Santorini: Rising Above the Aegean Sea
“Beware of Santorini’s ancient spell-
once you come here you’ll always want to come back!” ~ Igo Ugo
Thera or Thira, this is how you may call Santorini, an island in the southern Aegean Sea, approximately 200 km southeast from mainland Greece.
Santorini is an unusual huge pile of lava spewed by the volcano beneath the island 3600 years ago during what the geologists believe was the biggest volcanic eruption in the history of the planet.
The eruption gave birth to four islands surrounding the Caldera. To this day, Ea Kamini still has vents discharging sulphuric gas and heat. As morbid as it sounds, but the volcanic wrath gave way to this beautiful Greek island.
The Beauty that is Santorini
Santorini also has sublime sunsets from Oia town, one that is hard to forget as it hides behind the archipelago followed by an equally unforgettable dusk. It generously offers magnificent views of Thirasia and Santorini.
The multi-colored beaches formed by the volcanic sands are famous – the black pebble beach of Kamari, the White Beach, and the Red Beach. The beach of Perissa and the deep blue Aegean Sea are perfect locations to sit back, relax, and enjoy a peaceful life.
Its beauty is made unique by the whitewashed Cycladic houses cascading down the cliffs like icy cornices down the tiered rocks. All these render this wild and proud Greek beauty with an intense character and unique charm.
History Etched in Buried Ruins
The stunning panoramas in Santorini can’t hide its nightmare of a history that was unearthed by quarrying workmen in the 1860s. The ancient port town of Akrotiri was frozen by ash in time during the major volcanic eruption. Archaeological diggings that started only in 1967 have uncovered 40 buildings, which are thought to represent only 1/30 of the massive site.
The site is believed to be a Minoan Bronze Age city, but still unconfirmed.
Unlike Pompeii, there were no mummified bodies discovered here. Rather, if the tour guides are to be believed, there are three layers of urban life beneath the excavated ancient city. The oldest is estimated to be 5000 years old while the most recent is believed to have perished sometime between 1500-1600 BC or 3500 years ago or as old as Ancient Egypt.
This postulates that eruptions and burying of this town didn’t just happen once. This is the basis of the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.
Santorini history is also something that archaeology and history buffs would want to see in ancient Thira where you can find the relics of a Dorian city. These include erotic/obscene Dionysiac figures like an engraved phallus, crypts from 9th century BC, Cycladic figurines, finds from ancient Thira, Hellenistic houses, relics of Byzantine battlements and churches, and the sanctuary of Apollo. Other artifacts and housed in the Santorini Museums such as the Archaeological Museum in Fira, the Museum of Folkloric Art in Kontori, and The Naval Museum in Oia.
Other Tourist Drawcards of Santorini
Remember, the top tourist drawers in this island is the island itself. So, it is advisable that you take in the sights without haste. The best way to appreciate the island life in Santorini taking things slow – visit the beautiful beaches, stroll along the roads of Thira to mingle with the locals, and most importantly get that caldera view and the sunset from an elevated terrace, restaurant or a replica period (18th-century) cruise ships the, Thallasa and the Bella Aurora.
A view from below on a submarine tour. Do you want to see Santorini in a different light? Discover Santorini from a submarine that can take you to a dive 25 to 30 meters underneath the caldera. For an hour you have the opportunity to experience and get a glimpse of the submerged volcanic crater.
A glimpse from the edge. If diving is not your cup of tea, the alternative is to Bask in the beauty of Santorini from the edge of the caldera. This gives you another awesome angle of the caldera.
Fira on foot. Be glad that all cruise ships for day trips leave late in the afternoon because you can stay overnight and have one fantastic evening in Santorini. Start by enjoying a magical sunset and later go for a stroll to discover churches (Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Roman Catholic Cathedral), jewelry stores, hotels, restaurants, and the cable-car.
Have a great time in Oia. This is undoubtedly the most beautiful village on the island and one that has the most to offer visitors. Be amazed with a number of fine 19th-century mansions, the Santorini dining options such as the chic Restaurant-Bar 1800, and the Naval Museum. Just like Fira, cruise ships deliver tourists here to eagerly catch the famous Oia sunset at the kastro (fortress). The pebble beach at Ammoudi and more expansive and sandy Koloumbos Beach will not disappoint you. From here, take off to the caldera on board an excursion boat.
Go beyond the islands. There is more to Santorini other than Fira and Oia. Armed with a basket of local flavors, trace the paths to quaint villages on the island. Ask for directions to the troglodytic cave houses or vineyards. Head off to the fetching 17th century village of Emborio with its towers, the ruins of the citadel, and the graceful marble statue of the muse Polyhymnia. Yield to the challenge of Pirgos with its maze of narrow pathways, squares, steps, and chapels. If you want an authentic epicurean, take a break at the Café Kastelli, known for its beautiful view and sweet treats like preserved nerangi (bitter orange) and glyka tou koutalou (spoon sweets of preserved fruits).
Do a Caldera Islet hopping. There are provocative islands in the caldera that you can visit like Thirassia, a small, cliff-top village that offers an unobtrusive hideaway from Santorini’s boisterous crowds. A trip can include a visit to other islands such as which includes Palea Kameni, Nea Kameni, Ia, and the local caiques.
Get a taste of wine. There are wineries in the island that makes great destinations on a day tour. Ask about Boutari, the island’s biggest winery and most renowned wine exporter. Join wine-tasting tours in Megalochiri or sample local wines in the underground Volcan Wine Museum that feature a once-a-week Greek Night with belly dancers.
Enjoying a dip or a swim. Santorini has some of the best exotic beaches in the world. You can’t leave the island without heading to the islands – Ayios Nikolas, Pori, and Ammoudi. Katharo, with its refreshing cocktails mixed from the beach bar that is open until the wee hours, is a popular destination for young people. For an eerie experience, the beach in Megalochori has a church and ancient graves built in the rocks, which swimmers can discover on the way down.
A day at the natural spa. With some food and drinks you can go on an excursion to another part of the island where there are thermal baths that can uplift your spirits. These are where sulfur and hot air spurt in the early settlements of Imerovigli and Oia.
Festive days are here. Have fun joining the festivals and events of Santorini. The ones of international importance include Jazz Festival in July, Ephestia (“Volcania”) in August, and religious feasts. The day of Episkopi is held every August 15 in Méssa Goniá, July 20 on the day of Profitis Elias in Firá and August 4 in Ayioi Epta Paides at Oia. The festival of Saint Averkios, the saint of wine is celebrated on the island every October 22.
Getting In and Around Santorini
A most visited tourist destination, you can go to this island from Athens fast. If you have all the time in the world to enjoy more days, you can take the ferry to Santorini.
It only takes about 30 minutes to get to the island from Athens. During peak seasons (May to October), there are charter airlines and seaplanes that can take you directly to Santorini. Ferries, on the other hand, sail off from Piraeus to the new port of Athinios. During high seasons, there is a daily connection between Heraklion (Crete) and Santorini, and high-speed catamarans also from Pireaus to Santorini. Travel time is 4.5hrs on a high speed ferry. A luxurious way to go there is by basking in a cruise ship; transfer can be by speedboat.
Once you get to the airport or port, there are buses, taxis, cars for rent, or by renting ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) If you have strong legs, you can also go around in a rented bicycle or on foot. Remember though that Santorini has no dedicated bicycle routes and it is very hilly. Climbing and descending the steep slopes may also challenge even physically fit tourists.
Santorini is regarded to be one of the most stunning islands of Greece and top island destination in Europe. Its original names, Kallisti, meaning the “most beautiful,” and Strogyli or round, are not enough to describe it. There is more to this island rising above the deep blue Aegean Sea.
You need to go there to get a slice of this fun in the paradise of Santorini.