Santorini Greece or Heaven . . . . Your Choice!
The Voyage of Discovery
Leaving the port of Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete, I was filled with many questions about my destination Santorini. Not knowing anything about this incredibly unique island my main worry was, "I hope it’s not a typical tourist trap" and my worries were to be put to rest by the end of my trip, . . .after all . . . it was named “The World’s Best Island for 2011” by the BBC and ranked “World’s Top Island for 2011” in Travel & Leisure magazine.
Entering the submerged caldera, the sight of hilltop villages of brightest white with splashes of royalist blue, dotted randomly on the edge of a wall of deepest black rock 300m high . . . is truly breathtaking.
The Creation of Santorini
Part of the Cyclades group of Greek Islands, Santorini (officially named Thera or Thira) situated in the southern Aegean Sea between Ios and Anafi, is 130 nautical miles from Piraus and 70 nautical miles from Crete. With a population of 7,000 the island swells with home owners and tourists arriving in the summer season to over 10,000.An island whose size is approximately 73 sq km (28 sq miles), is the largest of 5 visible islands all formerly 1 circular island which experienced one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded ( many attributing it to the collapse of the Minoan civilization in Crete), causing it to sink in the middle and today is a giant lagoon 32sq miles wide and 1312 ft ( 400 m) deep volcanic crater. The islands you see today are Thera, Aspronisi, Therasia, making up the rest of the caldera ring, and right bang in the middle are the volcanic islands of Nea Kameni (emerging in 1707) and the smaller island Palea Kameni. In 1956 the island experienced a double blow with an earthquake and a volcanic eruption which left the communities destroyed and resulted in mass exodus from the villages.
Scenic Santorini Island
Emerging from the Ashes . . . Santorini Today
So to the island of today that has provided such inspiration for Artists, Writers, Lyricists, Foodies and Wine Connoisseur’s. Thanks to the expansion of tourism and thus the economy and population, we all now have the opportunity to experience a truly unique place where the passion and pride of its people are evident around every corner, in every face and in every spectacular sunset. The best way of viewing the island is to think of it in terms of 3 different sections, all worthy of visiting to appreciate the vibe and culture.
Living On the Edge of a Crater
The west side of the island is where you will find the villages of Oia, Imerovigli, Fira and Firostefani all perched on the cliffs of the caldera offering different but spectacular views of the volcano. I say villages when they are in fact more like towns and the commercial part of the island, where Hotels, Restaurants, Nightlife, and Shopping are all available in abundance. . . . Where else are you going to be able to do all this perched on the edge of a crater?!!! Oia is world recognised as having the most glorious and breathtaking sunsets and I can definitely give it the nod from other places I’ve seen. It will come as no surprise to hear that couples planning to, tie the knot, commit to each other or renew vows, are often seen in this part of the island!
As with all commercial places, if you like to go off the beaten track and go where the locals go (which I enjoy the most), you will be rewarded tenfold. Travellers who find themselves here looking for the “Unspoilt Greece” will not exactly find that but it would be a missed opportunity not to stay in one of these caldera side villages, as the sheer beauty and magic here far eclipses any other thoughts.
Beaches of Santorini
Sun worshipper's Hotspots
Beaches here show the signs of Volcanic Activity and are therefore Black, Red or White sand . . . . The choice is yours!!! The second part of the island, on the east side of Santorini, is where you will find the two extremely popular black sand beach towns of Kamari and Perissa, but be warned, forget your flip-flops at your peril. Like black clothes attract the sun, the black volcanic sand embraces the heat to an intensity you would not believe! Multiply that by 1000 and you get the picture. The rows of flip flops lined up at the shoreline are testament to this. You will find your usual abundance of Cafe’s, Bar’s, Restaurants and Shops in both locations and if you want to base yourself here, plenty of accommodation options.
Tip: If you are coming from the West side, you should take the time to stop in the towns of Megalochori and Emborio. These two towns were reluctant to give in to tourism until the last minute and are predominantly agricultural communities where you will experience mainly Greeks in the eateries and you will be warmly received. Well worth having a bite to eat, an Espresso or two or even a shot of the local brew Raki.
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Where Time Stood Still . . . . Akrotiri
At the far end of Santorini lies Akrotiri, world known for its ruins of the Minoan period. The road to the archaeological site does not go through the village and is therefore bypassed by the majority of visitors, In my view a mistake. Akrotiri town, whilst there is nothing much to see and do here, is what you would expect a typical, non-commercial Greek town to be. A quiet, softly spoken village, locals going about their business in their own time. The area is predominantly agricultural and craft based and many of the town’s folk have left to work in tourism in other parts of the Island. At the top of the town is the ruin of the old fortress, destroyed in the earthquake of 1956 along with the original town. It was decided to rebuild the new town at the foot of the fortress instead. If you can take a wander around the new town you will be rewarded with spectacular views of, the caldera, the volcano and in fact most of the island. Akrotiri has always two highly rated beaches worthy of a mention, Red Beach and Vlichada.
Life in Santorini
Foods from the Lap of the Gods
Santorini is one of only two European locations to have a hot desert climate. Due to its unique ecology and especially its volcanic ash soil, the island produces unique and prized produce. The Santorini Tomatoes are well renowned and respected all over the world, a cherry tomato so tasty and full of sweetness. It features greatly in local cuisine and a speciality of the island is Tomato Keftedes (deep fried tomato balls), not to be missed! The White Eggplants of the island are extremely sweet, have very few seeds and may be eaten raw. The Katsouni is a local variety of a large cucumber unique to the island and if left unpicked when green, it then turns yellow, has a sweet taste and you would be hard pushed to tell the difference between this and a melon!
The island as you will see, has endless fields of grapes and remains the home of a small but thriving wine Industry. If you are knowledgeable about grapes the first thing you will notice is the way they are grown here. Santorini has no rivers and water is scarce so grapes are not grown in arbores but in low baskets on the ground, which are made of the vines or stalks. The grapes are not watered but as with all crops here, they rely on the morning dew for moisture. There are many winery’s on the island but my advice is to go to a lesser known one instead of “recommended by the tour guide” ones. One such winery is Art Space Gallery and Winery in the small village of Exo Gonia which is a Winery and Art Gallery in a very unique setting dating back to 1830.
Food and Wine
Reflecting on all this island has to offer it is without question that the main star of the show is the volcano as without it, Santorini would be just like many other tourist spots. It’s as if a rebirth of a civilization occurred and much of what is so wonderful about this place has the volcano to thank. The black sand beaches, the tomatoes and the wine are all by-products of an explosion that wiped out life but created a destination like no other. Seeing Santorini for the first time is an experience you will be hard pushed to beat on this planet!!!