Santorini is the jewel of the Greek Cyclades Islands. The crescent-shaped island, just north of Crete, attracts visitors from all over the world. During the summer months, thousands of tourists come to wonder at the stunning vistas created by Santorini’s geological past. The classic Greek postcards showing a blue-domed church overlooking an azure sea are photographed in the northern town of Oia. So, anybody looking for quintessential Greece need look no further than Santorini; this wonderful island will not disappoint.
Travel to the island can be complex depending on which part of the world you live in. Even though Santorini has its own airport, direct flights are not available from every country. Cruises around the Greek Islands are a relaxed way to travel, but these don’t stop at Santorini for more than a day. Therefore, cruise visitors get no more than a brief taste of the capital town of Fira. Flying is, consequently, the only viable option for the visitor who wants time to explore the island.
From Australia a number of cities offer flights to Fira airport. Qantas and Emirates Airlines fly from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney airports to Santorini. New Zealand also offers flight options from Auckland. A direct flight can be obtained from Emirates Airlines (in conjunction with Aegean Airlines) departing from Auckland airport. A cheaper option is to take an Aegean Airlines flight to Athens, followed by a connecting flight, through the same airline, to Santorini. Another alternative is to book a Norwegian Airlines flight (in conjunction with Easyjet) to London before flying to Santorini.
Most major airports in the UK offer flights to Santorini. Cheap flights to Fira can be arranged from airports at London Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, or East Midlands, and the majority of British travellers can reach one of these departure points fairly easily. Both Easyjet and British Airways run scheduled flights from these airports, and most major tour operators have package deals that include charter flights and hotel accommodation.
Unfortunately there are no direct flights from the USA. Consequently, US travellers looking to visit Santorini need to fly into a European airport first. London or Dublin offer the cheapest airfares, with both Easyjet and Ryanair offering all-year-round flights to Athens from both these locations. Once again, Olympic and Aegean Airlines fly straight into Santorini from Athens. During the summer months, Easyjet run a direct service from London Gatwick to Santorini, negating the need for any further transfers.
Two of the major places of interest on the island are Fira, the capital, and the town of Oia (pronounced ee-ah). Fira is in the centre of the island, and Oia rests on the northern tip. Both towns sit on the edge of dramatic cliffs, which rise almost vertically from the sea, that are known as the Caldera. These cliffs are the walls of an undersea crater created by an enormous volcanic eruption in 1450 B.C.
Fira sprawls over the Caldera with restaurants, bars, and hotels perched part of the way down the cliff, offering unparalleled views of the vista of the island. The majority of the town spreads back from the cliff edge, and the pedestrian-friendly area in the centre is full of shops offering everything from leather goods to fish pedicures. Along the cliff-top runs a lane known as “Gold Street” due to the plethora of jewellers that cajole the tourists to buy their wares. This is the first taste of Santorini for cruise passengers who climb the stairs up the cliff from the liners moored in the bay below. Fira is, consequently, very crowded during the hours these visitors disembark, and the town is best seen early in the morning or later in the evening.
Oia is the town of the picture postcards. Here the whitewashed buildings appear to tumble over the Caldera towards the sea below. Oia has a more bohemian feel than Fira, with twisting streets and alleys full of boutique-style shops. The main town is also pedestrian friendly as all vehicular traffic has to park in the main car-parks at the southern end of the town. Sunset is the time that the tourist crowds flock to Oia. As the sun sinks into the ocean, every available surface on the Caldera edge, including walls and roofs, fills up with visitors jostling to get the best position for their iconic photograph. As a result, the savvy visitor will book a table at one of the numerous rooftop restaurants in order to eat while they have an uninterrupted view of the majestic sunset.
While it is possible to book hotel accommodation in Fira or Oia, the hotels in both towns tend to be exclusive, and therefore expensive. Consequently, the majority of tourists tend to stay in one of the two purpose-built resorts on the island, Perissa or Kamari.
Perissa is the southernmost resort, and lies in the south-east corner of Santorini, with Mount Profitis providing a looming backdrop to the north of the town. Perissa has a laid back atmosphere, and is ideal for families. There are a number of restaurants and bars along the beach road, as well as a few bars along the main street through the town. There is very little in the way of nightlife, however, and Perissa tends to be quiet once everything closes down around eleven. There are a large number of budget hotels scattered throughout the resort, and some reasonably priced shops along the central road. For the older travellers, couples, and family groups Perissa is ideal for an extended stay.
Kamari, on the northern side of Mount Profitis, is a livelier resort than Perissa, and boasts a number of nightclubs that draw a younger crowd. However, the town still has a respectable clientele, and there are a number of pleasant bars and restaurants,to please all tastes. Although the nightlife attracts singles and younger travellers, Kamari is not the raucous playground of the young and carefree that can be found on other Greek islands. Hence, families and older travellers still feel safe in the resort.
For the history lover, Mount Profitis itself boasts the remnants of the Ancient Greek settlement of Fira on its peak. This can be reached by road from the Kamari side, or the more adventurous can take the mountain path from Perissa. If this mountain-top excavation isn’t enough, there is also the archaeological dig of Akrotiri further to the south-west of the island. Here, the remnants of buildings, art, and pottery have been unearthed from the ancient ash and lava that covered them in the volcanic eruption of 1450 B.C. Although the site is reminiscent of Pompei, no animal or human remains have yet been discovered, suggesting the Ancient Minoans realised the catastrophe was coming and escaped in time.
Santorini has a well deserved reputation for being an island of natural beauty. It is the showcase of Greek tourism, and attracts visitors from all over the world. The island has a variety of attractions to offer the curious visitor, and is an island unlike any other. Anybody who decides to visit this idyllic spot cannot fail to leave without a part of them wishing to stay forever.