One Day in Santorini, Greece
It’s really difficult to convey with words, and even pictures, just how beautiful the Greek island of Santorini is. For years I looked at the pictures of Santorini and knew that I wanted to visit. And while my recent visit there was brief as we visited for just a day as part of a Mediterranean cruise, I must say that now that I have experienced the magic of Santorini I desperately want to return.
So what is it that gives Santorini this almost mystical attraction? For me, it is a combination of the sheer beauty of the island along with its violent and destructive past. You see, Santorini is the site of one of the most powerful and destructive volcanic eruptions in recorded history. Known as the Minoan Eruption, this cataclysmic event took place about 3600 years ago and created a huge tsunami that swept across the Mediterranean. When the dust had settled, the island had collapsed into the sea and formed a huge caldera surrounded by the remnants of the volcanic island. What remains today is a circular archipelago that forms the southernmost part of the Cyclades Islands of Greece. When you look at a satellite photo of Santorini you get a very clear image of exactly what took place here.
As you sail into the caldera of Santorini, you immediately get a sense of how violent and large an eruption must have taken place here. The caldera, with a depth of 400 meters is capable of accommodating the largest cruise ships and sailing in and out of the caldera is an amazing experience. From this perspective, Santorini looks like a 300 meter high wall of colorful rock and lava with the distinctive towns dressed in white and blue perched along the edge of the crater. Your first thought just might be how on earth are we going to get up there?
Did you know that many historians and archaeologists believe that Santorini was once the location of the fabled city of Atlantis?
As you tender into Santorini, the ships must anchor in the caldera; you quickly realize that you have options for getting up to the top of the crater. You can walk, ride a mule, or you can get whisked to the top in the new funicular. As the mules share the same path with the visitors walking up and down the hill we opted for the funicular. Why get mule dung on those spiffy new shoes? Personally, it seems like a cruel fate for the mules to have to spend their days totting tourists who just came from the breakfast buffet up this very steep and very high cliff. For a few euros take the funicular or walk.
Once at the top you will very quickly realize why Santorini is considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The views from the edge of the crater out over the caldera are simply stunning. From this vantage point you can see the cruise ships anchored below and you have a clear view of Nea Kameni, the island in the center of the caldera, which has formed by repeated eruptions over the last 300 years.
If you are visiting Santorini for just a day as part of a cruise port of call you will be hard pressed to see the entire island in a single day. If you are lucky enough to have a few days on the island there is plenty to keep you busy. The main communities on Santorini include Fira, Oia, Perissa, Karmari, and Imerovigli. Most visitors congregate in Fira and Oia. Fira is where the funicular drops off passengers so it’s pretty convenient to spend time here walking its streets and alley’s. Fira is perched on the edge of the crater and as such offers amazing views.
Oia is a very popular destination on Santorini and for good reason. This may be the most picturesque community in the Mediterranean. Built right into the edge of the crater and located at the far northwest tip of the island, Oia offers unparalleled views no matter which direction you look. The white washed buildings mixed with the bright blue domes and the occasional pastel pinks make for a picture postcard view.
Most visitors flock to Oia for the great views and the gorgeous sunsets. If you have time there is also an interesting Naval Maritime Museum here that is located in a 19th century restored mansion. While Santorini today relies strictly on tourism, at one point during the late 19th and early 20th century the merchant trade in the Mediterranean fueled the economy here.
If there is one piece of advice I can give you on Oia it is do not hurry your way through this stunningly beautiful community. It is a wonderful place to wander aimlessly up and down its narrow alley’s, all the while catching a glimpse of that beautiful view.
While here be sure to find your way to the remnants of the castle that is located at the very tip of Oia, the views from this vantage point are breathtaking to say the least. You may also want to take the walk down the 300 steps to the famous Ammoudi Bay with its small beach and port. This is a great place to swim in the clear blue Mediterranean waters followed by a taste of the local baklava at one of the restaurants here. If we were to stay for an extended period on Santorini I would most certainly stay here in Oia.
Santorini is also known for its red wines and there are a number of wineries around the island. The Boutari winery seems to get most of the attention but there are a number of others that would make for a great wine tour of the island. If you have a rental car consider spending some time wine hopping around the island. Here are a few of the local wineries on Santorini.
- Boutari Winery – Internationally famous and one of Greece’s top wineries, established in 1879.
- Canava Rousss – The oldest winery on Santorini, established in 1836.
- Halaris Winery – Located in Perissa, they offer guided tours of the vineyards and winery.
- Canava Argyros – Established in 1903 this five acre vineyard serves the local market here.
- Heliopoulos Vineyards – Located near the village of Megalohori this winery is fairly new.
- Sigalas Winery - Founded in 1991 the Sigalas Winery is located in the north of Santorini near Oia.
- Volcan Wines – Has a wine museum that is underground in a 300 meter long cave.
- Gavalas Winery - This 18 acre vineyard produces a number of rare local vines.
- Antoniou Winery – Located near the edge of the crate with fantastic views and a wonderful terrace.
- Santo Winery – Founded in 1992 they also have a beautiful terrace that overlooks the caldera.
With a rich history that dates back to 3000 BC there are a few archaeological sites on the island that have been excavated. In the 1960’s Akrotiri was uncovered to reveal the remains of a complex and advanced Minoan culture. Buried under meters of volcanic ash in the Minoan Eruption, it appears that a thriving community once stood here. Often compared to Italy’s Pompeii, Akrotiri offers visitors a fascinating look into the daily life and history of this region. Akrotiri is located on the far southwest tip of Santorini about a twenty minute drive from Fira.
The Minoan civilization arose on the Greek island of Crete and is widely considered to be the earliest European culture dating back to the 27th century BC.
The other archaeological site on Santorini worth visiting is Ancient Thira. Located on the southeast coast of the island these ruins date from the Hellenistic period but also contain some Byzantine and Roman ruins. The site contains temples, Roman baths, two agoras and the remains of a theater.
For something a little different and adventurous take a boat ride out to Nea Kameni, the island in the center of the caldera. You can explore the thermal springs here and hike around the active volcano. Or, head even further out to the island of Therasia, which was also formed during the eruption and has a population of just 270 people. If you want to know what Santorini was like before tourists discovered it head to Therasia for a little peace and quiet. Therasia has a very nice beach and is a great place to bring a bicycle to tour the island.
I’m not sure there are too many places in the world where you can visit a black, red, and white sand beach, all in the same day. Santorini certainly does have the strangest collection of beaches and if you’re looking to relax and unwind in the clear, turquoise waters of the Mediterranean then pick your favorite color sand and head to the beach. While there are countless beaches across Santorini the most popular are the Red Beach, which is located near the ruins of Akrotiri, the black beaches of Kamari, Perissa and Perivolos, and the trendy Ammoudi Beach below Oia.
Archaeological Museum of Thira, Fira
- Contains a fine collection of sculptures, frescoes, vases and other archaeological finds from across Santorini.
Museum of Prehistoric Thira, Fira
- This museum houses some of the excavations from Akrotiri including pottery, marble figures, tools, weapons and a variety of other household items.
Naval Maritime Museum, Oia
- Housed in a 19th century Captain’s Mansion this museum contains models of ancient ships, a collection of maritime equipment, and some rare, old photographs from the early 20th century.
No matter how you decide to spend your time on Santorini you will be doing it in one of the worlds most unique and beautiful settings. The multitude of colors in the landscape combined with the distinctive white washed buildings and the incredible views will have you dreaming of returning. I know I can’t wait to return. Enjoy your visit to Santorini, certainly one of the world’s most beautiful islands.
© 2014 Bill De Giulio