Discover stunning Santorini
Arriving from a grey and drizzly London to Santorini’s dazzling white buildings, blue skies and vivid Aegean Sea is a wonderful wake-up call for the senses.
This idyllic Greek holiday hot spot is known for its beauty – from its cave-like hotels carved into the cliffside to its stunning sunsets – and you could easily retire to your sun lounger, soak up the view and do very little. But there’s plenty to pack into a trip here if you’re the active type.
Santorini is the largest of a group of five islands, which were once joined in a circle until a gigantic volcano eruption 3,600 years ago, and to get a real feel for the archipelago it’s worth signing up for a catamaran cruise.
We joined Lina and Little John on Caldera Yachting’s Gold cruise, which started at the Vlihada marina on the south of the island and ended at the old port of Ammoudi in UNESCO protected Oia, a small town that’s famous for its fabulous sunset views.
We soon had a glass of wine in hand, while Little John pointed out the sites: Red Beach – the only one of its kind in Europe, created from oxidised iron – and White Beach, created by oxidised aluminium and reached only by boat.
We sailed around the small volcanic island Nea Kameni (the last eruption here was in 1950) and stopped by the hot springs on Palea Kameni. We then headed on to Thirassia, the second biggest of the islands, to find a secluded cove for a swim, before making our way to Oia, where we explored its distinctive white churches with their blue domes and 14th-century windmills.
To fully explore Santorini, we divided our time between different areas, on a twin-centred trip with Olympic Holidays. We stayed first in Imerovigli, north-west of the capital Fira. It’s a well-preserved, traditional settlement, where the Cycladic and local Firaic architectural styles of the buildings remain unchanged.
Buses connect to other villages (trips cost €1.80), but this part of the island is best explored on foot. Down the winding paths towards Fira we found shops, museums and restaurants galore, and to the north there is an 11km walking track (route number nine) that takes you all the way to Oia. Set off at sunset, with proper walking shoes, when the heat of the day has passed.
There’s a different view of the caldera at every turn, some small churches with arches framing the horizon, and as you descend into Oia the dappled sun gets closer to the sea and the light changes constantly.
Wake your senses in sunny Greece
In Oia there are numerous designer stores, as well as art and souvenir shops to browse. But with so many people arriving for the sunset, it’s important to secure a spot in good time. Down a cobbled alleyway we found the Sunset Sangria Bar, with a rooftop looking out to the ocean. It’s away from the crowds and serves drinks and Greek tapas.
We spent the second half of our week relaxing on the other side of the island, in Perivolos, a beach resort with volcanic black sand, set against the backdrop of Mount Profitis Ilias – the highest point on the island, which has an 18th- century monastery at its summit.
The sea is warm and calm, there are sun loungers aplenty and there is no shortage of excellent restaurants to dine in. Santorini specialties include tomato balls, moussaka, a split-pea fava dish and local fish like Skaros, named after one of the island’s prominent rocks.
The best place to see Santorini’s history come to life is Akrotiri. The archaeological excavations are a short trip from Perivolos and we took the bus there one morning.
It’s staggering to see a community so well preserved by volcanic ash, locking a moment in time when life came to an abrupt end after the volcano erupted 3,600 years ago. Modern day Akrotiri is also worth a visit, for lunch or a meander around the town’s Venetian Castle.
Some go to Santorini just for a long weekend, but we found a week was barely enough time to see all that the island has to offer. It’s a beautiful place with a unique landscape, which can’t fail to etch itself into your memory.
Way to go
Olympic Holidays (020 8492 6868, olympicholidays.com) offers a seven-night two-centre Santorini break with three nights at the four-star Vista Mare in a Superior Studio and four nights at the three-star Blue Diamond Bay Hotel in a Double Room Garden View on a B&B basis. Prices are from £617pp, based on two travelling. This includes return flights to Gatwick and transfers (although transfer between the two resorts are not included – a taxi costs approximately €35). Departures are available on May 22, 2018, subject to availability.
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Ten things you must do in Santorini
1 Sign up for the Becoming A Local tour, where you’ll stroll around the ghost village of Mesa Gonia and walk up to the ruins of the highest castle in Pyrgos (olympictours.gr).
2 Take the kids for a fun day out at the Santorini Water Park in Perissa.
3 Catch a film at the Open Air Cinema in Kamari (from May until October), showing a range of Hollywood movies (cinekamari.gr).
4 Visit Filippo’s Tavern in Perivolos for traditional Greek dancing, music and enthusiastic plate smashing (filippossantorini.com).
5 Go to Santo or Argyros Wineries to sample some of the best wines Santorini has to offer (santowines.gr and estate-argyros.com).
6 Sample a traditional Greek souvlaki in north Fira. Order yours to go and find a seat with a view.
7 Walk down the 588 steps to the old port of Fira and get the cable car back up (scc.gr).
8 Go on a Caldera Yachting cruise to see all the islands in the archipelago (calderayachting.gr/en).
9 See the Akrotiri Minoan Bronze Age settlement, destroyed in 1627 BC (santorini.com/archaeology).
10 Have dinner at Seaside in Perivolos, a gourmet dining experience popular with celebrities, which also has a sushi bar (seaside-restaurant.gr).