Santorini may well have conquered a corner of your imagination before you’ve even set eyes on it. With multicoloured cliffs soaring over 300m from a sea-drowned caldera, it rests in the middle of the indigo Aegean, looking like a giant slab of layered cake. The island spoons the vast crater left by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history. Smaller islands curl around the fragmented western edge of the caldera, but it is the main island of Thira that will take your breath away with its snow-drift of white Cycladic houses lining the cliff tops and, in places, spilling like icy cornices down the terraced rock. When the sun sets, the reflection on the buildings and the glow of the orange and red in the cliffs can be truly spectacular.
Santorini is no secret and draws crowds for most of the year, yet it wears its tourism well and its offerings make it worth the bustle. The island’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating Minoan site of Akrotiri and the gorgeous traditional hilltop village of Oia. It also glides effortlessly into the future with accomplished artists, excellent wineries, a unique microbrewery, and some of the Cyclades finest accommodation and dining experiences. The multicoloured beaches are simply the icing on the cake.
Endless miles of aquamarine coastline, sun-bleached ancient ruins, strong feta and stronger ouzo – the Greek landscape thrills, and the Greek people are passionate about politics, coffee, art and gossiping.
Step into the ring where Olympic athletes competed. Gaze at Meteora’s monasteries, perched atop towering rock pinnacles. Contemplate the Oracle’s insights from the grandeur of Delphi or take in a starlit drama at an ancient outdoor theatre. In the most unexpected places, you’ll encounter thought-provoking modern art, the melancholic throb of rembetika (blues songs) and collections of ancient marble sculptures dredged up from beneath the Aegean. Greece balances its past, present and future in a way managed by few other countries. The result is a nation with endless cultural pursuits.
It’s easy to understand how so many myths of gods and giants originated in this vast and varied landscape, with wide open skies and a sea speckled with islands, where days melt from one to the next while you relish the white-sand and palm-fringed beaches. Greece is a magnet for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. Wander along cobbled, Byzantine footpaths, hike into volcanoes, watch for dolphins and sea turtles, and cycle through lush forests. Discover world-class kitesurfing, diving and rock-climbing locations or simply hop on a boat and set sail into the glittering blue beyond.
Greeks pride themselves on their cuisine and will go out of their way to ensure you are well fed. The tang of homemade tzatziki and the aroma of souvlaki grilling are just the beginning. Taste test your way through regional cheeses – from crumbling feta to honeyed soft cheeses and sharp, hard rounds. Dig into rich layers of mousakas and sip crisp wine from grapes ripened under the hot Mediterranean sun. The Italian legacy of pasta is paired with Greek specialties like lobster, while Turkish spices find their way into delicate sweets. Mussels are steamed in ouzo, bread is baked with olives and fish is cooked straight from the sea.
Greeks are truly social beings. Their families are extended and they are quick to welcome in newcomers, whether for a coffee, a shot of ouzo, a chorus on the bouzouki or a heated debate. Greeks are passionate, if nothing else, and this passion continues to drive society forward despite the current economic turmoil. Life is lived to the fullest, even at the most difficult of times, and herein lies the secret of how a country, seemingly riddled with challenges, is full of people who remain so in love with life.