The volcanic island of Santorini (Thira) in the southern Aegean Sea, part of the Cyclades group of Greek islands located between the Ios and Anafi islands, is a paradise retreat with breathtaking views, balmy seas, splendid sunsets and phenomenal beaches. Santorini is the remnant of a volcanic caldera, formed after an enormous volcanic explosion destroyed the island’s earliest settlements.
Best Time to Visit
September is one of the best months to visit, with warm sun and lesser crowds. April to June is also a warm, dry period to enjoy the island.
Travelers can get into Santorini by air or by sea. Catch a 30 minute flight from Athens and arrive at the Santorini Airport, located at Kamari village. There are also ferries to Athinios available from the port of Piraeus past Paros and Naxos, and from the port in Crete during the tourist season. From Athinios, buses and taxis are available to get to other parts of the island. High speed catamarans are also available to get here.
For those tourists who wish to take a longer Greek vacation in style, there are also cruise ships that venture to the island and dock at its old port, a couple of miles away from Athinios.
What to See
The small island of Santorini comprises a surprising multitude of villages, vistas and landscapes.
The island’s capital Fira is the busiest place, with cobblestone streets lined with restaurants, shops, taverns and clubs. It is also the hub for public transportation and taxis and has direct access to the mooring points for cruise ships via the elevator. It is noted for the mixture of Venetian and Cycladic architecture evident in several buildings. The Archaeological Museum has several artifacts from the Classic and Roman periods of the area’s history. This area is unique in that it clings at the side of the cliff 900 feet above its port. Get there by taking the cable car from the port or by taking a mule up the slope.
Oia at the northernmost tip of the island is more quiet and considered to be more romantic. This small, dramatic village with whitewashed houses snuggled in the volcanic rock is built on a steep slope of the caldera. There are shops selling handmade ceramic art, paintings and jewelry. Perched on the edge of the cliffs, Oia also offers striking views of Fira and the volcano that gave birth to the island. The sunset views from here are magnificent. It has access to the caldera via road and stairs and is a good point if you actually want to take a dive. Hot springs created from volcanic activity are said to be therapeutical, so you can try a spa there.
The Akrotiri is a historical site with ancient ruins of a city that was covered by volcanic ash. At the excavation site are the remains of one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean region. The Red Beach next to Akrotiri is a spectacular place for a swim, or just to sit and enjoy a day in the sun. Among the other beaches on the island, there is the unique Kamari black pebble beach and another black beach at Perivolos. Perissa is popular for its Greek fish taverns. Monolithos is a nice shallow beach that is ideal for families with children. Caldera is a great spot to dive or snorkel.
The Profitis Ilias is the highest peak on the island, home to a namesake monastery which began in 1806 as a school and is one of the oldest on the island. At 1,853 feet (565 meters) above sea level, the monastery holds an important collection of bibles and icons of the Greek Orthodox religion, and offers terrific panoramic views.
To appreciate the traditional island architecture, visit any of the numerous small villages, notably Mesa Gonia. Another notable village is Pyrgos which still has some of the grand old houses as well as remnants of a Venetian castle and Byzantine churches.
What to Eat and Drink
The wineries are worth a visit. Try popular varietals such as assyrtiko, nykteri and the rich vinsanto, and enjoy a platter of local delicacies including cheese, salami, bread and olives to complement and balance out the flavors of the wine in a Wine Tasting Tour. The Boutari and Antoniou Winery offer tours and presentations about the wineries and vineyards and you can actually see the work that goes into making your glass of favourite wine.
Indulge in fresh, healthy Mediterranean-Greek food, especially the cherry tomatoes and grilled eggplant, but also try the fried tomato kefides.
For a long, relaxing and refreshing vacation, Santorini is just the place. Sun-kissed and friendly, it always beckons you back for more.