Beach Vacations to Santorini, Greek Islands

Red Beach, Santorini, Greece
Red Beach, Santorini, Greece (Bryce Edwards/Flickr)

The stunning entrance to the Greek isle of Santorini is the first taste of the most geologically dramatic island in the Mediterranean. The grand majesty of an ocean-filled volcanic crater ringed by towering rust-colored cliffs with white stucco buildings spilling down them greets visitors, most arriving by ferry. When boats first enter the caldera, formed when a volcano blew out the island's center sometime between 1600 and 1500 B.C., one often hears gasps from the passengers. To this day, some scholars speculate that this volcanic destruction gave birth to the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis, and the mythical feel of the isle makes many visitors believers. Many of its beaches are filled with black or red sand-volcanic in origin-including the stunning Koloubos Beach on the northeast shore.

Monumental, crescent-shaped Santorini seems almost imaginary. After Mykonos, Santorini (population 7,000) is the most popular of the Greek islands, and for good reason. Its two principal towns, Fira and Oia (also transliterated as Ia) are perched at the summit of the caldera, and most hotels, restaurants, and even stores have incredible, panoramic views of the sea. In addition to the scenery, Santorini features one of the most important sites of old Greece—Ancient Thira—spectacularly situated high atop a promontory overlooking a black-lava beach. The remains of this Greek, Roman, and Byzantine city sprawl over acres of rugged terrain. You can take in the island's other ancient sites at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira in Fira.

Before the 1970s, just one boat a month came to this then-rural outpost of the Cycladic Islands, when only the jet set and the famous seemed to know of its existence. Now the place is more touristy, with the main town of Fira full of nightclubs and jewelry shops, while the smaller town of Oia is more secluded and artsy (some say even pretentious). The rest of the island is rural, with vineyards, expansive beaches, and a mountaintop monastery. Popular pastimes include hiking from one village to the next along the cliffs, taking boat tours to the hot springs found in the caldera, and simply sitting for hours with a glass of excellent island wine, whispering sweet nothings into your honey's ear. Few islands in the world are as cinematic or romantic.

Published: 8 Oct 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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