The most beautiful island on planet earth. The ground of lost Atlantis. The most magical summer destination of Europe. The reputation “stamps” of Santorini are so many, that when you are eventually relaxing on its port, you don’t know what to see first and which of its many hidden places to explore, so you can feel for yourself this intoxicating charm that makes all tourist guides to rave for this island. And this is the point where we step in, to summarize the whole experience of a trip to Thira, broken down to ten essential steps around Caldera. In other words, this is what you shouldn’t miss:
The sunset at Oia
Even if you don’t belong to the group of romantics of this world, there’s no chance that you won’t be misled by this mysterious force that almost hypnotizes the people walking in the streets of Oia, when the time of sunset is approaching. Then, a great demonstration with hats, photographic cameras, and sunscreen scent instead of banners and hoods, is moving towards the edge of Oia in Kasteli of St. George, a place where you just gaze with your mouth open the sun diving into Caldera and the crowd applauding to it. If, however, you are just looking for a similar sight with fewer viewers, other amazing places on the island to see the sunset are the top of prophet Elijah mountain, the hill of ancient Thira, the Lighthouse, the Castle of Pyrgos (Tower) and Vlychada beach.
The out-of-this-world beaches
Maybe you have heard that Santorini isn’t famous for its beaches. Don’t pay attention to rumors so you won’t be negatively predisposed as you are arriving with your beach towel. You may not see turquoise waters and golden sand, but you will get to see other exotic things. At Vlyxada, as a background to the beach are some rare geological formations that seem to be exported from a moonscape, on which you can climb. At the hard to reach Red Beach, you will swim in exotic waters and sand so smooth and soft that it almost feels like soil and seems like it came from another world. And at Kamari, Perissa or the other east coasts of the island, you will swim with the background of big pebbles and the island’s dark sand, a consequence of volcanic activity. There you will also find the cheapest organized beaches, as a sun bed is free of charge on this side of Thira. The dives in Amoudi, the port below Oia, are enjoyable, alternative and even more graphic.
The nightlife in Fira
The day belongs to the beaches, the time of sunset belongs to Oia, and the night rightfully belongs to Fira, the lively capital of the island, that it consists of not only beautiful cave houses on the side of Caldera, but also a multitude of bars, restaurants, taverns, fast food and squares, all “buzzing” pleasantly through the whole night.
The routes – on land and sea (and the villages)
The villages of Caldera clearly have the first word. The best routes follow the stone-built houses in Fira and Oia, with the characteristically white houses on Vraxos, the bushy bougainvilleas and the unbeatable views. Oia is particularly a unique experience, which is not disturbed by the swarms of tourists – as long as you are there, in front of the disarming beauty that is difficult for someone to believe that it’s real and they live in it ...normal people. Between Fira and Oia, you will find other two “epicenters” of Cycladic luxury and quaintness, Imerovigli and Firostefani. As for the rest of the island, you will walk through the quiet village of Karterados, where you may possibly get to see a traditional feast with the windmill as a background, you will climb to the Castle of Pyrgos and Emporios, you will admire the island churches of Vothonas, the wineries of Finikia and the view from Ekso Gonia or Megalochori. For those that have a great storage of energy and adrenaline, the walking route along Caldera, linking together the villages Fira, Imerovigli and Oia, is highly recommended (you will need around three hours for a nine-kilometer route that is breathtaking). Under the water, diving enthusiasts will love the sites of Tripiti and Palia Kammeni, near the shipwreck of Taksiarchis. Finally, Mesa Pigadia are recommended for cave explorations.
Parts of the active volcano of Santorini, islets Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni are popping up from the other side of Caldera and are reminding us that they once were part of the island itself, which was then called “Stroggili” (round) because of its shape. Boats are departing in a daily basis from the small port of Fira to the volcano and the neighbor Thirasia island; it’s really worth it to board them if you are fascinated by the idea that you will get on an active volcano. Don’t expect scenic landscapes, but “wild” hills that you will have to climb under the hot sun. Still, it is worth the hassle, as you will get as close as you can be to the legend of Atlantis, signs of which are the smoke and hot air in the small openings of Kameni, from where the volcano “breathes”. Note that the mini tour is not recommended for those that can’t stand the long exposure to sun or the climbing. Also note that during the return you will pass through the place of “hot springs”, where the water becomes red and hot, in the small bay of an island that numbers only a single inhabitant: The mysterious man who has a weakness in the red color, and it’s not impossible to find him meditating on the coast.
The open-air Cinema in Kamari
It was voted this year by the Guardian as one of the ten most beautiful open-air cinemas in the worlds, and for a good reason, as it is located on the beachfront perantzada of “Kamari” coast and is (another) oasis of coolness and nostalgia with comfortable chairs, a bar to enjoy your drink while watching the movie, and a green nature background accompanying the movies.
The archaeological treasures
The archaeological “heart” of Thira beats in Akrotiri, the ancient village, of which have been preserved murals, pieces of art and the ruins of a well-planned city with multi-level buildings, water supply system, furnishing, and all these being well preserved after the Minoan earthquake that “buried” them. No human skeleton was found in Akrotiri, evidence supporting the theory that there were “warning” earthquakes which prompted people to mass evacuation. At an altitude of 396 meters stand the findings of ancient Thira in Mesa Mountain, with ruins from the Hellenistic period. Finally, in Fira you will find the Museum of Prehistoric Thira and the Archaeological Museum, with sculptures, inscriptions, pottery, Kouroi and findings from Akrotiri, Potamos and other places of the island.
The most special bookstore of the world
A single week of vacation on the island is enough for Oliver and Craig from Britain to decide to come back in Oia and open their one little store. So, 10 years before, they transformed an empty house that looked to Caldera into a bookstore – the first one on the island – and they began to not only sell rare and used (previously loved, as they call them) books, but they also organize literary festivals, parties with ...dogs and cats, poetry readings at sunset and beautiful nights with the scent of the Aegean and printed paper. Don’t miss the opportunity to get by yourself to the small oasis of Atlantis bookstore.
The special soil and climate of Santorini was ... fertile ground for the wine producers of Cyclades, who endowed the island with a heavy tradition in winemaking. The white Assyrtiko is the “master” of production, while Athiri and Aidani are following behind it. Famous local wine Vinsanto is by itself an experience for the taste organs – you can taste it in small local canavas (traditional wineries) or in bigger facilities such as those of SantoWines, Koutsogiannopoulos, Gaia Winery, Ktima Sigalas and Canava Roussos. Of course, you can find local wine in every restaurant on the island.
Since we discussed about restaurants, grab a table to enjoy foods from classic seafood meze to fine gourmet delicacies – don’t neglect to try some Santorini’s fava and Santorini’s salad with the fine tomatoes of the island, but also have your mind on the catalogue because prices are not what we call... affordable. Good and not really expensive food can be found at the Nikolas tavern in Fira (about 15 € per person), at Kallisti in Pyrgos for seafood delicacies (about 20 €) and at the small taverns in Ammoudi, the small port under Oia, for the most scenic and quiet island setting.