By far, Santorini was the most anticipated of the Greek Islands that I visited via the Azamara Cruise, mostly because it’s the place of the postcard-scenery that always seems to serve as a representation of Greece. Type “Greece” into a Google search for images, and a majority of the photos that come up are from Santorini.
Why is that? Well, isn’t it obvious? But, one should not have the impression that all of Greece sits on the side of a 1,000-foot cliff. As we saw from the photos of Athens, the classic white-washed architecture does not exist everywhere, and it’s not even on every island (Kos and Rhodes, for example, had very little of it). Santorini and Mykonos are perhaps the best glimpse into the past, as their regulations restrict what residents can build and are in place to keep the white-washed, flat-roofed style from being wiped off the face of the earth. Which is, clearly, what makes them both so special.
But beyond the visual appeal of the real estate on Santorini, a closer look helped me to gain an appreciation for the inhabitants and their way of life. In a nutshell, the island has been formed and shaped over the centuries by dozens of earthquakes dating as far back as 1600 BC (the most recent was in 1956), creating the sharp, steep cliffs you see in the photos. As a volcanic island, living has always been tough on Santorini despite its beauty, with very little rain and no rivers (their major source of water today is a desalination plant).
To survive, the people had to stick together. As you’ll see in the photos, this community was no spread-out suburban development. Most of the houses share walkways, and if you’ll notice, one person’s roof is another’s terrace. This sense of collaboration, while almost entirely absent in the western world, is how the people of Santorini have managed to survive over the centuries. Another cool aspect is that all of the houses are built back into the cliff – the structure you see is only the tip of the iceberg, if you will. This was done mainly for two reasons, as a natural form of temperature control and, perhaps more importantly, to be sure there was not too much weight placed upon the cliff.
The last two photos are the vantage point from Santo Winery, worth a trip if only to check out the ridiculous views (the wine is s0-so, but goes down easy on the patio). From there, you can see the ocean on both sides of the island and the small islands off the coast, as well as our cruise ship anchored off shore.
So what do you think? Is Santorini the most beautiful island in the world? I don’t know if I’m ready to take such a stand. I hate ranking places – they’re all beautiful in different ways – but it certainly has to be in the conversation.