For years I've seen photographs and artist depictions of the beautiful whitewashed villages, black-sand beaches, and blue-domed churches of a fairytale place called Santorini. This year I finally had the opportunity to visit during an 11-Night Greek Isles voyage with Azamara Club Cruises. Those magnificent buildings clinging high atop the volcanic cliffs make this island a wonder to behold and a memorable highlight of my trip.
My day in Santorini began with the Azamara Journey tendered like a small toy boat against the backdrop of magnificent sheer cliffs. We were ferried to what is called the new port, which is really just a small, flat parking lot, for our shore excursion. Tour buses climbed the steep mountain face through a series of narrow switchbacks. If you're afraid of heights, it's best not to look outward to the sea, as the climb is quite startling and yet impressive.
Our first stop was on the south side of the island in the village of Akrotiri. We climbed the winding cobblestone passages and took in the sights. These early settlements existed beginning around 1500 BC but were destroyed by volcanic eruptions. Now a pleasant collection of churches, historic markers, and multi-generational family homes cover these hills above the deep blue Adriatic Sea.
Our next stop was a family-owned winery overlooking the wind-swept sea far below. It is said that the soils of Santorini act like a sponge. Crops and vegetation receive all their moisture from a haze that envelops the cliff tops. There is no irrigation used on any part of Santorini, and the grapevines grow along the ground, not vertically as in most other vineyards around the world. We enjoyed some lovely local white wine and a plate of delicious Greek appetizers.
Our excursion ended in Fira. I was hungry for more pictures, and we were pointed in the direction of Oia. The bus ride to Oia was about 15 minutes and a good option since taxis can be difficult to find in the height of tourist season.
At the cliffside, our photographic minds were bigger than our stomachs. If I were still shooting on film, I would have depleted Kodak supplies dry. Luckily, all my cameras and iPhone have plenty of memory. There was a gorgeous shot every 10 to 20 feet along the cobblestone paths in between whitewashed homes and shops. It was photographic heaven. We enjoyed a wonderful Greek lunch (and free WiFi) at King Neptune with fantastic views of the panorama below us. Oia is filled with such special color, grandeur, and spectacle that I could have stayed many days.
Many visitors come to Santorini to uncover the mysteries of the lost kingdom of Atlantis, while others revel in its relaxed mountaintop atmosphere to enjoy the scenes of the Mediterranean. For me, I found Santorini to be a photographer's paradise and a shopping mecca. I love it here, and my photographs will keep a lasting memory alive of this beautiful Greek oasis high above the sea.
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