In mid-August, me and my girlfriend took a much-needed vacation trip to Santorini, Greece, where we stayed for five nights leaving on the sixth day. As a kid, I was fortunate enough to visit most of Greece’s islands with my parents. Santorini wasn’t one of them and during last year, a growing interest spurred inside of me to see the island, so many tourists visit our country every year to see.
I’ve heard it all. The red beach, the sunset, the towns of Oia and Fira, and of course the volcano. It’s one thing to hear from others about the beauty of a place and another to realize this beauty by experiencing it first hand. This summer I decided to see for myself the birthplace of one of Greece’s greatest civilizations witnessing its world class beauty and meeting once more with the Aegean breeze.
History Of The Island
The history of Santorini is closely linked to the geophysical characteristics of the island. The form and progress of the island throughout the centuries is the outcome of its intense volcanic activity, especially of the massive pre historic eruption that left the island deserted for some centuries. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the first people to reach the island again were the Phoenicians in the 13th century BC, who gave it the name Kallisti(=the most beautiful) as they were mesmerized by its extraordinary beauty.
About one century later, Dorians from Sparta settled on the island and they name it Thera after their king, Theras. During the 9th century BC, Santorini was a Dorian colony and the settlement of Ancient Thera in Mesa Vouno Mountain was its center. Santorini along with the southeast shores of the Aegean Sea, Crete, Milos, and Cyprus, was an important crossroad between the West and the East. Although Santorini was a closed community it was slightly influenced by the neighboring islands and followed the developments. As a result, Santorini adopted the Phoenician alphabet for written Greek and later the residents started to make contacts with other Greek regions. In 630 BC the Santorinians made their first and only colony in Africa, the Ancient City of Cyrene, and after that a long period of drought, presumably seven years, hit the island.
In the 6th century BC they coined their own money but during the Persian Wars they were subjugated to Persians and the mint closed down. In the Peloponnesian War they were at Sparta’s side but in 426/425 BC they were part of the Athenian Empire. Later, Santorini became part of the Roman Empire.
During the Byzantine years, the island was embodied in the Byzantine Empire but it did not play a significant political or military role. Christianity first appeared on Santorini during the 3rd or 4th century AC when the first church was constructed, Episkopi of Thera that had its own bishop.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the 4th Crusade in 1204, Santorini and the rest of the islands of the Aegean Sea were under the rule of Marco Sanudo, who created the Duchy of Naxos. He later granted Santorini and Therasia to Giacomo Barozzi, whose descendants ruled the island until 1480. The name Santorini was given from the Crusaders, after a chapel of Saint Irene (Santa Irini). The fate of the Duchy was its annexation to Venice in 1487.
During the Frankish rule, the islands suffered from incessant pirate raids and from the rivalry of the local rulers, facts that led to the creation of five fortified settlements (kastelia) in Santorini, whose ruins are left on the island till today and constitute glorious landmarks. These are the castles of Skaros in Imerovigli, Pyrgos, Emporio, Akrotiri and Agios Nikolaos in Oia.
From 1579 to 1821 the island was under the Turkish rule and the Turks named it Dermetzik, which means small mill, probably because of the numerous windmills on the island. Santorinians were given a fair amount of autonomy but they had to pay a tax. During the Ottoman rule the piracy ceased and as a result, the merchant navy developed when the island acquired its own fleet. The general prosperity of Santorini was evident from the impressive manor houses that still exist today. In the Greek War of Independence, the fleet of Santorini was very powerful. Santorini was finally annexed to Greece in 1912.
Until the end of the 19th century, Santorini had a flourishing shipping trade and the export of goods included cotton, textiles, agricultural products and, of course, its famed wine. This prosperity reached to an end in 1956, after a catalytic earthquake and a volcanic eruption that followed, which caused incalculable damage. Decline and desertion pervaded the island until 1970 with the introduction of the tourism industry when the reconstruction of the island started and more and more people visited it. Nowadays, all these incidents belong to the past and Santorini is one of the most sought-after destinations worldwide.
The long history of Santorini remains alive through the two prominent archaeological sites, the prehistoric city of Akrotiri and the Ancient Thera on Mesa Vouno Mountain and is also evident in the Venetian ruins and lovely churches. The impressive caldera and the volcano remind us how the island’s progress is inextricably linked to the forces of nature and this is the key to its success and popularity. The result of all these is a spectacular natural beauty, outstanding landmarks, dramatic landscapes, exquisite views and a magical aura that fill the millions of visitors with rapture and awe.
The Island Of Love
Santorini is regarded by many as the island of love and without a doubt, it lives up to its name. Before venturing off on your trip you should know the type of vacation you will enjoy.
The island offers a different experience, one that is best enjoyed with your partner. This is because the island as a whole is overwhelmed by a romantic aura, with the Aegean sea stretching as far as the eye can see, the color of the sky changing based on the sun’s location, and the towns’ white and blue architecture fusing with the black, and white rock that is the island. Because of that many young and older couples visit the island to live and rekindle their love. Lovers marry at the many chapels of the island and others enjoy their honeymoon at the many private properties.
In addition, the society of the island is a byproduct of love since most of the business and holiday inns are owned and run by families who love what they do and are eager to serve the visitors. In addition, the island offers you romance. Wine, traditional boat trips around the island as well as a magnificent and ever changing sunset all the while the island towns light up the night sky with their ravishing lights.
Before advising you on where to stay, where to go and what to avoid when visiting Santorini, it is better to offer you our own experience and how we chose to spend our 5 nights there. First off we decided to fly by airplane there because it is a faster and more efficient way of travel all the while booking the tickets and the hotel a month and a half in advance. We stayed there during the high season in mid of August so prices were at their peak and we knew that money should be well spent. That’s why we decided to stay in Perissa which is located in the southeast part of the island and includes in close proximity the best beaches of the island. Our choice of hotel was a moderate one called Porto Perissa Hotel, just 2 minutes away from the black sand beach. It included a nice, full breakfast, a nice pool, and cozy, traditional rooms. We paid a total of 400 euros (2 adults) for 5 nights which is a very good price considering the date and the island we chose to visit. Secondly, we chose to rent transportation in the form of our own private ATV. Renting the ATV was practical because we could go anywhere we want, fairly fast, park with ease and spent very little on diesel fuel.
Our choices were based on a balance between practicality, time and money management. We knew that Santorini is a medium to reasonably expensive island. With that in mind we decided to stay at a nice hotel that didn’t break the bank, rely on no one for our own transportation (taxis and private buses can cost up to 30 euros per ride or more, depending on your location) and enjoy the sea and the sun as much as possible with the option of visiting nice traditional taverns, enjoy good food and wine and seeing as much of the island as possible.
The plan of 5 days included the following patterns and goals. Wake up, eat breakfast at the hotel inn, spent the morning swimming, eat lunch at a nice restaurant or tavern, spent a few hours in the afternoon back in the hotel relaxing at the pool, snacking and getting ready for the night out. To save you from unnecessary details I will enlist the activities and the places we visited each day in a more organized way¹:
- Day 1: Breakfast, ride the ATV and swim to Perissa Beach for about an hour, ride to Caldera Beach and swim there for two and a half. Ride back to Perivolos and eat lunch in a homonym tavern called Perivolos. Ride back to the hotel, relax a bit by the pool, snack up and get ready to head to Akrotiri, specifically to Faros to see the sunset. Mount the ATV and ride to Atlantida Restaurant where we ate dinner.
- Day 2: Breakfast by the pool, ride the ATV and visit Red Beach. Stay there for about an hour and a half and then ride back to Perivolos and eat a tasty lunch in a very noisy environment (expected because of the date Aug. 15 which is a national holiday in Greece) at Savvas Popeye restaurant. Head back to Perissa Beach and rest at a nice beach bar enjoying the sun and the sea. Return to the hotel, rest and then head off to Fira while the sun is setting. Stroll around the town, and settle in Franco’s bar to enjoy a first class drink with first class views. Jump back on the ATV, head to the hotel and pick up some food on our way back.
- Day 3: Breakfast, ride the ATV to the port where scheduled sailing boats took passengers on a day trip around Santorini including the volcano, the hot springs, and Thirasia. We arrived back at the port in the afternoon, rode back to the hotel and after relaxing at the pool we got ready and headed to Firostefani where we stroll through the city streets and enjoyed our dinner at To Briki restaurant.
- Day 4: Breakfast, and straight to the ATV towards Pyrgos village. After spending about an hour sightseeing the classic architecture of the village and a nearby traditional village we headed towards Kamari Beach. We had already decided that we wanted to be back at the hotel at around lunch time so we can visit Oia early in the afternoon and enjoy the sunset. After doing just that, we rode back to Firostefani where we ate at Vanilla Restaurant while enjoying an elusive view of Fira from our table.
- Day 5: This was our last day so after eating our breakfast and leaving our room we walked down to Perissa Beach where we swam, drank coffee and ate lunch. We chose this little but amazing spot called Tranquillo. After spending the whole morning till midday there, we went back to the hotel, picked our luggage and headed to the airport. It was time to leave. Since we had left the ATV back at rental service earlier in the day, we rented a private bus with a brilliantly funny and slightly ”crazy” driver from Crete who made our departure even tougher from an island that offered us so many great experiences.
Having written all that, and sharing my own personal experience and activity on the island I will end Part 1 of this guide here. Part 2 will include tips and advice on where it is better to stay, where you need to go and what you should avoid when visiting Santorini.
1: Repeated use of «breakfast» in order to give the precise order of activities done in the day.
- Santorini View: The History Of Santorini