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The blanket of whitewashed homes, churches and hotels clinging to the side of the caldera above the sapphire blue Aegean Sea is as breathtaking as it is inspiring. On the island of Santorini, the locals have a saying: ‘There is more wine than water, more churches than homes,’ a charming phrase, and once you visit, you will find it very true. Blue-domed churches seem to be around every corner, and the wineries sprinkled around the island are abundant.
The history of the island is also fascinating. Recent archeological discoveries believe the ancient civilization of Atlantis was, in fact, the people living on the island before the largest volcano explosion in history erupted (sometime between 1645 BC to 1500 BC), ending the island’s human population for centuries.
The violent eruptions are also what created what you see now, the beautiful crescent-moon shaped island and caldera mountainsides, surrounding the active volcano.
Imagine seeing with your own eyes this ancient island that’s been reborn from its own ashes.
Where to stay:
Firostefani, the small village above the center of Fira Town and below Oia Village, boasts wonderful views of the caldera and volcano.
It’s quaint and quiet with less nightlife than the main center yet close enough to walk to all the shops and restaurants of Fira or catch a short bus ride to Oia Village and not pay the high prices that staying in the center usually comes with.
You will find some great deals at many of the hotels, especially during the off-season, which is October through April.
A cave-style room is a traditional and authentic Santorini dwelling. It does, indeed, look like a cave with a dome-shaped ceiling of the island’s architecture. (See, for example, Ira Hotel in Firostefani.)
Ira Hotel, Firostefani, Santorini, Greece, +30 2286 028835
What to wear:
Wear many layers, a hat and good walking shoes during the day, and bring a light sweater even in the summer, as there are high winds on the island.
The pathways are narrow, and you will be doing a lot of walking. There are stairs everywhere since the villages are built on the sides of the caldera; you will get your exercise on this vacation.
How to get around:
Many cars, all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and taxis are available in Firostefani and Fira for rent, but using the local buses are very simple to get around, and it’s not necessary to rent a car. All the friendly locals are more than happy to point you in the right direction as well.
If you want to see the beaches or other sights, taking a bus day tour is helpful and fun. They are guided and give you tons of information, letting you see the entire island and the many points of interest in one day. If you should choose to go back by renting a car or bus, you will then have an idea of the island’s layout. Notos Travel offers guided bus tours, and they even do pickup and drop-off from your hotel.
Also, if you’re feeling adventurous, there are many sailing and boat tours that will take you around the island and to the crater of the volcano.
Notos Travel, Megalochori, Santorini, Greece, +30 22860 85203
What to see:
Oia Village is the most famous destination on the island, with high-end shopping and gourmet restaurants. Not to be missed is the climb to the Santorini castle ruins for spectacular views of the village during the day or at sunset. This is also the highest point of the island.
If you want to see real locals, a tour of the charming small village of Megalochori will give you a taste of life on the island.
Also, a must is a wandering walk around Fira Town, climbing the many stairways and taking in the views.
Perissa, with its black sand beach, is a unique way to soak up the sun rays.
Volcano Beach is where you see the red sand beaches. Also, for the beach bums, there are many other off-the-road beaches to be found by car, bus or ATV.
Akrotiri, the ancient 17th-century BC Minoan city, is an archeology site that gives you a complete background on the island’s history. If you buy a ticket here, you can get a discount for the museum of Akrotiri in Fira Town.
What to eat:
A great snack or anytime meal is souvlaki, which is similar to Greek gyros and can be found all over the villages. Many restaurants pride themselves on having the best moussaka, a Greek dish including sliced eggplant baked in ground beef sauce and then smothered in a thin white sauce.
Seafood of all kinds is also a great choice. For the adventurous, Argo Restaurant’s famous stuffed calamari is a whole calamari stuffed with spices and feta cheese sauce.
Argo Restaurant, Fira, Greece, +30 2286 022594
What to buy:
The wine is very special because of the volcanic soil and the unique way they grow the vines. Because of the harsh winds on the island, they invented the ‘basket’ shape of growing the grape vines. Greek wine is quickly becoming the hot, new favorite among wine critics and the casual wine drinker. A bottle of red wine that ages well is a great choice. With new types to try like Moschofilero, Roditis and Assyrtiko, you will get out of your comfort zone, or you can try the go-to Pinot Grigio summer wine. Either way, you will expand your palate and impress some friends back home with your new-found wine knowledge.
You can also find beautiful jewelry shops with high-quality gemstones and unique designers in Fira and, especially, Oia.
What to drink:
Ouzo, an anise-flavored hard alcohol, is as Greek as it gets. Restaurants will give you a complimentary shot after your meal. Also, the local wine is so good that you can get away with just ordering a house wine and trust it will be exceptional.