The vast Mediterranean sea is dotted with hundreds of islands, so what makes Santorini, Greece so uniquely renowned? The island is arguably most well-known for its majestic sunsets and its dome-shaped architecture. Though the capital of the island of Santorini is actually Fira (a small city in the central western part of the island that’s also known as Thera/ Thira or Θήρα in Greek), the distinctive blue domes are situated in Oia, a magical hilltop town in the North of the island, characterized by its trailing bougainvillea and winding narrow lanes.
TIPS FOR FIRST-TIMERS IN SANTORINI
‘Blue Domes of Santorini’
The overly photographed Santorini blue domes are the churches of Agios Spyridonas and Anastaseos. Both are built at the edge of the cliffs right next to one another. This image is the iconic ‘landmark’, you could say, of the island – the image you will see plastered on fridge magnets, posters, and other souvenirs.
‘Island of Sunsets’
Due to the popularity of Santorini sunsets, people flock to the best positioned spots on the Island about an hour or so before sunset, so a piece of good advice is to get there relatively early in order to find a good spot. Otherwise, the journey to a remarkable spot can end up resembling a pilgrimage, particularly the walk down the famous narrow paths leading to the blue-domed churches in Oia. The most sought-after Santorini sunset spots tend to be around Oia, and in particular, I found the surroundings of Oia castle and Akrotiri lighthouse to be the most exquisite spots for the sunset. This also makes them the most crowded, and these areas tend to be packed with visitors grabbing a place in order to best watch the sun setting leading up to evening hours, as tourists rush to the most ‘Instagrammable’ spots for their sunset snaps.
Beach Day: for when you need respite from the Santorini crowds
When the chaos and crowds start to feel suffocating, head to Perissa to take a day to chill on the beach – beach and Perissa beach are among the most popular, and you can find a swathe of beach bars and restaurants in this area. The places to eat along these beaches have a great range of Greek and Mediterranean cuisines for standard prices, and their own designated beach spaces, which means you also have a chaise lounge/seating area to reserve during the day.
The little-known village of Akrotiri, tucked away in Southern Santorini
Today I’m going to introduce to you the special village of Akrotiri, on the south-west coast of Santorini; perhaps especially because it is one of the lesser-known places to stay on the Greek island, when contrasted with more popular and developed areas such as the lively centers of Oia and Fira – known for their bustling shops and bars.
The most memorable part of Santorini was for me the quieter villages independent from the busier centers of the island, tranquil and isolated, tucked far away from the overcrowded tourist spots. Aside from Akrotiri, these smaller villages include Pyrgos, Firostefani, and Kamari, and it is worth spending time to discover each one. (There are buses which go from Fira to these villages. The Akrotiri – Fira bus takes around 25 minutes and arrives at the bus station in Akrotiri center.)
With a clear caldera view, majestic lighthouse and its charming local restaurants, Akrotiri is also known for its archaeological site. (Prehistoric Akrotiri was a very important Cycladic bronze age settlement of the Aegean.) The word ‘caldera’, which you will hear a lot from Santorini tour guides and locals, simply means a large volcanic crater, formed when a volcano erupts and collapses. Santorini’s half-moon-shaped bay is the center of the caldera – a cauldron-like volcanic depression – which collapsed after a volcanic eruption during the Minoan civilization.
Black Diamond Suites, Akrotiri
I had the pleasure of staying at a stylish hotel/villa called Black Diamond Suites, in Akrotiri.
Upon arrival at the hotel, you are greeted with a glass of champagne and slices of fresh fruit, to enjoy while you take in the majestic views from your suite. Each with a private, outdoor hot tub, the suites feature elegant accommodation with views of the Aegean Sea and the Caldera. A blend of local architecture with luxury facilities mean the suites offer the ultimate dreamy Greek-island stay, with a feel-good ‘Mamma Mia’ vibe. (Mamma Mia was actually filmed on another Greek island, called Skopelos.)
We stayed in the Superior suite, which was incredibly spacious, with two separate balconies with their own seating areas, open-plan space on the inside with a separate kitchen on the ground floor and a seating area inside plus a lounge, with the beds on the top floor. A heated pool with a spectacular panoramic view in the corner joins the two balconies outside in the middle.
Breakfast with a Caldera view
A full continental breakfast is delivered to your door every morning by staff, which you get to enjoy in the privacy of your own balcony. Breakfast includes freshly sliced fruits, pancakes with a choice of syrup, banana and candied walnuts, as well as Nutella with grated wafers. Enjoying your breakfast privately means that it is all in your own time, on your own terms; the whole time you stay at this place you almost don’t see any guests or staff. There is no large reception to walk through on your way out, no hotel restaurant, and no shared pool area. This for me, was certainly a plus – for guests who wait all year for a relaxing holiday, it is crucial to switch off socially, and reset one’s mind for a while. The suites also have their own private heated pools and their own dining areas both inside and outside, which again provide an opportunity to fully unwind in the privacy of your own circle. The generous staff at Black Diamond Suites genuinely care about giving you the best vacation (Efcharistó, Grigoris!), and do their best to help guests on a personal level, advising them on how to get the best out of Santorini.
On the whole, making the trip to Santorini isn’t just about seeing the ‘blue domes’. The cobbled streets, little Greek villages each with their special qualities, the impeccable cuisine, sacred churches, traditional cave houses, and diverse beaches all coalesce in making the Santorini experience truly remarkable.