Photogenic beaches, mouthwatering local dishes and quaint villages vie for attention on an island-hopping trip of the Cyclades islands
A sea of people have taken to their feet. Arms are extended, clutching camera phones, fingers hovering over the shutter buttons of cameras. A ripple of applause erupts and whistles of praise pierce the air. Here in the coastal town of Oia, Santorini, this standing ovation occurs nightly. The crowds gather in this same spot, strung between the tangle of narrow, winding flagstone streets for Greece’s greatest spectator sport – sunset-watching. And Oia is arguably the nation’s epicentre.
In 2018 this island of 16,000 inhabitants received more than two million visitors, not including cruise passengers, which accounted for up to 18,000 extra visitors a day. In a bid to combat overtourism, Santorini’s daily cruise ship arrivals have been capped at 8,000 since January, and numerous desalination plants have been set up to ease pressure on the island’s scarce water supply.
It’s easy to assume the influx has left the island’s residents feeling jaded, but this is far from the truth. Rather than locals wearied by tourists, we are met with a warm welcome and the kindheartedness for which Greece has long been renowned. From the kerasma (treat) that appears unsolicited at the end of every meal, on the house, to the hotel manager who insists on giving us a bottle of local wine to make up for our having to change rooms, everyone wants to brighten our day.
On my trip to Santorini, mornings are spent exploring tiny hilltop villages. Come afternoon we lounge on black-sand beaches and hop between the island’s many wineries. Evenings are made for watching sunsets and gorging on homemade food: creamy, tangy tzatziki mopped up with warm pitta, rounds of crisp, juicy, deep-fried domatokeftedes (tomato fritters, a local speciality) and fresh, colourful salads strewn with aromatic oregano and olives.