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From Crete to Santorini > breathtaking displays of nature October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean.
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Santorini. The very name brings to mind shimmering images of white walls and blue domes rimming a curving shore, high above the blue waters of a caldera, where the sea filled the basin of a collapsed volcano when it erupted around 1600 BC.

santorini1.jpg  Mesmerising sunsets extolled in a hundred photographic displays crop up in the mind’s eye too. Any traveller would be dazzled long before setting eyes on this legendary pilgrimage of mass tourism among the islands of Greece. What could be a more passionate expression of the relentless wanderlust that drives today’s nomadic millions across the globe in an addictive search for the spectacular, the novel, the breathtaking displays of nature, spoilt or unspoilt, or of human habitation, past or present?

Crete was our primary destination for a week’s stay at the picturesque village of Koutouloufari, now a tourist village, located at a moderate height, about 23 km away from the capital Heraklion. It was from here that I proposed to make our visit to Santorini, like a minor general carefully plotting the conquest of a prized target after establishing himself on a larger base.

After some hesitation, we decided we would try to make a day’s excursion to Santorini from Crete rather than spend a night. There was too much see in Crete during the short stay of a week, and a night at Santorini would have reduced our stint. Of course, not stopping for the night meant missing the fabled sunset on the caldera, but we decided to sacrifice this for the sake of more time in Crete.

It was on reaching Koutouloufari that we discovered the ideal one-day excursion to Santorini. This was by catamaran, a high-speed ferry which made the journey between Heraklion and Santorini in less than two hours. The organisers arranged it so that the catamaran made both the outgoing and returning journeys on the same day.

The other normally advertised one-day excursions were by slow ferry involving a four-hour journey each way. Our organisers also arranged to have us picked up in the morning from very close to our resort and have us dropped back there at night. Above all, they had included in their package, a tour by coach on Santorini, all this at very economical rates.

santorini2.jpg  The weather was perfect, and the catamaran journey was remarkably comfortable and smooth each way. Much has been made by travellers, of the sight from the deck, when the white buildings on the rim of the caldera come slowly into view as the slow ferry approaches Santorini. But our ferry brought us swiftly to our destination, so that was that.

We alighted at the port from where the white buildings on the caldera rim appeared almost like wide smudges of chalk on top of the rising brown shoreline. With a waiting coach we were spared the trouble of seeking transport up the hillside and saved a great deal of time reaching the villages which make up the inhabited regions of the island. Up the winding road we saw the bay receding below and the expanse of the constantly blue Aegean Sea coming into view, as we rose towards our first stop, the village of Pyrgos.

Santorini has been linked culturally to neighbouring Crete as an island which hosted the Minoan civilization, and was in existence from 2700-1450 BC and whose centre was represented by Crete. But occupation in Santorini, known also as Thera, not only includes the Minoan period, but goes back further to 4th century BC. Crete too, has evidence of settlements going back much further than the Minoan age.

The massive volcanic eruption which occurred around 1600 BC caused the island to split up into three, with the present Santorini as the main island. The hillsides and boulders, the coast and the exposed soil of Santorini, all bear the mark of the island’s volcanic history in the darkness of their colour.

We came to our first stop of Pyrgos and climbed up the winding paths between small white recesses and enclosures, representing traditional houses and shops. Churches figured repeatedly along the way with beautiful stark white walls and blue domes, and small squares lay between them. From a square in Pyrgos we got a panoramic view of the surrounding land and the sea.

Returning to our coach, we drove further up to Oia which is perhaps the best known village in Santorini, at least for the tourist. The view is magnificent all round, but particularly so from the main centre which looks over the caldera. This is the place from where the famed sunsets are watched. But even during the day, lunch in one of the restaurants overlooking the caldera was a wonderfully exhilarating experience. On the narrow streets, the shops sold expensive jewellery and miscellaneous souvenirs, underlining the area’s fame as a tourism hotspot.

And so to our last stop Fira, the capital of Santorini. An impressive Museum in Fira displayed artifacts discovered in the archeological sites of Santorini of which Arkotiri is the most notable. Fira, lower in altitude to Oia, also overlooked the caldera and, as in Oia, the white houses descend in cascades down the hillsides, making for picture-postcard-perfect photographs.

Clicking and admiring over, we rode down to the port to take the catamaran back to Heraklion. It was 6 o’clock in the evening, and the sun was descending slowly behind the white houses of Santorini , behind us high up on the ochre coloured hillside. We managed to catch the sunset after all.

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