SANTORINI, Greece (AP) — Whitewashed houses stacked like sugar cubes on the cliffs. Colorful sunsets and black-sand beaches. Donkeys, windmills and a local winemaking tradition that goes back to ancient times.
These are some of the things that stood out on a visit to the Cyclades, a Greek island chain in the Aegean Sea.
Little wonder the place draws gaggles of visitors — enough to make even crowd-loving extroverts long for a peaceful island paradise.
Oh, wait — that's why we were there. And that's why, whenever we could, we avoided busy town centers in favor of lying in the sun with a lazy glass of wine.
First stop was the island of Mykonos. My boyfriend and I arrived by ferry from Athens, then took a bus to the island's center of activity, the town of Mykonos, also known as Chora. It's a busy place: long lines, picture-taking galore and overpriced trinkets bulging from store shelves. I was glad we'd opted to stay in another village, Ornos, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away, in a hotel five minutes from the beach and a handful of restaurants. There we soaked up the sun by the sea and by the pool, drank wine and met some British travelers who also treasured the calm and quiet.
Early morning turned out to be a relatively tranquil time to see Chora — even if the walk there from Ornos meant dodging cars on the sometimes-minuscule shoulder of the road. We spotted a donkey on the way, and in town, with the few other tourists there that early, we admired large windmills on hilltops that are among the island's most photographed and visited features. Windmill construction on the island dates to the 16th century.
Then it was off to the winding roads of the Little Venice neighborhood to get lost amid the whitewashed buildings with their colorful balconies. Going early also offered a chance to see a bit of local life behind-the-scenes: shopkeepers mopping up concrete slabs outside their storefronts and arranging their merchandise before the busy day began. We also stopped by to see the ancient urns and memorial statues at the Archaeological Museum.
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