Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Most Beautiful Island

The Greek island of Santorini bills itself as ‘The Most Beautiful Island in the World’. Now, you may have seen my recent posts on the island of Capri, or be familiar with my decidedly partisan attachment to the island of Tasmania, both very beautiful places in their different ways. But I do have to say that a recent visit to Santorini showed me enough gorgeousness to at least make the ‘most beautiful island’ claim perfectly understandable. 

Strolling from Imerovigli to Fira: Oia in the distance
The most beautiful stroll in the world?
Santorini is one of the Greek Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea and is a half-moon shaped ancient volcano caldera, measuring about 18 km in length and varying between 2 and 6 kms wide. The perimeter shoreline is 36 kms long. On this little rocky crescent there is a permanent population of about 13,600 people (and only 32 taxis). They live in thirteen villages, some of which merge together along the caldera. The ‘capital’ is the town of Fira.

View into the caldera - cruise ships look like toys.
The western, or inner, shoreline of Santorini is a very steep rocky cliff, reaching a windy height of 385 m, and is said to plunge to a similar depth below sea level. The walk from the highest village, Imerovigli, through Firostefani and into Fira -- only a local can tell where one village ends and the next starts -- is surely one of the most beautiful strolls on the most beautiful island in the world. Spend 30 minutes or so taking this walk with a camera, and I defy you to come back with fewer than several hundred photos -- if you do manage to resist the insane photogenic-ness of the place, you’ll be stronger than I.

Enjoying the stroll and the mesmerising view.
And that’s not all -- across the caldera, on the tip of the island, is the village of Oia (Ia), which some claim is the most beautiful village on the most beautiful island in the world. The main strolling street on Oia is paved in white marble, as if to emphasise that this is certainly the most beautiful place. The village drops whitely into the blue Aegean, as dining couples perch on the edge of the world. 

Dining on the edge in Oia.
Oia: the street is paved with white marble.

Take a drive around the small island of Santorini, and almost every bend brings into view a stunning vista. All of which is somewhat surprising when the guide book reminds us that Santorini has no permanent rivers or springs, and:
Environmental conditions such as the blinding light, strong winds, lack of water and wood but [an] infinite supply of stone on the one hand, and the frequent earthquakes on the other, are the parameters which have defined the architecture and the shape of the village settlements. 
Santorini is a landscape where man’s additions to the landscape have been so harmonious and so in keeping with the local resources, and so embrace the bright light and the wide sweep of the view, that those additions cannot be regretted. I agree with the guide-book writer who says of the villages:
Their alignment parallel to the curve and sweep of the island’s topography leads to the creation of an aesthetically pleasing, irregular network of structures, in a balanced relationship with the landscape. 
Artwork in Oia.
I invite you to stroll through these photos of the most most beautiful stroll in the world, to gaze on the white villages crowning the caldera like the last snows on a mountain top, to visit through pictures the most beautiful village on the island, and let me know if you agree that Santorini is at least a strong contender for ‘the most beautiful island in the world.’

My guide book (purchased on Santorini):
'Santorini: a guide to the most beautiful island in the world'
Mediterraneo Editions (2010)
Text by Tina Zisimou

Stairway to bliss.
My new favourite café.
A quiet corner to enjoy the view.
Small chapel in Oia
Oia in the evening, as sunset approaches.
The sun has set and Oia begins to glow. 
Oia - evening.
No wedding photos would be complete
without a Santorini backdrop.
Santorini: the most beautiful island?
Have an ouzo and some moussaka while you consider the question. 

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