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A visitor guide to Santorini

- by Cliff Blaylock

In the sea just north of Crete, over three thousand years ago during the Minoan Era, sat a volcanic island.

Known as Stronghyle to the Minoans of Crete, it became home to a bustling trade port. However, on a day historians of the day still cannot pinpoint, the volcano erupted violently, with cataclysmic results.

So great was this eruption that it changed not only the face of the island, destroying all civilisation on its shores, but led to the downfall of the Minoan people, such was its effect on the lands and weather of southern Greece.

It wasn't all bad though, as the falling ash and newly formed rock led to the creation of the beguiling and mysterious island we know today as Santorini. With such a violent and interesting past, it might come as a surprise to know that the island is one of the most relaxed and beautiful places to visit in all of Greece.

What is the culture like on Santorini?

Nowhere in Greece is quite like Santorini, especially when it comes to their laid-back nature. Being a tourist hotspot, you might expect locals to be a bit tired of all the new faces, but in fact, Santorini is known for its friendly residents, who welcome newcomers to their way of life.

Here, it is perfectly acceptable to while away the time in the sun, laying out on the unusual dark sand beaches or in one of the many cliffside villa pools. If you really want to go all in on the local culture however, take part in their daily siesta, lasting from 3pm until 5pm; and if you don't, try to keep it down.

Towns and villages of Santorini

Santorini is home to a number of beautiful towns and villages, all of which are worth a visit if you have the time. If you don't have long on the island though, make sure you check out these three places:

Oia – Famous for its architecture, Oia features beautiful white-walled houses, pristine chalky walkways flowing between their cliffside resting places and churches topped with exotic blue domes. In the evenings, residents can look out across the bay of Santorini and watch the sunset over the glittering Mediterranean. The perfect place for a romantic retreat.

Fira – Similar to Oia in terms of architecture, Fira is the capital of the island and is, therefore, a bit larger and a bit more lively. It still gets those fantastic sunsets, but when night falls the town comes alive as the hub off all nightlife on Santorini. Clubs and bars aplenty, this is a great place to be if you want to enjoy what the island has to offer in the day and what the city has to offer at night.

Pygros – A little-known gem, when it comes to tourism anyway, Pygros is a small village set atop a hill in the heart of the island. A classic example of medieval Greek architecture, the village is great for exploring, with many small side alleys and hidden passageways. On Pygros's highest point sits a beautiful Venetian castle, and from here you can take in the spectacular views of Santorini.

Activities on Santorini

While it might be one of the most relaxing places in all of Greece, Santorini also boasts a wide variety of fun things to see and do, including:

Diving – Out across the western bay of Santorini, divers are treated to one of the most incredible underwater experiences in Europe, let alone Greece. The rich Med waters, combined with the stunning underwater rock formations left behind by the volcano, make this dive spot a truly awe-inspiring spectacle.

Watersports – While the sheltered waters may make for an amazing diving location, there is still plenty to do above the waves too. On Santorini's coasts, you can get up to all sorts of watersports, such as jet skiing, surfing, banana boating and wakeboarding. The active water sporting nature of the island is great for anyone who likes to get out on the water, from the very experienced to complete novices.

Hiking – When mother earth makes something, she rarely does it with much precision. The Santorini eruptions are a testament to that, as the dark and ominous looking landscape is now warped with steep and jagged cliffs, winding caverns and towering hillsides. While this isn't easy to build on it is absolutely perfect for hikers looking for unique place to explore. Crammed with incredible rock formations, views out onto the Med and stunning coastal walks, Santorini is an unmissable place for any walking enthusiast.

Beaches – Finally, we have the usual time-stealing culprit, however, beaches on Santorini aren't exactly what you would call, 'traditional.' The volcanic history of the island means that instead of being glossy and white, the beaches are paved with dark grey, red and black sand. This unusual touch makes for a rather beautiful spectacle. Far more unique than many other beaches you'll find along the coasts of other Greek islands, they are still perfect for a spot of sunbathing or a nice afternoon doze.
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