Exploring Santorini’s Lesser-Known Islands by Tall Ship
Think of a paradisical Greek holiday in Santorini and what do you see? Cobalt-domed churches? Hillsides of whitewashed villas? Turquoise plunge pools backed by glittering sapphire oceans? If that’s your vision, it’s not too far from reality. But there’s more to Santorini than its postcard-worthy views. In fact, just off the main island, the smaller islets of Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni make for a fun-filled afternoon’s boat excursion, as Angela Griffin discovered…
The bus meandered gently to Athinios Port, down a road so crammed with hairpin bends I’m surprised the Top Gear team hasn’t got their hands (or wheels) on it yet. Each precarious twist and turn brought the dock slightly closer as we descended the cliffside, until we finally pulled up at the dock itself. There, we hopped onboard the tall ship Aphrodite, a 30-metre vessel, took our seats on the top deck, right beneath the sails, and set a course for Nea Kameni, hugging the dramatic coastline of Santorini as we cruised across the seas.
Although the main island Thira is the most famous, Santorini is actually made up of a cluster of five islands located around the edges of a submerged caldera. The lesser-known and uninhabited Nea Kameni (New Volcano), last erupted in 1950, and is a popular boat trip destination for Santorini visitors. The Aphrodite docked and we all piled off, paid our €2.50 island entrance fee and started the walk up to the 130m peak of Nea Kameni volcano. The walk wasn’t too strenuous, although loose volcanic ash and pumice made it a little scratchy on my lightweight shoes, but it wasn’t too long before I was at the top.
At the peak I wandered around the crater rim, taking in the active sulphur vents and fumaroles and gazing across to Santorini’s cliffs, as well as the adjacent islands of Therasia, Palea Kameni (Old Volcano), and Aspronisi, a tiny, privately-owned rocky outcrop. We had a little bit of free time, which most people spent posing for summit selfies, and which I used to explore the striking lunar landscape and black rock formations, before soaking up the views of the sunlight glittering on the blue seas. The walk back down, in strong afternoon sun, was a sweaty one, and I was grateful for the cold beer I received when back onboard the Aphrodite.
Once everyone was accounted for, the Aphrodite set sail for Palea Kameni, another volcanic island famous for its iron-rich hot springs, which give a reddish tinge to its waters. The springs are warmed by volcanic vents, making them the perfect swimming spot. The idea was to jump from the boat and swim into the cove containing the springs, which a few people attempted, but as it was 4pm in late October, I didn’t fancy getting wet and cold, so I gave it a miss and sat onboard with my beer and observed instead. Much better!
As the swimmers hauled themselves back onboard, dripping water all over the deck, a buffet dinner was served. We sailed to Thirasia, which has a population of just 300, and anchored just offshore in a calm spot where the cliffs sheltered us and kept the boat steady enough to eat. The menu was made up of a tasty selection of local Greek food and wine, including pork and chicken wraps, baked potato, Greek salad, tzatziki, bread, fruit and red and white wine; it was delicious!
Once we’d all eaten our fill, the ship sailed back towards Santorini, passing by the picturesque town of Oia, looming high above us, its white houses resembling dustings of snow on the clifftops. Oia is the most famous town in Santorini, the one you’re probably imagining if Santorini conjures up those aforementioned images of blue-domed churches. We were treated to a fine view of Oia’s windmill and, as the sun had begun to set, a rainbow of golden oranges cast across the whitewashed houses.
The Aphrodite paused in the middle of the caldera to watch the sunset over Aspronisi Island. I’ve seen plenty of sunsets in my time but this one ranks pretty highly: the sinking sun turned the whole ocean various shades of red and gold, improved no doubt by the romantic music played through the onboard speakers and the easy-drinking wine we’d all been sipping. Once the sun had plopped behind the horizon and the light diminished, the Aphrodite set sail for the final time back to Athinios Port. By the time we returned to Thira the stars were out and the wine had given us all a giddy glow, which stayed with us throughout the meandering drive up that steep cliffside road, and back to civilisation.