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Twenty-five suggestions for discovering the treasures of Santorini

Unique since its birth in an ancient volcanic eruption, Santorini is consistently ranked as one of the leading tourist destinations worldwide. It combines so much that you will need to visit the island repeatedly in order to discover its many secrets: archaeology, geology, industrial history, traditional villages, footpaths, rare vineyards that produce high quality wine, vast dark colored beaches, and above all its dramatic caldera, the volcano, and the waters of the Aegean that create a landscape so striking that people come from all corners of the earth to admire it. Here we offer twenty-five suggestions for discovering the treasures hidden on this magical island.


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Altitude (in meters) : 245

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1. Archaeological site of Akrotiri: One of the most important archaeological sites in the world is located in Akrotiri, Santorini. One of the most complete, best preserved prehistoric settlements was discovered here. Its first traces date back to about 4500 BC and stop at the time of the great volcanic eruption in 1600 BC. Excavations were begun in the second half of the 19th century by the French geologist Fouqué and continued by the French School of Archaeology (1870). The work was pursued vigorously by Professor Spyridon Marinatos starting in 1967, and excavations continue to this day, as it is believed that only a small part of the original settlement has been revealed. Especially noteworthy are the remarkably detailed frescoes, including the representations of fishermen, the blue monkeys, and the crocus gatherers. The ash of the volcanic eruption and the mud that covered the whole settlement afterwards are the main causes of its good preservation up to the present day.

2. Ancient Thera: Ancient Thera is the second most important archaeological site on the island after Akrotiri. Most of the excavations there were undertaken by German archaeologists between 1895 and 1902. Ancient Thera was founded in the 9th century BC by Dorian colonists and inhabited up to the Byzantine period. Most of the excavated ancient monuments are from the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

More than 360 meters high at its peak, Mesa Vouno (which means “Inside Mountain”) rises high above the coastal settlements of Kamari and Perissa, offering visitors beautiful panoramic views of the whole region. It is important to note that Mesa Vouno is one of the few areas on Santorini that were not covered by volcanic materials. This is also apparent in the current soil morphology. The archaeological site is well organized, and we follow a specific, defined route as we walk across it. We will find significant discoveries from Ancient Thera in the big, modern Archaeological Museum of Fira.

3. Walking on the edge of the caldera: 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!

4. The golden apple of Santorini: An important part of the industrial history of the island relates to the processing of the very sweet and distinctive Santorini tomato. For many years this and the wineries provided the most important sources of income for the island’s residents.

The famous Santorini cherry tomato arrived on the island in the last half of the 19th century. There are two versions of the story of its introduction to the island. One claims that the first seeds were brought to Santorini by Italian Catholic monks, while the other asserts that they came from Suez when the canal was being built (1859 - 1869), as large quantities of soil from Santorini were used during that project, and there was frequent communication with the island. The production of the chrysomilo, or golden apple, as they called it (in an exact translation of the Italian description “pomod’ oro”), developed especially after 1917. At that time, because of the Russian Revolution, there was a decrease in exports of the famous Vinsanto wine to Russia, where it had been used as the Holy Communion wine for the Tsars. Increased production of tomato products led to industrialization, and so after the war nine (9) tomato processing factories were active in Santorini.

To learn more about the industrial history of the tomato in Santorini, we highly recommend that you visit the factory - museum of G. Nomikos in Vlychada, on the southern tip of the island. The historic factory of Vlychada has now been converted into an Industrial Museum which offers guided tours and a space for art and events.

5. Descending the Caldera to the baths of Plaka: At the 200 meter altitude marker on the eastern edge of the region of Megalochori, Path Seven (7) begins, heading to the thermal baths of Plaka. This path is one of the few places on the island where we can descend to the bottom edge of the caldera, at sea level. Each descent of the caldera is an impressive, unprecedented experience, but it is equally dangerous and is undertaken at your own risk. Special caution is required because of both the steep terrain and possible landslides. The trail starts as a nice cobbled road with dark volcanic rocks but changes halfway down, when we encounter the church of Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos). Then it becomes narrow and steep, remaining so until its end at the church of the Virgin Mary (ekklisia tis Panagias) and the old baths. The total downhill time is 30 minutes (and 40 minutes uphill), and the ideal time for the descent is one hour before sunset.

6. Beaches in Balo Bay: On either side of the little church of Saint Nicholas in Balo (or Palo) Bay at Akrotiri, we find two very beautiful secluded beaches with black volcanic sand. We reach the beaches and the church by descending from the main road to Akrotiri (covering a 110 meter altitude difference), starting where we see the second sign for Path Eleven (11) (after the Avant Garde hotel). The trail is steep and requires some caution (descent time 15 minutes). In the 19th century, this area was a port where the region's products were transported. We will see its damaged pier, as well as crumbling buildings and a cave on the small deserted beach west of the little church. Path Eleven (11) continues east of the beach, running along the coastline to the organized Apothikes beach (time 20-25 minutes), and from there it ascends to the main road of Akrotiri.

7. Visit to Vothonas: One of the island’s oldest settlements, appearing in reports from the 18th century AD. Here we will find the most numerous and most characteristic cave houses on the island. The settlement is built on both sides of a gorge which now runs through the village as a narrow central road. Several mansions were built in the settlement in the late 19th century, when it was flourishing.

8. Path Four (4) - Pyrgos - Saint George - Episkopi: A very beautiful, easy route which connects Pyrgos with Episkopi. Path 4 leads to the Byzantine church of the Virgin Mary, and on its way passes the castle/monastery of Saint George the Refuge (called Agios Georgios Katefio), which is wedged into the rocks, and the fortified fountain of Aga, or Vrysi tu Aga. The total distance from this point is 2,000 meters to Episkopi (40 minutes) and 800 meters to the castle/monastery of Saint George (15 minutes). From Saint George to Episkopi, there is practically no path. Descend to the northeast through the fields, keeping the northern slopes of the mountain of Prophet Elias (Profitis Ilias) on your right.

9. Santo Horse Riding: Here you can combine your interest in horseback riding with a chance to get to know the island's countryside. The circular route starts just outside the archaeological site of Akrotiri, passing through vineyards and fields and near the church of Saint Anna outside Akrotiri, and ending up at the black Eros Beach before returning to the Santo Horse premises.

10. Visit to Thirasia: In the shadow of Santorini (Thira), Thirasia can offer an alternative for those seeking authenticity, tranquility, and solitude. Along with Santorini, Thirasia was part of the archipelago of Strongyle, which separated after the great eruption of 1600 BC. Thirasia now forms part of the perimeter of the large caldera that formed in the years following the eruption. Its geomorphology closely resembles that of Santorini, but in contrast to the better known island, touristic development here has mainly focused on visitors who come as part of the daily tours of boats that depart from the port of Fira to visit the volcano on Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. The reality for those who want to really know the island and love it is fortunately different.

We therefore strongly recommend that you steal a little of your time from Santorini and visit this beautiful island, even if briefly--not as part of your visit to the volcano, but on a day entirely dedicated to it. You can find detailed information on how to get to Thirasia here.

11. Tour of the Volcano: We are on the islet of Nea Kameni, or what is known as "the volcano"--the volcanic island created by the eruption of 1570, which the Ministry of Culture has designated a historic place of exceptional natural beauty.

Along with the famous sunset, the volcanic island is rightfully the top attraction of Santorini for millions of visitors from all over the world. We can reach the small island of Nea Kameni by tour boat from the Old Port of Fira, where there are very frequent connections, especially in the summer months. Once you arrive on the volcanic island, you pay another small fee (about 5 euros) and start your tour. It is necessary to wear athletic shoes and light clothes and to take water and sunscreen. After a climb of about 20 minutes, we find the first craters. From the depths of the earth, sulfur gushes out, with steam in some places, while the rugged landscape is complemented by the volcanic rocks and the reddish soil. The view of Santorini and the island of Thirasia across the water is simply unique.

12. Argyros Winery - Museum: A tour not to be missed is the Museum - Winery of the Argyros family in Exo Gonia. The old pre-industrial winery of 1861 stopped operating in 1952, when its third owner, Nikolaos A. Argyros, founded the Union of Santorini Cooperatives and the largest winery on the island, today called Santo Wine. In 1999, his son, Antonis N. Argyros, put his family’s old winery back into business by founding the Art Space. The premises of the old winery were restored and transformed into a museum and gallery, while the winery resumed production in a nearby cave that had been used as an old barn. The dominant material is a 6-meter thick layer of pumice, which is an ideal insulator, thereby offering the perfect environment for the maturation and aging of wine. The second main advantage of the cave is the altitude difference, which has enabled “vertical winemaking." Although it is small, with great enthusiasm and high technology, the Art Space Winery aims at high quality rather than quantity.

13. Kasteli at Akrotiri: Kasteli at Akrotiri is one of the five castles on the island. Built in the 13th century, during the Venetian period in the Middle Ages, it was called Kasteli Punta or La Ponta, which means “the peak.” In the middle of the settlement was the “Goulas” (tower) of Akrotiri, which was in very good condition until the earthquake of 1956, when it was severely damaged. Today in the tower in the heart of Kasteli, there is a Greek bagpipe exhibition space, shop, and workshop called La Ponta, where visitors can find traditional handmade musical instruments, books with interesting information, and (often) cultural and musical events.

14. Visit to the Windmills: Gavrilos Hill is a low hill south of Emporio where there are Byzantine ruins, and where eight traditional windmills were built on the ridge in the 19th century. The mills of Santorini were made of volcanic stones, water, soil, and lime, and their height reached around six meters. The windmills have been designated as historical, listed buildings, and a study by the municipality provides for two of them to be restored in the future so they can function as normal windmills, one to be turned into a windmill museum, a fourth to become a traditional café, and the rest to function as shops selling traditional products. At the end of the ridge, on the hilltop, the row of eight windmills begins. From the high ground near the last one, we can enjoy stunning views toward the southern part of the island.

15. Sunset in Oia: The Santorini sunset is the most famous in the world! It therefore goes without saying that visitors will be found at various points on the caldera at the moment of dusk, prepared to enjoy this magical spectacle. In Oía and in particular at the Castle (Kastro), large crowds gather each evening to enjoy the amazing view of the sunset. Perched on every possible spot at the edge of the village, visitors set up their cameras and patiently wait to admire the splendor of nature. The color combinations that arise from the sunset are really extraordinary, and the show compensates even the most demanding....

16. Visit to Skaros: Also known as "The Castle" (Toh Kastro or Kasteli), Skaros was the most important of the five fortified settlements that existed in Santorini. An entire state of 200 houses, cobbled streets, and churches lived in it. The Rock (Oh Vrachos) was inhabited during Medieval times because, having been built as a fort, it offered protection from pirates. It is worth noting that the castle was not captured once by Turks or pirates during the entire period of Venetian domination. It was severely damaged by the eruption of the underwater volcano of Kouloumpos in 1650. Thus only some ruins survive today. Do not forget to follow the small path behind the rock that leads to the little church of the Virgin Mary of Theoskepasti, the God-covered Virgin (Panagia tis Theoskepastis), built on the western edge of Skaros, which features spectacular views of the caldera and the Aegean Sea. Indeed it is the only building that exists on the rock today!

17. Old Port of Fira: Another interesting trip worth making is to the Old Port of Fira. For the descent to it, we recommend the cable car, which is the link with the town of Fira. This pioneering work is now able to transfer 1,200 people per hour, covering the distance in 3 minutes. The view during the descent is impressive! For your return, we recommend that you climb the 587 steps on the cobblestone path with the donkeys to be found at the harbor entrance. Don’t miss the unique experience of climbing in the traditional way the islanders got around for decades!


18. Visit to Finikia: In the northwestern part of the island, very close to Oía, is Finikia, one of the most interesting - and less crowded - settlements on the island. In the past, farmers and vine growers made up the majority of the village population. It is worth noticing that the houses are surrounded by walls made of black stones, while the dominant color in the village is white (in combination with salmon, blue and red). An alternative route to the village goes past the church of the Prophet Elias of Oia on Path 9, which connects Oia with Fira, and takes less than 10 minutes. This is an uphill footpath that starts at the road and climbs cobblestone steps to the little church. Coming down Path 9 from Fira, Prophet Elias is the second church that we find after the church of Saint Vasilios.


19. Episkopi Gonia Festival: One of the characteristic features of Santorini is the countless little churches that we find in every village, on every path, and even carved into the rock all over the island. Belief in God was a refuge for residents who lived in fear of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Consequently, numerous festivals are held to honor each saint. One of the most important festivals on the island -- well worth a visit around August 15 – occurs at the church of the Virgin Mary of Episkopi (Panagia tis Episkopis) in Episkopi Gonia. This 11th century Middle Byzantine church was built in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin by Emperor Alexios I, Komnenos (also written Alexius I, Comnenus). In the past it was the seat of the Orthodox, and later Roman Catholic, diocese. The most precious treasure of the church is the icon of the Virgin Mary Glykofilousa (Panagia Glykofilousa, sweetly kissing Virgin Mary). This large processional icon of the Virgin and Child with the figures of six Hierarchs in the framework is an important work of Byzantine art, as it is of particular iconographic and stylistic interest. After preservation by the Ministry of Culture, the icon was permanently returned to the church of Episkopi, with a modern addition to ensure the appropriate climate for its conservation. During the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin and in particular, the night before the holiday, large pots of beans and traditional fava are cooked. On the day of the Assumption a big celebration with music and dancing brings together locals and vacationers.


20. Diving: Santorini is a destination, which - among other things - is ideal for diving in its clear blue waters to discover the magic of the volcanic seabed. For this reason, there are organized diving centers that offer visitors the right equipment and assistance from diving professionals so they can safely enjoy this special sport. More specifically, you can visit the Mediterranean Dive Club in Perissa to find out about individual and group diving, the speed boat safari, and special diving sections even for children over 6 years of age!

21. The castle of Emporio: The island’s castles were fortified settlements where the houses were built stuck to each other so as to form a single wall. There was usually a major entrance on their internal side. Construction began on the Venetian castle of Emporio in the 15th century, around 1450 AD. Later, it also expanded outside the fortified enclosure. It is one of five castles on the island and the best preserved today, as it is inhabited. An important ecclesiastical monument in the village is the church of the Virgin Mary Mesani (Panagia Mesani) with its ornate 16th century bell tower. Entering the fortified settlement through its impressive "door," it is worth getting lost in the labyrinth formed by the narrow alleys where houses mingle with small stairways and terraces, arcades and little bridges. The castle is inhabited, so our tour of it should respect the privacy of its residents. If we climb onto a terrace we will enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding area and Gavrilos Hill across from us, with its series of windmills.

22. Visit to the Beach of Christ in Thermi: At the church of Saint Efstathios or Ai-Stathis in the area of Plaka in Megalochori, a very beautiful path begins that leads to the edge of the caldera, by the sea, at the beautiful beach of Christ in Thermi, also called Christos or Thermi Beach. A few meters above the beach, wedged into the rock, we can see the little church of Christ (Transfiguration of the Savior)—Christos or Metamorphosi tu Sotiros, in Greek. Like any caldera route, this path requires care and attention, because it is quite steep. The trail is generally distinct, but there are two or three points where we need to be careful not to go in the wrong direction. (We have marked them as separate points on the map, and there are also stones on the path.) It takes 25 to 30 minutes to head downhill, while the laborious ascent requires 30 or 40 minutes. The beach is secluded, with large, dark volcanic pebbles, beautiful views, and deep, clear waters. The little church of Christ and the area the path crosses are privately owned by the Gavalas family.

23. Path 10 (ten): Finikia - Our Lady the Virgin Mary - Karra Beach - Columbo: Very beautiful, passable walking route starting at the traditional settlement of Finikia, which it crosses, continuing north to the long Baxedes Beach and Karra Beach, and on to the cape of Columbo (also called Koloumbos, Kouloumpos, etc.). On our way we will see the church of Saint Constantine (Agios Konstantinos), and on a small hill east of it, the little church of Our Lady the Virgin Mary (Kyra Panagia). Total distance: 4,600 meters; estimated walking time 80 to 90 minutes.

24. Path One (1): Pyrgos - Prophet Elias - Ancient Thera: Path One (1) is one of the most beautiful and most interesting walking routes in Santorini. In 4,300 meters and 100 minutes, it connects Pyrgos with Ancient Thera and brings you in touch with some of the most historic parts of the island. It is divided into two parts. The first covers the route from Pyrgos to the Monastery of the Prophet Elias (Moni tu Profiti Ilia), beginning a little before the Old School of Pyrgos, near the church of the Holy Apostles (Agious Apostolous). It is an uphill walk, but short; in less than 30 minutes from the church of the Holy Apostles, you will reach the monastery. The second part of the path heads from the monastery to Ancient Thera, and it is longer (about one hour), but easier, since we descend from 550 meters altitude to 270 meters (by the parking area for the archaeological site). On the way, you can stop several times to enjoy the beautiful views that will overwhelm you at every step.

25. Christoulaki: One of the oldest churches in Santorini is Christoulaki (Transfiguration of the Savior, or Metamorphosi tu Sotiros in Greek). Carved into the rock, it got its name—a diminutive form of “Christ”--due to its very small size (2.7 x 2.8 x 2.0 meters). In 1716 it was bought by the abbot and founder of the Prophet Elias Monastery, Gabriel Belonias. It is well hidden, west of the archaeological site of Ancient Thera and across from the monastery of the Prophet Elias, and we can only get to it with permission from the custodian of the area. In front of the church there is a plateau and then a steep cliff, so caution is needed (especially when strong winds blow). Take care on the steps carved into the stone that will take us to the point where we leave the archaeological site to descend to the little church.

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