Santorini had been on my bucket-list for a long time, so when it casually came up while brainstorming places for our next holiday destination, I experience a rush of elation. As a first-timer, my expectations were flying high, and rightfully so, because Santorini has often been paralleled to the top model of the greek islands. The timing however was not ideal, as August is that month of the year where everyone in Europe goes on holiday.
And now what ?
Covering an area of 90 Km2, Santorini (Greek: Σαντορίνη), classically known as Thera (English pronunciation /ˈθɪərə/), or officially as Thira (Greek: Θήρα /ˈθira/) is best explored by vehicle. The type of vehicle will obviously be dictated by your needs, but a car seems the most logical choice in terms of safety, speed and practicality.
A brief history
Santorini hasn’t always looked the way it does these days. A volcanic eruption of biblical proportions in 1600 BCE dramatically changed its geography into the archipelago we see today. Any aerial photo would give you hints of the contour of the island that once used be. As a result of that eruption, the island partly sank, leaving the caldera ( or crater ), a 12 by 7 km lagoon now, overlooked by cliffs, some as high as 300 mt, if not higher.
Things to do, places to see …
And speaking of volcanos, the hike excursion on Nea Kameni, the volcano at the very centre of Santorini, will definitely be worth your while, if anything, for the view you get from the top. The hike is doable if you’re in good shape, even under the midday sun. Wear a hat and sunscreen for protection, while keeping a bottle of water handy. Although volcanic activity is plentiful on the island, don’t expect anything dramatic at the top.
With that out of the way, Oia should be your first item to cross off your list. A splendid little village located north, famous for its breath-taking view of the caldera and its most romantic sunsets. So if you are in need of a location for your wedding proposal, take my advice and head to the Oia Castle to pop your question, with my blessing of course.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a piece of action, Fira (Greek: Φηρά, pronounced [fi.’ra]), Santorini’s capital, is your place. Be reminded though that Santorini is not Mykonos, and probably the most action you can expect is a cold beer, a bit of a breeze in your hair, and if you’re lucky some live music. Perched at the very top of the caldera, the vibrant Fira, along with Oia and Imerovigli, has rightfully earned the epithet “The balcony of Santorini”. As a port of call, it daily welcomes thousands of visitors from cruise ships that, once anchored, inevitably add to the charm of the view. Hotels, apartments, cafes, restaurants, and bars tiered one on top of the other in a beautiful and intricate pattern of vibrant colours, offer a truly amazing view of the lagoon.
Ajacent to Fira is Imerovigli, a sort of suburb really, with an upmarket touch. It enjoys the highest and probably the most beautiful view on the caldera, so it is no surprise it features boutique hotels, luxury suites with jacuzzis on private balconies, and spectacular infinity pools. Here you can truly pamper your senses if your pockets go deep enough.
Kamari, on the other hand, and on the other coast, was only 10 minutes from the airport and away from the hustle and bustle of the August crowd. For us it proved to be the perfect location for our accommodation that, with its great selection of restaurants and bars along the promenade, made us feel spoilt for choice.
If you ever get the chance to visit Santorini, grab it with both hands, no matter the time of year. Its stunning views will always stay with you just like the hospitality, generosity and courtesy the Greeks are so famous for.
Note that this post does not claim to be the ultimate guide on Santorini. In actual fact I’m hoping to return soon enough to complement it with further content and obviously more pictures.