If someone asked us how we could describe Santorini in just a few words, it would be the white-and-blue world of romance, imagination, and breathtaking panorama. If you have never had the opportunity to visit this bathed in the sun island, a brief overview of the photos will be enough to overwhelm you and make you want to pack your travel bags and go in that direction. People say that it is an island of painters and artists in general. And when you arrive at this destination, prepare for even stronger emotions that will overwhelm you instantly.
Santorini is one of the many relatively small islands of Greece, with an area of only 73 km2, and it is possible to pass it by car in less than an hour, but the uniqueness of this island will not give you peace, and you will want to return to this paradise. Although they say in small bottles is kept the poison, we would say it is a magic potion, and Santorini deservedly took place in the book entitled 100 islands you need to visit in life. We would even rank it among the ten islands that are worth seeing.
What the tour guides will tell you right at the beginning is that time doesn’t matter to the islanders because they live a life without stress and rush. We had the opportunity to witness this upon arrival at the airport. Immediately after landing, we headed to the rent-a-car branch to pick up the reserved vehicle, and there was no sign of the employees at the reception desk, even though the working hours had already begun. From the neighboring counters, they just said, “Wait, someone’s coming soon.” And then you realize that you have no choice but to relax and enjoy, that exactly is what the holidays away from everyday life should be.
The hosts will try to make you feel relaxed, satisfied, and happy here. Although the island atmosphere is particular, the islanders take care of the small but essential details to make it unique.
For us, real relaxation began the next morning, at breakfast on the hotel terrace in the deep shade of blooming flowers – bougainvillea and oleander. The hosts will try to make you feel relaxed, satisfied, and happy here. Although the island atmosphere is particular, the islanders take care of the small but essential details to make it unique. For example, every evening, we were greeted by a candlelit path to the hotel reception. Anywhere on the island, you will feel the romance in the air. Everything is customized to the couples. Tables in cafes and restaurants are generally small and set for only two people. Parasols with two deck chairs or two armchairs dominate on beaches, and somewhere you will find wide deck chairs for two. There are benches next to the promenades, you guessed it, intended only for two.
You will inevitably feel a sense of infatuation, even if you are not a hopeless romantic. Perhaps all this is the reason why a large number of people decide to say their “yes” on this island, named after St. Irina, the protectress of couples. The island offers beautiful picturesque locations where you can have a wedding like a fairy tale. One such picturesque place is Oia, situated on the cliffs of the northern part of the island. If you find yourself here in the early evening, those uninformed could be surprised by a river of people rushing towards the outskirts of the town, all to enjoy the sunset, which they say is one of the most beautiful in the world. Maybe some will rebel and say that they saw a more beautiful sunset somewhere else, but we can say with certainty that the view from that height of the sea and the setting sun is just fantastic. However, every sunset is unique in its way, especially if you observe it in the company of a loved one.
Descending on the west side of the island to the south, you will find the towns of Imerovigli and Firostefani, places full of cottages, villas, and hotels for tourists, located on the edges of cliffs up to 200-300 meters high. What will impress you are the numerous smaller pools or whirlpools, in which, while you enjoy, you have an unhindered view of the sea in front of you, which merges with the horizon.
On the west side of the island is the capital city, Thira, located on a cliff about 300 meters high, overlooking the Caldera and the two small islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. Thira is full of restaurants and cafes. It is a real shopping center. Here, you can find many souvenir shops, jewelry stores, art galleries. In summer, great liveliness prevails because the shops are open until late at night. It is affordable to buy leather products, gold, ceramics, domestic products such as lace. Although the prices are reasonable, bargaining is also allowed. Even though there are a large number of restaurants, each of them is full of guests.
They are quite crowded, but the waiters greet each guest with a smile and a warm welcome. If you have not had a chance to meet their traditional cuisine, be sure to try some of the specialties. The food is delicious and light, Mediterranean. You need to pair good food with a good drink, so it will be great to reward your palate by tasting the sweet and famous Greek wine, Vinsanto. If you feel the ground swaying slightly after leaving the restaurant, do not worry. It just because you imperceptibly drank a few extra glasses. If you still have not felt tired yet, head to one of the nightclubs, where it is always fun.
In the southwestern part of the island, about 15 kilometers from Thira, is Akrotiri. After a volcanic eruption around 1500 BC., volcanic ash covered this Minoan city. It was discovered in 1860 during the excavation of a pumice stone, and subsequent research revealed paved streets and houses full of artifacts.
Just below the town of Thira, at the bottom of the cliff, lies the old port of Ormos. We could also call it the “gate” of the island because all those tourists who come to tour the island from large cruise ships anchored not far from the coast pass through it. And a larger number of them come daily. You can reach the port from the mainland in several ways. The first and most difficult is to cross about 600 winding stairs on foot. But you are also offered other options, such as passing them on donkeys, and if that is too adventurous for you, you can also use a more modern transport – the cable car.
In the southwestern part of the island, about 15 kilometers from Thira, is Akrotiri. After a volcanic eruption around 1500 BC., volcanic ash covered this Minoan city. It was discovered in 1860 during the excavation of a pumice stone, and subsequent research revealed paved streets and houses full of artifacts. It is one of the best-preserved archeological sites in the whole of Greece. The Minoan civilization was advanced, so emerged the theories that this was the possible site of the mythical Atlantis. The locality was closed to the public in 2005 after the roof collapsed, injuring a tourist.
Although you can not sightseeing in Akrotiri, you have the opportunity to see the ancient Thira, located in the southeastern part of the island. It is one of the most prominent post-Minoan settlements on the island. A steep road leads to the ancient Thira, partly paved, while the rest is in stones, so driving on it is not the most comfortable experience. But at the very top of the hill, you will enjoy the site of temples and houses, a coliseum, and various other historic buildings, as well as the magnificent view of the long sandy beaches on either side of the hill. An additional curiosity to watch from that high hill is the planes, more precisely their landing at a nearby airport, when those last mile or two flies practically below you.
The black volcanic sand on the beaches, in high heat, became hot, so it is advisable to settle as close to the sea as possible or have suitable footwear.
At the foot of the hill is the village of Kamari. Thanks to the numerous hotels, bars, and restaurants, it is lively here at any time of the day. The beaches are full of parasols and deck chairs, and when you get tired of lounging, you can take a walk along the promenade located right next to the beach or refresh yourself in a cafe or patisserie. The black volcanic sand on the beaches, in high heat, became hot, so it is advisable to settle as close to the sea as possible or have suitable footwear. If you don’t want to go to nightclubs, you can spend a quiet evening in the summer open-air cinema under the starry sky, watching movies in English.
On the other side of the hill is the very famous Red Beach, named after its location under a red volcanic rock. You can walk to the beach on a partly steep and pebble path. But regardless of the inaccessible terrain, along the way, you will come across improvised stands where you can buy small items such as souvenirs or jewelry. Near the Red Beach is the White Beach, named after the white rocks that surround it. This beach has limited access by land. You can reach it by taxi boats which are at your service all day. For those more liberal, it is good to know that topless sunbathing is allowed on all beaches. The more secluded beaches are suitable for nudism.
Further north, not far from Kamari, is the airport, and as these are all short distances, the end of the airport is almost the beginning of the next town, Monolithos. The beaches between Kamari and Monolithos are mostly gravelly rather than sandy. The depth of the sea is smaller, making them more suitable for families with small children.
Small towns prevailed by fishing ports, and traditional windmills dominate the eastern part of the island. Exploring the island, you will be surprised by the large number of white churches with blue domes, of which there are about 350 on the island. In ancient times, the islanders were mostly sailors, and each time before going to sail, they would vow if they returned safe and sound, they would build a church. Fortunately, over time, they began to engage more in agriculture and tourism, otherwise today on Santorini, you would have nowhere to step from the mighty churches.
The island is best to explore by renting one of the thousands of rent-a-scooters or quads. If you still don’t get tired of exploring the island and want more, you can take a traditional sailing boat on a day trip in the direction of the volcanic islands, Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni.
When you set foot from the coast, you will experience Santorini in another magnificent dimension. On the high dark cliffs and slopes, you will see a series of dazzling white houses interrupted only here and thereby a house in yellow, pink, or brick, almost all of which have flat roofs or even terraces instead of the classic sloping ones with tiles. When you reach the island of Nea Kameni, the guides will take you along volcanic paths to the crater (be sure to go in sneakers, because otherwise, your flip-flops will fall apart from sharp volcanic rocks). There you will be able to see with your eyes and nose that the volcano is still alive because sulfur and hot steam are coming out through cracks in the ground. After that, you go by boat to the islet of Palea Kameni, where you can bathe in the sea mixed with volcanic thermal springs and cover your body with healing mud. And here, there is no end to the beauty. The boat continues to the island of Thirassia, where you have the opportunity to swim in the crystal clear turquoise sea.
Santorini has good connections with other Greek islands by large modern hydrofoils/ferries, and they will take you to Athens in just 6 hours, while a regular boat takes 12 hours. Many celebrities have recognized the beauties of Santorini and want to own a piece of this paradise. For example, actor Jack Nicholson, musician band Kelly Family, singer David Bowie, and actress Angelina Jolie are proud homeowners. Angelina met Santorini while filming Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. A part of the scenes was taken in Thira and Oia.
Although tourism is considerably developed in Santorini, there is almost no crime. Maybe it is because the islanders are simple people who do not get upset and have time for everything. And perhaps this general leisure and slowness of life is the reason why, despite numerous warnings from various online guides that mosquitoes are a living temptation on Santorini, in the end, we did not hear a single buzz of mosquitoes. After all, we can only say what has already been said in the first lines of the article – Santorini, we will return at the first opportunity!
TEXT – Vesna Dzuverovich
PHOTO – Robert Blaskovich