The Mystical Isle of Santorini

Sunset over Fira
Sunset over Fira

Santorini is a beautiful place forged out of the rugged forces of the earth.  When the volcano, Thera, erupted in roughly 1,700 BC it blasted so much rock and debris into the atmosphere that it’s environmental impact was astounding.  Thought, by some, to have caused the 10 plagues of Egypt through environmental fall-out, the eruption of Thera also changed the course of history when the pioneering maritime civilisation of nearby ancient Crete – the Minoans – was forced to flee from a tsunami, spreading across the Mediterranean and eventually disappearing from history.  It is also, of course, said to have been the very place of Atlantis itself, or the birth place of that myth.  Santorini is, for many reasons, an awe-inspiring place with a powerful draw.

Set among the historic Cyclades Islands of GreeceSantorini is now composed of what is left of Thera: a huge, sea-filled caldera and the rim of the volcano, with towns like Fira and Oia perched atop its craggy tips and edges.  The azure blue water matches the azure domes of the churches, and cobbled streets weave their way passed whitewashed buildings, little shops and restaurants.

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A blue domed church appears around one of the narrow streets.

It is a world-famous holiday destination, and rightly so.  Decadent hotels rise one above the other on the steep cliffs, shops glitter with jewels and local crafts, and cruise liners and extravagant yachts rest in the bay.  It is a luxurious place.  But, its real majesty lies in its natural beauty.  From vivid geological formations to the surreal, indigo blue colour of the water at sunset, Santorini is a feast for the eyes.

My friends and I decided to visit Santorini for a week-long, girly holiday.  The beauty, the history, and the chance for some much needed R&R made it a very appealing choice.  It didn’t disappoint.  Whether snorkelling off the black sands of Kamari beach,  trudging (in flip-flops!) up the scorching volcanic island in the middle of the caldera, taking a boat trip out into the ocean to watch the sunset, tucking into some delicious Grecian food, or generally absorbing the ambiance and atmosphere of the place, we were very happy.

But, there were a few things that really made this a truly special holiday for me (aside from spending time with my girls!)…

Discovering the most amazing book shop!

As a total book addict, I was very happy when we came across Atlantis Books in Oia.  This independent bookshop, opened by two guys with both vision and a love of Santorini, is a total jewel for any dedicated book lover.  Filled floor to ceiling with first editions, books in many languages, and with its very own Philosophy Tower, this place was a delight.  But what really struck me about this place was its ethos, and its story. Two young graduates moved back to a place they’d loved on their travels, took the plunge and opened Santorini’s first book shop.  Ten years later, they produce literary festivals, host writers and artists and, in their own words, “hope to bring great art, literature and conversation to one of the most beautiful environments in the world”.

Atlantis books
Browsing bliss! Photo Credit – Rachel Clarke.

As someone who a) dreams one day of owning a quirky, independent bookshop and b) has long toyed with the idea of seriously getting into writing, I found this really inspiring.  They took their dream, and they went for it.  Art and literature are, arguably, two of the greatest triumphs of human civilisation.  Oliver and Craig, two young expat booksellers, are contributing to the celebration of that in their own way and it made me realise that I really wanted to do that too.  It was an epiphany amongst the somewhat dusty and timeworn books on Philosophy Tower.

Once I’d come to this firm decision, I came home and started working on ideas for this blog, possible research, and novel ideas.  A week later I started this blog, and with many, many more ideas still swirling around my brain, it’s a very exciting new challenge.  So, thank you to Oliver and Craig who have, unbeknownst to them, helped to kick-start me on my next chapter (pun intended!).  It truly emphasises the spiritual notion of always being your authentic self, because you don’t know who you might inspire to be their authentic self along the way!

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One of the many beautiful sunsets

Sunset and moonset

Santorini is famous for its sunset.  Cruise ships arrive in the bay every day and tens of thousands of tourists flock to any high place they can perch themselves on in order to watch that glorious disc disappear beneath the horizon.  The cave house which we were renting for the week had its own little terrace, and from there my friends and I watched the most beautiful and magical sunsets.  One day we decided to visit Oia on the western-facing tip of the island and watch along with everyone else.  Thousands of people were cramped together, climbing on rooftops and jostling for a view.  Initially this wasn’t the most comfortable experience, but as the sun turned fiery red and started to dip behind the outline of a distant island, an awed silence descended over this massive congregation.  For just a few moments, people forgot everything and just watched. Spontaneous applause and cheering broke out as we said goodnight to the last rays of light.  In truth, it was a profoundly emotional experience.  We know the sun rises and sets every day and, with so much else to preoccupy us, we tend to take this for granted with nary a glance out of the window.  But, I think all those people will agree that it felt so good to take a few moments to really appreciate that blazing ball of light in the sky and all that it does for us, a ritual that connects us with the millions of people who have lived before us, watching, honouring and thanking the sun and the earth.  It is a simple act that creates such a feeling of contentment.

We were also treated to the most extraordinary moonsets.  I always try to spend some time watching the sunset and looking at the night sky; it connects us to the universe that is much larger than us, reminds us of the natural beauty all around us and restores a sense of wonder and magic to our lives.  Experiencing this in Santorini in a group setting made me realise how vital it is for us all to get back in touch with the cycles of nature and incorporate more simple-living into our lives, and I’ll be talking about that a lot on this blog.  How much time do we spend looking inwards? Take a moment to look outwards at this majestic earth and sky, and you might see a gem like this:

A magical blood-red crescent - moonset over Santorini
A magical blood-red crescent moonset over Santorini

So, our holiday in Santorini was restorative and enlightening in many ways.  It shows how many fantastic places and experiences are out there in this world to be enjoyed and learned from, and how life-shifting and life-affirming moments can happen in the most unexpected of places.  In the words of Henry Miller: One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. I’d love to know where you have traveled to, and what personal experiences it triggered for you, so please leave me a comment below! If you’d like to be kept updated on my blog, please subscribe to receive emails, or follow me on Twitter @1AlexandraPayne.

With love,

Alexandra

P.S. Here are some more visual delights of Santorini!

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Oia
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Looking down on Kamari from Ancient Thira, a roman ruin high on the hills.
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On the climb to Ancient Thira
Fabulous church spire!
Fabulous church spire!
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At the top of the volcanic island in the middle of the caldera – it was HOT!
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Sailboat in the sunset
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The town of Oia with steps leading to the Old Port. Again, that evening, thousands of people had gathered.
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On our way back to port after the sunset cruise on the ship The Aphroditi.

4 thoughts on “The Mystical Isle of Santorini

  1. A marvellous account. Written with great sensitivity and passion. I hope one day I will be lucky enough to visit Magical Santorini. x

    Like

  2. A truly inspiring and wonderfully written account. Santorini is now on my list of places to visit. I look forward to the next instalment. Thank you

    Like

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