The words “Greek Isles” evoke visions of sun-bleached homes shoulder-to-shoulder against a hillside with a mesmeric view of bright blue water, however with over two hundred Greek islands scattered across the Aegean and Greek seas, where does one start? Chances are, Santorini is the island you are picturing as Vacay worthy. Once an entire island like its neighbors, it was a volcano that blew its top thousands of years ago, making an enormous crater. These days Santorini’s painted villages crowd the dramatic ridges of this crater as if to jostle to relish the views.
Santorini is one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. It was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, forever shaping its rugged landscape. The whitewashed, cubiform houses of its two principal towns, Fira and Oia, cling to cliffs above an underwater caldera (crater). They overlook the sea, small islands to the west and beaches made up of black, red and white lava pebbles. And Santorini offers far more than the vistas made known on postcards — its wonders embody country wineries, ancient anthropology sites and memorable beaches.
The village of Oia is that the quintessence of Greek Island charm. Pronounced “EE-ah,” this idyllic ensemble of whitewashed homes and blue domes exquisitely drapes itself over a steep slope at the top of a cliff. Viewpoints here are some of the most iconic within the Greek seas, and photographers clamor for simply the proper angle. Artists fall enamored with Oia and move in. Honeymooners find the B&B of their dreams and savor breakfast in memorable settings. At the quiet end of town, the old windmill evokes a more rustic age gone by and the cliff-side cocktail bars offer a romantic stage where tourists gather for every Santorini sunset.
It seems, at least in most images, that Greek-island cities like Oia are utterly white. The whitewash, while scenic nowadays, was originally practical. White reflects the powerful heat of the sun and what’s more, the lime that produces the whitewash is a sensible antiseptic. Villagers knew it would naturally disinfect the rainwater that was collected on rooftops and the blue and white of the townscape appears inspired by the colors of the Greek flag.
Dwellings on Santorini were originally humble caves. With very little building material on the island, it simply made sense to dig into the cliffs. These “cave homes,” encircled by air-filled pumice stone, are naturally insulated, staying cool in summer and warm in winter. Gradually these most cost-effective bits of property were developed and, with touristry, they became costly homes, hotels and restaurants.
Thousands of years before the thought of touristry, within the Bronze Age, a time that was ancient even to the Greeks we now call “ancient”, Santorini was already bustling. It absolutely was the age of the Minoans, the earliest documented civilization within the Aegean, and Santorini was the biggest town outside their home base of Crete. However around 1630 B.C., the “Minoan Eruption”, one among the largest in human history, blew out twenty-four cubic miles of volcanic material, at least four times the number ejected by the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa in today’s Indonesia. That is when the island took on the sunken crater form that visitors see these days.
You can visit Santorini’s version of Pompeii, an ancient town buried (and preserved) in ash following this huge eruption. The Bronze Age town, close to the contemporary city of Akrotiri, continues to be being excavated, with over thirty buildings currently visible in a very well-designed structure. (Only 3 % of the location has been unearthed.) Guests explore the excavation site on ramps that allow you climb around and thru the streets of the prehistoric town. Careful observers will notice sidewalks, underground sewage systems, and ceramic vases left behind. The most fascinating things discovered here are the extraordinary wall frescoes, fancy furnishings, painted ceramics which are on show primarily at the museum of Prehistoric Thira in Santorini’s main town, Fira.
The island’s volcanic soil, ample sunshine and arid climate add up to a distinctive wine grape. As they have since ancient times, vintners here form the live vines into protecting baskets designed to enable the vines to both collect the dew and survive the wind. The fruit of the Santorini vine is both hearty and sweet, and there are a dozen or so wineries where casual guests can sip and soak up the views.
When it comes to enjoying the Santorini beaches, guests have choices made attention-grabbing by the bizarre volcanic geology. Two black-sand beaches flank the steep mountain at the southeastern corner of the island. On the island’s southern arc are some volcanically colorful beaches close to Akrotiri. White Beach, in front of a background of chalky cliffs, is accessible solely by boat.
Red Beach, given its distinctive color by iron deposits, is often reached by a rigorous hike round the bluff. Of course, wherever you go on this island, you are surrounded by gorgeous vistas. Whether you explore the island’s several wonders or mostly park yourself at a clifftop terrace to marvel at the caldera view, Santorini’s quite likely to measure up to your Greek vacay dreams.