Without a doubt, Santorini is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Charming Greek villages, whitewashed buildings, turquoise waters, picturesque beaches, excellent cuisine, and astonishingly good wines make it a perfect destination. I don’t know about you, but I want to ensure I am somewhere completely different from real life when I vacation.
Around 1620 BC, one of the most significant volcanic eruptions created this crescent-shaped island. The eruption made cliff-side dwelling a necessity. Today, you can stay in these cliff-side dwellings and enjoy mesmerizing views of the Aegean Sea. I recommend staying in this architecturally unique accommodation. Enjoying your breakfast while viewing the volcano and the Aegean sea was a highlight of the entire vacation.
How long should I stay?
Many people visit Santorini from a cruise ship, staying for a day. Some cruise ships stay overnight, allowing passengers two days to explore. To be truly immersed in the culture and have some authentic experiences, I recommend staying at least four to five nights.
Charming Villages on Santorini
Pyrgos is the largest medieval preserved village on the island. Sitting atop Mount Profitus Illeas foothills, you will have a panoramic view of the entire island. Pyrgos was the capital of the island until the 1800s, when it moved to Thira. Traditional houses surround the ruins of a Venetian Castle.
Fira is the current capital and hubbub of activity. Down below the town is where the cruise ships dock. You can climb the steps from the port or take the donkey to the top. Highly recommended is a Santorini food tour where you discover hidden restaurants where only the locals know. Hot tip! The sweet cherry tomatoes grown in Santorini are the best due to the climate and volcanic soil.
Oia is the most stunning village on the island. Known for its sunset, beautiful views of the caldera, luxurious hotels, charming houses, blue-domed churches, restaurants, cafes, and art galleries, Oia gives visitors plenty to see and do. Oia is much quieter than Fira. There is only one main street which is a pedestrian path. I found it magical in the early morning or evening. It can get crowded during the day, particularly getting close to sunset.
The best experience in Oia was going down to the small port of Ammoudi. Here you can have the freshest fish in a taverna with traditional boats sailing by. My recommendation is to go to one of the tavernas in Ammoudi at sunset to avoid the crowds and immerse. You can see from the picture this was quite an authentic experience as we ended up in the kitchen with the taverna owner! The more adventurous can swim, dive off the rocks, or take a small boat to the nearby island of Thirassia to hike the volcano.
Since before the volcanic eruptions, grapevines have been cultivated on Santorini. After the explosion, Phoenician sailors brought more seeds and vines to the island. Today there are around 40 grape varieties grown on Santorini. The pleasant mineral tastes of the wines are due to the unique terroir of volcanic soil containing basalt, granite, pumice, obsidian, and ash. The high content of silica oxides and metals makes these soils acidic and a low pH.
Because rainfall is scarce, the wind is strong, and the sun is fierce, the grapevines are trained close to the ground where they are coiled and laid low. We spent a lovely afternoon at Domain Sigalas, where the Assyrtiko grape is the star. Domain Sigalas also produces red wine made from Mavrotragano and Mandilaria grapes which make excellent wine. Vinsanto made from late-harvest white grapes is also a specialty of Santorini and not to be missed!
Buried City of Akrotiri
Akrotiri Ancient Site was the largest Minoan settlement outside of Crete. Considered the Pompei of Greece, Akrotiri is similar in that the entire town was buried in the volcanic eruption. However, Akrotiri is much older than Pompeii by approximately 1400 years. Living in two and three-story houses with balconies, the people of Akrotiri were quite advanced. Hot and cold running water, underfloor heating, and indoor toilets were standard.
Currently, one-third of the buildings have been found, leaving many more to be discovered. Puzzling archeologists and historians, some considered Akrotiri to be the lost island of Atlantis. Best experienced with a private guide, the stories of the Minoans and their history will come to life for you.
Without a doubt, the best way to view the island’s cliffs, view the volcano, and view an uncrowded sunset is by sailing the waters around Santorini. From the back of the island, you sail to the front and the caldera. Here you can experience the hot bubbling water from the volcano and view the edges of the caldera from the sea. The best part was the delicious meal and the incredible sunset. This sunset view is far more memorable than standing with the crowds in Oia.
Red, Black, and White Beaches
I would be considered a “beach” person. However, since I live in Florida, I don’t feel compelled to go on vacation to relax on a beach. The beaches in Santorini were stunning, and I highly recommend hiking to them or taking a quick walk. The most spectacular is Red Beach. Leave your rental car in the parking lot and take the hike down to the beach. Getting to Red Beach is a hike, not a walk, but worth the effort.
Kamari and Persissa beaches are located beside each other, separated by a giant rock, and have black volcanic sand. Both are considered resort areas. Kamari has a boardwalk and restaurants near for convenience.
The most famous hike on Santorini is between Fira and Oia. Lasting approximately three hours, you will hike along the edge of the caldera with stunning views the entire way. Bring plenty of water with you. Going from Fira to Oia is the most popular choice. Catch the bus back from Oia to Fira for minimal cost.
For a fantastic hike, join a tour and take a boat out to Nea Kameni, the volcanic crater, for a day hike. How often can you hike around a volcano? Be sure to bring some water with you.
Santorini offers so much for your vacation. History, culture, delicious food and wine, exceptional scenery. Santorini does not disappoint. It is as beautiful as every photo you have ever seen. It is not possible to take a bad photograph there as it is stunningly beautiful.
Contact me to plan a vacation full of wonderment, adventure, and access to the most incredible experiences. I do all the work, and you can have all the enjoyment!