On our last day we wanted to venture away from all the tourist hotspots and see something different so- after a little nosey around on Trip Advisor- decided to visit Emporio.
Such a unique and strangely beautiful place. It used to be the centre of trade in the 15th century (hence Emporio, meaning trade) and a lot of the houses from back then have been well-preserved and are still lived in, giving the place an eerie, medieval feel.
Built like it was all carved out of the same piece of rock and then smoothed to a shine, the unusual buildings mesh almost seamlessly into one another, with little flights of stone stairs leading up to slightly wonky, second story front doors. The alley ways are sometimes wide, sometimes thin, there are countless archways you have to duck under and walls you have to skirt around, and every so often a narrow alley will open out to a beautiful sun-drenched courtyard or an unexpected view over the rooftops to the glinting sea in the distance. It’s not all concrete and stone either, many of the houses have gorgeous flowering plants climbing the walls, their colours vivid and stunning against the monotone of ancient stone.
It’s like something out of a dream, or somewhere you could imagine Bond chasing someone through. It’s so weird and cool and totally unlike anywhere else we’d seen on the island (or anywhere else, for that matter).
And it’s quiet! After so many days of impatiently pushing past people in Oia and Fira, getting away from the noise of the crowds and exploring this weird, wonderful, silent dreamland was utter bliss!
We stopped at a little cafe called the Barbershop run by a man with appropriately well-groomed, voluminous hair. Whilst drinking what had to be the cheapest drinks on the island, we got chatting to a lovely English couple with a great sense of humour and a wonderful zest for life. Meeting new people is one of my favourite things about holidays. In London we would’ve politely and stubbornly ignored each other. But in the warmth of the Greek sun, looking out over the sunlit rooftops of Emporio, we let our guard down, shared stories and made a connection.
If you’re in Emporio, you’re only a short drive from the town of Akrotiri, the prehistoric Akrotiri ruins and the Red Beach. The Red Beach was a bit of a trek up a rocky path so if you’re going to visit, don’t just bring flip flops, bring hiking boots and a Sherpa.
Don’t get too hung up on the name ‘Red Beach’, either. It’s more ‘Rusty Brown Beach’ but I imagine they figured Red Beach sounded more appealing. And its volcanic rock so it’s not soft sand, more like small pebbles and rough sand, so bring a towel. Or a thick tarpaulin.
Uncomfortable sand aside, Red Beach does have something Broadstairs doesn’t: the Aegean Sea lapping cheerfully at its shore. The water is just as you’d come to expect from any Greek island, crystal clear, turquoise-blue and just bearably not-too-cold enough to go for a paddle (or snorkel if it takes your fancy).
Just before Red Beach there are a few restaurants along the shoreline, built right into caves in the cliffs with their tables put out on the waters edge. We went for one called Cave of Nikolas, lamenting the fact they missed the perfect opportunity to call it Nikolas Cave (our subsequent Nicholas Cage impressions took us through drinks and most of the main course. Put the bunny back in the box). Service was efficient and food was lovely, made all the better by the tranquil view of the fishing boats bobbing past on the open sea.
We finished our holiday with dinner at our favourite restaurant, a family run taverna in Akrotiri town centre. One of those places that make you mutter “oh my gosh” after every mouthful and wish you were fatter just so you could eat more. If you only go to Santorini for a day, go there. I’m back to Santorini next year for a wedding and it’s the only place I’m going to make a special effort to revisit. If I lived in Akrotiri I’d be the size of a house, but my gosh I’d be happy!
As we left Taverna, our waiter gave us both a hug goodbye and the waitresses, the manager and even a couple of the chefs came out to the balcony to wave us off into the night. They were just so lovely and welcoming and kind. And that’s the thing about Santorini, yes it’s breathtakingly beautiful, the light is immaculate and the views are out of this world. But the real beauty lies in the island’s people who, despite the millions of annual tourists, are still so friendly and happy and proud and warm.
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