Santorini is old as time, a cradle of ancient civilisation; extraordinary, spectacular, larger than life yet minute in size, every day is blessed with a new sunset. To the west, the island rests on the famous Caldera cliffs that fall majestically into the blue Aegean. Opposite, are the volcanoes of Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni. To the east, the land slopes to the sea, where the beach towns of Kamari, Perissa, and Perivolos are to be found.
Santorini has had many names throughout history, each begotten from the shifting shapes of the volcano: Strongili ‘The Round One’, Kallisti ‘The Fair One’, and from conquerors such as the Venetians from whence Santorini received its popular name. The official name for Santorini is Thira, after the commander and son of Sparta, King Thiras.
Small white houses, blue-domed churches and winding paths chequer the hillsides. Taverns and cafes offer respite and a place to watch the world go by. Tiny shops and art deco galleries sell their wares. Romance is in the air from sundown to sun up.
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Fira is in the center of Santorini, and the island’s capital. Her name is not to be confused with Thira, which is Santorini’s official title. Situated on the Caldera cliffs opposite the volcano and sunset, Fira offers an abundance of shops, museums and galleries, dining choices and things do.
A nightlife mecca, in the evening, lights twinkle over the bay from the many moonlit clubs and bars. Far below, lies the small port of Ormos, accessible with the local cable car or 700 hillside steps. Blue Dolphins’ guests can reach Fira on foot by a paved path with spectacular views of Santorini. The walk takes about 15 minutes.
Serenity in White best describes Imerovigli. At the highest point of the Caldera, Imerovigli is fondly known as the Balcony of Santorini. The view is magnificent, stretching across the bay, beyond the volcano, and all the way to Akrotiri. The sunsets are glorious.
Imerovigli is synonymous with beauty and style; chic restaurants, bars, boutiques and cafés decorate the caldera path and secluded alleyways. Evening strolls are magical.
Imerovigli is steeped in history; Skaros Rock was one of the five fortified settlements of Santorini. Once the island capital until the mid-18th Century, it was abandoned after powerful earthquakes spanning more than a hundred years devastated the community. After that, Pyrgos became the capital, and in more recent times, Fira.
Nearby Skaros lies the whitewashed Chapel of Agios Ioannis Apokefalistheis, accessible by traditional caldera steps. The Church of Anastasi, with its impressive bell tower, provides the perfect setting for a photograph.
For the adventurous, explore the hiking path along the caldera cliffs to Oia. Sturdy shoes, a bottle of water and a sunhat, though, are a must.
Oia, or Apano Meria, as it is sometimes called by the locals, sits on the northern tip of Santorini. Lovingly restored after the 1956 earthquake, the beauty of picturesque Oia is undeniable.
Village of a thousand sunsets atop the Caldera, Oia was once an influential trading port. Affluent classes and naval officers lived in neoclassical mansions known as Captains’ Houses, while crews bunked in cave houses. Restored and renovated, they have since become hotels, holiday accommodation, galleries, and other enterprises. The Maritime Museum displays artefacts from Santorini’s naval history.
Art galleries and handmade crafts, a wealth of cafés, restaurants, bars and shops, stunning sunsets at Oia’s Venetian castle, small churches and traditional taverns far below at Ammoudi port, all contribute to the magic of Oia.
Traditional Megalochori is one of Santorini’s best-kept secrets. Hidden from sight and off the main road, Megalochori village is a haven of tranquillity. Bougainvillea is ever-present; splashes of colour hang above whitewashed courtyards and peep over high walls of secluded mansions.
Winding paths converge on the village square, where locals and visitors alike enjoy a coffee or a meal at one of the local taverns. Culinary choices are surprisingly good and not limited to the main square.
Santorini is known for its wines, and Megalochori is a tapestry of vines and vineyards. Furthermore, there are a few wineries offering tours and wine tasting.
Pyrgos retains the character of old Santorini. A protected EU hillside settlement, Pyrgos boasts a fortified castle ‘Pyrgos Kasteli’, where Venetian nobles once gathered below its walls for a coffee and to talk of important matters of the day. Pyrgos replaced Skaros Rock as the capital until Fira usurped that honour in the early 19th century.
In amongst cave houses, neoclassical mansions, and winding paths that lead up the hillside, small artisan shops, bars and taverns can be found in hidden niches. Churches and private chapels are a common sight. At the top lies the entrance to the ruins of the old castle. And there, an all-encompassing view with, perhaps, the best sunset on the island.
The Beaches of Santorini
Separated by the mountain of Megalo Vouno, on which stands the ruins of Ancient Thira, are the two main beach areas of Santorini; on one side Perissa, Perivolos and Agios Georgios, and on the other, Kamari.
Both areas offer organised beach facilities, watersports, bars, cafés, and a variety of restaurants, taverns and small eateries for a quick bite.
Kamari is the older beach resort of the two. After the 1956 earthquake and destruction of hillside village Mesa Gonia, the inhabitants migrated down to the sea and safer ground. The seed of Kamari as a future beach and holiday destination was born.
Kamari Beach has a paved seafront overlooking the beach, furnished with outdoor seating of places to eat and drink. There is a shopping area brimming with boutiques and souvenir shops. Evenings in Kamari can be fun; there is even an open-air cinema.
A long stretch of black volcanic sand incorporates Perissa, Perivolos and Agios Georgios, fusing them into one. Upmarket beach bars host summer happenings with house and guest DJs, live music, and the occasional beach volley tournament. Fruity cocktails and exotic shots are the order of the day. Just look for large flags and you’ll know you’ve arrived.
Akrotiri and the Minoans
With sweeping views and mesmerising sunsets, Akrotiri is home to one of Santorini’s fortified Venetian settlements and the Lighthouse. Situated on Santorini’s south-west Caldera cliffs, Akrotiri has a rugged, windswept beauty. But the most important landmark in this small village, are the archaeological excavations of a Cycladic Bronze Age settlement associated with the Minoan civilisation. Akrotiri was buried in mid-2000 BC by a massive volcanic eruption, and like Pompeii, it is remarkably well preserved. Some experts believe it is the Lost City of Atlantis.