Southernmost of the Cyclades, Santorini lies about 200
nautical miles from Piraeus and is one of the most
romantic, breathtaking and beautiful spots in the world.
Nowhere else in Greece can you find such a unique combination of magnificent views on an island setting. Santorini does receive a large amount of tourism but not "mass tourism" and has, thus far, not been ruined by over development.
It's an excellent island choice for romantic couples and for singles looking for fun. Along with Mykonos, it's also one of the more expensive Greek Islands. Consequently, Santorini offers a wider variety of hotel types and more sophisticated cuisine options. Besides the regular Greek island vacationing, many people from all over the world choose Santorini to honeymoon, renew wedding vows or to get married.
The island is also popular with people with an interest in geology and archeology. Cruise ships dock below Fira town, and passengers usually spend only a few hours on the island.
'Saint Irene' (Santorini) island is 76 sq. km. in area and has
69 km of coastline. The population of ancient Thira, as it was known in antiquity, is currently about 10,000. Dry and wind-swept there is little
water and most has to be imported. However, because a light mist forms practically every morning (left), the island grows exceptional
grapes and produces excellent wines. These grapes are grown to maturity close to the ground on unique trellises to protect them from the wind.
Santorini owes its fertility and crescent shape to the past activity of its active volcano whose most noteworthy eruption was about 1500 BC. The destructive force of that volcano, due to tidal
waves and ash, was so great that many historians attributed to it, the demise of Minoan
Crete (60km) and more certainly, closer civilized strongholds.
This theory, as it concerns Minoan civilization, is
no longer considered likely (depending on who you read) as the dates don't seem to mesh. Since there is a distinct lack of human remains dating from the eruption, Santorini's residents at the time of the cataclysm appear to have had time to evacuate and move but we know not to where. Still others savants sell books propounding their theory that Santorini was the site of legendary Atlantis of which Plato speaks.
Whatever you personally are inclined to believe, remember only that Santorini is a unique spot in Greece and should be at the top of your list of places to visit when here. Like the Acropolis, it is unique!
The inner side of the islands' crescent or CALDERA
is predominantly sheer. Overlooking the caldera is where, ideally, you'll want to find accommodations in order to enjoy this unique view called a "caldera view". In my opinion, a caldera view is essential to fully appreciate the majesty of Santorini and the good news is there are many price ranges to select from luxurious to budget. Quantities are limited however.
The film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was filmed partly on Santorini, offering some stunning views of the island. You may recall the scene where one of the girls wanted to show off her photos the caldera, but the other girls were only interested in photos of the handsome Greek man.
Back from the cliff's edge, the land
gently slopes to the sea broken by the Hills of Profitis Illias (565m /1,875 ft.), St. Illias (1,105 ft.),
Inner Vouno (1,100 ft.) and in the north Big Mountain (1,092 ft.). Vouno means mountain in Greek.
Geology of Santorini
central islands are called the Kameni or 'burned'
and are the result of lava flow. The whole island group is one big volcano
made of marble and metamorphic schist. The lagoon, formed by the volcanoes
implosion, is 380 meters or 1,216 feet deep. It's 10 km wide. By comparison, in 1889, Krakatoa's
crater was only 3 km and sent clouds of ash around the world.
Throughout its turbulent history the island has
changed shape as a result of eruptions. Of the smaller islands, only Aspro
('white' in Greek), to the SW, is of the original land surface. In 236
BC additional activity severed Thirassia from Thiras' NW corner. In 196
BC Hiera or Old (palia) Kameni rose from the sea. In 146 BC the islet
of Thia came into view and then sank. The south coast of Thira sank taking
with it the port of Eleusis in 1570. After three years Small Kameni arose
and in 1711 New Kameni. In 1866 major erupting commenced and lasted for
2 years producing the George I Volcano on Big Kameni and the islet of
Aphtoessa which then sank in 1868. Mikro and Nea Kameni were joined by
further erupting in 1925. An earthquake caused major damage to Thira,
the big island, in 1956, destroying one-half or more of the buildings on its
west coast. Today, geologically speaking, things are quiet and safe for all.
Santorini's Capital Thira Town (or Fira Town)
main town is officially called Thira but
known locally as Fira. Thira at least, we know was an ancient Dorian chieftain who settled the island in antiquity. The towns brilliant white-washed buildings flow along
the cliff edge, into neighboring Firo-stefani
a kilometer north.
Facing inwards at the inner crescents'
extreme north is the town of Oia.
Arriving in Thira
in calm weather at the port of Athinio to the south in
the bay of Ormos Athinios and take the public bus, hotel bus or taxi
to Fira town (20 - 30 min.). In bad weather,
ships dock immediately below the town of Fira at Skala Fira
or Stair Fira.One may ascend
the 587 steps (1000 ft.) by foot, donkey, mule, or cable-car (funicular). The
cost is €3 for either, but put your faith in the donkeys!. This is a memorable experience
and highly recommended. Cable cars depart every 15 minutes from 6:45 am to 8:15
The sweet and obliging donkey
ride is very safe as these are surefooted professional animals and probably smarter than many residents. Unless your cruise ship docks here or the weather is bad or you are just plain curious, you'll only use this
route to take the Caldera Volcano Tour with caique's (AKA
water-taxis) like this pictured boat.
The Volcano Tour
To get to the actual volcano's
crater (right), entails, after a boat ride, a 30 minute hike, uphill, past hot sulfurous ground. Unless
you are a geologist and have sturdy boots ... phew, yawn and ouch. Don't step off the path! You'll see signs advertising the tour all over
town. And you will also be invited to spend €60 to take a submarine tour of the caldera. The submarine only descends to a depth of 100 feet, so I am not sure you'll see much at all except fish as Santorini's waters, while clean, aren't particularly revealing.
If you decide to skip the
aquatic submarine tour then you can save
your money for enjoying the magnificent view from your caldera-view traditional
cave house or hotel room, with your loved one by your side.
Some of these modern renovated dwellings
can accommodate thre couples have full kitchens and every amenity including swimming
pools. They are spectacular! Ladies call them extremely romantic! If you prefer
far fewer crowds consider a caldera view from Oia or
Imerovigli north of Fira.
Right is a partial Fira
Town SKYMAP to give you an idea of the labyrinthine streets you'll encounter.
If you are going to Santorini I highly recommend purchasing one of these recently
introduced, in English, SKYMAPS from a kiosk in Athens, the airport or wherever
you can find one. (www.skymap.gr)
They cost about €5 . Skymaps are made for other islands, too, and have more info
and maps on the back. I am not affiliated with them in any way,
shape or form.
The Archeology Museum
Visit the Archeology Museum
(Tu-Sun 8:30-3, fee), for a
collection of geometric red and black vases from the 5th C BC., inscriptions,
Minoan ware sculptures, Byzantine art and prehistoric remains.
However, many of the best of the ancient finds from Santorini are in the Athens National Archeology Museum.
The Prehistoric Thira Museum
The Prehistoric Thira Museum
portrays the course of prehistoric Thera covering the island's history from
late Neolithic to late Cycladic. Architecture of the ancient city, the emergent bureaucratic
system, wall painting and pottery art with the furniture plaster casts, household
equipment, weapons, seals, impressive wall paintings and the unique gold ibex
figurine. Open daily (closed Mondays)
from 8.30-3 . Tel.: 23217.
The Lignos Folklore Museum (Kontohori, Fira)
This museum is located in a cave home built in 1861 and housing an original winery, carpenter's,
barrel maker's, shoe maker's and tinsmith's workshops, plus an art gallery, library,
chapel and courtyard. Open daily from 10-2 and 6-8 pm.
Admission €3 Tel.:
Dining in Fira Town
There are a many
restaurants in Fira Town but I try to only eat where the Greeks
eat at least until I get bored with Greek food.
That way I know I'm going
to eat the best food available. A restaurant catering to Greeks can not afford
to overcharge his customers and expect to get away with it for very long, while a
tourist trap can.
Don't forget 90% of these restaurants don't operate all year round but only open for the season and that means less discerning clientele and higher prices! Plus they have to bring in all their food from the mainland, unlike a restaurant that is open all year long and has been operational as a family business for 30 years with local resources available to them!
In Fira the Greeks
eat at Naoussa and Marcos which
are the two best tavernas in town and quite easy to find on the main drag of
the upper town. Neither of them have a view. Ask for them. No matter how much
money you have to throw around on food, traditional food is better than more expensive, arty food whose
main attraction is the view. Eat in a real Greek taverna with no view, then go to one of
the many bar-cafes with the same view as the expensive restaurants and enjoy
the view from there with a bottle of champagne if you feel like celebrating.
If you are tired of Greek cuisine try Meridianna, Tel: 23247, near
the Fabrika Shopping Center with views to both sides of the island and live jazz. It features Thai and international cuisine. Tomates is good, too, for nouvelle Greek cuisine–but it's pricey! On a budget? Try Poseidon, open 24 hrs, by
the bus station. Italians like Bella Flora for freshly
made pasta and pizza. There are several tempting pastry and ice cream shoppes to be seen on your after dinner stroll.
Instead of paying
extra for something that's free, i.e., the view, spend your hard-earned cash
on better accommodations with a view from your private patio overlooking the
cliffs... Trust Me!!!!
Nightlife in Fira Town Santorini
Santorini has a well developed
night club and bar scene. At night, the town is lit up like a Christmas tree,
and your ears will no doubt guide you to music venues of choice. Ther's even a Harry's
Bar. Its not affiliated with the the one in Venice or with me. If you get sick
of loud Disco music and young Greeks in tight 'roo-ha' (clothing) try
the Enigma Jazz Bar with a nice outdoor area and cool owners! You can't
escape finding the action if you head to the center of Fira town.
include the pretentious Francos with classical music. The owners would have you believe they offer the only sunset
viewable on the island as they gouge you for
a small watery drink. Enigma Rock Club and Koo Club are disco's (wear
your gold chains). Alexanders is more relaxing and sophisticated with
soft music. Greeks will like Marmounia Club for domestic music. Two
Brothers is a good place to hear rock music with reasonable prices too.
A lot of places change names and come and go with the seasons but there are
Hard Liquor Quality
Be careful that when you order a "call drink," ie., a drink by brand name like 'Grants' or 'Johnny Walker Black' that it really is Grants or JWB they are poring into your glass. The tourist authorities don't want you to know this, but there is a big black market in "Bomba" alcohol being served to tourists Greek and non alike, particularly in the summer in hot spots like Santorini and Mykonos. Bomba won't kill you–you'll just go blind (only kidding?). Is this part of living your myth in Greece? Likely after the first couple of drinks you can't tell the difference anyway. I know this because an acquaintance of mine confessed to me that he used to own a bar on Santorini and would serve 'Bomba' to his clients when he could get away with it. Another Greek friend is so afraid of Bomba he goes the other way and only orders locally produced and commonplace liqueurs like Tsipouro, Raki and Ouzo. Thinking about it some, I bet that Tequila is a drink difficult to counterfeit and ordering one probably safe. A shot of any the above three is about as strong as a shot of Cuervo Gold tequila. That's pretty strong. Mezes or appetizers are a common excuse to visit tsipouradika or ouzeries specializing in this kind of repast. A tapas bar comes to mind with out the bar. An Ouzo hangover is one of the worst you can have - drink water too.
Most restaurants and bars geared towards the unwary do not have barrel wine. Santorini
is famous for its wine and a place where the barrel wine is amazing. Santorini
bottled wine, in a store, is inexpensive and excellent too. But why pay
extra in a restaurant for the same bottled wine that you can get out of
a barrel for less? Santorini has the right climate and soil for wine grapes. It's hot in the day and
the soil is volcanic. At night the humidity works in its favor too! The
island grows over 36 kinds of grapes for wine production and in late August
it's harvest time. Tours of the wineries are available. Stop by these
wineries for free wine tasting.
Other Santorini Pages:
Around Santorini | Santorini Beaches | Historic Santorini | Useful Facts | About Santorini