When people dream of the islands of the Aegean, it is the natural phenomenon that is Santorini that they picture. The white-washed villages clinging precariously to cliff edges on the rim of the volcanic caldera may be over familiar and a postcard cliché but they never fail to take the breath away in real life. A trip here is the ambition of many visitors from the day trippers keen to capture the perfect sunset-selfie to those lucky enough to be able to soak in those sensational views from the front row seats of their cliffside retreats. Called Kalisti, the loveliest, since ancient times, the island is officially known as Thira after the 9th century BC Dorian coloniser Thiras, but it is better known to the wider world as Santorini, a name derived from its patroness, Saint Irene of Thessaloniki.

Never forget that it is an island wrought from violent nature; Santorini and its four neighbouring islets are the result of a huge explosion of about 1600 BC when the volcano blew out its core and the sea rushed in to form the crater or caldera. Hephaestus’s subterranean fires smoulder still following a volcanic eruption in 198BC, another around 735, and a devastating earthquake in 1956 that sent two thirds of the population into exile. Far fewer survived the eruption that buried Akrotiri beneath a blanket of ash some 3,600 years ago. This fine Bronze Age civilisation has been poignantly well preserved in a similar manner to Pompeii and archaeologists continue to unearth astonishing remnants of the ancient city.

Overrun, expensive, and hectic it may be with more than two million visitors straining the infrastructure of a small island with a population of 15,000. The lowly yposkafa, the vaulted buildings constructed from ash and pumice stone or carved out of solidified lava, now house cave hotels with some of the highest rates in Europe. Cruise ships and passenger ferries clog the harbour at Fira, while buses race around the hairpin bends, and the streets of Fira and Oia can seem near impassable. It can be hard to find the island of friendship and filoxenia but alter your gaze inwards rather than outwards and a truer Santorini emerges. Away from the private pools and jewellery shops, look to the coastal plain with views to Anafi, past fields of tomatoes and ground-circling vines to the ancient ruins of Thera on the summit of Mesa Vouno flanked by the black beaches of Kamari and Perissa, to a gentler way of life

Other Greek islands may be more authentic, less tainted by the hands of tourists but no other has the same magnetic attraction nor the same sense of awe when you lay eyes upon it. Santorini stares back at you and dares you to look away; few can.

Source: travel.gr