If there is one thing you MUST see in the Cycladic Islands it's definitely Santorini.
So prepare your eyes, open them wide and follow me in the discovery of one of the most stunning destination in Greece and start with the cutest part of Santorini: Oìa.
Oia, pronounced Ia, is situated on the north of the island, 11 km away from Fira (Santorini's Capital).
Oìa is the most famous of all villages of Santorini. It is known throughout the world for its quiet life and fantastic sunset, and is certainly the most beautiful and picturesque village of the island. The village is also situated on top of an impressive cliff and offers a spectacular view over the volcano of Nea Kameni and the island of Thirassia.
What is the most stunning when you get to Oìa is that everything is so neat. All these little white houses with their blue doors or windows are so well arranged. You feel like if you were in the middle of a postcard. And for a photographer, I can tell you it feels like being in heaven. This village is tremendously inspiring!
Being the most famous village of Santorini has also its drawbacks.
Hence, when comes the time for the sunset, Oìa becomes over saturated. It is as if all Santorini visitors meet up in the same place. Some people are even already there almost one hour before sunset just to make sure they will have the best place to watch that stunning moment.
Anyway, if you are able to ignore the crowd or find a good spot, you will definitely live an unforgettable moment watching the sun getting down over the horizon.
Depending on the time of the year you visit Santorini, the sun will disappear either behind some of the western neighbor islands (Sikinos, Kardiotissa, Folegandros, ) or directly into the sea.
As long as the time passes and the sun gets closer to the horizon, the sky takes incredible pink and orange colors that reflect on the white walls of Oìa making it the perfect set for incredible shots.
Living a sunrise in Oìa is almost as incredible as the sunset but without the crowd ! What a pleasure to stroll in the deserted and quiet streets early in the morning, to enjoy the silence only interrupted by the songs of the birds or the fly of a drone just above your head.
This is exactly how I love Santorini and this is definitely the perfect moment to discover it!
At sunrise, you meet two types of people. Those who woke up to take photos and those who woke up to be taken in photo.
Sunrise is also the meeting of all kind of artist. You will meet photographers, of course but not only. I met some painters, some travel bloggers, some drone pilots with all one thing in common. Enjoying the incredible morning light on Santorini.
If you are in Santorini for several days, you can take the opportunity to discover its Capital, Fira. It is much less charming than Oìa but from there you have a terrific view on the Nea Kameni volcano.
You can easily find a tour that will include both the volcano and a stop at the hot springs in any of the travel agencies in town.
Departure is done from the port down the Caldeira. Don't be impressed it's quite easy to get down there. You will just need a good pair of shoes in order to not swipe on the polished stones that pave the path or on one of the numerous donkey poop :-(
It will be another story if you want to get back climbing the ramp. Not impossible but tiring. Especially if the weather is hot. If you lack of courage or don't have the legs you have two solutions. Either hire the service of the donkey men for a stinky and bumpy (but authentic) ride up the cliff or take the cable car. The price is the same (4€ per person) and you will get to the same place. It's up to you. Be modern or authentic ;-)
The tour is not only interesting for the volcano itself but also for the mean that will take you there.
Hence, I was surprised to discover the old rigging on which I embarked. It gives the tour a touch of charm even if you feel like cattle as they completely fill the boat at each departure. Anyway, I found a good seat at the back of the boat under the shades, comfortable enough to enjoy the ride. From there I was able to admire Fira sitting at the top of the Caldeira like a thin layer of snow on the top of a mountain.
The tour on the Volcano is totally organized. It's hard to escape from the group you came with but the approximately half hour walk is worth the effort.
Once at the top of the Volcano on the edge of the crater you will have a 360° view on Santorini. You will also have the opportunity to observe some fumaroles. But don't worry the volcano's activity is closely monitored, there is absolutely no risk you get surprised with a sudden eruption.
After the few hours spent in Fira and on the volcano, I took some time to stroll around again in the streets of wonderful Oìa.
There is always something to discover at each street corner. Either a future bride posing in front of a church for its wedding shoot (above) or little tiny details that make the charm of the place (below).
It was impossible to miss the last sunset. The experience is so awesome than even if you don't want to stay there staring at the sun you certainly end up, like the hundreds of people around you, hypnotized by the beauty of the light.
It is no coincidence if so many people come here each and every day to live that magic moment.
Even if Santorini and particularly Oìa are a terrific destination for photographers, as a traveler I felt a bit disappointed.
Actually, it was not my first time at Santorini. I went there 30 years ago and the souvenir I kept from my stay was a bit different. For sure, I was younger, I was not yet a photographer but I fell totally in love with this place.
To me, the villages look now too artificial. Most of the houses are luxury hotels, rentals or shops (jewelry, art galleries, etc..). Everything is luxury. This is beautiful for sure but where is the authenticity? Sometimes I felt I was at Disneyland in the middle of cardboard sceneries. Perhaps it was due to the whole week I spent just before on Amorgos, the most authentic island of the Cyclades. I don't know...
I heard recently that access to Santorini will be restricted from now on. It's a good news as it shows local authorities have realised that the place is really over saturated.
But don't' misinterpret me. I loved the place. Really. And I'll be back one day, for sure !