The Deceptive Beauty of Santorini

When you are traveling it is sometimes startling to see the context of all of those magnificent travel photos you’ve drooled over for so long. That serene sunrise at Angkor Wat is photographed through a throng of tourists. The leaning tower of Pisa is part of a whole complex of buildings. The Eiffel Tower is not nearly as dominant a feature of Paris’ skyline as you might be led to believe. In Santorini that difference is more striking than anywhere we have been.

Most of the photos you see of Santorini, including the few you may have seen us post lately, are of one side of one village at one tip of the island. The views from that side of Oia are stunning. The white houses cascading over the cliffs, accented with blue and pastels, all against a backdrop of the Mediterranean Ocean. It is a sight worth seeing, but it’s really not representative of all of Santorini.

The majority of Santorini is dry and dusty fields. Many of the fields are full of grapes, but unlike in Italy where the grapevines grow along trellises in lovely rows, on Santorini they just grown on the ground. The island is field after dusty field of dry ground dotted with blobs of green. Where the grapes aren’t growing, the ground is covered with the sort of prickly desert plants that are tough enough to protect the likes of scorpions and rattlesnakes. Occasionally a lovely white church with a blue door with breaks up the desert landscape, but more often than that it’s broken up by an unfinished construction site or a row of concrete block houses. Of course, the desert landscape has a certain beauty of its own. It’s just not what we were expecting to see in Santorini.

If you can afford to stay in Oia, the picturesque village, I’m sure it is lovely. It was, however, out of our budget. Everything on Santorini is surprisingly expensive. We ended up staying in Perissa, which is on the other side of the island. Perissa caters more to the backpacker and budget crowd. Rather than being on a cliff it is on a beach and has a sort of beach by day, bar by night feel to it. If you are going to Santorini to hang out at the beach, this is probably a great option for you.

If we could do it again, though, we would have opted to stay in Thira. Thira is the main city on Santorini and is more centrally located than Oia or Perissa. It has some of the white houses and is built on the cliffs like Oia. It also has a lot more restaurants and shops than Perissa, but the main reason we would have stayed there is that it provides easy access to everywhere else. The bus station in Thira is the major transportation hub for the entire island. You can easily catch a bus to Perissa, Oia, the airport, the port port, the red sand beach, or pretty much any other area of Santorini you want to see – be it beautiful or barren.

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