Another must-see on a Greek island itinerary is Santorini, (known as Thira or Thera by the Greeks), one of the world’s most photographed and famous islands. Some even go so far as to call the island’s village of Oia one of the most beautiful and romantic sights on earth.
But this is no ordinary island. Santorini is a large volcano that has repeatedly exploded and collapsed, leaving a ring of steep cliffs surrounding a large water-filled caldera. Its eruption around 1,650 B.C. is the largest in recorded history, rumored to have wiped out the Minoan civilization on Crete and caused havoc in Egypt, throughout the Mediterranean, and as far away as China. But this tumultuous history is long past, and today Santorini is famous for its quiet, stunning beauty.
Santorini today is a magnet for the jet set, romance seekers, artists, photographers and those simply wanting to experience a slice of Greek island paradise at its finest. Arriving by boat, the clusters of Cycladic white houses scattered atop Santorini’s cliffs look like a light snowfall. When lit up at night, the homes resemble a glittering string of Christmas lights strung along the crescent-shaped island.
Other highlights of Santorini include the charming main town of Fira, and the ancient village of Akrotiri, which dates back 7,000 years. Some believe Santorini is the site of the lost city of Atlantis and Akrotiri has a lot to do with the island’s tie to that legend.
Akrotiri’s first inhabitants have been traced back to at least the 4th millennium B.C. Some of the fascinating accomplishments here include an elaborate drainage system, multi-story buildings, sophisticated wall paintings (many seen as high art), and equally exquisite furniture. At the same time, pottery making, metalworking and shipbuilding all flourished here. It’s hard to believe that this is a place just shy of 10,000 years old!
Today Akrotiri is a covered museum and archaeological site. You can wander amid its many, partially intact ruins and streets, getting a close up view of its cosmopolitan sophistication.
The town was abandoned around the middle of the 17th or 16th century B.C. Its inhabitants are believed to have fled a volcanic eruption or were perhaps forced to leave after an earthquake. Where they went however, is a mystery. Their remains have never been found. Could this remarkable village have been Atlantis? The answer to that question remains the subject of much debate.
Oia, on Santorini’s northwest tip, is a picturesque town of narrow, winding walkways connecting houses, shops, hotels and restaurants – many of which seem to spill impossibly down the side of the caldera and have been carved into its face. This is also where you’ll find many of the stunning blue-domed churches that have come to typify Greece in our collective imaginations and on mass-produced postcards.
The best activity in Oia is simply wandering to your heart’s content, following an intriguing path here, traipsing down a winding stairwell there — color and charm are around every corner, bend and alcove. It’s a visual feast. Once you find you can absorb no more, and your senses are overwhelmed, relax in one of Oia’s bars, restaurants or cafes that look out over the expansive, sapphire blue ocean below. The views here are breathtaking and watching the sun slip below the horizon amid a rainbow sherbet sky, with its softly merging streaks of orange, pink and powder blue, is an experience you’ll not soon forget.