I first visited Santorini, a volcanic island north of Crete, 40 years ago as a newly graduated teacher on a back-pack tour of the Greek islands.
The over-night ferry (the only way to reach the island) docked at the port at the foot of a daunting 600 foot high cliff. The only way to reach the top was via a hair-raising ride on mule-back, bumping up 900 steps carved out of the rock with a sheer drop into the sea below.
My destination was Kamari Beach, which took its name from a small village on the other side of the island. The local bus dropped me off in the middle of a tomato field on my way there. As both the earth and sand were black it was impossible to see where the tomato field ended and the beach began.
I found accomodation in a modest boarding-house set back from the beach but apart from that there was absolutely nothing, except for a ramshackle wooden hut where ouzo and Coke were served to the few bathers – mostly Greek families and a few adventurous foreign tourists with their bathing towels and sandwiches.
At night-fall the shack was transformed into an eating-place (‘restaurant’ is too grand a word) with a simple but delicious menu of typical Greek dishes washed down with retsina wine. This was the night life on offer in those days. There was no public lighting and I remember staggering back along the beach to the boarding-house in utter pitch-black darkness.
The Santorini of today is a completely different affair. There is now an airport with regular flights from Athens; tourists who arrive by ferry-boat or ship (the island is on the itinerary of many luxury cruises) can reach the top of the cliff by cable-car. The mules are still there as a tourist attraction, so the more adventurous can still go up the 900 steps on mule-back. In the nooks and crannies off the mule-track there is now an infinite variety of little restaurants and piano bars all lit up with fairy-lights for the pleasure of the tourists.
What was once the tomato field is now the beginning of Kamari Promenade with its long row of luxury hotels – all with swimming-pools – overlooking the sea. The beach is no longer sparsely peopled by improvised tourists with their towels and sun-hats: instead there are rows and rows of beach-umbrellas and sunbeds – all occupied by sun-oiled, suntanned bodies – and an incredible choice of trendy beach restaurants and bars where you can lounge over a meal in comfort or sip cocktails with a fantastic view of the sea. These and the discos make Kamari one of the hubs of island night-life.
Unsurprisingly, there is no longer any sign of the wooden shack with its Coca Cola sign and three rickety tables!