purple, blue, yellow, orange and grey resembled the most intricate painting - and there it was, right before your eyes. Not to mention that it beat the crowds of Oia; it was just we two.

Seven days in Santorini are seven days that I will never ever forget. I would love with every inch of my being to revisit the island some day but at the same time, I never want to visit again - reasons being that the memories I have of that place are pure, untouchable and should (if not can) never be beaten. And I wouldn't even want to try. However I thoroughly implore that others visit Santorini and I would go as far to say it should without doubt be on all of your bucket lists. I'm so glad that I got to revisit this in great detail so thanks Travel Supermarket for giving me something to write home (ha!) about. Although I'm still waiting to for the arrival of my very own postcard. Thirasia Time determines that I am yet to receive it...

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