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  • Writer's pictureKellyn Reed

The Triumph of Santorini

Updated: Jun 10, 2018

There is stunning beauty to behold all over the world, in countless places and forms. But there is something special and truly inspirational about beauty that is born of adversity, such as that of the spectacular island of Santorini.

Perhaps one of the most iconic destinations in the world, Santorini is also one of the most unlikely.

The villages of Fira and Oia on the island of Santorini are built down the side of sheer cliffs, looking as though they are almost poised to spill into the Aegean Sea, far below. They are perhaps the most striking features of one of the most striking places in the world, but they were not constructed so precariously for beauty alone.

Santorini may have some of the most extraordinary scenery on earth, but it is also a deeply challenging environment with obstacles that residents have had to overcome for thousands of years. This dry, sun-baked, rocky island is actually a caldera - the crater scar of a devastating ancient eruption from a huge (and still active) volcano. In fact, Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on Santorini, was buried in ash during the eruption that formed the current caldera. A popular attraction today, the excavations of Akrotiri reveal a sprawling and sophisticated culture with advanced building construction and evidence of a thriving society. Yet, they were cut short by the very island they called home, and serve as an enduring reminder that Santorini's incredible beauty is tied to its fierceness.

Today, Santorini's volcano is calm but the island still issues its challenge to the people who inhabit it. Forcible and unrelenting winds, shockingly hot in summertime, strike Santorini with air from the not-too-distant Saraha desert. On a recent visit, while enjoying the outstanding and varied wines of Santorini, it struck me that in driving all around the island I had never seen a single vineyard. At my next wine-tasting stop, I inquired where the vineyards that provided my vintage were hidden. Imagine my surprise when I was informed that I had been driving through the vineyards throughout my entire trip! Because of the whipping winds, traditional tall grapevines cannot survive on Santorini. Instead, the young vines are shaped into low basket shapes that hug the ground and are sheltered from the worst of the gales, appearing as simply greenery to the untrained eye. This unique adaptation is only known to be used in one other place in the world besides Santorini, and is a testament to human ingenuity in the face of adversity.

Santorini's harsh environment perhaps makes it an unlikely location for one of the top tourist destinations on earth, with a thriving culture going back to antiquity. Indeed, I believe it is the unlikeliness of that feat that makes the captivating beauty of Santorini so striking and makes its call so irresistible. The sheer audacity of the human spirit to overcome the obstacles of the Santorinian landscape with true ingenuity represents mankind at its best. Why are the villages of Fira and Oia built down the side of precarious cliffs? Because in the oppressive heat of Santorini, people discovered that building cave houses provided a natural way to keep cool and comfortable. With the interior of these cave homes painstakingly carved deep into the rock of the caldera, the expansion of the villages naturally trailed vertically down the cliffsides.

There is a lesson for all of us in a place like Santorini, which is so truly striking because of the challenges its people have endured and the triumph of the human spirit in overcoming every obstacle. When confronted with our own challenges, we too will be more beautiful for finding creative solutions and refusing to be dissuaded from our chosen path. In travel, as in life, often the very best memories and experiences are born of pushing past a comfort zone to discover that a whole new world of opportunity is unlocked by the audacity to try.

Kellyn Reed is the founder and CEO of Summit and Horizon Travel, specializing in curating authentic and luxurious global journeys to help you discover the very best the world has to offer. Ready to start planning your next amazing adventure? Contact us at to bring your ideal trip to life, and take advantage of our exclusive access to insider rates, perks, insights, and inclusions. We'll take care of every detail to ensure every vacation with us is your best vacation yet!


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