In light of the recent financial crisis in Greece, I think it’s the perfect excuse to reminisce about my favorite Greek island, Santorini. It was 3,600 years ago, when one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history sculpted a caldera of islands in its collapse; the largest island formed a crescent moon-shape. It’s that silhouette that formed our adventure during a visit to Santorini.
Since we only had a day in Santorini (we visited while cruising), Britt and I wanted to make the most of the notoriously beautiful island, that consistently ranks at the top of many a travel list. During my planning, I found that the best way to really experience the atmosphere of Santorini was to hike the lip of its caldera, from the town of Fira (our port of entry) to Oia (the one you probably see the most in photographs).
Our ship docked in the crater of a port, but without a deep-water dock we were forced to tender to shore, in the shadow of the iconic white washed village that sits atop sky-high cliffs—we could see the village of Fira overhead as we came ashore. Tucked away much higher than expected, travel to the village requires another form of transport to ascend the cliffs. Mules are one option, but they’re not exactly fit for a princess (ahem, Britt). So we opted for the cable car ride, a much faster option than the mules, and a much safer one in the hot weather, too (note: if you’re budgeting for one versus the other, the prices for each ride are roughly equivalent).
The gondola carried us right into the heart of Fira, the capital cliffside village. This picturesque town towers above the surrounding islands and our home for the week, the cruise ship. The first of many panoramic views provided a litany of photographs. Britt insisted we explore the village to fuel her shopping addiction, and promptly took to fussing over a fancy, overpriced sunhat. Can’t remember if she won that battle, but no matter; it was time for our big hike!
Britt’s note: I totally won that battle—I’m wearing the hat in these pictures!
Locating the exact path proved to be difficult. Questioning the locals returned too few words and mostly direction-pointing. We stumbled about like the lost tourists that we were, searching for that hiking path. If this happens to you, don’t get discouraged. I think we spent 15 minutes gawking at the views along the ridge before we realized we were on the right path. Turns out, the entrance was a tad hidden, but we got where we needed to be without much more hassle.
Being August, it was probably the hottest time of year. The 6-mile hike (according to most travel guides, 8 miles according to the path I plugged into Google Maps) mostly follows along unprotected cliffside ridges at the peak height of the island, over hilly and rocky terrain. The city cobblestone walkways quickly turned to desert-like terrain, and our shoes turned permanently moon-grey from the volcanic rock debris covering the path (we both still wear them fondly). At times I could have sworn we were on the moon, what with the path’s out-of-this-world atmosphere and black sand. It was also the most epically scenic landscape Britt and I have ever seen and probably ever will. Picturesque island panoramic views persist through the entire hike (which took approximately 3 hours), with only a handful of fellow hikers seen throughout.
On the last leg of our journey, we descended into the corner of the island from high on the hilltop with our cruise ship still in sight. The little village of Oia (pronounced EE-A) was a sanctuary from the desert heat. We stumbled into the first ocean view restaurant we found, guzzled some alcoholic frozen smoothies like water (whoops), and snacked on tsatsiki and deep-fried tomatoes. Afterwards, we walked the crowded pedestrian-only streets of Oia, past old churches and layers of white-washed hotels and blue-domed churches. Moments later, we found ourselves at the ruined castle of Fort Londsa, which presented to us a 360-degree view of Oia, our origin city of Fira, and the famous cliffside, whitewashed windmills of Oia. Many tourists opt to campout in this location through sunset, but we were in a rush to return to our departing cruise ship. But not without taking the time to sit back and truly appreciate the journey we had just made in a mere matter of hours—one that will last a lifetime, without question.
We scrambled to Oia’s bus station and took the public transport route back to Fira. Public transport is very affordable in Greece and gave us the opportunity to again rest, while taking in the views from other side of the ridge. When we arrived in Fira, we started our shuffle back to the cable car. Britt came out of the little village with an all-seeing eye bracelet, that she continues to wear every day (money well spent!). With the sun-setting, we took a romantic (if you’re not afraid of heights) cable car ride down the cliffs to our ship. Our day on perhaps the most coveted islands in the world closed with big smiles on our faces and a couple hundred pictures to remember it by, and we looked back on our temporary adventure from the ship, light up in the night like a tiny Christmas village from afar.