Christos Doumas, emeritus professor of archaeology, takes us on a tour of Akrotiri, one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Europe.
Akrotiri was a settlement with stone-paved streets and squares, a prudently designed zoning plan and an advanced sewage system. The houses were two- and three-story, built with stone and mud. The ground floors housed craftsmen’s workshops and storerooms, mainly for food. The rooms of the upper stories were bathed in natural light streaming in through large windows. Most walls were decorated with elaborate paintings depicting people, animals and plants. The furniture was wooden and the loom was an essential household item, used by the lady of the house to weave the family’s clothes. The inhabitants were traders, artisans, mariners, farmers, stock breeders and craftsmen. They kept flocks of sheep and goats. They planted wheat and barley, which they harvested with stone or bronze sickles. They stored produce in large earthenware jars and cultivated olives, from which they made oil. Indeed, output was so high that they also exported. Wine production was another key economic activity. Locals further supplemented their income by supplying Crete with large quantities of obsidian (black volcanic rock) and metals. Their diet consisted of pulses, vegetables and all sorts of fish, caught in the surrounding waters and sold in the harbor. But their favorite delicacy was snails, brought to the island from Crete.
“ Men, women and children are equally depicted in wall paintings. For this reason, Akrotiri is also called the Prehistoric Venice of the Aegean. ”
This is how Christos Doumas, emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Athens, describes life in Akrotiri during the 2nd millennium BC. He also speaks about the wealth accumulated on Thera in that distant time from commerce: “The island had trade relations not only with Crete but also with mainland Greece, the Dodecanese, Cyprus, Syria and Egypt.” Thus, the prehistoric Therans, having satisfied their basic needs and thanks to the wealth they gradually acquired, were able to turn their attention to more pleasurable pursuits, for instance the art of good eating. Doumas focuses in particular on how art flourished as a means of projecting social status, and on the democratic structure of Theran society. “It is telling that men, women and children are equally depicted in wall paintings. For this reason, Akrotiri is also called the ‘prehistoric Venice of the Aegean’.”
This then was the situation until the spring of 1613 BC, when the island’s volcano came out of its slumber. The eruption that followed, the most powerful in the world of the past 10,000 years, completely destroyed Santorini (Thera) and the nearby islands. “If there had been no volcano, however, there would have been no Santorini as we know it today and, of course, there would have been no Akrotiri. Thanks to the volcanic ash, the remains of the prehistoric settlement have been preserved down the centuries,” explains the man who has made this place his life’s work.
In 1975 Doumas took over the excavations begun by the eminent archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos. Since then, he has brought to light an incredible wealth of information about the “Pompeii of the Aegean.” And at the age of 82 he continues to work ceaselessly. “We should be proud of Akrotiri,” says Doumas. “It is part of archaeology courses at universities all over the world. In the history of Aegean civilization, it is considered to have equal importance with the Acropolis (for the Classical period) and Mount Athos (for the Byzantine period). It is a momentous legacy.” All this makes a visit to Akrotiri a unique experience. The archaeological site (covering an area of 12,000 m2) is protected by a bioclimatic shelter that is supported by 96 steel columns, designed by the architect Nikos Fintikakis. Specially designed walkways take visitors around and through the settlement, while there are viewing platforms that provide excellent vantage points.
“ The prehistoric Therans, having satisfied their basic needs and thanks to the wealth they gradually acquired, were able to turn their attention to more pleasurable pursuits, for instance the art of good eating. ”
And, of course, at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira, the experience is enhanced with important finds from the excavations: marble figurines, pottery, bronze implements, cooking utensils and impressive storage jars with designs indicative of their content. Pay close attention to the celebrated Theran wall paintings (Blue Monkeys fresco, House of the Ladies fresco, etc), the work of outstanding artists, as well as artifacts (seals, lead weights, clay tablets inscribed with Linear A script) that provide evidence that the complex society of prehistoric Akrotiri devised and used systems of writing and measurement. That is, they applied methods for the management of goods, developing a type of bureaucracy. Finally, just before leaving the exhibition area, don’t forget to visit the most impressive find: a gold ibex figurine, quite unique, which was found in December 1999 in excellent condition in its wooden case. Concluding our conversation with Professor Doumas, I ask him what Akrotiri means to him personally. “The scene of the… crime,” he replies laughing. “I will always return here, as long as I can still stand. And when you consider that only 3 percent of the prehistoric settlement has been investigated, we archaeologists still have many centuries of work beneath the shelter!”
It is a scorching hot, midsummer’s day up in Ano Mera and, standing atop a brown, rocky formation, typical of the Mykonian landscape, Dimitris Mantikas, an architect who has built more than 200 houses here since 1981, is left to the inspiration brought in by the strong Meltemi wind whipping the hillside. He ponders upon the challenges of the deteriorating ground and the clusters of rocks that need to be preserved. He has to take everything into account: the strong winds, the ever-changing course of the sun, the durability of his designs, the environmental impact of the structure and, of course, the view from the finished edifice.
In front of him lay different but very similar white blocks, all typical samples of Mykonian architecture. For some, these are simple forms offering practical benefits. For others, they are a means of showing off wealth. But for the architects and designers that we meet, these materials are the physical embodiment of a love affair, with all the turmoil and excitement that pathos usually brings along with it.
The colorful crowds that flock the streets of Matoyianni every summer probably don’t know that once upon a time, long ago, the island was filled with castles, the remains of which can still be found in places like Lino and Portes. From this very well organized defense system that protected the island from pirates and thieves to the huge villas with the crisp swimming pools that are found today on every little hillside, there have been centuries of evolution and transformation, always adding new elements to what we call today traditional character. And all of these changes were driven by the needs of the day.
The little houses were built one atop the other and the streets were made as narrow as possible in an attempt to close up the town against the pirates. The houses were small due to the scarcity of basic building materials and their shape and color were in reaction to unique weather conditions. Square formations and white colors protect from strong winds and the melting heat.
All this takes place in Chora, the central stage of the island. Ion Stavropoulos, an architect who has known the island since the seventies, also talks about the simple, plain cottages in rural Mykonos: “These were bright examples of the so called ‘additive architecture’, little gems of anonymous folk creativity, symbols of another type of civilization, created by poverty and inventiveness, edifices that the modernist architect Aris Konstantinidis called ‘god-built’”, he says.
Basic living dwellings were formed by cell-like rooms creating “wings” around shaded little patios. A corral for the animals, a wood-fired oven, a winepress, a water cistern, a well, and, in many cases, a small chapel would complete the farmhouse or “chorio”, a word used euphemistically for these farmhouses scattered in the rural areas, since it actually means “village” in Greek.
“This organic and shabby creation of unities ended up becoming a masterpiece of unique character”, says architect Nikiforos Fokas, while Apostolos Nazos, a born and bred Mykonian architect actively involved in strengthening the protection afforded by the local urban planning, adds: “The people who created these masterpieces were very much aware of the concept of space. Today, we are left speechless when we think of their simplicity and moderation. Every little cube is placed in the right part of the field that surrounds it, correctly oriented, and of a size barely fitting the soul of a man. What they used to say was, ‘A house just enough to fit in, a field just as far as you can see’”.
Round rocks, dry earth patches and scattered little whitewashed chapels create a dreamscape that, since 2005, has been protected by law; the island itself is legally classified as one of distinctive, natural beauty. When the sculptor and interior designer Deborah French first set foot on Mykonos in 1978, she instantly fell in love with the island. She kept coming back almost every year, until finally moving here in 1985. “Though one could argue that other places had some of these qualities, Mykonos is where I found them,” she says. “The architecture, the sculptural quality of the structures that, being white, stand out so well, allowing the eye to see the shapes as a union and to follow the undulation of the surfaces…
Other Cycladic islands had this, but none quite as perfectly.” So she decided to set up her home here, calling it “Re-inventing Mykonos”: “The original architecture of the island was my general inspiration but I took much of it from a small old farmhouse where I’d had spent my summers. It was so simple yet very alive, because of all the movements of its surface and the simple rustic details. Being a sculptor I could fully appreciate its beauty and uniqueness.”
It is safe to say that, having worked here for 35 years, Dimitris Mantikas knows the island like the back of his hand. “The reasoning of nature, of the landscape here, is much more powerful than that of the builders who tried to impose their vision on it”, he says. Javier Barba, a Spaniard who has built more than six houses here since 1997, finds his calling to be the integration of each project into the landscape: “We work the architecture from the land, with the land, adjusting to the natural pre-existing conditions. The landscape conditions you, inspires you and gives you guidelines to work on,” he says.
The wind, too, is a force to be reckoned with on Mykonos. The tough one, the Meltemi, comes from the north. The Mykonians situated their houses with their “backs” turned to the north, to shield from the wind. “On a windy day in the old houses, you could stand on the front veranda and be completely protected. This simple intelligence has been lost to those of us who are disconnected with nature and the concept of bending to it for our ultimate advantage” says Deborah French. Nikiforos Fokas believes in the elements as well. “The landscape, the climate and the strong Mykonian tradition can only bring inspiration,” he says. That inspiration, however, may come at a price.
Looking back on his first ever commission on the island, Apostolos Nazos remembers he was frozen, unable to use everything he had been taught. It was impossible to intervene in what to him was – and still is – magical scenery. Thankfully, the law has worked to the advantage of Mykonos. For her house, Deborah French had to get special permission that allowed her not to paint it white. At that time, only the animal shelters were left unpainted. “I saw that a large white house up on the hill would look ostentatious and detract from its surroundings. But built from rock, the residence blends in and almost disappears into the hill. A few years after the house was built, a rule went into effect that houses up on the hills should not be painted white. Someone got the point!”
It was, in fact, Dimitris Mantikas who brought the revised study of her house to the architectural committee, and he was also the first architect to design and establish the double walls that resembled the shapes of old farmhouses, starting a trend back in the mid-’80s. “The buildings blend well with the environment and the land has been respected,” he says. “So, if you want to talk about eco-friendly architecture, it is not always about the use of double windows or putting solar or aeolic energy to use. The way the island has been built is totally eco-friendly. Not to mention that traditionally the roofs were insulated with sand and seaweed!’’
Ion Stavropoulos talks about a violent rise in construction that started in the mid-’80s and has changed the landscape: “From being something to satisfy the basic needs of the dwellers, the house gradually became a vessel for luxurious vacation and a sign of the owner’s wealth. Contemporary materials, often imported, allowed for buildings that wouldn’t have been built by the architects of old,” he says. Deborah French adds: “The town of Mykonos was transformed in a matter of a few years from one whose streets were pristinely clean and white-washed with lime wash, bathed in soft, natural light, to one where, once high-end retailers descended, the lights became garish and the streets dirty, painted once a year at best, and with latex or enamel paint. It is a good example of how insensitivity and ignorance have eaten away at what was once so special about Mykonos.”
Skyrocketing land prices and high demand for real estate have turned Mykonos into a unique case study. According to Ion Stavropoulos, architects are often called in to design structures on secluded tracts of land, chosen solely for the purpose of offering its owner the privacy he seeks. This seclusion poses numerous challenges, including not having access to basic infrastructure, such as sewage systems and water supply.
Nikiforos Fokas believes the island has been going through a nouveau-riche phase for a long time, but Dimitris Mantikas is more optimistic: “Although there has been an effort to create a golden facade through Mykonian architecture, in general the buildings haven’t lost their traditional shape thanks to the urban planning laws. The only place left for showing off is the inside of the houses.” According to a spokesperson from the architectural design firm Zege, “it is easy to assume that Mykonos is an island of loud manifestations of wealth. But in architectural terms, there is a constant struggle to keep our traditional Cycladic building principles, devoid of excess and modernity.”0 Read More
The 5 best reasons to spend a day – or week – on Antiparos, Paros’ little sister.
Antiparos, a small, anti-mainstream island, has stood its ground as an alternative offshoot to neighboring Paros, tourism-oriented and cosmopolitan with a vibrant, fancy and high-decibel nightlife. By contrast, the mild tourism development on Antiparos has not taken away the purity of the island, a focal point for the rock-punk community since the pre-digital 80s. Those unconventional camping-ground types our parents advised us to keep away from have since grown old, lives were influenced by the considerable time spent at La Luna, the little island’s legendary outdoor club, as well as at the rock-oriented Doors club, dedicated to the late rocker Jim Morrison, while the “official nudist beach” – as defined by its frequenters – behind the camping ground, was a carefree spot. The Cycladic island’s hippy spirit has not really changed over the years. Five reasons to visit the island follow:
The island’s devotees widely believe that Antiparos is its camping facility, launched in 1978. It has carved out its own history on the island as an alternative-scene focal point and, even today, stands as the reason why many visitors choose to holiday on Antiparos. The restaurant operating at this 300-tent capacity camping facility is its pivotal spot. Groups of friends gather here to play cards and backgammon in the afternoons and enjoy their first warm-up drinks for the night. Most campsite dwellers usually don’t take off for the main town, a ten minute walk away, until well after midnight. Shots and cocktails are had at Camping Antiparos before they head to La Luna for late-night partying.
The bars at the town’s square close at around 3 to 3.30am to avoid disturbing neighbors. As a result, revelers relocate to either the late-night La Luna disco or Mylos, a dance club.
The former, an open-air, down-to-earth nightlife oasis that enjoys cult status, is said to have once been the location of a poultry enclosure. Since opening in 1979, its owner has hardly touched a thing. Any signs of wear or tear have been left unattended, which has added to the spot’s accumulating vintage charm. La Luna is located deep amid fields. The moonlight serves as a useful guiding light to locate the spot, it is said. Everybody dances a lot here. The music is dominated by old classic tunes from the 70s and 80s. Revelers know when it is time to leave when Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, the club’s signature closing-time song, comes on. Strictly order beer here.
Extremely different, Mylos plays mainstream dance music. It is housed at an old mill with a view of the sky. At daybreak, the sunrays enter from the glass roof and revelers party on donning their sunglasses. Should you lose track of your friends in the crowd, you may climb the mill’s outdoor staircase to the top and try and spot them from there. Otherwise, the climb is ideal for the breeze and sunrise experience. Without a doubt, the two clubs represent two entirely different camps. You either belong to Mylos or La Luna. There is no between.
Sifneiko beach, named as such because it looks towards Sifnos, also known as Iliovasilema, meaning sunset, is a lovely beach offering an uninterrupted sunset view. As the “golden hour” draws nearer, scores of people, especially couples, rush through the alleys to make it to the beach on time for the experience. Two laid back café-bars also operate here if you feel like treating yourself to a drink. The route to Sifneiko runs by a mid-15th century Venetian castle located within the town. It was built by Giovanni Loredano, a Venetian nobleman, to protect the island from pirate invasions. Twenty-four houses were later built in the surrounding area. Many of these are still inhabited today.
Soros beach is one of the most renowned and essential places to visit. Its Megalos beach is more cosmopolitan and offers a good beach bar. The Mikros beach, which is not organized and covered with fine pebble, offers greater privacy. From this point on, the shoreline features numerous delightful coves with turquoise waters and clean water.
Besides the beach by the island’s camping facility, part of which has been defined as “nudist” by frequenters, Faneromeni and Aghios Sostis, are the island’s other leading swimming spots. Located on the west side of the island, they are challenging to reach but well worth the effort. On the east side, Monastiria and Livadia are great spots for windsurfing and kite surfing.
One of the world’s most significant caves, located in the centre of the island, may be reached by descending 411 steps or 85 metres. Its entrance is located at the top of the Ai-Giannis Mountain, also the name of the charming small church perched on the rock. Fragments of ancient vases, as well as carvings and inscriptions on stalactites and stalagmites by a number of historic figures, have been discovered inside the cave. The descent to the cave’s bottom is safe and reached by a concrete staircase. The heart of the cave is divided into three sections. The first features stalagmites and stalactites, resembling waterfalls. The second is renowned for having hosted a Christmas Day mass in 1673, during Ottoman rule. The third section is known as Vassilikos (Royal) as a result of a visit to the cave by King Otto, the first monarch of modern Greece, and his wife, Queen Amalia. Their inscriptions still exist.
Significant findings from ancient times have been made on Despotiko, an uninhabited island west of Antiparos, as well as at two other neighboring virgin islands, Tsimintiri and Stroggylo. The oldest Cycladic settlement was discovered on Saliagos, an islet off Antiparos. However, the archaeological interest is focused on Despotiko, identified as the location of Ancient Prepesinthos, where proto-Cycladic tombs and cemeteries were discovered a century ago. Two constructions were also discovered a few decades later. One of these, a superb sanctuary dedicated to the god Apollo, is estimated to have been used from the 7th century BC until the Roman era. The people of Paros built this place of worship as they were determined to consolidate their dominance in the Aegean. Numerous parts of sculptures, six kouros heads and over 500 architectural pieces are some of the discoveries that have been made over the years, shedding intensifying light on ancient Greek history. Despotiko may be easily reached by boat from the small Ai-Giorgis port at Antiparos. Once there, do not miss out on the opportunity to swim in this little island’s superb turquoise waters, whose beaches are covered with fine golden sand.
A low-key Cycladic island experience, conveniently close to Athens.
One of the country’s more low-profile islands, Kythnos is located in the western Cyclades, just a three-hour ferry trip from Piraeus port. It features five main villages, Merihas, serving as the island’s port, Hora, the main town, also known as Messaria, Dryopida, Loutra and Kanala, as well as some smaller villages. The autumn season suits this island well as it derives its beauty more from the interior than the coastline. The greenery between Messaria and Merihas, the scene of ceramic roof-topped houses at Dryopida and the medieval castle at Oria are examples of the island’s inland charm.
Emotional and impulsive, the people of Kythnos, once called Thermia, are lively and full of surprises. Don’t be caught off guard if asked to take command of a traditional wooden boat (trehadiri), as was the case during our first visit to the island, when we found ourselves steering a 12-meter vessel at Kavouroheri, Potamia and Aghios Sostis, three small bays close to Loutra. Also, don’t feel awkward if offered a sip of local wine from a hollowed-out bull horn. They were used as spoons in the old days here. Another of our unusual experiences on the island was when a wine-filled horn spoon was passed around one night during an outdoor celebration to the sound of lute (lauto) and tsabouna (traditional bagpipe) in Dryopida.
When the dancing begins, locals let visitors know that it is time to get up and move. Any claims by outsiders of not knowing the steps to traditional dances are immediately brushed off. Visitors really have no choice but to join the traditional syrtobalos dance. Locals can be insistent on such issues and may seem a touch harsh or mad but, deep down, they are hospitable people.
The island’s culinary offerings are exceptional. On our brief trip, we tried thesfoungata (cheese croquettes), tarahto (scrambled eggs with tomato),tyropitaria (cheese pies), dried olives and, of course, souma (distilled spirit). The sweet-toothed members of our group were drawn to theTratamento confectionary workshop and store in Messaria, whose products included beetroot sweet preserve, verbena (louiza) liqueur andamygdaloto (almond-based biscuits).
*Originally Published on GreeceIs0 Read More
They are pictures as reminiscent of Greek summer as glasses of ouzo and slices of watermelon. White sandy beaches, beach umbrellas which look like colorful buttons scattered across the frame and tranquil turquoise watersin which the figures of tiny people float.
These are the beautiful drone photographs captured by Marina Vernicos in tribute to the Greek summer, which form part of a series titled “Shades”.
The Athens-born photographer studied Communications and Photography at Emerson College, Boston, and Business Administration at Harvard Extension School. Since 2001, her work has been showcased around the world, including at the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Louvre and the Hangaram Art Museum in Korea, London, Monaco and New York.
She has also won the Sandro Botticelli award and the France La Grand Exposition Universalle.
Her foray into aerial photography began two and a half years ago, when a friend of a friend showed her husband a drone he had bought. “My husband got really excited and got one too. This is how it all started.” says Marina.
“We’ve seen aerial pictures from helicopters, but never like this, looking from above straight down. We’re not used to seeing this kind of view so it’s something new and interesting for us.”
Since buying the drone, she’s been working on her technique, and says that drone photography is the next big thing in her field. “I think it’s the best that photography has to show right now. It’s a whole different concept, a wholedifferent view. And it’s very tricky in order not to make the pictures seem as if you’re looking at Google maps. There’s a fine line between art and Google Earth. ” says Marina.
Why is it that we find aerial photography so fascinating, I ask her. “It’s a completely different point of view,” she says. “We’ve seen aerial pictures from helicopters, but never like this, looking from above straight down. We’re not used to seeing this kind of view so it’s something new and interesting for us.”
Her pictures showcase locations around Europe such as Ibiza, the Dominican Republic and Formentera, Spain, but are heavily focused on Greece. “The locations are places that I go and that I love. This is my suggestion to anyone who is involved in photography, to start from where you come from.” says Marina. “You have to photograph the places you know best, and the places you love and this is how you get inspired.”
Her upcoming project focuses on the Greek islands. She currently traveling around them and, as she puts it, trying to capture the very best that they have to offer.
And when it comes to Greece, her enthusiasm for the country that so often occupies her lense is endless. “I think Greece is the most beautiful place on Earth. I really do believe that. I’ve traveled all around the world, I’ve been to107 countries. Nothing compares to our waters, to our energy, to our light. The beauty of Greece, you can’t find it anywhere in the world!”
Santorini’s anonymous builders carved their homes into the volcanic cliffs of the caldera for the sake of expediency. As their uneven, sugar-cube settlements expanded, they created strange gravitational perspectives; cobbled pathways morphed into iconic rooftops, unwittingly becoming aparkour paradise. This perfect playground draws the world’s freerunning elite every year, and the 6th Red Bull Art of Motion – from 28 September to 1 October – will be no exception.
Check out the talent by voting for your favorite 90-second video, and help give one lucky entrant a chance to win free transport to, andaccommodation on, Santorini. While anyone over 16 years can compete in the selection jam on 28 September, the on-site qualifier on 29 September will give a sneak peek at the main event, as 20 winners vie for a coveted spot in the finals on 1 October. Eagle-eyed judges will seek those with clear, original moves, while the rest of us will simply enjoy a show with plenty of freeze-frame moments. Lives are sometimes changed. Take, for instance, Dimitris DK Kyrsanidis, who was catapulted to parkour stardom after winning the 2014 and 2015 editions of Red Bull Art of Motion, all before turning 21. These days, the two-time champ from Thessaloniki travels the world taking part in freerunning contests, living his dream.
Backflips over infinity pools and other gravity-defying acrobatics over the caldera’s steep ledges are the norm in a sport made for volcanic landscapes. It was invented after the 1902 volcanic eruption on Martinique, when a French officer, George Herbert, found himself amazed by the athletic prowess of the indigenous people who routinely leapt over natural obstacles.
You don’t have to be a parkour enthusiast to be swayed by the sudden twists of a sport where passion matters more than experience. The spirit of danger is ever-present as rivals throw themselves into the air with reckless abandon, and bond in a celebration of athleticism that conjures the highest of Olympic ideals.
The European Best Destinations platform asked travelers to vote for the best European beaches.
With the weather heating up, Brussels-based European Best Destinations(EBD) compiled its list of the most breathtaking beaches in Europe. Greece ‒ with its clear blue skies, crystal clear water and golden sand – could not be missing from the lineup. Beaches on the islands of Lefkada, Karpathos, Samos and Zakynthos were praised for their beauty, making the Top 12 which was topped by Stiniva Beach on Vis Island in Croatia.
The European beaches from a selection of 280 beaches shorlisted by the EBD jury were voted on by 10,218 travelers from 136 different countries. The beaches were assessed on a number of criteria, such as their suitability for relaxing, partying or simply walking.
•Stiniva Beach, Vis Island – Croatia
•Tossa de mar, Costa Brava – Spain
•The Concha, San Sebastian – Spain
•Berlanga Island – Portugal
•Cala Acciarino, Lavezzi Island – Corsica
•Kavalikefta Beach, Lefkada – Greece
•Armacao de Pera, Algarve – Portugal
•Apela Beach, Karpathos – Greece
•Santa Maria Dell’ Isola, Calabria – Italy
•Ksamil Beach, Ksamil Islands – Albania
•Kokkari Beach, Samos Island – Greece
•Zakynthos Islands – Greece
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The first time I visited Santorini about a decade ago, I was 21 and fresh from university. The world felt like an undrawn map to be filled in – and this island, one I’d fantasized about ever since seeing photographs of it in a travel magazine, was one of the stops I was looking forward to most.
The island did not disappoint. As I pulled into the island by ferry, it felt like I’d fallen into a fairytale: with all the terraced houses and domed churches perching on the 300-meter high cliffs of the famous caldera, shimmering pastel in the dusk light, Santorini promised the kind of beauty most of us only get to see on postcards.
Throughout the next few days, whether climbing through the black rocks around the volcanic crater at Nea Kameni or breathing in the incense of theByzantine church in Oia, examining 3,600-year-old frescoes in theMuseum of Prehistoric Thera or paddling through the volcanic hot springs at Palia Kameni, I kept thinking how lucky I was to be here. How extraordinary life could be.
“As I pulled into the island by ferry, it felt like I’d fallen into a fairytale.”
“Even as you’re hiking its steps, sipping its wines, chatting with locals, part of it still remains, indelibly, a dream.”
It wasn’t just me. The island is so striking, pinning down its reality is almost impossible: you can’t experience it and not make it something more than a place in your mind. Even as you’re hiking its steps, sipping its wines, chatting with locals, part of it still remains, indelibly, a dream. A fantasy. A myth.
No surprise that the legends entwined around the island are many: it’s said the island was given by Triton to the son of Poseidon and – more famously – that Santorini is the real Atlantis.
I visited the island again two years later. I’d crammed enough traveling into those 24 months to become vaguely jaded: now, Santorini seemed almost too perfect. A kind of theme park where everything, from the lushly coated cats that sat on impossibly pristine stoops to the world-famous sunsets that lit up the sky in orange and pink, seemed designed just for our consumption.
The beauty can almost be too intense. Craig Walzer, a native of Memphis, has been running Santorini’s only English-language bookstore – Atlantis Books, modeled after Shakespeare and Company in Paris – for 12 years. In that time, he’s watched a lot of people come and go. All of them, he said, share one thing in common: “Intelligent adults come here and turn into infants,” he told me. All the beauty proves too much to absorb, so they become distracted by each small piece of it – a cat or a church dome or a sunset – and flit from one to the next, camera in hand, as overwhelmed as children.
It can take a couple of trips to see past that beauty, to start to understand what really makes the island tick. And on my third visit – a trip taken alone – that’s what happened.
“The more I saw, the more one thing became clear: Santorini’s beauty was far more than what you saw on the surface.”
For the first time in Santorini, I rented a car. Criss-crossing desolate hills and dramatic coastline, I saw the island in a way I hadn’t been able to before. Away from the Oia–Fira tourist circuit, I tasted crisp Assyrtiko wine while looking over a bright sea; I listened to the waves while nibbling on tzatziki and snapper at Amoudi Bay.
The more I saw, the more one thing became clear: Santorini’s beauty was far more than what you saw on the surface. It was in the island’s sounds, tastes, history and people.
And much of it came from a surprisingly unbeautiful, and violent, event. In 1600 BC, the island was huge, round and home to the flourishing Minoan city of Akrotiri. And then Santorini’s volcano erupted with such force that it spewed out a 30-kilometer-high column of ash and rock. It collapsed huge sections of the island into the sea and devastated Crete, located just 140 kilometers away, with a tsunami up to 150 meters tall. Some archaeologists argue that the eruption helped end the Minoan civilization.
Out of the devastation came life. That eruption is why Santorini’s farmers and winemakers swear by the soil: its high mineral content makes it ideal for the island’s crisp, acidic Assyrtiko, which you can taste at any variety of vineyards – Gavalas Wines in Megalochori, Antonis Argyros’ Art Space Winery or Domaine Sigalas outside Oia.
That eruption is also, of course, what made the island so extraordinarily beautiful. It created the dramatic caldera, the sheer cliffs striped with the lava’s reds and browns and blacks. It painted the island’s beaches with a rainbow of sand: there is a black beach, a white beach and a beach colored blood-red. And it froze the town of Akrotiri, preserving the vibrant frescoes and exquisite figurines now in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
This was the missing piece: this beauty didn’t come easy. It took a devastating catastrophe.
Not that it’s all high-stakes drama here. Head beyond the bustle of Fira or Oia, or even visit the island outside of high season, and the peace is palpable. In Imerovigli, the only person I ran into was an elderly woman, picking her way up the path in red shoes and a cane, who said “Kalimera!” to me with a big smile. On Red Beach, I picked my way up the rust-colored lava boulders and was startled to see one other person, a man draped across one of the rocks, eyes closed, relaxing in the sun. On the road that wound up Profitis Ilias mountain, I pulled over to take photographs of the terraced vineyards that spread before me into the sea, dotted with yellow flowers: the only sound I could hear was the breeze.
‘Paria Lithos’, world-renowned marble of Paros
Hard and ductile at the same time, Parian marble is one of a kind, unsurpassed thanks to its unique transparency and purity. Here are just a few of the most famous works sculpted in this fabulous medium: Aphrodite of Milos, Hermes of Praxiteles, Nike of Delos, the Temple of Apollo, the Treasury of Sifnos in Delphi.
Sculptures of the wind and sea: Kolymbithres
Golden sand embroidered around granite rocks, rubbed smooth by the wind and sea in incredible shapes. The seawater sculptures that locals have named Kolymbithres look as if they were moulded by an artist, with the help of the strong winds and wild seas of the Aegean.
Naoussa: from pirates to parties
No one can believe that the marina of Naoussa was once a pirate’s den. The music echoing from the bars, the perpetual motion of restaurant tables and chairs, young crowds that want to suck out all the marrow of life in just one night, all combine to create a cinematic ambience.
Water sports with strong wind
The wind blows, strong and steady. Games with the wind in the strait that divides Paros with Antiparos and Naxos have no end. It’s an ideal destination for those who love sea sports – especially kitesurfing and windsurfing. Paros has been home to international tournaments for years. If you aren’t already a pro, take a wind- or kite-surfing lesson at Chrysi Akti or Pounta.
Infinite, golden, hidden coves and organised: Paros has many unique beaches. Chrysi Akti, Santa Maria, Pounta, Kalogeros, Kolymbithres: You’ll find it difficult to choose, but you’re sure to find many that will stay in your heart.
Ai Yiannis Detis
At Ai Yianni Detis time slows down and the tranquility and charm of the white monastery permeate this bay in Paros. Here you can swim, walk and contemplate.
Lefkes: A peaceful courtyard
Whitewash and marble. A symphony in white. Homes with pretty patios sloping upwards, like an amphitheatre. Cycladic architecture, neoclassical buildings, boutique accommodations, all coexist harmoniously. Park your car and walk, wandering through its peaceful alleys. Don’t forget to see the Byzantine road, a marble-paved path 1,000 years old, which was built to connect Marpissa with Parikia.
Off the beaten track: Marpissa and Prodromos
Two inland villages that are worth a visit. At Prodromos the entrance to the village is a vaulted roof and steeple. Walk in the streets and admire the small traditional Cycladic homes. Then make your way to Marpissa, a 16th-century village with traditional windmills and churches rich in history.
Cars are unnecessary on an island measuring 3.5 km from one end to another. All beaches on Koufonisia are easily accessed by foot and distances are short. The longest walking distance, from Hora to Pori, takes roughly 40 minutes to cover. Small boats offer transport to the beaches every day, from morning to sunset, a municipal bus provides free rides from the town to Pori, and a van covers the short distance between the town and Finikas beach. Bicycles are a popular option since there are few cars on the island and the highest point rises to just 113 meters. It’s also popular with runners and trekkers exploring the island’s trails.
In the 80s and 90s, Koufonisia served as a secret hideaway for off-beat yet sophisticated Greeks and visitors whose knowledge exceeded the content featured in travel guides of the time. Nowadays Koufonisia is regarded as the “Mykonos of the Cyclades”. The stream of visitors wearing expensive hippie-type attire who come spilling off the ferryboat in August may have discovered Koufonisia but it is a very different story during the months of June, July, and September, when it’s much quieter.
Resort tourism has not reached this island. Although camping is prohibited, visitors may find charming accommodation for all budgets. The island’s six beaches are not serviced but various conveniently located spots provide anything from Greek salad to mojitos. Having dinner in your swimsuit is perfectly fine anywhere on the island, walking around barefoot in the town won’t raise any eyebrows, while Italida beach is nudist-friendly.
The image of Pori beach’s white sand and clear blue waters continues to captivate the minds of visitors even after they have left Koufonisia. Located on the island’s northeast edge, 3.7 km from Hora the only town on Koufonisia, Pori beach may be reached either by an asphalt-covered road cutting through the island or via a rocky seaside dirt track that passes over a number of tiny beaches. This isn’t the place for anyone with a penchant for beach bars and endless lines of deckchairs.
Tamarisk trees serve as sea umbrellas here and the sound of waves as music. Although the beach, stretched over 500 meters, is the main attraction during the day, Kalofego, a pleasant Cyclades style taverna-bar with a shady stone courtyard and chef who holds his own with the best in the Cyclades, is the main draw at night. You may catch a gig by some musical act one night, a romantic dinner to the gentle sound of the waves another night, or stay up late playing board games with a bunch of people you have just met and feel like you have known for years.
This place, named after a southeasterly wind, is the oldest bar on Koufonisia and the nightlife hot-spot to look out for once on the island. Located in the town, right next to the sea, it is equipped with just five or six tables outside. Most groups of friends sit cross-legged on colorful rugs laid out over the cobbled surface as they enjoy their cocktails around glowing lanterns. The stars above are clearly visible from here.
The bar, which offers a view of Keros, an uninhabited island, and Kato Koufonisi, is open until very late with lots of wild dancing inside this old, converted Cyclades house. The lit-up ferry boat coming in from Piraeus port is unfailingly applauded by Sorokos revelers as it edges past the bar at around two in the morning, makes a sharp turn, and moors at the adjacent port to bring in the next day’s visitors.
The island offers picturesque little tavernas set up at whitewashed Cycladic courtyards and small restaurants featuring tables on terraces with superb views, and others with seaside or alley-side tables. Although the island is small, it offers a wide range of food choices. Fish is supplied from all the Cyclades, while the meat is provided by local and regional producers who keep livestock on Koufonisia, Naxos and Keros. Meat and fish choices are well prepared on charcoal grills. Recipes are passed on from one generation to another. If you decide to have something on the go, don’t miss trying the renowned souvlaki at Strofi in town.
When we say “I’m going to Koufonisia” we usually mean Ano Koufonisi.
In actual fact, it’s not one but two islands.
The second is Kato Koufonisi which you can reach by boat from Ano Koufonisi.
It is uninhabited apart from one tavern and free-camping enthusiasts.
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