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Santorini, believed by some to be ‘the lost continent of Atlantis’, owes its present configuration as the result of an enormous volcanic explosion over 3000 years ago; it is one of the great natural wonders of the world. The island consists of 13 villages and 2 principal towns Fira and Oia. The island is 11miles long and between 1 to 4 miles wide.
If you see a breathtaking picture of the Greek Islands in a magazine or newspaper, the chances are it is a scene from Santorini. Many Greek singers have chosen the island as the setting for their videos and many films and TV series have been shot here.
Clinging to the edge of a cliff is Fira, the capital, with its many beautiful buildings in bright colours; a mixture of Venetian and Cycladic architecture. If you arrive by sea a tender takes you to the port of Skala at the foot of very steep cliffs below the town of Fira. You have 3 choices to reach the town (Fira); by cable car, donkey ride or a very long 45 minute steep uphill walk along 588 zigzagging steps, on a path you will share with donkeys who don’t give way whatsoever. You are probably best taking the donkey ride up and the cable car back down. White cobbled stoned streets with shops, cafes and tavernas await you.
The second picturesque town Oia or La is situated on the northern tip of the island 8 miles from Fira. Devastated by an earthquake in 1956, it has been completely rebuilt and stands on top of an impressive cliff offering spectacular views. Charming houses in narrow streets and blue domed churches with plenty of shops and cafes entice the visitor. Many artists have come to the area due to its beauty and there are several galleries available to the public. Oia is one of the most charming places on the island and is noted for its unforgettable sunsets as are many other parts of the island. It is also less crowded than Fira, particularly when a large cruise ship or ships are in port. The coastal path walk from Fira to Oia is one of the most scenic walks in the Mediterranean and is well worth the effort for those who are able.
There is ample shopping to choose from, both in Fira and Oia including Odos Ipapantis (Gold Street) at Fira which begins at the cable car station. World famous Santorinian goldsmiths produce beautiful jewellery; pottery is also popular and wonderful pieces of art are painted on the spot by local artists.
Buses leave hourly for Akrotiri and every half hour for Oia, Kamari and Perissa from Fira. Don’t be tempted to hire a moped as there have been numerous nasty accidents with tourists using these machines; hiring an ATV (all terrain vehicle with helmet) is much safer. Note there are pick up fees for taxis if starting your hire outside of Fira, so it is normally best to keep the same taxi/driver with you throughout if you are touring the island, providing you agree an hourly rate or set rate in advance.
Other Areas to Visit
Good beaches and water sports can be found at Kamira and the sandy beach at Perissa which are both situated on the flat coastal plain in the south east. Elsewhere, beaches comprise of black volcanic shingle. Pygros is the highest point of the island with its grand old houses and labyrinth of old lanes, the remains of a Venetian castle and its monastery. Megalochori is a traditional village with old white Cycladic churches. Mesaria is a quiet village only 2 miles south of Fira in the interior, home of much of the wine production on the island. Vothonas is an outstanding example of a ‘rock village’ where the local people of the interior using great skill dug their houses into rocky walls of a ravine using the same materials they had already excavated. Akrotiri – an excavation site of the Minoan Bronze age buried by the Thelan eruption. Like the ruins at Pompeii it is remarkably preserved. (Check before visiting as a roof structure to protect the site collapsed fairly recently). Boat excursions are available to the nearby islands of Nea Kameni (the Volcano Island), Palia Kameni (hot springs) and the larger beautiful island of Thirassia which in total contrast to Santorini is totally undeveloped.
Photo: Fira (RG) – 2
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