Sorry, Venice, there is a town more beautiful than you and it is the village of Ia on the island of Santorini in Greece.
Santorini overall is just an incredibly breathtaking place. I arrived by ferry on Saturday.
The ferry door opening upon landing on Santorini. Every hotel on the island offers pickup service from the port, and I soon found out why.
The port is at the bottom of a pretty much sheer cliff with about 7 switchbacks in the narrow road to get to the top. I snapped this photo from the van – you can see the port far below. And this wasn’t even quite the top of the cliff! The Blue Star Ferry, still in port, is the one I arrived on.
Sunday I rented an ATV and rode all around the island, oohing and aahing the whole way and taking literally hundreds of pictures. Here are the best ones:
Santorini is famous in part for its beaches of different colors. Most of the beaches are dark grey volcanic sand. But then there’s red beach:
Here’s how a handful of the sand looks:
Santorini is the home of actual troglodytes! Countless cliff faces have a cave or two dug into them, and many of them are still being used, for storage or dwellings. This one struck me as particularly daring and dramatic, as the cave is dug out right above a sheer 500-foot cliff overlooking the ocean. Not sure I’d want to live there, despite the amazing view:
Not only was it amazingly sunny on Sunday (don’t worry Mom + Dad, I wore sunscreen 🙂 ) but the water of the Mediterranean was almost glass-like. You can see that below, where the wake of the motorboat shown in the above picture is still visible curving around the lighthouse point.
As I crossed the peak of the island, I stopped for lunch and for this amazing baklava, the first I’ve had in its authentic location. It was quite good:
Here’s another cave I found. This one had a donkey stabled in it. To the right you can see my ATV.
Here is a black beach, whose actual name I forget, near Amoudi Bay, just under the city of Ia. You can see how black the sand is.
I reached the end of my journey at the opposite tip of the island, the breathtaking city of Ia, or Oia as it’s spelled in Greek. As you can see there’s a bay town, and then another nearly sheer cliff (with a ton of stairs) and the city proper perched like a flock of birds at the top.
The bay village is stunning in its own right, and full of quite overpriced restaurants.
Finally I made the climb to the top. And discovered another charming thing about Ia –
Ia is a pedestrian town, you park at the edge and then walk (or take a donkey taxi) through the narrow streets that wind up and down and around in three dimensions, among the many levels of bright white buildings. It’s quite Escheresque.
This sign made me laugh. I can’t imagine ever seeing it anywhere else:
This has to be the best hottub location ever. It’s right at the corner of the city, right on the cliff, with a vast panorama of ocean sunset. Sadly, it was part of a spa so I wasn’t able to use it.
Ia is the place to go to see the sunset on Santorini, because it’s in the perfect spot to look out to the west, with a 270 degree panorama of the sea and nearby islands. And if it’s a good sunset, it turns all the white buildings red and purple.
Looking for the best place to watch the sunset (that wasn’t going to charge me 50 Euro for dinner) I found the castle perched at one corner of Ia where a lot of tourists were milling in wait of the spectacular show. I grabbed a promising spot among them to wait.
Soon afterwards, I befriended two Asian travelers who had met on the volcano cruise. One, Yeonsil (hope that’s the right name, I forgot, and I’m going by facebook 🙂 ), is from Korea. The other, Sharon Li, is from China, pictured below:
We passed the time until sunset talking about our travels and avocations. As sunset finally approached, we were all quite dismayed to see the sun simply dissapear into a thick bank of grey clouds, and everything just got dimmer, not brightly-colored like it’s supposed to. It was a good time though – you can see Yeonsil is quite dissapointed here:
And here’s a shot of her cracking up, unable to maintain her pout.
The night was great in spite of the lack of sunset. We took our ATVs back to Fira, the main town of Santorini and had a delicious Greek dinner.
Here’s a map of the path I took around the island: