Instead of Santorini, Tinos by NY Times

The luminescent sunset in Oia at the northern tip of the Greek island of Santorini, has become one of the world’s most Instagrammable events: The fire-orange sun sinking behind an azure horizon; the sky blurring into a pearly shimmer; pink clouds tinting a whitewashed village on a volcanic cliff.

It’s a magical moment — except for the thousand or so sweaty bodies packed on the narrow streets, arms extended to capture the perfect shot.

Santorini has been struggling with overtourism for years, a victim of its own success after the island, and the Greek government, sought to lure tourists back following an eight-year financial crisis. Now this idyllic destination has reached a saturation point.

[If Venice is the capital of overtourism, then its quieter neighbor, Treviso, may be its antidote. Read more about both cities here.]

At the height of recent vacation seasons, cruise ships disgorged up to 15,000 travelers a day — most headed to Oia for that sunset, or the nearby town of Fira, with its view over Santorini’s volcanic caldera. Local authorities have been scrambling to address the issue, mainly by capping cruise passengers to 8,000 a day. But with tourism in Greece expected to set a record this year — 33 million visitors flooded the country in 2018 — it’s worth reflecting on whether you really need that Santorini sunset pic.

A more authentic Greece — the one that Santorini offered before the crowds — can be found in the Cycladic haven of Tinos. With its own enchanting sunsets and rugged charm, this under-the-radar gem is an alluring alternative.

A two-hour ferry ride from Santorini and a half-hour from Mykonos, Tinos is the laid-back sister to Greece’s high-watt destinations. Beckoning to be explored, Tinos is dotted with villages, hidden inland to protect them from pirates during a bygone age, and an unusual network of 18th-century dovecotes perched on hillsides and above ravines. The Panagia Evangelistria church in the capital, Chora, built around what is said to be a miraculous icon, is a destination for pilgrims around the world.

Where Santorini boasts a volcano, Tinos, with its mountainous spine and unusual rock formations, is renowned for the pure white marble used since ancient times to build its houses, archways, streets, churches and fountains.

At the heart of it all is Pyrgos at Tinos’s northern tip, honeycombed with sculptors’ ateliers, picturesque paths and marble carvings framed by fuchsia bougainvillea. Visitors can take home marble artwork as souvenirs, or decide to make a base in Pyrgos to learn the art of marble carving in one of several workshops.

At the center of the island is the otherworldly landscape of Volax, scattered with boulders, some the height of small buildings. In ancient Greece, Tinos was reputed to be the home of Aeolis, the king of the winds, who whipped around the mountains and carved giant sculptures from the dark granite. To the west, Tinos’s cliffs are filled with gorgeous green marble that has been used in architectural projects at Buckingham Palace and the Louvre.

Exploring other villages is a chance to sample artichokes, capers, black squid-ink noodles and local cheeses, including Castellano, scented with the aromatic mastic plant, and Kopanisti, a pungent local cheese.

Tinos’s beaches are more expansive than Santorini’s, and under the blazing sun, the turquoise sea is calm. And as night falls, the sunset from one of Tinos’s mountainside villages is about as breathtaking as a sunset on Santorini — minus the hordes.

Liz Alderman
N.Y. Times