The outcome was always the same. Fira always came out on top and Oia was always second best. This seemed to be the rule of thumb with regards to tossing up between Oia and Fira- Santorini’s two main towns on the caldera. The caldera is a word bandied round a lot, and in simple terms it is a cliff that has come about as a result of volcanic activity a.k.a. the famous cliffs of Santorini with cascading white houses, stunning views and a gazillion tags on Instagram. With our minds set that Fira was going to be the star of the show, it became the most hotly-anticipated destination, and the part of Santorini I was most looking forward to visiting. Our ferry to Santorini from Milos was horrendously late and then unbelievably slow (apparently this is normal so do not under any circumstances rely on it being on time for making a flight!), so after a rather grumpy transfer to our accommodation we collapsed into bed and decided not to set an alarm. The blissful lie-in was much needed, and it’s always nice to have a lazy start to the day when on holiday, but it did mean the big trip to Fira would have to wait for the next day. With just an afternoon spare we opted for Oia- we presumed it wouldn’t require a full day in the same way that wonderful Fira would. How wrong we were! Against all odds, and contrary to everything we had read, Oia turned out to be the front-runner.
Oia was perfect. The face of the caldera was covered with hundreds of white buildings like pearly white molars, smooth like the shiny surface of a freshly-iced wedding cake, punctuated only by patches of pink blossom. Beyond the white-wash was a vast stretch of sea that looked more like a swathe of slightly wrinkled silk in a deep navy. It looked unreal Maybe it was the distance – these wrinkles didn’t seem to move, just a calm stillness of intense concentrated pigment. Framing this was the cold slate grey of the caldera cliff faces.
As was the case in Mykonos Town, the real enjoyment of Oia was to be found in ambling around with no real purpose or agenda. Galleries, expensive boutiques, bustling cafes, and bakeries tempt you to step inside whilst meandering around the narrow winding paths of the old town. The Amanda Wakeley kaftans, dazzling jewellery and four-hundred Euro wicker bags would suggest that Oia was flashy and exclusive, but the general feel could not be further from this. Calm, relaxed and incredibly friendly it is a place where you can feel comfortable regardless of how you’re dressed or how much money you have in your pocket. This was actually one of my main worries about visiting Santorini – I feared that it would be somewhere that could only really be enjoyed to the full if you had a hefty budget to hand as it is known as being a playground for the rich and famous. But no- restaurants with stellar views and prime location bars were no more expensive than anywhere else we had visited. It seemed to be the case that the only real expense was in finding a room with a view. Booking a hotel with an infinity pool over-looking the caldera was my ultimate goal and this proved to be far too expensive. This dream would have been lovely (my boss kindly confirmed that this is case having naturally stayed ‘somewhere very nice’ when she went), it isn’t necessarily the be all and end all. Don’t feel too glum if, like us, this isn’t within budget – many of the infinity pools are actually overlooked by prying tourists further up the hill so a luxury spot does sometimes come at the cost of your privacy. Self-conscious and camera-shy need not apply!
Dinner for us was to be had at Skala – an incredibly affordable restaurant with a stunning view of the caldera. As we sat and ate traditional Greek dishes the noise of tinkling bells sounded and a row of adorned horses trotted up the narrow hill besides us, tourists frantically making way. Dinner was relaxed and delicious in equal measures, and there was no rush for us to clear our table as we sat and soaked up our surroundings as the sun began its descent. In my recent blog post, At The Water’s Edge, I spoke of how the light in the Cyclades is ever changing, and this was no different in Oia. As the sun sank in the sky, the caldera cliffs which before bore a cold graphite tone, suddenly lit up with a warm glow of grapefruit pink. The sunset in Oia is legendary and bus-loads full of tourists flock to the town around 8 o’clock for the photo opportunities. The furthest tip of Oia becomes saturated with tourists, every path is blocked by people and prime viewing spots will be reserved several hours in advance. It does get claustrophobic and it isn’t a particularly romantic or intimate way of viewing the sunset, but there is no denying that it is a good’un! We enjoyed the spectacle with ice-cream in hand.