The most famous of Greece’s Cyclades isles are the islands of Santorini on the Aegean Sea.
In ancient times, Santorini was one large and prosperous island, until around 1500 B.C.E. when the volcano in its middle erupted, obliterating half the island and destroying its Minoan city. That cataclysm gave birth to Santorini’s remnant islands, which now encircle a large “caldera” or volcanic bay. It also gave rise to the legend of Atlantis, made famous by the Greek philosopher Plato.
Thanks to its history, the fame of Santorini endures. The volcanic blast carved high cliffs on its main island of Thira, overlooking the caldera. Over the centuries, Santorini natives built villages to follow this terrain. Instead of roads, cobblestone walkways and stairs wind up and down the cliffs, around white stucco cube houses and blue-roofed churches. And everywhere, there is a view of the azure Aegean Sea below.
Today, tourists travel to Santorini for a vacation in any of its charming villages. The most picturesque of these are Fira, Oia (best sunset view), Karterados (more traditional architecture), and Pyrgos (highest point of the main island). Other villages, like Perissa, Megalochori, Monolithos, Vlichada, and Vothonas, offer a more rustic view, with seafood taverns, old “Cycladic” Orthodox churches, and pebble beaches. If you’re planning a vacation in Santorini, traveling to these towns is a must.
You must also try their local delicacies. There’s “dolmades” or vine leaves stuffed with meat, “keftedes” or tomato slices fried in batter, cherry tomatoes, and white aubergines. Try their wines, too. Santorini is a notable source of rare white wine grape varietals. These include the Athiri, Aidani, and the indigenous Assyrtiko, all of which are used to create Vinsanto, a famous sweet dessert wine. Santorini growers also have a peculiar way of raising grapes. As the vines grow, they weave them to form a “basket” shape, with leaves growing on the outside and grapes on the inside. This is done to protect the grapes from Santorini’s harsh climate.
Santorini has plenty of sea wind and sun, but no natural fresh water anywhere, whether from river or underground aquifer. Fresh water comes only from scant rain, dew, imported bottled water, and Santorini’s desalination plant.
Don’t miss out on visits to Akrotiri, the 3,500-year old ruins of the original Minoan city, or to Kameni, the volcano island at the caldera’s center. If you snorkel or scuba-dive, travel to Mesa Pigadia Beach, Caldera Beach, and Perissa Rock to see the fishes.
Santorini is accessible either by plane (via the Santorini National Airport), or by boat from the port of Piraeus in Athens.