Post 8 of a series – you can read my other Greece posts here.
There’s more to Santorini than Santorini. The municipality actually contains five other named islands: Therasia, Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi and Christiana. Though all but one are uninhabited, these islands make up for their lack of architecture with spectacular volcanic landscapes. Today we got a closer look at them, including a hike up the still-smoking volcano of Nea Kameni, on a sunset cruise aboard a traditional sailing boat.
Our cruise didn’t leave until 3pm, so we started the day with a lie-in and a leisurely brunch at Galini cafe with gorgeous panoramic views over the sea. We both had the full ‘Galini’ breakfast of tea/coffee; freshly squeezed orange juice; fresh bread with butter, homemade jams and honey; ‘cookies’ (little cubes made with almond flour and covered in sesame seeds); and bacon and feta cheese omelettes. It was such a feast it barely fit on our small round table, but it certainly hit the spot!
We spent the rest of that morning and early afternoon wandering the seafront and browsing Fira’s shops, scouting out souvenirs; I bought one of the many loose ‘Grecian-style’ dresses to go over my swimsuit. At around 2pm we decided to start making our way to Fira’s Old Port, from which all the sightseeing cruises leave (it’s completely different and much harder to access than the new port, at which we’d first arrived). Our preference had been to ride the cable car down, but we were aghast when we saw the queue for it snaking round half the town.
Reluctantly, we elected to walk down instead. It wasn’t out of laziness that we didn’t want to walk, but rather the reported treacherousness of the steps. Slanted, slippery and plastered with donkey dung – not to mention the hazard of the donkeys themselves – the warnings we’d read were no exaggeration. It probably took us half an hour to navigate the many steps, treading with great care so as not to slip over. We were part of a large group of tourists doing exactly the same, many of whom had less success staying upright. We chose not to ride the donkeys down mainly because it seemed cruel, but it also seemed supremely unsafe: the donkeys were not much steadier on their hooves than we on our feet, and one slipped over in front of us, sending its elderly rider to the ground. Definitely a low point of the holiday!
Having reached the bottom safely we had a new problem: finding the cruise we’d booked. We walked around for ages before finally bumping into Nadia, our guide for the Thalassa sunset cruise. It was only at this moment that we realised we’d forgotten our swimwear and towels, which we’d need to swim in the hot springs! There was nothing for it but to run around the port’s few shops like headless chickens and buy the first swimwear and towel that we found. The swimsuit I bought was a little big, but otherwise quite stylish; Steve bought some Hawaiian-print shorts in khaki; and the towel we picked up turned out to picture what looked like a woman in a burqa visiting Santorini. We got back from our shopping spree just in time to catch the boat before it left.
Onboard we had chance to admire the boat, the Thelassa: a beautiful replica of a 19th-century Brigantine ship, with a polished wooden deck and high sails. As we left the harbour, Nadia laid out the day’s itinerary. We’d begin with a hike up the volcano of Nea Kameni, follow that with a swim in the nearby hot springs, fill up on a dinner buffet while docked at Therasia then watch the sunset at Oia.
Before long we docked at Nea Kameni and we disembarked to begin the 20-minute hike up to the volcano’s peak. The island is little more than a massive, undulating pile of volcanic rubble, predominantly black and grey but at points tinged red and yellow. We followed a loosely defined path over and between giant dunes of broken rock, feeling as if we’d landed on another planet.
Nadia stopped halfway up, and again at the island’s highest point, to give us a detailed explanation of how this and Santorini’s other islands were formed, including the reason behind the caldera’s distinct bands of colour. She pointed out the island’s various craters, some of them so large and deep you’d struggle to get out again, and showed us where the rocks were hot to the touch, as well as where steam was continuing to escape. Fascinated and amazed, I was in my element.
Back on the boat, Steve bought us drinks (a vodka and lemonade and a bourbon and coke) and we toasted to our narrow aversion of disaster. The boat played a great selection of music throughout the cruise: a mixture of catchy modern and vintage tracks that was devoid of anything irritating. We sat in the sun and watched as the smaller islands drifted by, enjoying the peaceful lapping of the waves against the hull.
The boat next put down anchor nearby the hot springs. The water here was distinctly green due to the orange sulphuric residue within. Nadia advised that we could either jump in, or climb down the ship’s ladder to reach the water; we then had to swim about 100 metres to the hot springs. Floating aids were available for less confident swimmers. Steve jumped in, I climbed down, and we reconvened at the hot springs where it was partly shallow enough to stand. The green water was delightfully warm, particularly over the bubbling vents, and the surrounding rocky inlet was colourful with bands of yellow and red where the sea had lapped. The red dust in the water clung to everything, including our skin, and left my very pale skin looking very brown! It was a fun and unique experience.
Our next stop was Therasia, where we went for another swim while the ship’s crew prepared dinner. The buffet was pretty decent, comprising generous piles of Greek pastries and other nibbles, such as sausages and Greek salad. We happily devoured several platefuls each. Wine was included, and once everyone had had a cup we were free to help ourselves until the box was empty.
The only thing left to do now was watch the sunset. The boat sailed into the waters below Oia, where we’d watched boats gather just two nights ago. Once in position, the boat’s music stopped and one of the ship’s crew pulled out a saxophone on which he played sultry tunes until the sun went down. It was a little cheesy, but actually a really fitting soundtrack! We had an unobstructed view of the sunset, and it was just as serenely beautiful as expected.
Once the sun had disappeared, we sailed back to the Old Port and rode the cable car back up to Fira. This was an immeasurably easier and more pleasant experience than walking down the steps! With dinner now a few hours ago, we fancied some dessert before bed – and what better dessert than some traditional Greek loukoumades? We went straight to LukuMum and ordered a plate each, with ice cream: traditional nut-sprinkled and honey-drizzled for me, and chocolate filled and covered for Steve. They were sumptuously sweet and delicious, and just what we needed. Tomorrow would be our last day on the island, and we’d be spending it seeing the last of Santorini’s famous sights: Akrotiri and Red Beach.
All photos and text (c) Juliet Langton, 2015. All rights reserved.