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Useful hints and travel information for a Santorini holiday
Santorin, or Santorini, as many call it, is one of the most impressive islands amongst the Cyclades and is often rated the most beautiful island of Greece as a whole. The unique volcanic landscape of Santorin and the traditionally Cycladic architecture are often depicted on Greek postcards, but they fade in comparison with the real thing. Snowy white houses and a maze of little lanes, small villages glued to steep rocky slopes, long black lava beaches and archaeological miracles combine to make the place an idyllic dream.
Santorin’s capital of Thira (Fira) perches high up on the rim of the crater and affords breath-taking views of the volcanic islands and a gigantic volcanic lake. Santorin has a fascinating history, as the bizarre character of its landscape owes its origin to a volcanic eruption of unbelievable force that blew up half of the original island. The tidal wave was reported to be massive. Since then, the remaining sides of the crater have turned into the Cycladic Islands of Thirassa, Thera and Aspronissi. Further south of the high crater walls the varied landscape changes its character and becomes hilly and even mountainous, while towards the east it gradually descends towards the famous black lava beaches.
Tourism is Santorin’s principal source of income, and in particular during the peak season the Greek island gets very crowded. During pre- and after-season, things are much quieter and allow the visitor to explore the beauty of the island. Excessive tourism has brought about extreme commercialization on Santorin and there is very little Greek tradition to be found. There is no agriculture except for own use, and wine-growing is the only remaining industry on the island, as wines from Santorin are amongst the best wines in Greece.
The most beautiful beach on Santorin is in Kamari, although in general this Cycladic Island is not really suitable for a beach holiday. Those who spend the night in a hotel by the side of the crater will be more likely to use the hotel pool. It might sound a bit boring at first, but works its fascinating spell in its own special way: the breath-taking view richly compensates for the missing beach outside your front door. There are very few tourist attractions on Santorin, but the 5 kilometre walking trail along the edge of the crater from Thira to Oia is very popular indeed.
Oia is the former artists’ village of the Cycladic Island and has gained a certain cult reputation, as it claims to have the most beautiful sunsets on the island. One useful hint: from Oia harbour many pleasure boats offer excursions for tourists who want to admire the spectacular Santorin sunset.
Recently Santorin has become a favourite destination for weddings in a fairy-tale setting. There is a growing number of wedding planners, and couples who want to tie the knot can just enjoy their special day without having to deal with laborious paper work.
Pictures from Santorini
Villages of Santorini
Athinios is the main port of the Cyclades Island of Santorin. It is really just a pier surrounded by a group of taverns and bars where people go while they wait for their ferry. There are a few car hire places as well, so that the newly arrived can start their holiday on Santorin straight away. The road precariously meanders down the edge of the crater, and there is more than one hairpin bend where two buses struggle passing each other. But the drivers are all used to it, and probably related anyway, so things usually go smoothly.
Kamari lies in the east of the Cyclades Island of Santorin, not far from the airport of Santorin. The quiet village with a population of only 1,600 has a well-managed and spacious sandy beach and a volcanic pebble beach, which makes Kamari one of the biggest and most attractive beach resorts in Greece. Some of the beaches are up to 15 metres wide and approximately 1,200 metres long. Translated into English, Kamari means “chambers”, which is due to the amazing number of graves dating back as far as Roman times. It was only in 1956 that people settled here again after the massive earthquake that forced the inhabitants of the former village of Mesa Gonia to move away. Accommodation is available in the centre of Kamari, where hotels and guesthouses are to be found, as well as taverns with evening entertainment and a cinema.
In the north of the island of Santorin lies the little town of Ia, transcribed as Oia. In ancient times Oia became a port, nowadays it has just under 665 inhabitants. From the east end of the town you can get to Finika, the road to the north leads to Tholos. Oia has been mentioned in historical records even before the Venetian rule, although under a different name. The surrounding area has been a wine-growing region for many years, and the wines produced here could hold their own against French wines. As part of the restoration of traditional settlements in the Greek islands Oia was rebuilt and the project won the Biennale Architecture Prize in Sofia. The hallmark of the town are its whitewashed houses that have been built in the crater rim. The centre of Oia derives its charm from narrow lanes and delightful little domed churches with their bright blue roofs and the flower-decked balconies.
Perissa is one of the larger towns on the Greek Island of Santorin. The special point of interest in Perissa is its beach that is several kilometres long and has black sand. The dark colour is due to the volcanic origin of the island and the fact that it consists almost entirely of lava rocks. During the summer months the black sand is heated up so much by the sun that walking on it without footwear is impossible. Directly next to the beach a number of comfortable and inviting hotels, guesthouses and taverns are lined up; Perissa’s tourist infrastructure makes it a modern and well-developed holiday resort within Greece. Accommodation options range from cheap youth hostels to luxury hotels.
The town of Thira on Santorin is also called Fira. Those who approach Thira’s coast from the sea can’t help thinking that the town is built into a rocky cliff. The rim of the crater rises to a height of approximately 300 metres, with the whitewashed houses stuck to its side. In the 19th century Thira became the capital of Santorin. Important sights include the museums of Ghyzi and the archaeological museum illustrating long-gone Byzantine times. The most striking amongst the town’s numerous churches is the orthodox cathedral and right next to it one of the oldest hotels in town, the “Atlantis”.
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