Santorini, Greece has become a home away from home to me. Even though it’s one of the most photographed places in the world, I never grow tired of the panoramic views this incredible island offers.
The whitewashed buildings cling to the caldera walls 400 yards above the Aegean Sea, sparkling in the sunlight. They contrast sharply with the dark earthy tones on the steep, rocky cliffs.
The vivid blue domes of the churches stand proudly across the horizon. The endless sky and water that surround the island paint a backdrop with every shade of blue imaginable. I often find myself motionless as I gaze across the horizon.
Millions of people visit Santorini each summer. Most Americans come by cruise ship or as part of a tour. Their stops are short. They marvel at the scenery and certainly enjoy their time, but I realize we look at this island differently. They don't have the time to know Santorini as I do. It is a place I know well and hold close to my heart.
My wife, Susan, and I visit Santorini annually - usually in May. The businesses are just opening for the tourist season, as visitors are just starting to make their way to the island. We are usually the first guest of the Zorzos family at the quaint Boathouse Hotel in Kamari. Each time we return, we experience the genuine Greek hospitality they share.
We regularly hike to the remote corners of the island. One hike that we do each trip is the 6 mile hike from Fira to Oia. Fira is a port town and Oia the most westerly village on the island, famous for its sunsets. This hike follows the rugged caldera rim and provides beautiful panoramic views over the sea. The incredible scenery certainly explains why this island is photographed so often.
The hike takes about 2 1/5 hours to complete. We pack water, snacks, sunscreen and a camera in our Day Pack. It is the perfect accessory for this unique day hike.
The initial part of this hike winds its way through the historic villages of Fira and Imerovigli. You marvel at the layers of buildings and the network of steps that link shops, hotels, residences and churches. The paved path moves up and down, and enables you to get a glimpse of this unique island lifestyle. The sea shimmers far below.
Eventually the paved path gives way to a hiking trail. You move into the natural landscape of the island. The trail is worn and the crushed lava crunches under your feet. The views over the sea draw your eyes outward, as the sea breeze blows across your face. Though the vistas change with each step, you find yourself pausing to survey the beauty.
Santorini was once known as the round island, but a volcanic eruption 3600 years ago crumbled the center of the island into the Aegean Sea. You can easily see the outline of the original island as you scan the semi-circular caldera and the outer islands.
Eventually the hike leads up to a blue domed chapel sitting on a peak overlooking Oia. You can see the narrow strip of white buildings in the village that jet out on the western peninsula. You stand under the church’s arch and glance back in the direction of Fira. You marvel at the rugged trail along the cliffs you have climbed and the distance you have traveled.
There is a sense of accomplishment, as well as a true appreciation for the beauty that surrounds you. It is as if you hiked along the edge of Heaven. You are left with a euphoric feeling and a thirst for an ice cold Greek beer - usually a Red Donkey beer from the Santorini Brewing Company.
Jim LaBuda is the author of Santorini Escape: Life, Love, and Travel.