Oia is a small village on the North-western tip of Santorini. It was formerly part of the community of the South Aegean islands of Thira, better known as Santorini & Thirasia in the Cyclades, Greece.
Love-locks adorn the rusty & well-worn railings at the Byzantine castle ruins in Oia which was once the seat of the Argyri family under the Venetians. This lookout point with a complete 360° view is also called Fort Londsa.
Enthusiastic sunset watchers clamour & climb over steps & barriers to find the perfect spot, which is at the pinnacle point of Oia where the castle ruins overlook the caldera.
This sunken caldera or collapsed volcano crater resembles a circular lagoon with a maximum depth of 400 m. On top of the surrounding gigantic cliffs are beautiful villages painted in white lime water so that runoff rainwater can be collected other than for aesthetics. Another possible reason was that during the Ottoman rule which lasted over 400 years, Greeks were not allowed to fly their National flag. In defiance, Oia painted their houses white & the domes blue to show where their true allegiance lied.
An ocean liner cruises by observed by a crowd already gathered at the castle ruins awaiting the most spectacular show on earth. Behind the liner is the island of Thirasia & the uninhabited tinier one, Aspronisi also known as ‘White Isle’ because it is covered by dense layers of pumice & tephra ejected by the volcano. It is also a nesting ground for some species of migratory birds.
Idyllic Oia started out as a mariners town in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, flourishing as a result of being part of the Mediterranean seaborne trade route plying between Russia & Alexandria. Her economy slumped on the account of wars, economic depression & the over- extraction of fish resources in early 20th century. Things got worst after a massive earthquake in 1956 caused considerable damage & further emigration.
The sun hangs low over Thirasia, one of the over 220 in the volcanic island complex of the Greek Cyclades located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea. Though the sun was setting the rays were still unrelentingly hot, save for the cool intermittent evening breezes.
The sea is relatively calm at this time in the western part of Santorini & the Sunset cruises are all converging at Amoudi Bay just below Oia to give their guests the best sunset viewing experience possible.
I do not care if detractors complain about Santorini being too touristy: Oia is incredibly picture-perfect & a photographers playground. The white-washed Cycladic cave houses hugging the rugged cliff tops, the numerous blue domed churches & windmills all add to the charm & magic of this celebrity isle in the Aegean!
Seen faintly in the horizon North-west of Santorini are 5 other islands (Left to Right) of Folegandros, Sikinos, Ios, Schoinousa & Koufonisia.
Excitement mounts as the spectacular golden rays started to filter through the skies & colour everything in its way… a dazzling orange!
You can hear the endless clicking of cameras, handphones & video cams; all hungry for a piece of the sunset & just maybe…. for the boasting rights, to say that “I have been there & done that!” Within seconds, the sun got swallowed up by the horizon.
Some kind folks were willing to share their coveted picture taking space with me & I was able to capture some of the magic over the caldera before it all faded. Here on the right, you see part of the 300 steps leading down to Amoudi Bay. This vertical climb back up can be taxing as the steps are 2-3 feet wide in most places. There are donkey rides available but I much rather not use them.
The satisfied crowd applauded & whistled when the sun finally disappeared from view. Santorini’s sunsets are magnificent to say the least & amongst the most sought after phenomena in the world. It is easy to see why.
The intensity & brilliance of the colours are both breathtaking & captivating as heaven’s palette is displayed in such unmatched glory. This tiny white-washed hamlet cramped with cubic like Cycladic architecture is first bathed in gold which gradually turns to a pink aura in a light show that almost made me gasped in wonderment.
Being vertically challenged, it was hard getting pass & through the thick wall of people. I experienced a FOMO moment, fearing I might just miss out on all the action. Thankfully I caught at least one shot in this romantic pinkish tinge.
The blue sky by now transforms into a canvass of gradient shades of pink, purple, yellow, orange & blood red. This is my favourite photo of that glorious moment, with the crescent making a shy appearance just above the windmill.
It is true that there are many places in Santorini where you can view the sunset, but in my opinion I think Oia is still tops.
After sundown, a different excitement comes to the fore as the sun revellers are now famished & are looking to fuel up & party into the night.
I love Oia by day & at night as this jewel just sparkles & enchants to no end. Plentiful of accommodations, art galleries, taverns, restaurants, shops selling clothes, jewellery, souvenirs, groceries, a quaint little bookshop, a bank, a Cultural centre, pharmacy & even a fish spa can all be found in this 2km stretch, perched along the northern edge of the caldera some 70-100m above sea level.
Those with deep pockets can opt to stay at one of these luxurious Cave-house villas carved into the cliff side; enjoy a dip in their own private heated infinity pools & sip cocktails whilst enjoying a fantastic panoramic view of the Caldera, Aegean Sea & Santorini’s incredible sunsets.
In 1976 Oia underwent a programme for preservation & development of traditional settlements under the auspice of the Greek National Tourism Organization. Almost 2 decades was spent in refurbishing & finding new uses for selected houses & architectural ensembles representative of traditional Greek architecture. Many of the ‘spitia’ or simple seamen’s houses on the edge of the caldera were converted to guesthouses, hotels & restaurants. Today, Santorini has regained her poise as a super-model in the Greek islands & appears on most traveller’s bucketlist.
If your thing is to chill-out on some quiet little island during your vacation, you would be happy to know that the Greek Archipelago has around 6000 islands & islets scattered all over the Aegean & Ionian Seas for your picking. Only 227 of the islands are inhabited & you would have to charter your own boats to get to the more remote ones which are not serviced by ferries.
Some people may resonate with Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” but as for me, I had an amazing time of my life & left my heart in Santorini!