There are innumerable reasons why visitors flock to Santorini, a Greek island that’s home to unparalleled sunsets, charming hilltop villages and impossibly fresh cuisine.
Santorini is perhaps the most famous of all the Greek islands, but it’s well worth following the crowds to find out why. From the moment you spot its soaring, craggy cliffs from the ferry – capped by blinding-white villages and lapped by deep-blue water that fills an enormous, submerged volcano crater beneath you – it’s hard to not be enchanted by this superstar of the Cyclades.
Santorini is one of Europe’s popular destinations for honeymooners – and for good reason. There’s the dreamy backdrop of whitewashed blue-domed houses and the deep-blue Aegean Sea and the northern village of Oia offers picture-postcard sunset views. There are plenty of opportunities to laze on the beach, take a private boat tour or visit a luxury spa, as well as for open-air dining, high on the hilltops with those incredible vistas again. Try Pelekanos, serving up delicious seafood and stunning caldera views. Otherwise head to Character, a swish Italian restaurant with award-winning wines.
It’s got to be said that Santorini’s sunsets are incredible, wherever you stand. The scene is like a giant postcard. As the sun sinks it gives way to magnificent shifting hues of blue, crimson and everything in between. The village of Oia, located on the northern tip of the island, is the most popular spot to watch this nightly phenomenon. It attracts quite a crowd, but the atmosphere is electric as the village’s whitewashed houses, emblematic of the Cyclades, begin to glow.
You will recognise three of Santorini’s blue domes from the postcards. The famed trio of domes is located in Oia and they belong to two churches tucked neatly away. Replicating that famous shot takes some research, but for your best chance, start from Oia’s Main Square. The best-known blue-domed church is Santorini Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. Built in 1827, it’s the largest church on the island and dominates the centre of Fira.
Santorini is famous for its clifftop villages of quaint white houses tumbling down steep slopes towards the sea. Akrotiri is home to Red Beach, with its dramatic red-stained cliffs and volcanic sands. Oia village, teetering high above the port of Ammoudi, is famed for its sunsets. Then there’s the capital, Fira (or Thera), located on the island’s western edge and the buzziest of the three.
Put Greek wine on your radar for the summer. Assyrtiko is Greece’s most commonly crushed white grape and it comes from Santorini, covering 65 percent of its vineyards. On this volcanic island with its ash-rick soil, the Assyrtiko vine produces dry, punchy and high-acidic wines. SantoWines is the island’s biggest winery, founded in 1947 and run as part of a local cooperative championing sustainable agriculture.
Tomatoes have been grown on Santorini since 1890. The fresh fruit is used to make the delicious local specialty of tomatokeftedes: pureed tomatoes rolled into balls of dough and fried in oil. Fresh local produce is in abundance generally, from seafood and juicy tomatoes to olives. Don’t leave without ordering saganaki, portions of fried cheese in filo pastry drizzled in honey. Family-run restaurants along the seafront will serve up grilled seafood feasts, which need nothing added but a squeeze of lemon.
You’ll find Santorini’s hot springs on the tiny, uninhabited islet of Nea Kameni, home to the Santorini volcano. Here, continuous underground volcanic activity maintains the springs’ temperature between 30C and 35C – and most boat trips will take you out here for a dip. The warm water is rich in iron and manganese, giving it an orange tinge – which, be warned, can stain clothes – as well as alleged healing properties. It’s possible to walk up the volcano from here, too.
For a really memorable experience, book a trip out to sea on a traditional Greek caique and enjoy a leisurely afternoon sailing around the caldera, discovering secluded nooks, hidden beaches and even the Nea Kameni hot springs. You can even opt for a catamaran with a barbecue, or a full Greek feast and local wines served. Either way, jump in the sea whenever the opportunity strikes for swimming and snorkelling, before drying off on the sunbaked deck.