Santorini – the island of romance, world-famous enchanting sunsets, sun beamed houses perched on the cliffs facing the glittering Agean sea; is undoubtedly one the most popular and photographed Greek island (and rightfully so!)
With this perfect setting, Santorini is a haven for couples and honeymooners. Having seen several photos on my social media feed, I always thought Santorini was all about the whitewashed houses, blue domes and sunsets and loads of Instagram-worthy pictures and a place ideal to be covered in 3 days ( I was so wrong!)
This May we visited Santorini and booked it for 6 days in a bid to have a super relaxing holiday, with no rush to tick off must see places and doing everything at our own pace. Apart from fully rejuvenating ourselves in Santorini, I am so glad we were able to explore the alternative side of the island that made us fall in love with the island even more. I think it is safe to say that it was one of the most fulfilling vacay in a long time.
In these 6 days we explored the whole island north to south by car, visited different villages, lounged on beaches, tasted the volcanic wines, visited prehistoric village of Akhritori, ate loads of Feta cheese and Greek food and gawked at the expanse of the azure Aegean sea and were spellbound by the glorious sunset every day.
Here’s my list of things to do rather than just exploring 2 main villages – the picturesque Oia for sunsets and the city centre Fira.
First just a little bit about the volcanic connection of Santorini
Santorini is gifted with a unique natural beauty and a wild scenery created by the volcanic eruptions. In 1650, a huge super-volcanic eruption blew the island apart. As the central part of the island collapsed into the ocean, seawater rushed into the newly formed “caldera”. Most of the volcanic layers are visible in the multi-colored sequences of the impressive steep inner walls of the caldera.
Since 1950, the volcano of Santorini is dormant and one can walk upon the solid black lava sides of the steaming volcano and explore the whole area which is quite impressive. Nea Kameni is a youngest volcanic landform, and today it is a protected natural monument. Once there, you can discover the volcano’s crater and other openings bursting with sulphur steam. The area also offers an incredible view of the beautiful villages hanging on the cliffs. You can also visit the neighbouring Palea Kameni which is the oldest volcano and has hot springs.
2. Explore beaches of 3 different colours – Red , White, Black
The beaches of Santorini are quite unique due to their volcanic origins. Its famous black beaches are Kamari, Perissa and Perivolous. There is also a white beach which is accessible only by boat. Getting to Red beach was quite exciting as it is hidden behind a mountain. Be prepared to hike a mountain to get to this beauty (Trust me it will be worth it). If the Aegean waters on the beaches are too cold for you, try the red beach because apparently, the temperature here is twice as compared to the rest of the island. If you want an offbeat and secluded beach, put Vlychada on to the list. It was our favourite beach in Santorini.
3. Don’t wine, visit the Wineries
Not many people are aware but Santorini is quite famous for its wines. The mineral content of the volcanic soil, high temperatures, harsh winds and less rainfall lends a distinct taste to the wines of this region. Santorini is home to around 20 wineries and most of them are concentrated in the centre and south of the island. On your way to Kamari/Perivolos beach, make sure to stop by a winery and go for wine tasting. We ended up going to 6 wineries during our visit-
- Koutsayannapolous Wine Museum (among the top 10 wineries in the world!)
- Canva Roussous – Oldest Winery
- Santo Winery – Views/sunset to die for
- Estate Argyos
- Boutari Winery
Wines to Try-
- Desert Wine – Vinsanto (the crown jewel of Santorini)
- White – Assrytico, Nykhteri
- Red -Mavrotragano
4. Discover the remains of the city of Akhritori
In the southern part of the island is the ruins of the ancient Minoan town of Akrotiri which disappeared under ash following a massive volcanic eruption around 1600 B.C. It was discovered in 1967 and excavations are still ongoing. Based on the evidence and the timing, some scholars speculate that Akrotiri may have been the lost city of Atlantis mentioned by Plato!
5. Lounge in Open Air Cinema
Fancy watching a movie in quaint little open air cinema relaxing in a director chair surrounded by mountains and vineyards? Open Air Cinema in Kamari is a beautiful amphitheatre that plays cult English movies with Greek subtitles and is one of the things you simply must vist for the overall experience.
6. Scale the Skaros Rock
Jutting out into the Aegean waters at 20 metres above sea level, the Skaros Rock is a medieval fortress built to protect the coastline from pirates. Hike to the mighty rock and get amazed to experience Santorini as you have never seen it before. Throughout the trail, immerse yourselves in the infinite blue view of the Aegean and the alluring volcanic scenery
7. Atlantis Book Store in Oia
With books crammed into every little corner, this small independent cave bookshop stole my heart. It stock titles in multiple languages and in many genres and has rooftop deck above the store where you can bring your own book and read. It’s been featured in media outlets across the globe: The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, The Guardian and is also made it to the National Geographic‘s book Destinations of a Lifetime!
8. Stay in a Cavehouse
The cave houses – called “Yposkafa” in Greek which means excavated into the rock are peculiar to the island. These houses are perched dramatically on the cliffs and even though only the face of the long house receives light, windows and skylights pour the Aegean sun into every corner of the house. Oia is very famous for cave houses which are now converted into hotels and are let out at exorbitant prices. The story behind these cavehouses is that Oia was a fishing village and home to shipowners and the crew. Due to poverty crew were unable to build their houses on top of the hill, so they had to go lower, closer to the sea. With only the cliffs to work with, they started digging into the rock, creating houses instead of building them, by removing rock and going as far into it as possible. That was the birth of the cave houses of Oia that now give the village its distinct look and feel.
9. Roam around different villages of Santorini
The most visited/photographed/ touristy villages of Santorini are Oia( for sunsets) and Fira(city centre). Take a slight detour from these villages and you will be awarded by better views, better pictures, food at reasonable prices and an authentic experience. For instance when visiting Oia and Fira make sure you visit Immervogli and Ferostefani respectively. These places are close to the tourist spots and yet not so touristy themselves, making them a great choice for accommodation as well. Other villages to explore – Pygros,Kamari, Emporio, Akhritori.
10. Bask in the glory of the setting sun
Santorini is known for its world-famous enchanting sunsets but I wasn’t convinced till I actually visited the island. The unadulterated golden rays of the sun are spellbinding and will leave you mesmerised. The effect of golden hour is amplified to another level. People flock to Oia for sunsets and the village does guarantee you an awesome view. But I have observed that the whole island of Santorini is bestowed with amazing sunsets and would recommend seeing sunsets from a different place each day.
Bonus – Dishes to try in Santorini
- Greek salad with Santorini Cherry Tomatoes and Feta Cheese
- Tomato Balls