Five years ago my friend and I booked a two week holiday to the beautiful island of Santorini in Greece. Advertised as ‘the black jewel of the Aegean sea’ Santorini is the tiniest member of the Cyclades islands and measures just 12 by 7km. This would be my first trip to the ancient land and at the time I had no idea just how much this particular summer holiday would change the course of my life.
As we stepped off the plane we were almost knocked over by the extreme heat that engulfed us and were dripping with perspiration as we made our way through Santorini’s one and only airport. On the coach ride to our hotel we were treated to information about the island and the local saying that Santorini has ‘more churches than houses, more water than wine, and more donkeys than people’. This really is true and as you wander around you feel as though you have stepped back in time when you witness villagers leading their donkeys to and from the markets laden with fruits and groceries.
Our hotel was a small piece of paradise with white alcoves and windows surrounded by pastel blue shutters. Our swimming pool was nestled between huge bougainvillea trees and just 10 meters from the gorgeous black sand beach which stretches along one side of the island. Santorini is what remains of a huge volcanic explosion around 1645BC which split the island apart leaving its distinctive semi-circular shape. From the black beaches on one side the island slopes up to huge black and red cliffs overlooking the Caldera and the view from this side is truly breath-taking. Greece is famous for its deep blue Mediterranean waters and when set against the dramatic rising cliffs standing guard around a sleeping volcano, it gives Santorini a wild and untamed atmosphere.
From our hotel we went to explore the bars, tavernas and small souvenir shops which line the streets along Kamari beach. Kamari is a small town which leads onto Perissa, another coastal town and the two are separated by a huge black mountain which reaches out into the sea. A boat offers a taxi service between the two towns several times a day, or those feeling energetic can climb the ancient stone stairways that lead up and over the mountain. From Kamari it is a short taxi ride to the capital Thira, which is home to the main shopping and nightclub district. Thira is hard work for those with a less than perfect sense of direction as the small winding streets seem to make no sense as you find yourself walking the same paths over and over again. From Thira you have an incredible view of the Caldera and we spent many hours here enjoying local wines from the numerous wineries and sampling traditional Greek cuisine.
If you make the journey to Santorini you will be advised many times to take a trip up to Oia at the head of the Island. Oia has an ancient, otherworldly quality with tiny picturesque streets lined with small shops and galleries and quaint blue domed churches rising gradually up the mountain side. At sunset you can climb up to the ruins of an ancient castle to witness the most famous aspect of Santorini, its majestic sunsets. In the evening the streets of Oia are full with tourists all waiting for the sun to begin its descent toward the shimmering blue sea. Thousands of camera flashes witness the sun slowly dropping into the ocean leaving a pink twilight sky. If you rise early enough on the opposite side of the island you will be greeted by the sun gently creeping over the ocean horizon, and swimming in the crystal clear waters while watching the sunrise is an incredible experience.
The nightlife in Santorini is so varied there is always something for everyone to enjoy. One night as we made our way to a taverna we stopped outside a bar to listen to two musicians inside playing acoustic guitars. We came back the following night to listen to the same musicians but instead found a Frank Sinatra impersonator who kept us entertained. There is plenty of live music in Santorini ranging from traditional Greek bouzouki music to rock ballads. Thira is home to the open air nightclubs and even a hard rock club that stays open to the early hours of the morning. The tavernas sell locally grown produce and the famous local dishes such as fried tomato balls and fava will satisfy even the fussiest eaters.
After two weeks we said goodbye to our beautiful island and vowed to return as we felt we had not fully experienced everything this tiny place had to offer. In 2007 we booked another two weeks in the same hotel and came back to Santorini ready to see all the things we missed the first time around. One the second evening of the holiday as we sat enjoying a drink in one of the bars looking out over the beach we got talking to two guys who were passing by. They turned out to be the two musicians we missed from the first holiday and they invited us to come and watch them the next night. That night sparked an epic summer romance for me and one half of the musical pair, and the rest of the holiday was spent in a whirlwind of days spent falling helplessly in love. My musician took me to every unexplored corner of the island on the back of his motorbike and showed me a side of Santorini that is only accessible to those who venture off the beaten track. After two weeks we said a tearful goodbye and it was back to cold and rainy London and back into the real world.
Luckily I never listened to the people who told me holiday romances never work, and booked another trip alone to go and see my guitar player. We have been married for over a year now and still live in Greece. We spend the winter in North Greece and every summer we go back to Santorini. This summer will be my third and his thirteenth spent on the beautiful island and every year it gets better. You may not find a husband in Santorini but you will definitely find your own piece of heaven. It’s a truly magical island and something that everyone should experience in their lives.