“The most expensive lunch I’ve ever had in my life,” is how my husband refers to our visit to the island of Santorini – possibly the most photographed tourist destination on Earth – in the summer of 2013. The lunch in question, ferry tickets included, cost us some four hundred pounds. “But it was worth every penny,” he adds.
The three of us fairly bullied him into the day trip from Crete to Santorini. “It’s an overcrowded tourist trap,” he objected but I talked long and passionately of the Minoan town of Akrotiri, excavated from under several metres of volcanic ash in the 1960s (think Pompeii, but some 1500 years older) and the kids talked long and passionately about the view and the volcano.
The volcanic eruption of 1627 B.C. that buried Akrotiri also partially destroyed the island of Santorini itself. The caldera of the volcano collapsed and the Aegean Sea flowed in – as you can see on the photo above. The eruption, estimated at least as powerful as that of the Krakatoa in 1883, may have been directly responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation in Crete (on account of the resulting tsunami, ashfall and climactic changes).
But in the end we never got to see Akrotiri.
We got off the bus that took us from the harbour to Fira – that bus ride on the single lane road cut into the steep hill side with its hair pin bends alone was worth the trip from Crete – and we saw a restaurant with a terrace hanging over the cliff with views of the caldera.
“We’re going to have lunch there,” my husband said, in a voice that didn’t allow contradiction. “On that terrace.”
Nobody argued. We bagged the best table by the rails and never moved from there until it was time to catch the high-speed ferry back to Heraklion. Nobody remembers what we ate or drank. We all remember the view.
No photograph you ever saw of the collapsed caldera of Santorini, of the white houses of Fira clinging to the steep hillside, of the immense blue of the Aegean does justice to Santorini. If there’s a place on Earth you have to go and see in person, it’s Santorini; its reality surpasses the best photos. The place is heart stopping.