07.06.2010 - 14.06.2010 30 °C
We ferried south from Mykonos and arrived on Santorini in time for a sunset. The island is what's left of an exploded volcano, and the main towns cling dramatically to the highest edges of the caldera.
We stayed in Fira, but found it very easy to visit most of the other towns either on foot or by local bus. Our hotel was of the smart, boutique variety just across the way from the caldera side of Fira which demands a hefty premium (but worth it if you are on a honeymoon or anniversary holiday...or you are Brangelina. But meals and drinks are a more reasonable splurge and we had some great food (especially grilled squid) while watching the sunset.
Our first full day, we explored the lanes and shops of Fira then found ourselves on the cliff walk between Fira and the next towns to the north called Firostefani and Imerovigli. Both are small and spill down the cliff face - mostly small hotels and a few restaurants and mini-markets plus more churches (apparently there are around 250 on they tiny island of just over 10,000 residents).
The next day, after some morning pool time, we spent the afternoon and evening in Oia, at the north end of the island - doubly famous as the location of the Greek wedding scene at the beginning of Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life and as one of the rare locations I actually succumbed to a photo of myself on this journey :-)
Oia seemed a bit smaller than Fira, and surely quieter in the evenings once the cruises have moved on but it is full of quaint little churches and incredible views in every direction.
They claim the sunsets are most spectacular at this part of the island, so we stayed for dinner to find out. A small harbour about 300 steps down the cliff face give us lots of options (and of course a killer climb back up to wear it off). Definitely a must-visit location but the sunset was just as beautiful in Fira too.
Day three we bussed across the narrow island to Kamari to spend the afternoon on the black sand beach.
More pebbly than sandy, it was full of sunbeds and umbrellas but reasonably quiet. The town was much like beach villages anywhere - a nice spot but not particularly memorable.
We spotted a group of Australians from our hotel, who were also on our bus back later on. Then we saw them again the next day waiting for the bus back from another beach excursion, this time to the smaller but stunning red volcanic rock beach.
So we finally chatted with them - it was a group of family and friends celebrating a few joint birthdays in Greece.
And we ran into them yet again at dinner, so we had a good laugh about stalking then met for drinks later. We got some tips about Tuscany and some enlightenment about the World Cup which had kicked off that afternoon - we'd quickly get caught up in it along the rest of the trip.
On Santorini we also met a local jeweler/winemaker (what a combination!) when Diane bought herself a gorgeous silver cross from him one evening. Kostas treated us to some of his wine and snacks (olives, feta, tomatoes, mushroom pie and rusks) and we had a friendly chat with him and his friends from the neighbouring shops. We came back again the next night during a post-dinner stroll - not so much for the wine as it was the sort of extremely dry white wine that doesn't do it for me. (On a side note, I was interested to see the vineyards are all low-lying clusters of plants, rather than a trellis system, and they don't appear to use irrigation - very low maintenance compared to the meticulous process I saw in Argentina.)
We were invited to come up to the winery on our last night as there was a wedding happening. We considered it but decided it would be a bit awkward to crash some Americans' dream wedding reception and dinner...but if it had been a Greek family he knew, different story! Instead we enjoyed our final sunset in Fira.
Our last stop in Greece was Elounda Bay on the island of Crete. Apparently it is a luxury playground, and it is beautiful but was quite dead - especially after Mykonos and Santorini. The only hints of its reputation being true were the fur shops - quite a few of them (one called Canada Furs, even) despite the 30 degree weather - and a few high-end jewellery shops. The combination of economic crisis and negative media coverage about Greek were definitely hurting this area more than the first islands we visited. And scenically, the bar was exceptionally high so we felt a bit underwhelmed, unfortunately.
We only had two hot sunny days on Crete, then we were on our way back through Athens and onward to Italy.