Besides being one of the most beautiful islands in the world, Santorini is also one of the most geologically and archaeologically dramatic. Often called Thira, the island is shaped like an enormous pair of jaws encircling a lake filled with pure blue water. This is the core of an ancient volcano, which according to legend, destroyed the lost continent of Atlantis.
Santorini © Harvey Barrison
Santorini's capital, Fira, perches on a cliff top. Ferries arrive and depart in the harbour below, while visitors walk or ride donkeys up the steep winding path to the town. Fira has hotels, good restaurants, bars and plenty of nightlife to keep tourists happy.
History buffs should visit Ancient Thira's archaeological remains. They date back to the 9th century BC, and they're on the island's east side. Other attractions include the excavations at a Minoan Bronze Age settlement called Akrotiri, an archaeological museum, and an 18th-century monastery. Santorini has two swimming beaches, Perissa and Kamari, both characterised by their volcanic black sand.
Museum of Prehistoric Thira © Klearchos Kapoutsis
Museum of Pre-Historic TheraThe Museum of Pre-Historic Thera has displays of many archaeological finds from the excavations at Akrotiri, including Neolithic pottery from as far back as 3300 BC. The exhibits attempt to show life in prehistoric times, with tools, metalworkings, pottery, furniture, and other artefacts on display. The exhibition is laid out in four parts: the history of research at Thera; the geology of Thera; the island's history from the Late Neolithic to the Late Cycladic I period (early 17th century BC); and the heyday of the city at Akrotiri (mature Late Cycladic 1 period, 17th century BC). Look out for the gold ibex figurine and the magnificent wall paintings, or frescoes, of Ladies and Papyri and of the Blue Monkeys. A visit to this small but interesting museum is a great complement to exploring the archaeological site of Akrotiri as it provides context and displays the impressive artefacts discovered at the site. Often tour guides will combine the site and the museum. The museum is well-organised and informative and offers a lot of good background information; it consistently rates well with tourists in reviews.
Address: 847 00 Fira, Santorini; Website: www.santonet.gr/museums/prehistoric_museum.htm
Kamari Beach © jjmusgrove
Santorini BeachesThe beaches of Santorini are unlike other Greek beaches and have special and dramatic geological features like black shining pebbles and unique land formations, coloured by black, white and red sands. The beaches tend to be coves surrounded by steep cliffs which add to their beauty. The waters are deep though, so be cautious. The Red beach is possibly the most famous and is located near the village and ancient site of Akrotiri. It is popular because of the stunning volcanic slabs and colour of its sand, although the sand is not comfortable to sit on so the sun loungers on the beach are necessary. Perissa beach, just southeast of Fira, is another favourite and has an impressively long, black sandy beach with an enormous rock rising out of the sea. For those who prefer a quiet and unspoilt beach environment, Cape Columbo is one of Santorini's most beautiful and most isolated beaches. The waves here are rougher though so beware of a more dangerous sea. The southeastern beaches of Monolithos, Avis and Kamari are family favourites. At Monolithos beach kids love the football pitch, basketball court and play area. Trees at the back of the beach provide shaded respite from the sun, and there are also snacks available on the beach.
Santos Winery © Joye~
Santorini WineriesSantorini is a large wine-producing region, which was helped along by a volcanic explosion in 1650 BC. The vines on the island are very old, and are trained into a distinctive basket shape to protect them from the elements. Wine has been grown in the region since ancient times and has been renowned since as early as the Middle Ages, when the Venetians made it famous - the Italian influence is still detectable in the wine tradition of Santorini today. One of the grapes that the region is known for is the sweet Vin Santo (or vinsanto) which is dried in the sun before use. The blended rosé from white grapes likes Athiri, Aidini and Assyrtiko, and red grapes like Mandelaria, is also highly acclaimed. There are a number of great wineries on the island. Antoniou is very popular, particularly for weddings, and Boutari is the largest vineyard in the region. Sigalas, which has spectacular views from their patio, is a lovely place to while away a day, and Volcan has a Wine Museum which will interest fanatics interested in the production process and history of the area.