Santorini: it sizzles with volcanic style
Holidays on Santorini offer romance, sophistication and unforgettable sunsets.
The island has a truly spectacular volcanic landscape where picturesque villages, neat blue-domed churches and white cube houses are set on the steep cliff rim of an active volcano caldera.
Black sand beaches, stylish cafes, trendy bars and fashion boutiques give Santorini holidays an upmarket reputation.
Santorini sits in the central Greek islands known as the Cyclades group and it was basically created out of a huge volcanic eruption back in Minoan times.
The result are spectacular holiday locations to be found all over Santorini with the most sought-after based in the white cubed villages that perch along the island's volcanic rim.
Not only do the most spectacular cliff-top holiday resorts like Fira and Oia have extraordinary views over the caldera but, with volcanic fumes slowly rising from the sea, they offer quite astonishing sunsets.
The caldera is the flooded crater of the island volcano and Santorini holiday nightlife here is sizzling hot and world famous. Expect sophisticated and expensive cocktail bars with live music sitting alongside artists' studios, modern galleries and fashionable boutiques.
The main beach holiday resorts of Santorini are found away from the west coast caldera on the east of the island. The black sand beaches of Kamari. Perivolos and Perissa, are the main beach holiday resorts and popular with families, younger visitors and watersports fans.
There are a few beaches in the north-east but they are small, have few facilities and are much less visited. Not everyone likes the sharp black or grey volcanic sand which soaks up the summer heat and oven bake its sunbathers..
A favourite stop for cruise ships, the caldera hotspots quickly fill with day trippers so don't expect an away-from-it-all experience here. Jostle for a sunset view or pay handsomely for a table in one of the busy bars.
Port arrivals sail into the caldera which, though impressive, can hardly be called attractive as cliffs of satanic red and black tower above. Ashore, visitors can choose a cabin lift to the top of the cliff or ride a donkey — walking the 600 steep steps is not recommended.
Santorini's buildings are typically Cycladic with white sugar-cube houses and blue domed chapels providing the most familiar cover shots for Greek Island holiday brochures. Villages are strung out right along the crater rim and the liveliest night-life is found in the bars and clubs that hang off the cliff.
Splendid viewpoints can be found all along the road that runs around the coast until it reaches the beach resorts on the east side of the island.
Santorini's has its very own Pompei at Akrotiri on the south-west coast. A Minoan city was buried in volcanic ash around 1500 BC and stayed untouched until the 1860s. Excavations unearthed a substantial settlement with three-storey houses of artifacts such as amphorae and storage jars.
This is one of the best preserved archaeological finds in the Cyclades and is now totally enclosed by a massive roof. As at Pompeii, the finds were very well preserved under tons of volcanic ash. Unfortunately the impressive frescos are now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens but there is still plenty to see while the Museum of Prehistoric Fira also has lots of information on the Minoan civilisation.
The dry, dusty soil of Santorini is rich in minerals and excellent for growing vines. The main island grape is Assyrtiko and the dry white wines of Santorini are considered among the best in Greece. What also makes Santorini vines special is their age — many of them are more than 100 years old and resistant to disease. Island winemakers have ours and tastings in their vineyards with the new Boutari winery leading the way. Santorini is also noted for its fava beans and very small and tasty tomatoes.
The volcanic eruption in 1640 BC split Santorini in two and created the caldera. There have been many more eruptions since with the islet of Nia Kameni created in the 18th century and in 1956 earthquakes demolished the town of Thira and reduced much of Oia to rubble.
The caldera contains a number of islets that form the centre of the still-active volcano. There are many boat excursions that head for the volcanic islets of the island caldera. The main ones are at Palea Kameni and Nia Kameni. Day trips are popular despite the difficulties of toiling up steep slopes of hot ash enveloped in sufurous fumes.
The islet of Thirassia is a good alternative. Once part of the main caldera rim the views every bit as good without the crowds of Fira and Oia. Many tour boats head for the shingle beach on Korfos which has a pretty inland village at Manolas.
The site of Ancient Fira overlooks the beach resorts of Kamari and Perissa and is the foremost post-Minoan settlement on the island. There are the remains of an early Christian basilica, temple ruins, an impressive amphitheatre and rock carvings. To the south of the site are Roman ruins with temple s and a colonnade. A steep 4km road of hairpin bends leads to the site and a drive is worth it for the dizzying views alone.
Santorini attracts more than a million visitors each year and has a wide variety of holiday accommodation to meet the demand. Luxury hotels have nabbed the sites with the best views around the caldera rim but there are still more affordable options for budget travellers. That said, Santorini is expensive and low-priced rooms have to be booked well in advance Backpackers head for the Fira Youth Hostel in a former Catholic monastery or a hostel at Oia. Camping is on the outskirts of Fira and as bungalows for rent. Another campsite is at Perissa. Kamari is packed with hotels but most cater for the package holiday market.
Santorini has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and long hot summers. North-east winds in the summer help relieve the humidity. Spring temperatures begin to top 20°C in May then rise steeply in June when 30°C is common. Local beach temperatures can peak higher on the black volcanic sands. Rainfall is rare.
The rainy season lasts from November to late March but downpours rarely last long and warm, sunny days are common right through out the winter months. Clear skies and temperatures of 15°C and five hours winter sunshine are normal.
There are charter flights to Santorini throughout the summer from most UK airports — all flying on Mondays. There are daily domestic flights from Athens with a flight time of 30-40 minutes. Domestic flights to Thessaloniki take about 90 minutes. The airport building is quite small and the terminal can get cramped at us times.There is an airport shuttle bus to Fira in the summer and taxis are available. The airport at Santorini serves as both a military and a civil airport.
Ferry connections are frequent over the summer season with daily sailings to mainland ports at Piraeus and Rafina.The main ferry route from Piraeus is via Paros, Naxos and Ios and takes about 7 hours. Ferries also sail to many other islands including Amorgos, Chalki, Crete, Karpathos, Folegandros, Ios, Kos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Rhodes, Serifos, Sifnos and, Syros. There are daily local excursions around Santorini and to the volcanic islets in the caldera.
Island roads are generally good but the hilly roads are difficult to drive with sheer drops, unfenced bends and no traffic lights on crossroads. The Santorini bus service is very good with services frequent and punctual but they can get very full. In summer buses leave Thira every 30 minutes for Oia, Monolithos, Kamari and Perissa and every hour to Akrotiri. Buses run to Perissa and Perivolos but services fluctuate with demand. Taxis on Santorini are in short supply given the 60,000 daily visitors in the summer months. The main taxi station is in Fira next to the bus central station.
The Museum of Prehistoric Fira on the Greek island of Santorini displays a very large number of ancient artefacts from across Santorini, notably from the fabulous Minoan site at Akrotiri.
It's the white cube houses of Oia on Santorini that make the most tempting scenes for the tourist clicking cameras followed by sites in Chania in Crete, Corfu and Mykonos.
Wine-making has been going on throughout Santorini for thousands of years. Small vineyards are dotted all over the island, and the locals have always been proud of their wines.
Tempting as it might be to pay big money for the best sea view on the island, we would recommend a slightly different approach when on holiday on Santorini island.