The world is blue at its edges and in its depths.
Rebecca Solnit, A field guide to getting lost.
I can’t quite believe I am here, on stunning Santorini, part of the Cyclades group of islands, and known as Thira to the Greeks. It was once a much larger land mass but about 3,500 years ago endured a huge volcanic eruption that resulted in the formation of a caldera, a vast, immensely deep lagoon, encircled by the remnants of the original island. These remnants include the dramatic cliff-faced Santorini and a series of other smaller islands which are mostly uninhabited, with the exception of Therasia. In 1956, Santorini suffered another dramatic volcanic eruption which destroyed much of the village of Imerovigli. Since that time, the original population has diminished and the island has transformed into an incredibly popular tourist destination, renowned for its extraordinary views, iconic white and blue houses, red and black sand beaches, and luxury accommodation.
We stay in Imerovigli, which is about half an hour’s walk from the main town of Fira and about two and a half hours walk from Oia, the most exclusive and expensive place on the island. As we make our way down a stepped pathway towards our hotel, I let out an audible gasp as I take in my very first view of the caldera. It is unbelievably beautiful – the huge expanse of blue blue water, dotted with ships and boats and the other islands that encircle the lagoon; the conglomerate of white and blue houses spilling down the cliff face; the intensity of the sun, and a horizon line that looks convincingly curved.
I am actually astonished at just how steep this north western side of the island is, with hotels built literally into the cliff face. Ours, called Honeymoon Petra Villas, is right at the far end of Imerovigli, with just a few private houses and a church above, a bare cliff face below, and stunning views that take in the entire inner curve of the caldera.
The hotel is a higgledy-piggledy collection of apartments interconnected by a meandering pathway. We have a cave room, literally dug into the rock face. It is wonderfully spacious and even has a small outdoor living area with two sun beds as well as built in seating. We wander down to the pool area where the owner, Yannis, introduces himself and tells us all about how he built the hotel himself, carving each room out of the volcanic rock (with the help of about 50 workers). Yannis is a big, friendly man who loves to make sure that his guests are happy. He spends most days sitting around the pool area, smoking and chatting with everyone, and in the early morning, goes on ‘hunting’ expeditions as he calls them, to catch fish. He also owns a fleet of sailing boats that offer tours around the islands.
We have just three days in Santorini. We walk from our end of the island to Fira a couple of times, explore the shops, check out the cable car and say hello to the dogs and cats and donkeys of the island. We spend a day lounging about on the black sands of Kamari beach with my niece Antra and her friend Katherine, who also, purely by chance, happened to be here when we are.
We laze about the hotel pool and, of course, we also watch the incredible sunsets that transform the island from white and dazzling to dark and mesmerising. Gerard spends one afternoon walking to Oia, meeting a couple of scientists on the way and getting a ride back with a couple of girls from New Zealand on a quad bike – a typical Gerard adventure! I opt for a sunbed by the pool instead.
It is a wonderful holiday. I will let the photos speak for themselves.