Post 7 of a series – you can read my other Greece posts here.
Two things for which Santorini is famed, besides its caldera and pastel-painted buildings, is its black-sand beaches and ancient ruins. Today we saw both these unmissable sights by taking a short bus ride to Perissa. Ancient Thera/Thira was Santorini’s capital city in the 9th Century BC and today it remains as ruins atop Mesa Vouna mountain. The site can be reached directly by bus from Kamira, but as usual we took the ‘scenic route’: an uphill hike from Perissa.
For this endeavour we needed to fuel up on a hearty breakfast, and for that we headed to Mama’s House in Fira. We were seated at a shaded outside table and quickly served two generously sized breakfasts: I had a large omelette filled with just about everything they had, while Steve had a Greek version of a Full English. We washed them down with orange juice, coffee and tea (which to my pleasure, was correctly served British-style!) and walked the few steps to the central bus station, where we boarded a bus to Perissa.
Disembarking at Perissa Beach, we looked for a signpost to Ancient Thera without success before giving up and asking at the tourist office. The woman there gave us a map and directed us up the road away from the beach, where surely enough we eventually reached a small signpost. The path ahead was long and steep, and the sun was already searingly hot. But I resisted the temptation to make a poor donkey do the walk for me, and began making our way up the rocky incline.
The path’s steepness made it one of those walks where you look back and can’t believe how far up you’ve come; and it was so hot and tiring that I stopped to look back quite frequently. Nevertheless, the panoramic views – only growing more spectacular as we climbed higher – continued to pull us forward. Maintaining our footing on the loose stones, dodging donkey dung and, at one point, moving to let past the donkeys themselves, contributed to the challenge. When we eventually reached Ancient Thera’s entrance I rewarded myself with an ice cream.
There was more climbing to do before we reached the ruins, but it was worth the effort. I was amazed at how well preserved many of the walls and columns were, considering they’d been standing for around 2,900 years. Information boards explained what each section of piled stones was, making it possible to picture the town as the bustling citadel it once was. The views from the edges were inevitably amazing. Perissa’s black beach gave the town a distinct edge, creating an aerial view unlike any I’d ever seen before.
Although abandoned by humans for millennia, today Ancient Thera is home to a large group of cats. We found most of them asleep in the sparse patches of shade provided by the mountaintop’s few benches and trees.
After an hour or so of exploration we headed back down the mountain. The journey down was a great deal easier than the journey up! Back in Perissa there were many restaurants to choose from for lunch, all of them, unfortunately, fronted by menus filled with garish photography and every language under the sun. Nothing stood out food-wise, so we plumped for the closest with the nicest setting: Demilmar. This large restaurant owns the top end of Perissa beach, which, set against a yellow cliff that contrasts beautifully with the black sand, provides a lovely view.
The restaurant was almost empty, so we were able to choose its best table: in the shade, with a sofa, at the black sand’s edge. With cocktails being practically mandatory in this setting, even Steve had one. Both our choices were deliciously fruity, and almost luminous in their neon colouring. I wanted something light to eat so ordered a simple starter plate of deep-fried tomato balls. Steve was persuaded by the waiter to order the daily special of fresh seafood-stuffed squidc– which we only found out later was the most expensive dish. But to be fair, it did look and taste fantastic!
After lunch we relocated to a pair of sunloungers by the sea and used the handy changing sheds to get into our swimwear: it was time for our first experience of a black beach. I found it to be a unique and quite surreal experience: it’s very odd to look down at your feet and see them covered in black sand, or to look back at the shore from the water and see an inverted image of what you expect. Otherwise it was a standard relaxing afternoon at the beach, of splashing in the warm sea and drying off in the sun.
When the sun and the temperature began to sink we packed up and, rather than wait for the bus there, decided to walk along the town’s full length to the bus stop at the far end. By now both the beach and the town had become serenely quiet, with only a few restaurants remaining open for the residents of local hotels.
We made the most of our solitude by taking more photos of both the beach and the buildings overlooking it. Between the glamorous palm-fronted villas were sets of strange square buildings, presumably just locals’ houses but looking more to me – particularly against the barren mountainous backdrop – like alien structures from another world.
Eventually we reached the bus stop, where an older couple were already sat waiting. We sat beside them and waited, and waited, accompanied by an 80s soundtrack playing at the empty bar opposite. The time at which we expected the bus to arrive slipped by and, to our consternation, the other couple left. We deliberated for several minutes before taking the risk of dropping into the bar for drinks, only to be told that they were closing. The staff allowed us to order beers to take away, so we took these back to our bench and drank them there. A minute later the bar switched off its music and an eerie silence fell over our desolate patch of coast.
Eventually, to our great relief, the bus arrived and we gratefully hopped on. We now had only one thing on our mind: supper. Once back in Fira we walked straight back to Firostefani to buy gyros from Why Not! Souvlaki. Gyros are a staple Greek food we’d been looking forward to trying for days. Comprising juicy grilled meat, tomato, onion, tzatziki, chilli sauce and potato fries wrapped in warm, soft flatbreads, they made a perfect hot and tasty takeaway supper. We took them back to our cave house and devoured them at the table on our patio, discussing tomorrow’s adventure: an afternoon and sunset cruise round Santorini’s neighbouring islands.
All photos and text (c) Juliet Langton, 2015. All rights reserved.