In the eyes of the beholder, every place has its own beauty. Be it the floating villages of Cambodia or the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia, travellers from near and far traverse to all corners of the earth to find wonders in the not-so-obvious, underrated and under-hyped locales with their own unique charms, those ‘offbeat’ destinations that have yet to make it to the top 10 most-visited lists of travel publications.
By contrast, if any place can qualify as the exact opposite of an ‘under-the-radar’ destination, it would be Santorini, one of the many Cycladic islands that form part of modern-day Greece. And while finding joy in the small marvels and the covert splendours may have its own thrill, no amount of browsing on the Internet or perusing through travel brochures prepares you for the unapologetic, gobsmacking beauty of Santorini.
Located in the southern Aegean Sea, Santorini is one of the Cyclades islands surrounding a colossal, almost-drowned caldera – a bowl-shaped crater that forms when the top of a volcano collapses. Given its scenic locale, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that everything in Santorini is in high-definition colours. Be it the blue-domed houses, the whitewashed churches, the striking azure waters or the jet-black volcanic mountains, everywhere you lay your eyes on, the colour scheme has been set to maximum saturation, courtesy of Mother Nature. The most amazing sight of all occurs when the sun sets over the vast horizon, transforming the sky into a palette of warm orange, blushing pink and mellow yellow.
Every year, millions of tourists troop to its pristine coasts, no doubt eager to witness the fantastic sights of this little island firsthand. Their first port of call could well be Oia, the coastal village to the north. while its cliffs don’t always afford direct views of the caldera, what it serves up instead is understandably dubbed as one of the best sunsets in the world. Another highlight at Oia is its plethora of peaceful little churches. With their blue domes and iron bells, they are easily one of the most recognisable sights in Santorini, and one that provides countless photo ops to professional photographers and budding Instagrammers alike.
While there is no dearth of such spots across the whole island, more athletically-inclined travellers can climb down the steep 278 steps to reach Amoudi Bay for a spot of swimming, cliff-jumping and savouring the local seafood at the many authentic fish taverns that dot the bay. However, as the steps are also the natural habitat of donkeys that ferry passengers and goods to and fro across the cliffs, it may be turn out to be quite a challenge to keep out of their way altogether.
Those looking for a more sedate way to while away their time can instead gravitate towards the numerous watering holes that can be found in every strategic nook or corner overlooking the sea. Book lovers, meanwhile, could make a beeline for Atlantis Bookstore, which tops National Geographic’s list of the top 10 most interesting bookstores in the world. Cosy and quaint, it is akin to a fairytale shop, albeit one that holds rare first-edition copies of some of the most coveted literary creations.
While Oia is all idyllic charm, travellers in search of more cosmopolitan vibes should head to Fira, the island’s busy capital, with its upmarket hotels, restaurant terraces and countless pubs. That’s not to say that its vistas are in any way subpar to those of Oia. In fact, its unrestricted caldera view – one that forms a perfect backdrop at all times of the day – is almost distractingly beautiful in its own right. It’s also magical to see Fira transform from a scenic town boasting natural splendours during the day to a party hub with lively music and twinkling lights at night. Visitors interested in indulging their interest in the town’s history should also take a brief gander within the Santorini Archaeological Museum that houses Greek relics and artifacts from the 5th century BC to Roman times.
An even more authentic feel of history is served up at Pyrgos – just under eight kilometres from Fira – that boasts the same jaw-dropping scenic views, but without hordes of tourists trampling on it. Under the radar of most visitors, it’s as if time stopped here at least 50 years ago and then just refused to move on. So it has been spared the glitzy hotels, the snazzy infinity pools and the ‘boutique’ shops, swapping all that modern glamour for natural splendours, a rural ambience and even a medieval castle dating back to the 1600s.
Although the slower pace of life at Pyrgos is disarmingly simple, tourists – especially the hipster crowd – may find Kamari, a coastal village in southeastern Santorini, to be more suited to their tastes. Featuring crystal clear waters, and uncommon black sand and pebbles, the beach here extends for miles and is dotted with deck chairs, umbrellas and cafe-bars. Avid aquatic enthusiasts can indulge in a spot of scuba diving and snorkeling here during daytime, while, in the evenings, one can catch a movie in the charming open-air theatre surrounded by trees. Wine connoisseurs may also set aside time to visit the Greek wineries in this area.
Of course, with so many picturesque coastal towns to see in Santorini, one of the best ways of travelling is by booking a private cruise on a luxury yacht. With tailor-made cruises, guests can not only visit the more popular destinations on the island, they can also discover hidden gems like a secret islet with hot springs, stop to wander along the lesser-known volcanic paths, enjoy an authentic Greek meal on board, take a plunge in the sea or just sip champagne while watching the picturesque sunset. Whatever it is that catches your fancy, one thing is more than assured here – at every turn and bend, Santorini reveals itself with the same allure as a self-assured supermodel… and tourists, jaded or naive, can’t help but fall head over heels in love with such a stunner.
Text and photos: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay