May 02, 2006

Santorini: Go for the light alone

Twenty islands, including the volcanic wonder that is Santorini, form the Cyclades, an Aegean archipelago named for the circle (kyklos) that the original 12 Cycladic islands formed around sacred Delos, birthplace of Apollo.

Today, the Cyclades, expanded to include islands not in the original dozen, are on the must-see lists of most travelers to Greece. The island chain bursts with antiquities, ruins, ancient gods and myths -- and black pebble beaches, tavernas, inter-island ferries, markets and shops, glorious food and drink, and excellent people-watching.

But the sun and the magic it creates are the main event.

Santorini has more than its fair share of Cycladic sunshine. The island is so blessed with light that even the rocky interior plain that slopes eastward away from the island’s dramatic volcanic cliffs produces lush tomatoes and rich wine grapes.

On Santorini, stay up late, but get up early, too, because the play of light during the bookends of a Santorini day is one of nature’s great gifts. Santorini is at its most splendid early and late, when sunrise and sunset turn the island’s signature cuboid houses and churches into white canvases that invite and absorb whatever colors God decides to splash. Here, dawn and dusk are not times of day, but dramatic performances.

Go to Santorini for the light alone.