Path Nine (9) is the most popular hiking route on the island. It runs along the caldera (a large, bowl-shaped volcanic crater that is mostly submerged), almost to its edge, and connects Fira with Oia (9,800 meters, 3 hours). It is the ideal way to feel the magic of the natural beauties of the island. Along the way, we will climb and descend hills several times, as the path climbs from 185 meters at Oia to 356 meters at Imerovigli, followed by a descent to 185 meters again in Fira. The path offers a rather easy hike and can be started at either end. Before Imerovigli (coming from Oia), it becomes a cobblestone trail. In Oia, the path begins shortly after the parish church of Saint George (Agios Georgios). We will encounter several small churches along the way which naturally serve as ideal landmarks as well as places to rest and enjoy the lovely landscape of the caldera. Getting lost is difficult, as you walk along the edge of the caldera; however, you can easily get lost in the small alleys of Imerovigli!
Below, we discuss the highlights of the route, heading from Oia to Fira.
Starting from the parish church of Saint George (Agios Georgios), follow the road for about 200 meters to the beginning of Path Nine (9) on the right. The path ascends gently, and after about 300 meters it meets the little church of Saint Basil (Agios Vasileios). Built into the rock of the caldera, it offers breathtaking views of the island’s volcano and Oia.
Soon after the route begins, it becomes a steeper uphill climb on a cobblestone path. Approximately 700 meters from the church of Saint Basil (Agios Vasileios), the little church of the Prophet Elias (Profitis Ilias) rises up in front of us. We can also reach the church from the settlement of Finikia, via a short (less than 10 minute) uphill path that starts at the road and ascends cobblestone steps to the church. Behind us we discern all of Oia stretching out before us. If it is time for the sunset, you will enjoy a feast of colors and an image that seems to belong in a painting.
At 305 meters, the church of the High Cross (Psilos Stavros) is located at the highest point of Path 9 (aside from the even higher village of Imerovigli). Its name, Psilos Stavros, which means “High Cross,” emphasizes that height. It is 500 meters from the church of the Prophet Elias, and you can reach it in a little less than 20 minutes. The climb is strenuous, but once you get here, you can sit and relax, enjoying the view of the entire caldera in front of you, with Imerovigli and the Castle of Skaros in the background.
The trail descends from here, and after about 750 meters it meets the main vehicular road that heads from Fira to Oia. At this point there is also a snack bar where we can purchase refreshments and relax a bit in the shade.
From here the path proceeds for about 350 meters on the road (toward Fira) and then ascends again toward the next church of the Prophet Elias (at the sign indicating Path 9). Shortly after that, there are two options. Both lead to the church of the Prophet Elias (Profitis Ilias). The first, on the right, is steeper and more difficult, but shorter, running along the edge of the caldera. The second, on the left, is a smoother cobblestone path, with a gentler slope, but it passes behind the Prophet Elias hill (with views to the east) and then ascends to the right on the paved road that reaches the church of the Prophet Elias.
At 304 meters altitude, the church of the Prophet Elias at Imerovigli, or Profitis Ilias, is located at the second highest point on Path 9 (aside from the village of Imerovigli). The church is beautiful, with a spacious paved courtyard that is partly shaded by a few pines (which are rare in Santorini). The church dates back to 1750.
Descending from the church of the Prophet Elias, we rejoin Path 9, heading toward Imerovigli; the "trail" at this point is actually a paved road. A short time later, we will see a few stairs below us on our right. They ascend to the modern church of Saint Mark (Agios Markos). This church was built on the site of a church of Saint Mark which dated back to 1700 but did not survive. Imerovigli is less than 1,800 meters from here, and it stands before us with the rock of Skaros.
From this point up to Imerovigli, we begin to see notable resort hotels and restaurants along the caldera which offer visitors both high-level services and exceptionally beautiful views of the island’s volcano. A little below, by the beautifully landscaped grounds of the newly built Pantheon Villas, it is worth taking a small detour from our path to follow the narrow trail on our right, with the whitewashed steps. It leads to the small church of Saint Anthony (Agios Antonios) of Atragoudistos, which was carved into the rock of the caldera. There are frescoes from 1750 on the volcanic walls of the church, while the church itself dates back to 1050. According to tradition, an icon of the saint was found at the current location of the church, and although the residents carried it to Saint Mark's church (a little higher, on the hill of the Prophet Elias), the next day the icon was again found back at the same point, where Saint Anthony’s church is now.
Path 9 continues uphill, passing the little church of Saint George (Agios Georgios), and runs into Imerovigli at 360 meters altitude, about 1,800 meters from Saint Mark's church. Here we will find signs with trail directions in two colors. The red shows the path that we are on, Path 9, while the blue signs (used to show short local trails) show one to the castle of Skaros (20 minutes) and another in the opposite direction, toward the little church of the Virgin Mary of Theoskepasti, the God-covered Virgin (Panagia tis Theoskepastis). We continue to Fira, paying attention within the labyrinthine alleys in order to discern the sign with the arrow we show in the picture! From here the path heads down to Fira, where we will arrive in less than 30 minutes.
Leaving Imerovigli at one of the highest points in the village, we will come across the beautiful little church of the Holy Cross (Timiu Stavru). Beautiful view from here to all points of the horizon.
Descending to Fira between Imerovigli and Firostefani, we encounter a convent (or women’s monastery), the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas, or Iera Moni Agiou Nikolaou. It was established on December 6, 1651, with the first nuns girls from the Gyzi family, one of the few orthodox families who lived in the castle of Skaros.
Our journey will end in the center of Fira, almost 10 kilometers from where it began, at the church of Saint George (Agios Georgios) in Oia. Almost three hours of hiking will have given us an unforgettable experience for our senses and a substantial introduction to the beauties and history of this place.