Santorini 2016



There is more to Santorini of course the bars, restaurants, views of Thira, the quietness of Oia or the beaches and nightlife of the outer coast. There are the ruins of Akrotiri which some claim is evidence that the people that once populated the island may or may not have been the civilization of Atlantis. The first trace of the city was discovered by French archeologists after an eruption of the volcano in 1866. Professor Spyridon Marinatos later unearthed the rest of the city which was preserved by volcanic ash. Marinatos was killed by a fall on the site and he is buried among the stones to which he had devoted his life. Since the ruins are mostly of mud brick the site is covered to shelter it from the elements. You should get here early because once the tour buses arrive it becomes a slow process. 
There are the ruins of Ancient Thira on a mountain between the beaches at Kamari and Perissa which are best visited in the early morning before the sun has gotten too hot. The terraced ruins that overlook the sea date back to the 3rd century BC and the Ptolemies, with also the remnants of Hellenistic and Roman civilization. 
Many of the artifacts found in ancient Thira and Akrotiri can be found in the new archeological museum in Thira which you can find by asking directions from anyone. 


I can't help but to keep coming back to the volcano because even sitting at my desk writing, it looms in the back of my mind like a sleeping giant. And it is asleep, not dead. It's an active volcano that erupted in 1956 and may do so again one day though perhaps not in our lifetime. Proof of the life that still exists within this giant hole filled with water is the island of Nea Kamini in the centre of the bay which emerged in 1707. Next to it in the older island of Palia Kamini you can take hot mud baths, usually an indication of something brewing beneath the surface. You can reach these two islands by excursion boats. Across the bay is the island of Thirasia which is actually the other rim of the volcano and was once part of the same island. There are hotels, tavernas and a village that faces the cliffs of the volcano on the main island.

I had a dream once of Santorini erupting. I had not been there in years but in the dream I was on Sifnos and we saw the plume of smoke and I had the sensation of major change that one gets in a hurricane or when he looks out the window and sees tanks in the square across the street. Even as we talked of what we were witnessing we could see stretched on the horizon the line of boats as the first refugees from Santorini came, seeking shelter from the earth's upheaval. 
Since there were no human remains found in the ruins of Akrotiri, it's a good indication that the inhabitants of Santorini knew what was coming and took off for safer ground. But did they make it? It is believed that when the volcano erupted in the 14th century BC it caused a tidal wave that destroyed the cities of Minoan Crete. That is quite a tidal wave and the eruption was perhaps the biggest cataclysmic event within human history (so far). 
For all Santorini has to offer, it's fine beaches, active nightlife, restaurants, tomato keftedes(deep fried tomato balls are an island specialty), raki (like ouzo but stronger and does not taste like licorice), excellent wines (the volcanic soil and climate make the island one of the best places to grow grapes in the world): it's the volcano that is the star of the island. Take it away and all you have is another island with tomato balls. The black sand beaches, the wine, the raki are all by-products of the explosion that destroyed life on the island and created in it's place a destination that offers what few others do, that is not only fun but profoundly dramatic in scenery. I don't think you could go Santorini to another planet and be more impressed you will be when you see for the first time.


 Santorini Nightlife

There is certainly plenty of nightlife in the beach towns but the true romantics stay in or near Fira and get back there from the beaches with plenty of time to shower, take a short nap and then walk to one of the bars that line the volcano for a few drinks and to watch the sunset. These are the types of places where friendships are made since you are all sharing the same remarkable experience. It is an experience that heightens one's awareness of nature and his own place within it. It's a sense of awe combined with the relaxation that comes from the drink you have and the knowledge that there is nowhere you have to be. It's also a great place to meet girls (and boys). 
Some of the hotels provide live Greek music for their guests. The Villa Mathios for example features George Papalexis, an excellent bouzouki player with several CD's who plays with an assortment of friends, relatives and fellow employees at the hotel. 

Around Santorini

Santorini is like three islands. One side is the caldera with the villages of Fira, Imerovigli, Firastefani and Oia perched so far above the sea that it may as well be a painting. This is the commercial part of Santorini. This part of the island brings in most of the money and is completely dependent on it's image to attract the visitors. They do a damn good job. You can say what you want about the changes tourism brings to a community but it is impossible to not be impressed with the beauty of these towns and if there is another earthquake they will be sorely missed when they slide down into the sea.




The towns of Perissa and Kamari attract to their black sand beaches, thousands of suntanned boys and girls with perfect bodies. I remember hearing of these marvels of nature (the sand, not the tanned bodies). Black sand to me was like white whales or purple mountains majesty. Something that was considered beyond special and had to be seen to be believed. What the tourist guides don't tell you about black sand which would be fairly obvious if I had thought about it is that it's hot as hell. On a summer's day you cannot walk from your towel to the sea without your flip-flops. You can look down the beach and see the heat rising in waves off the black sand and the shore is lined with flip-flops, waiting like patient dogs whose masters have gone for a swim. Perissa and Kamari are full of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. The drop in package tourism may have hurt business somewhat but it has made these beaches a better place for people like you and I who want a little Greece with their Greek Island. There are supermarkets, campsites and even some kind of water park for kids in Perissa. Both Kamari and Perissa have diving centers. On the way to these beaches you pass through towns like Megalochori and Emborio which are agricultural communities that held out til the last minute before giving in to tourism, where you can still find restaurants that are filled with mostly Greeks.

The third part of Santorini is Akrotiri, known of course for the famous ruins from the Minoan period. The actual village of Akrotiri is not as well known and that is for a number of reasons. The main reason is that the road to the archaeological site does not even go through the town. Tourists see the site and then head for the next spot on their itinerary or else to the beach. Very few go to the village. So on the island that is probably the most popular tourist destinations in Greece there is a village with all the qualities of a remote island. 
There is not much to see in Akrotiri town. People go about their work. They are farmers mostly or engaged in some kind of craft. Probably many of the people work in hotels and restaurants around the island. But it is a quiet village and enjoyable to wander around in. There is an old fortress at the top of the town which was destroyed during the earthquake in 1956. This was the site of the town and instead of restoring it they rebuilt the town below the fortress. You can still go up and wander around. From the top of the village you can see the caldera of the volcano and miles of grapes. In fact you can see most of the island.

In my opinion the narrow section of the island which contains Akrotiri has the two best beaches (Red Beach and Vlichada), some of the best (and cheapest) tavernas, and is close enough to the popular Perissa beach too. There are beaches within the volcano crater too like Caldera Beach. Before you get the idea that Red Beach and Vlichada are remote, secluded beaches, no such luck. It's rows and rows of umbrellas and beach chairs, but in a setting that could be on another planet if not for the familiar blue-ness of the sea.





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