Cyclades Islands

Santorini Information

Understand

An alternative name for Santorini is Thira. Santorini is also a name for the family of islands surrounding Thira--once forming a single island prior to a major volcanic event in approximately 1500 B.C.E.

The small island cradles a rich variety of landscapes and villages. Visit traditional architecture in the small village of Mesa Gonia containing a mixture of ruins from the 1956 earthquake and restored villas as well as a winery at the foot of the settlement. Pyrgos is another notable village set inland with its grand old houses, remains of a Venetian castle and several Byzantine churches.

Fira is the fiery capital clinging to the rim of the caldera. Nine hundred feet above the port town, you can take a mule or a cable car up the zigzagging steps. A marriage of Venetian and Cycladic architecture, the white cobblestone streets bustle with shops, tavernas, hotels and cafes.

Walking along a path about 20 minutes will bring you to Imerovigli where you can take in the magnificent views of the island’s unique scenery from the tiny town.

Just above Fira at the highest point of the island is the quintessentially Santorininian town of Ia, also sometimes spelled Oia, with its whitewashed walls sunk into the volcanic rock and it’s blue domes rising above the sterling beauty of the stunning russet Ammoudi Bay. At dusk, the town attracts crowds of people venturing to see the sunset. Santorini's sunsets, as viewed from Oia, are reputed to be among the world's most beautiful.

Due to the spectacular and unique natural beauty of Santorini, many Greek singers have chosen the island, as the setting of their videos. Greek and also a Brazial TV series have been shot of Santorini, as well as some Holywood movies (eg. Tomb Rider II). Generally Santorini is a pole of attraction for Greek and international celebrities.

Climate

The season starts on March 1 -- recommended by locals, as it's not too hot and not crowded at all.

Villages

There are several villages on Santorini Island.

* Fira - the main stunning cliff perched town, featuring all that Oia has, but much more overcrowded

* Kamari - black pebble beach

* Oia or Ia - for unforgettable sunsets, probably the most charming place on the island

* Pyrgos - highest point on the island; picturesque monastery and

streets, can compete with Oia

* Perisa -Nice well organized beaches and good Greek fish taverns.

* Akrotiri -Visit the archeological site of Aktotiri(due to an accident the facilities are closed for the public).

* Mesaria -The centre of the island.There is a small market on the road every morning with fresh fish.Do not miss the Argiros Estate to see a 19th century house fully rebuilt.

* Monolithos-Nice beach and a few good taverns.Very good for children, then water level is low.

Also there's Thirasia, a village on the nearby island with the same name--visited it by less tourists. There are daily excurisions to the Kameni (volcano) Island which also reach Thirasia island.

By air

The fastest and most comfortable way is by air. Santorini has its own airport (pretty small one) near Kamari village and next to Monolithos, with regular flights from Athens by Olympic Airways[1] and Aegean Airlines[2] and charters from many European towns. Flight duration from Athens to Santorini is about 30 minutes.

By sea

Take the ferry from Piraeus past Paros and Naxos to the new port on Santorini. More details in Cyclades. There is also daily connection between Heraklion city of Crete and Santorini during high season.

If you prefer sea, most popular and recommended transport are high-speed catamarans, like Hellenic Seaways Highspeed (bright-red Vodaphone-logo boats). Pireaus-to-Santorini trip takes only 3.5hrs, which time is comparable to air, and is more stress-free.

Ferries dock at the port of Athinios, where buses and taxis meet each arrival to transport passengers to Oia, Fira, and elsewhere. All vehicles climb up a very steep, winding road (it makes seven 180 degree turns) to get anywhere from Athinios.

If you travel by cruise boat, the experience will surely leave you with lasting memories. Cruise ships, that reach the island of Santorini, do not anchor at Athinios port, but one or two miles open from the old port of the island. Locals with fisher boats reach the cruise ship to transfer tourists to the old port, which seems not to have changed over the last 50 years. From there you can either use the cable car to reach the town of Fira , which will take no more than 5 minutes, or in case you like small adventures you can ride a donkey, which climbs up a small path on the cliff till Fira. The latter option will last longer, but is definitelly a unique experience.

Get around

The island is amply serviced by independent buses, which cost between 1 and 2 euros depending on where you're going to and from. They fill up quickly (even outside of high season), but they are a great, efficient way to get around the island. Boats also run between major coastal towns on the island. Cars can be rented from about 30 Euros a day. Scooters and 4-wheelers (quads) are available to rent starting at about 15 Euros per day.

Some hotels advise to book a taxi in advance, as there are not enough available taxi cars on the island during high season. As is the rule in the Cyclades, taxi fares are typically shared between multiple passengers, so don't be surprised if your cabbie picks up more passengers during your trip.

It takes about 50min to drive the island from end to end (from Vlichada to Ia).

See

The main attraction of Santorini is the volcano. The caldera was flooded during a cataclysmic event thousands of years ago, leaving the cliffs of Santorini surrounding a lake of ocean and newly upthrust lava in the center. The towns of Fira, Oia and Thirasis cling to the steep cliffs facing into the caldera bay. Tours to the volcano center are plentiful and one can see and feel steam vents and recent (1950s) lava flows.

Another popular reason for coming to Santorini is the legend that its sunsets are one of the most spectacular in the world. Ia is one of the few places on the island which is both close to a sea and offers a good view to a sunset over the sea: in other towns, sun disappears behind a volcano.

Additionally the towns of Fira and Oia are stunning.

Santorini ranks among top destinations for wedding celebrations for at least 4 years -- primarily for sunset and peace, like those in Oia. Couples often arrive with few friends, stay in Ia (places like Fanari Villas). Groups often arrive in the beginning of the week -- judging by demand for cabrios and number of corteges seen on Mon compared to weekend.

While the island is full of medium- and top-cost hotels and villas, there are still lots of abandoned caves and modest private houses where noone seems to live for a long time -- even in western Oia where every inch seems to be occupied by some villa. And this doesn't seem to change for years, judging by 2001-2005.

* Thirassia: small island near Santorini; place for more authentic villages, buildings and even churches. Take a look at hymnasia: in the yard, pupil painted children on the walls.

* Boat excursion: volcano island (Nea Kameni) - hot springs (Palia Kameni) - Thirassia

From Ia: departure from Ammoudi bay at 10:50 (starting point and final end); bit later from Armeni bay. 1hr 30min at volcano island; 45min for hot springs; 2hrs for Thirassia (incl. time for lunch). Meals are not included, normally the guide advises you to visit Captain Jack self-service tavern, which is so-so; it's smarter to wait half an hour and have your meal on Santorini where competition is higher and choice is better. Expect to pay around 15 euro for the excursion.

* Faros -- a lighthouse, west of the southern part of the island. Rocky cliff, interesting for making photos.

* a viewpoint behind Iris hotel (close to center of the island): great for making sunset photos with a sea and palm trees.


Beaches

Public beaches do not seem to have showers or places for changing.

* Black Beach- see Kamari and Perissa
* Red Beach- worth taking the Red Beach/Akrotiri bus from Fira and then climbing over the very rocky trails to get to (though there are water taxis and various schooners that make their way here as well). Red Beach earns its name from the iron-rich sedimentary rocks in the cliff face towering above you, as well as the red sand. It's quite crowded; you can rent an umbrella and a pair of chaise lounges for 7 euros, though there is also some good free space nearby that gets packed by midday. The first few meters of the water near the shore are quite gravelly, so be prepared to step on some stones. Women are frequently topless. Many distant yachts see can be seen from the beach -- it looks really romantic at sunset time. Great snorkeling - an abundance of sea life is present, as with Perissa. The tavernas built into the caves on Red Beach seem to have no electricity or running water, so if you eat or use the washrooms there, bring along hand sanitizer!
* White Beach- available only from the sea; get there by boat from Red Beach.
* Vlichada- relatively uncrowded. An umbrella with 2 chaise longues cost €10.


Wineries

* Volcan Wines Museum & Winery: +30 0286 31322; open 12pm-8pm
* Santo Wines: open 9am-sunset
* Argiros Estate: Mesa Gonia near Kamari
* Roussos winery: Mesa Gonia near Kamari
* Boutari winery: Megalochori
* Hatzidakis winery: Pyrgos


Do

* Horseback riding in Exo Gonia
* Scuba diving
* Caldera Cruise and Oia Sunset


Historic Sights

Akrotiri, in the south, a roughly 3,500 year old Minoan town preserved in volcanic ash like Pompeii, is one of Santorini's "must-sees". The excavation site is covered by a roofing system, which makes it something that you can comfortably visit no matter what time of year. The ruins, are extremely well preserved. Streets, buildings, stairs and even second floors of buildings are still visible. Visitors can stand in the ruins and look at Minoan pottery and frescoes, and with a little imagination, feel what it would have been like to live in ancient Greece. Due to an accident in September 2005, the excavation site is closed to the public in the whole season of 2006 and is expected to be opened again in early summer of 2007.

Ancient Thera, the Classical city of the island is located on Mesa Vouno, 396 m. above sea level. It was founded in the 9th century B.C. by Dorian colonists whose leader was Theras, and continued to be inhabited until the early Byzantine period. The preserved ruins belong to the Hellenistic and Roman phases of the city. The residential area and the larger part of the cemeteries were excavated by German archaeologists between 1895 and 1902. The cemeteries on the NE and NW slopes of Sellada were excavated by N. Zapheiropoulos in the years 1961-1982.

Fira has the Archeological Museum that contains some of the artifacts, which were found in the ruins of Akrotiri. So first visit Akrotini, where the items came from and then Thira to understand what the items are. The museum has more pots, pottery and other household items than you can shake an antique stick at, but the highlight is the frescoes of the blue monkeys -- a mystery since historians say there is no evidence that there were ever monkeys on Santorini.


Architecture

The Cycladic Islands are world-famous for their picturesque towns of cubic white-washed homes and blue-domed churches. Santoríni is especially famous for the towns of Firá and Oía, whose white and pastel-colored homes and churches-- seemingly stacked on top of each other-- are perched on the cliffs of the caldera. Many of these traditional homes are built on cliff-side caves, thus having a much larger interior than their exterior would suggest. The architecture of Santoríni's picturesque towns is typically Cycladic, but with strong neoclassical and baroque influences visible in many of the island's churches and public builings.


The arts

While Santorini cannot claim a prominent art collection, why not see some local and international artists work by visiting the Art Space Gallery and Winery in the small village of Exo Gonia, on the way between Fira and Kamari. Art Space is a winery built in 1830, an old canava. Owned by the same family (Argyros) for three generations.


Scenery and nature

The landscape here --the blue sky, the little white houses perched on gigantic rocks on hills that plummet to the sea, the lemon and orange groves, the pink and white churches that look like pastrycakes, the faces and warmth and expressiveness of the Greek people -- little wonder this may be the most photographed scenery in the world.

Buy

* Atlantis Books. The largest selection of English language books on the island. Also stocks Greek, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.
* Santoríni is one of Greece's most prominent wine regions, whose wines enjoy special designation of origin status from the European Union. The method of growing grapes (with vines close to the earth and individual vines spaced far apart from each other) is unique to the island, with its dry soil and windy climate. Wineries open to the public are located throughout the island.
* Buy Santorini wines on Iama Wine Store in Oia.Very nice shop with all Santorini wines and over 350 lebels of other Greek and international wines.


Eat

Santorini specials include: the white aubergine; fava; sutsukaki (slices of tomatoes fried in batter). Another must-try is fresh fish grilled in tavernas, esp. those close to a sea.

If you decide to eat or drink in a taverna overlooking the caldera or having a good view to a sunset, expect prices to be higher than a similar establishment in one of the many side-streets as you are charged extra for the view –- but what a view!

For those who enjoy the Mediterranean diet--fresh fish, vegetables, and meat dishes can be found at several moderately priced restaurants (average $50 for two) in Imerovigli, Oia, and Fira. To save money, stay away from places that are overtly commercial and go to the family run fish taverns located nearby the smaller beaches and communities.

Gyros here are reported to be 10 times better than in the US and half the price.

Don't miss the fried tomato balls of keftades and be sure to ask for local tomatoes in your salad. They may be the best tasting you have ever had. Santorinia is particularly well known for its cherry tomatoes.

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