When people say “Greek islands” they are usually thinking of Mykonos and Santorini, the two most popular (and most expensive) of the countless islands of Greece. Both are in the Cyclades chain (which includes about 220 islands, some uninhabited.). They are characterized by white stucco buildings that look like melting sugar cubes, winding roads that are often blocked by donkeys and stunning views of the sea.
A large majority of the travel photos you see of Greece are taken on Santorini, because it’s impossible to take a bad photo here. A tip: If you see a photo with an alligator-shaped rock lurking out in the sea, then it was taken on Santorini.
If Mykonos is the island known for international jetsetters, divine decadence, nude beaches and hard-partying nights, Santorini is the island known for the honeymooners who flock there, and is often called the most romantic island in Greece.
If coming by boat, you sail into Santorini’s central lagoon, land on the black sand beach and immediately take either the téléferique--a cable car in a tunnel --or a donkey to get all the way to the top, where the two towns of Thera and Oia perch. (You can also try to walk it if you are in really, really good shape.)
About 3,600 years ago Santorini was the site of the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history-- the Minoan eruption, when much of the island sank into the sea, giving rise to the legend of the lost continent of Atlantis.
On Santorini there has been excavated a complete prehistoric town, called the Akrotiri, but unlike Pompeii, no dead bodies were found there. Evidently everyone had time and warning enough to leave (although they probably were drowned in the tsunami that followed the eruption). Today (if the excavation is open to the public—sometimes it’s closed) you can walk the streets of Akrotiri and look in the houses and see the pots and furniture and wall paintings they left behind.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my friend Helen asked me to select some photos that I’d taken of Mykonos and Santorini so that she could select three to have blown up, matted and framed as a Christmas gift for her son Nicholas. I posted the photos of Mykonos on Dec. 19.
All these photos show Santorini, where the views are to die for because everything is terraced down the side of the volcano. Every night, everyone on the island gathers outside, on roofs and balconies and in tavernas and especially in a chic bar named Franco’s, where you can reserve a lounge chair, to watch the sun go down with great drama and music and applause, when it finally sinks below the horizon.
As for which photos Helen chose—she picked numbers 2 and 5 above and from the Mykonos group, the photo of the golden hour gilding the houses of Little Venice.