IF YOU’RE EVER LUCKY ENOUGH (once Covid’s over) to find yourself on either SANTORINI or MYKONOS, plonk yourself down in an empty chair, order a sweet Greek coffee and, well … just SIT. Sit and watch. Sit and listen. Sit and feel the magic. Because these two small islands in the Aegean Sea can only really be enjoyed if you put your feet up.
They’re in no hurry, you see. They’ve been waiting out there for centuries, in one of the loveliest corners of the Mediterranean. And they’re drop-dead gorgeous. Dreamy sunsets, cafés clinging to cliffs, potted geraniums, sugar-cube houses and blue-domed roofs – at least one of these picture-postcard scenes has probably decorated the walls of your home.
When approaching Santorini by sea (like we did), you get to sail through waters that were once crossed by the likes of Alexander the Great, Helen of Troy, the Crusaders en route to Jerusalem, and our very own Anzac soldiers on their way to Gallipoli.
You also get to see that the whitewashed villages of Santorini are actually perched on the rim of a massive volcano. It erupted some 3500 years ago, blowing out the centre of the island. And your ship, like ours, will anchor in the middle of that deep-water crater.
The closer we got, one unforgettable Friday, the clearer we could see that what looked like a dusting of snow along the cliff-tops was buildings. And those crooked lines down the almost-vertical rock-face were actually roads for buses and tracks for plodding donkeys.
Leaving our ship, we buzzed ashore in a bright orange tender, climbed aboard a coach, and zig-zagged up to the highest point on the island for some panoramic pix. Along the way, we waved at farmers poking in the stony ground, encouraging their scrawny tomato plants and grapevines. And welcoming us at the top was Santorini’s capital, the village of Fira: a charming jumble of cramped lanes, steps leading who-knows-where, and shops, houses, hotels, restaurants, swimming pools – all tumbling one-on-top-of-the-other over the cliff’s edge.
We oohed and aahed and isn’t-it-gorgeoused, then sat dipping breads in olive oil and drinking something local and yummy, in a tiny open-air taverna that seemed to hang out over the water far below.
It felt like we were on top of the world!
At the northern tip of the island, we found an even prettier village: Oia (pronounced EE-ya). Another painted patchwork of whites, blues, peaches and pinks – with arty-farty boutiques on every corner and views to die for.
Santorini, I’m warning you, is addictive. And it hurt to tear ourselves away at the end of the day – the women heading down to our ship in a funicular, we blokes riding tired donkeys down the zig-zag track.
Two centimetres to the north on your average atlas-map lies another famous Greek Isle, basking in the sun. Mykonos is a just-as-charming mix of whiter-than-white houses, rainbow-coloured fishing boats, pokey galleries, jewellery displays, photographable churches, and yes, you guessed it – cafés!
We sat in one, under red bougainvilleas … sipping espressos while kids played, a dog snored, two old Greek mammas wandered past discussing their crochet patterns (at least, that’s what it looked like), and a pelican called Petros posed for queued-up photographers.
Mykonos township is built in a natural amphitheatre, with narrow winding streets and alleys designed way back in the 18th century to confuse pirates. We saw no pirates the Friday we went exploring in the labyrinth – but we did get lost several times, which is all part of the fun!
Frankly, I struggle to think of nicer way to spend a lazy afternoon …
We wandered along that shoreline and found ourselves on a bit-peninsula known as Little Venice, where rows of very old, very colourful two-story Venetian houses teeter nervously above the breaking waves.
We climbed a nearby hill and got up-close-and-personal with five enormous whitewashed windmills. Some hundreds of years ago, the Mykonians ground their seed crops in these things, but today they serve as converted museums.
Down another cobbled lane in another part of town, we sat on a wooden pew in the coolness of a quaint little chapel which was jammed in between a hotchpotch of homes and fashionable wee shops.
The sun was going down on Mykonos as our ship up-anchored that evening. And, standing hand-in-hand at the deck-rail, my darling and I shared a Shirley Valentine moment.
You’d have to be a hard-hearted, unromantic soul not to fall in love with this place, you really would …
UNTIL OVERSEAS TRAVEL IS SAFE AGAIN, JOIN JOHN (GRAPEVINE’S FOUNDER) AND HIS WIFE ROBYN ON THEIR EYE-POPPING ‘MAD MIDLIFE’ ADVENTURES IN NEW ZEALAND. CHECK OUT WWW.MIDLIFEMADNESS.TOURS …