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A leading tourist destination with beautiful towns and villages, beaches, famous restaurants, luxury hotels and a lively nightlife. Many international travel guides rank Santorini among the most beautiful locations in the world. The island was created in a momentous volcanic eruption which ended Minoan civilization and encouraged theories that it was the site of the mythical Atlantis.
The extraordinary landscape and unique island culture make Santorini a truly enchanting place. The contrast of black and red in the scorched earth, the blinding white of the houses in the villages of Oia and Fira, perched on the edge of the cliffs, the archaeological sites and the many different colours of the coastline, drawing their unique character from the various volcanic rocks and aeons of geological activity – these are all aspects of the island which make it truly unique.
Sightseeing in Santorini
Fira is the capital town of the island, and the undisputed centre of the tourist business. In summer it buzzes with people and activity, packed with hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and businesses serving the many visitors. The view of the Caldera and the black islands of Palaia and Nea Kameni, the remains of the volcano, is an unforgettable spectacle. You should take a stroll around Fira enjoying the sights and sounds of the narrow streets, and walk down to the little harbour of Mesa Gialos among the rocks at the bottom of the cliff, admiring the little houses carved into the cliff face or perching on the rock. There is a cable car to bring you back to the top of the cliffs.
The museum tells the story of prehistoric Thera through a variety of finds from excavations and collections, making up the dynamic image of an island which was a significant commercial and economic centre in the Aegean during the 18th and 17th centuries BC.
Fira, tel.: +30 22860 23217
Next to the point where you embark on the cable car to take you to Mesa Gialos stands the Megaro Gyzi, the building housing the Santorini archaeological collection – including sculptures, inscriptions, vases and figurines. The museum is particularly proud of the huge volcanic rock, weighing 480 kilos, which according to legend was once lifted by the ancient weightlifter Eumastas, and of the Theran amphora with geometrical decoration dating from the beginning of the 7th century BC.
This is the finest of all the villages on Santorini, located on the edge of the Caldera. It is famed around the world for its sunsets, one of the island’s must-sees, and has a delightfully sophisticated atmosphere, picturesque narrow streets and stunningly beautiful houses. Descend the two hundred steps to the old harbour, Ammoudi, with its pretty fish tavernas.
Fifteen kilometres south of Fira, close to the village of Akrotiri, you will find one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, discovered in 1967. Originally a Neolithic village, founded in the middle of the 5th millennium BC, its central position on trade routes allowed it to develop rapidly into an important commercial port. You can walk along the ancient roads, admire the amazing multi-storey buildings and see a prehistoric community come alive before your very eyes!
This picturesque community 2km to the north of Fira was, throughout the Middle Ages, a vantage point looking out over the whole area of the Caldera – hence its name: imerisia vigla – daytime observation point. Walking along its cobbled streets, and enjoying the spectacular sunsets, are just two more unique experiences you will take home from a vacation on Santorini.
A famous mediaeval community, one of the largest on the island, lying in the shadow of the Venetian castle above the town. Stroll along the narrow streets and admire the architecture of the houses, which seem to be carved into the soft rock.
The village is built on an elevated plateau and until 1800 was the capital of the island. It has traditional houses built around the Venetian castle and many churches. A little higher up you will find the Profitis Ilias Monastery, built in the early 18th century, where a picturesque feast day is celebrated each year on 20 July.
As you’re just a stone’s throw from one of Europe’s active volcanos, it would be a shame not to inspect it at first hand, to feel the scorching of the earth and the dangerous crater which submerged the great island of ancient Strongyli and destroyed the Minoan civilization in 1613 BC. You can take a little boat from Mesa Gialos and visit the jet black islands of Palaia and Nea Kameni, swim in the warm waters of the sulphurous springs and walk across the scorched earth. A unique experience which will fill the visitor with awe at the force and wild beauty of nature.
Another aspect of the ‘neighbourhood’ of Thera, Thirasia is a fragment of ancient Strongyli which was separated from the island and, as it appears, from time itself. Untouched by tourism, yet still a fine example of the exotic natural landscape of the region, Thirasia has just three inhabited communities, the capital town Manola, the new harbour of Riva and the village of Potamos. The first of these has tiny, all-white houses, narrow cobbled streets, traditional stores and a superb view. The village of Potamos is tranquil, with houses carved into the rock and colourful courtyards; it is set on a water course in the centre of the island and there are deserted beaches with beautiful water on the wild nearby coastline. You can catch a little boat to the island from Ammoudi, the harbour below Oia, and from Mesa Gialos.
This is the only underground museum in Greece, carved into the rock eight metres below ground level, an evocative and fascinating place to explore the history of wine. Along a maze of passages, 300m in length, you can follow the whole wine-making process: the tending of the vines, the harvesting of the fruit, the treading of the grapes and the final stages of wine production. The exhibits include tools and machinery used in wine-making from the 17th century to 1970. And at the end of the tour there is an opportunity to sample the wines in the winery.
The island has lots of beaches, famed for their clear water and the distinctive colour of the sand. Try the famous Perissa, popular with the tourists, or the Kokkini Parali, or Red Beach, which takes its name from the imposing deep-red rocks, or Kamari with its black sand and excellent amenities, or Aspri Paralia, the White Beach, and Monolithos, excellent if you have children with you, with its shallow waters and black sand. You should also swim at Vlychada, where the volcanic rocks seem to be carved by hand, and at Mesa Pigadia. If you’re looking for some solitude, try Koloumbos or Plaka. At Kamari you will find a wind surfing and diving school.