Santorini. Thira, if you prefer. Even if you don’t know her name, you recognize her from photographs of her whitewashed cave houses intermingled with striking, blue-domed roofs set against the Aegean Sea. She is iconic. Her stunning towns sit on the clifftop precipice of an ancient, sea-filled caldera of a volcano that erupted in 1620 BC. She is a photographer’s dream because it is nearly impossible for her to take a bad picture. I was over the moon when my family agreed to take a cruise to visit a few Greek islands because they have long been on my wish list. And the morning our ship floated into the caldera, my family and I were on deck to take it all in.
Our first stop was Oia. The English pronunciation of this village name is Oy-a, but the Greek pronunciation is Ee-a. Either way you say it, nothing can prepare you for what awaits you when you arrive. All the photos you have seen pale by comparison. The white buildings provide a stark contrast to the sea below. The outer streets of Oia village (although it’s hard to call them streets when there are no cars) are lined with restaurants and shops. We found shop after shop with Greek ceramics, clothing, and artwork, along with the requisite touristy shops with more standard souvenirs. The Greeks are open to some respectful bargaining if you want to try it out.
It’s only when you head south, closer to the caldera, that the view opens up to the sea and you gasp. It is everything you thought it would be, but you know your photos won’t adequately portray what you are witnessing.
You traverse narrow, cobblestone pathways, winding up and down past hotels and personal homes, separated from passersby with colorful gates or doors. This is not the place to bring large, wheeled luggage unless you’re sure you will have someone to help you with your bags. Most lodgings possess patios with sea views, and some have shaded trellises or small plunge pools so guests can keep cool. As you stroll by vacationers casually lounging on their sun-soaked patios, you suspect that the lack of privacy is a small price to pay for the privilege of staying here. No one seems to be bothered by the looky-loos. How could you be?
Oia is a selfie paradise. Around every corner is another gorgeous backdrop. Hubby snapped this keeper of me.
Our next island stop was to a local winery. We sampled a white, a red, and a sweet wine made from sun-dried grapes, along with some Greek mezes. All of this with a view. We quickly purchased a bottle of the sweet wine to carry home. It’s port-adjacent, and that works for us. We also picked up some boxes of baklava and Greek candy to try because it seemed prudent.
After finishing our wine samples and devouring our snacks, we headed to Fira, Oia’s big sister. Oia is the sleepier of the two main cities people visit on the island. While she has her fair share of shops and restaurants, it’s Fira that is known for nightlife. We were only there for the day, so nightlife was not on our radar, but shopping and food were. Fira, like Oia, is comprised of carless walkways meandering up and down in between plentiful shops and restaurants. So many choices and so many stairs! We were grateful it wasn’t raining because those cobbled walkways and stairs would be a slippery nightmare in the wet. Luckily for us, it was a sunny, warm day with not a drop of rain in sight. Welcome to summer in Greece.
We had gotten a recommendation from a local for a specific restaurant and decided to give it a shot. The restaurant was aptly named La Scala (Italian for The Stairs), so we had to go. The restaurant, like the one in this photo, had a lovely patio with a view of the sea. We were early for dinner so we were seated immediately. Our server, a lovely, young Greek woman made our night. Even if the food had been horrible, which is most certainly was not, she would have made our choice worth it.
Once she got us settled with beverages, she came to take our orders. As you can imagine, most Greek dishes sound Greek to us, and Luke was the first victim who had to order. He ordered traditional Greek Moussaka but, unfortunately for him, he pronounced it “MU-sa-ka.” She pretended she didn’t understand what he said, which made him repeat the mispronunciation. She looked at him and said “mu-SA-ka.” Then she gestured for him to repeat it. Terrified, he paused, and then correctly repeated after her, which earned him a kudos from her. When it was Joe’s turn to order, he wisely said, “I’ll have what he’s having.” She had a great laugh over that. All three of my companions ordered the Moussaka, while I tried a Greek pizza that came recommended. Steve and I shared a Santorini salad, which is a decidedly better version of a Greek salad you might find in the US, if you love capers, which we do. When the server came to clear our plates, she looked at Luke and asked if he enjoyed his….she paused to give him the opportunity to pronounce it correctly. He looked at her, laughed, and affirmed he did and left it at that.
When we left La Scala, we headed to the Santorini cable car in Fira for our trip down the cliffside and back to the tender that would return us to our ship.The sun was setting on our day in Santorini. And what a sunset it was as we prepared to say goodbye.
And when we had returned to our ship and decided the day could not become more magical, in the darkness as we sailed away, it did. Who knew Santorini, so beautiful by day, was just as incredible by night.