On our first morning in Santorini, our hotel manager gave us a map of the island circled some of his favorite spots to visit. George is a Santorini native, he grew up in Imerovigli, so we trusted his judgment about which beaches were best and which tourist sites we could skip. He recommended we rent a car for at least one day, so that we could drive down to the southern part of the island. I was hesitant at first; why would we want to do things like leave the lounge chairs on our terrace?
Needless to say, George was right, I was wrong, laziness is sometimes conquerable, etc. etc. We got our teensy rental car early one morning and headed half an hour down the coast to the bottom corner of Santorini, to Perissa and Perivolos, two black sand beaches where the topography is drastically different. Those of you who know me know there are few things in this world I detest more than sand (green peppers, republicans), and that I’ve spent my entire life avoiding having to touch it. It gives me the ultimate willies and makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I don’t know why, I’m weird. HOWEVER. Black sand? Seemingly the novelty of the entire thing worked to dispel any of my weird anxieties about the stuff. We pulled into Perissa well before any beach-goers had arrived, and had the entire stretch to ourselves. It was unbelievable. Black sand! And it wasn’t so much sand as tiny little pebbles. In retrospect, I wish I’d bottled some up and brought it back. Perissa seemed like a great town –tons of beach bars, really casual vibe– and Jamal and I vowed to go back one day.
We drove a few miles to Perivolos, which is just up the coast and also boasts black sand, but we were more impressed by Perissa, because of the huge cliffs that border it. At George’s recommendation, we went next to Ancient Akrotiri, the Bronze Age settlement that was destroyed and buried during the volcanic eruption in 1627BC. We’d visited the archeological museum in Fira earlier in the week, and couldn’t get over how many relics were rescued from Akrotiri. Bowls, vases, figurines, full pieces of frescoed walls, all dating back to 2000-2700BC. The excavation site was massive and, thankfully, indoors, covered by slatted wood planks, with elevated walkways winding through the half-dug zones. It was pretty incredible.
Then it was back on the road to the aptly named Red Beach, which is exactly what you’d expect. Only we felt like brazen explorers in our quest to reach it; you park in a designated parking lot, and then you have to climb over rocks, around a bend, down a cliff, through some more rocks, down a path, and then voila. The first time you round the cliff bend and see the striking red sand though, and so worth the effort (though I wish I’d been wearing different shoes, as my sandals were useless). I could have stayed and stared forever. The contrast of colors was almost too much for me to even process accurately. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
We stopped for lunch in Vlychada, an almost deserted beach town with a fishing port, and had lunch at another Dmitri’s Taverna (we’d eaten at a Dmitri’s in Ammoudi Bay in Oia, too). Vlychada beach was your more typical beach, regular sand and all. We gorged on tomato fritters and saganaki and tzatziki, before heading all the way to the very southernmost tip of the island. We were told there was a lighthouse, but we wouldn’t have made the trip just for that. The views, however, made it feel like you were at the end of the world.
We decided to head home, back to Firostefani, but made one last stop at a winery. We missed the last tour of the day, but were happy to park ourselves in their wine bar and have a wine flight tasting. They tried to push an 18 glass flight on us to share, but we figured with the winding, narrow two-lane highway back up the island, we were better off sticking to just three each. We bought a bottle of Vinsanto, a sweet dessert wine and a Santorini specialty, and drove home.