SANTORINI, Paradise rebuilt, at the top of a cliff…

Among the grape-drying fields in Mesa Gonia, Santorini

The Greek island of Santorini was formed by the solidification of lava after a marine volcanic explosion. On a much more romantic note, Greek mythology attributes its creation to Neptune, who fashioned it as a tribute to his wife, and it also connects it to Atlantis, as a volcanic eruption caused the center of the island to fall into the sea 3000 years ago,
Arriving at Santorini, the view is impressive; layers and layers of multi-coloured volcanic rocks rising towards the skies, towered by the dreamy whitewashed buildings and the occasional turquoise domes of the churches.
Cliffs of Santorini, photo from decadevolcano.net

There are two ways to get to the dream-like town of FIRA from the tiny Skala port: a ride on donkeys up the over five hundred stairs of a steep zigzag road, or the more comfortable (and less smelly) cable-car, which costs 4 Euro one way. At the top, everything is white and curvy, except for the dark blue domes of the churches. Looking down, the blue of the hotel pools hanging from the cliffs is a vision of paradise. In the presence of such flawless beauty, one could never imagine that Thira was completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption only fifty years ago.
Walking the narrow cobblestone streets of Fira, you will discover the most glorious whitewashed buildings, housing divine little gift shops, restaurants, and cafés. There is also the famous Kamari beach with its glorious beachfront hotels, among which the Afroditi Venus beach hotel and spa will blow your mind, or the numerous black sand beaches around the island´s shores.

Video of me visiting the town of Pyrgos in Santorini.
Sometimes I have the strangest out-of-the-way favorite places around the world. In Santorini, the place where I have always felt like home is the unpretentious SANTORINI camping. My memories of Santorini are abundant in images of the camping site´s large swimming pool, the relaxed atmosphere of the place, the great food and divine greek wine of the poolside bar, and the cool, relaxing music that was always playing every time I went there. If you are in Fira just for the day, this is definitely a cool hang-out, where you can have a great lunch or dinner, lie down by the scenic hill-top pool and meet people from all over the world.
But there is one other thing that I always wanted to do in Santorini. The renowned volcanic hot springs had always captured my imagination. I had never been to volcanic hot springs before, and, in my mind, Santorini´s hot springs would be natural pools formed in the volcanic rocks, and magnificent geysers would be filling them up with boiling-point water. It is funny how disappointing reality can be, when you build something up so much in your head.
Santorini´s hot springs were nothing like I had pictured them. I took one of those wooden sail-boats that look like pirate ships, and we went up to one of the barren volcanic islands for a hike. After taking in the breath-taking views of Fira and Oia, Santorini´s fanciest town, we continued on to the springs. There were no natural pools to speak of, and the water was just lukewarm. I swam out of the boat towards the moon-shaped rocky shore, going from cold blue water to red warm water, almost imperceptibly. On the side there was a little wooden structure with a sign that offered tomatoes from the volcano, wine and olive oil. I would have killed to taste one of those tomatoes, but, unforunately, it was to early, and the place was closed. I sank my hand in the thin, soft volcanic mud and spread it all over my face; it felt good. There was something so special about being in that secluded place, which was not disconnected from the thrill of being so close to the volcano´s surge. I could feel the rocks where the hot water was coming from. I thought of how the land is always king, and it could decide, if it pleased, right then and there, to shoot the magma surge that would swallow Santorini one more time. Needless to say, I fell in love with Santorini all over again.
This island was more incredible than I had ever known, and it still had so many secrets awaiting me. I still haven´t tried Santorini´s best local wines, produced with its over thirty varieties of grapes, which are nurtured by the rich volcanic soil. This will be my next stop, for sure; one of Santorini´s local wineries. Then there are the numerous well-preserved ruins, the remains of 4.000 year old Santorini´s past settlers and conquerors; which have included the Fenicians, the Dorians, the Athenians, the Venetians, and the Turks.
Santorini is one of those places which offer beauty and relaxation everywhere you look. Whether you are having a 5 Euro gyro on the street, or sipping ouzo after lunch at one of the fancy hill-side restaurants of Fira, sampling volcanic wines or swimming in the hot springs, staying at one of the luxurious hill-side hotels, or bunking with your new best friend at Santorini camping, this is one place that always yields new secrets, just waiting to be discovered. In short, although the volcanoes could go off anytime, you will find that the beauty of Santorini and the joy it brings are well worth the risk.

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