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Santorini is Greece’s postcard island. The place where those photos of bougainvillea-strewn terraces, blue-doored houses and white-domed churches come to life. The island’s main town is Fira – or Thira – and if you visit Santorini, you’re almost guaranteed to at least be passing through it. It’s where the cruise ship tenders come in and where the majority of the hotels are. It’s where you’ll find the best nightlife and shopping on the island.
Like a lot of people who love photography, I’m far more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it. In most photos I’m either wearing sunglasses or squinting – and I still dig out a five-year-old photo that was taken in a bar whenever I’m asked for a work headshot. But even if you’re more photogenic than me, it can be hard getting decent photos on your travels. If you’re travelling solo you’ve got a choice between weird-angled selfies or asking random strangers.
It might seem like the island of Santorini is wall-to-wall with cliffside whitewashed villages, but south of Oia and Fira you’ll find a different kind of Greek settlement – the ruined city of Akrotiri. Or at least that’s what it’s called now. It was christened Akrotiri after the nearby modern town of the same name, but its real identity is just one of its mysteries. Nicknamed Santorini’s Pompeii, it’s similar in that both were buried in a volcanic eruption, there are a few big differences between them too.
Normally I spent lots of time researching the best places to stay, but sometimes the best holidays can be the most spontaneous ones and you come across a gem like On the Rocks. I spotted this gorgeous villa on a holiday auction site and put in a bid without even knowing exactly where Ios was. So when I won the first thing I did was get out a map, and the second was invite my parents and sister along with me for a week of late autumn sunshine. On the Rocks was set up by Yannis and Emmanuela, who lived in the UK for years before coming back to Greece and building two luxury villas.
My first trip to Greece was back when I was 21 – a week’s package holiday to Faliraki in Rhodes to celebrate graduating from university. It involved plenty of fishbowls of cocktails and dancing on tables, mixed in with a bit of sightseeing and a lot of sunbathing by the pool. My travel style has changed just a bit since then (as has my alcohol tolerance) and I’ve discovered that Greece has so much more to offer.
Santorini is the classic Greek island – its shades of blue and white featuring on magazine covers across the world. But would it be as impressive in person? Docking in the port, we dodged the cable car queue and the donkey handlers and climbed up the 650 steps to the town of Fira. Despite 30 degree heat it was worth every step for the views that greeted us at the top – a maze of whitewashed buildings spilling down over the edge of a steep cliff, with the backdrop of the deep blue Aegean Sea.
Celebrity athletes, elaborate construction projects, political infighting – when you think about it the Olympic Games haven’t changed all that much since they first started in Ancient Greece. All the way from Olympia 776 BC to Rio 2016, the Olympics have always been about so much more than just sport. But back in Ancient Greece it was less about national pride and sponsorship revenue and more about worshipping the gods.