“The picturesque island of Santorini looks like a postcard, with white dwellings perched up on its rocky coast, carefully watching over the deep blue caldera below…” Yeah, you’ve all heard this cliche a million times over and I’m not about to repeat it. Why give you a travel book description when I can fly you over the magical island on the wings of birds and show you?
Santorini is a beautiful place and all the things you’ve heard are completely true. But there is more to the island than the blue-and-white village of Oia, shopping streets of Fira and Instagram-worthy, #nofilter sunsets. Today, I’m taking you on a journey to see what the island really looks like – from its highest peak, the mountain of Profitis Ilias.
To the right is a slightly inaccurate map of our little trek. The winding road is for cars – I’ll lead your through untamed bushes and over slippery rocks. Unfortunately, Google maps is not yet familiar with my detour… What do you mean that sounds dangerous? Our pit stops will be Kamari, Zoodochos Pigi, Ancient Thera and Perissa.
I left my room at the lovely Preka Maria hotel at 10am to make sure I wouldn’t be stuck on the side of a mountain in the midday sun. Walking through the streets of Kamari – one of the villages on the island – I quickly made my way toward the Profitis Ilias mountain which towers above it.
As I arrived at the bottom of the hill and came across the wooden sign above, I knew the grand journey was about to begin. It reads: Old Thera, Mount Profiti Ilia and Perissa. My first stop was the nearest one and I rejoiced! Not only was it near, but the road seemed to be accessible and well-labelled. This would be a breeze.
Unsurprisingly, I was mistaken. Sweaty and potentially lost, in a matter of minutes I was already drafting an imaginary complaint letter to the inventor of mountainous terrain. I mean, seriously – can’t the world just be a huge plain or at least be equipped with omnipresent escalators? Ugh.
Luckily for the shreds of sanity I’ve managed to retain over the years, I soon came across a little oasis in the form of Zoodochos Pigi. The name means Life-giving Spring and is used to describe the only site with fresh water on the entire island. Back in antiquity, the inhabitants of Santorini – especially the city of Thera, the next stop on our itinerary – used this place as their sole source of drinking water. This realisation made me a little ashamed of my previous complaints – but only a little, because omnipresent escalators really do seem like a good idea and climbing steep hills in under the Greek sun really is hard work.
The views below taught me all I’ll ever need to know about the importance of mountainous terrain. The village of Kamari transformed into a charming cluster of aquamarine pools, white buildings and scarce shrubbery was nothing short of divine.
After a short pit stop, I continued climbing uphill like a particularly excitable breed of mountain goat. Please, take heed of my less-than-ideal footwear and learn from my mistake. Embellished Guess sandals are pretty, but they almost caused my imminent death on several occasions.
Note: No trees were harmed in the making of this post. I hope.
Before I could harm myself any more than I already had, I finally reached the summit and on it, I found the entrance to the site where the city of Thera used to lie. I handed over €2 and…
…paradise unfurled before me. Now, you should all know that I am obsessed with Ancient Greece and Rome. Despite my friends’ unison facepalms, I often brag about the amount of documentaries I’ve seen on the topic to good-looking guys at parties. I’m just that cool. Luckily for you, I won’t go into too much detail about the site here – but just because I’m working on a separate post about Santorini’s rich history.
All I will say is that the Greeks really knew how to live – a trait they seem to have preserved, based on my observations of life in Santorini. I truly am an expert on all things ancient – look how I blend in with my neon pink shorts and DSLR camera! I hope my ancestors would be proud, but somehow I’m not entirely convinced they’d take to me in that attire. Like, oh em gee, don’t judge a book by its cover, you ancient people.
Once I’d finally had enough, I began my descent toward the village of Perissa. As the crow flies, it is only about 2.5 kilometres away from neighbouring Kamari. If you were to take the bus, however, you’d first have to drive all the way to Fira – the island’s capital – and then board another bus to Perissa. See how climbing mountains can save you money and time?
The journey down was a lot faster – and a lot more pleasant – than the trek uphill. Fuelled by a burning need for food and a wish to see the blue-domed church up close, I practically ran down the mountain.
Once I reached the village, I staggered toward the church in a sun and huger-fuelled daze. It was perfectly lovely, but I was happy to find it closed, because that meant less time standing between me and a heaping plate of gyros at Atlantis Island. They might be the wrong way around, but I’m a traveller with priorities!
After the long trek, all I needed to be happy was a plunge into the cool sea. I got so distracted that I missed the last boat back to Kamari, which usually departs from Perissa at 5.30pm. I ended up taking the bus, which would have been a slight nightmare if I wasn’t too tired and happy to care.
If you ever visit Santorini, I highly recommend you follow this itinerary and brave the difficult, unmarked path up the Profitis Ilias mountain. It’s a fantastic way of seeing the island, getting a deep – albeit uneven – tan and burning off the calories from last night’s souvlaki.