If you’ve ever seen a photo of Greece in a travel agent’s window, odds are that it was of Santorini (officially known as Thira), one of the country’s Cyclades Islands. The island is a visual spectacle for several reasons.
In 1630BC, a volcanic eruption left a crescent of land thrusting more than 300 metres upwards out of the Aegean Sea. The box-like, whitewashed homes that cling like barnacles to the cliffsides cut a stark contrast through the rich, blue sea. And the island morphs into molten reds and soft pinks with the rising and setting of the sun. Is it any wonder that this is one of the most photographed places on Earth?
Visitors come here in their droves, but fortunately that does not detract from the appeal. Head over in the shoulder seasons if you’d prefer a slightly quieter trip.
Once you tire of soaking up the sun, swimming at one of many beaches (choose from Black Beach, White Beach, Red Beach and many others), or simply wandering around this incredible island, there are plenty of other ways to spend your time. Explore the archaeological ruins of Akrotiri, actually an entire ancient city buried under volcanic ash.
At the ancient city of Thira there are tombs, Hellenistic houses and remnants of Byzantine architecture, as well as a great view. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera is worth a visit for its frescoes as well as artefacts from Akrotiri. The Monastery of Profitis Ilias, on Santorini’s highest point, is the island’s largest monastery, and from here the view out to the surrounding islands is spectacular. Take a boat trip or join a scuba diving or snorkelling tour. There are several wineries and breweries on the island to visit, too.
Eat and Drink
You don’t need to venture far from the airport to try one of the island’s best restaurants. Mario No. 1 specialises in seafood, selling fish by the kilo, but there are some great meat dishes too. If your budget allows it, why not dine with a spectacular view when you are somewhere like Santorini? However, you will get delicious food a little back from the coast for a much more moderate price.
Family-owned tavernas in smaller beach villages are also worth visiting for friendly service and tasty meals that won’t break the bank. Be sure to try the tomato keftedes (a tomato mixture that is crumbed and deep-fried) while you are here, because the cherry tomatoes that grow in the island’s rich, volcanic soil have a distinctly sweet, intense flavour. The soil here also yields a lot of yellow fava beans and white-skinned eggplants.
Where to Stay
The luxury resorts of Santorini have a reputation as among the world’s finest places to stay. However if mobility is an issue, cliffside staircases – common in hotels hugging the cliff faces on the island’s western side – could pose a challenge: enquire about this before you book.
If off-the-charts luxury is not your thing, there are plenty of smaller, more modestly priced establishments to try, such as pensions and rooms in private houses, most of which will offer a version of the same spectacular view. On the island’s eastern side, the accommodation options offer less of a view but more value for money in terms of rooms and amenities.
Shopping in Santorini consists of wandering picturesque paved laneways and browsing shop after shop offering much of the same touristy tokens: colourful clothing and dilly bags, artworks, basketware and carved wooden donkeys.
There is also some beautiful jewellery, some of it handmade. Keep an eye out for charming hand-thrown pottery, too.
Santorini Like a Local
Wineries are popular destinations for day-tripping locals. The volcanic soil gives the grapes a unique taste that carries over into the wine. Most wineries are in the central and southern parts of the island.