The Seduction of Santorini

by Jared

* This article first appeared here on

From its dramatic volcanic birth centuries ago, to the two million guests that now visit her shored annually, Santorini hardly needs any introduction. While her current name is a contraction of the island’s eponymous Saint, Irini, any visitor who has enjoyed Santorini’s striking natural beauty might prefer her earlier name: Kallístē, or ‘the most beautiful one’.

Today the name conjures up the image of a swath of whitewashed buildings, punctuated by blue domes – all perched on the clifftops above an azure ocean. The island itself is the remnant of an ancient volcano – an eruption in 1620 BC resulted in the dramatic birth of the island. The island is part of the caldera left by the eruption, with most of the volcanic depression underwater.

As with most Mediterranean destinations, the best time to visit is in the shoulder seasons of April to early June and September to November. The winter period still has relatively mild temperatures (10-15 degrees C), but many restaurants and bars will be closed. While Athina Luxury Suites will be your sanctuary on Santorini, when you do decide to explore, the Aegean Island has some treats in store.

Step into Beauty

Prepare to get your heart racing as you explore the island by foot, quickly achieving your daily step count goals. A good starting point to fire up the calves is the 587 steps from Fira to its Old Port. There’s a cable car to connect you between the two, in case you decide one way is enough.

The 12.5km Fira to Oia is perhaps the most-walked trail, taking around 3-4 hours to complete. The trail follows the highest ridge of the ancient volcano, therefore offering vast Aegean vistas.

Beach bodies might prefer the 6km walk from Perissa Beach to Agios Georgios Beach. Since the walk hugs the coast, there’s little elevation, so enjoy the laid-back walk and swims on the beaches along the route – and drink stops at the multiple bars.

Wine by the Basket

Santorini is endowed with a long history of wine production – records show that wine was made in both Roman and Greek times, and the sweet wines of the island were prized in Europe. Thanks to the sweetness and high alcohol levels the wines were able to travel well. Interestingly, during the Ottoman occupation of the island winemaking was still permitted (despite Muslim laws generally forbidding the consumption of wine).

Today there are around 1,200 hectares under vine – with the three white varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, being the most common. Many producers grow and prune their vines in the very unique koulara method: the vine stalks are woven into baskets which rest on the soil, and then the grapes are grown inside, helping protect them from any harsh weather conditions.

When it comes to tasting these wines visitors are spoilt for choice. Start with Venetsanos and enjoy both wines and the winery’s dramatic cliff-top position. Secondly, Gaia produces an impressive 130,000 bottles per annum, with the winery having taken over a former nightclub, and only minutes from the airport. Lastly, Estate Argyros offers a modern tasting centre and is home to vines almost 200 years old – making it one of the island’s oldest producers. Tastings are all around the €15pp mark.

Far from the maddening Crowds

Sharing the island with the other eager tourists, there may be moments when you seek out a bit more solace.  Columbo Beach is perhaps the most remote of all the island’s sandy coves – you won’t find trendy beach clubs, but you’ll have plenty of space to stretch out, with red rock formations towering behind. Mouzakia Beach is another remote option – being only accessible by boat you’ll need to negotiate a ride from Fira.

Akrotiri is a trip worth taking and boasts a well-preserved archaeological site rather reminiscent of Pompei – once you’ve seen the ruins you then have three beaches to choose from: the popular “Red Beach” on the South Side, or the more remote Balos and Gialos Beaches on the Caldera Side.

All in a day’s cruise

If you’re flying into Santorini (the easiest way to get to the island – and has the most air access of any of the Cycladic islands) then consider a day trip to one of the nearby islands. The closest is Ios, with fast ferries as quick as 35 minutes. Here you’ll encounter authentic villages, with more classic Cycladic architecture. If you’re staying close to the capital Chora, Mylopotas is your prettiest swimming option, and if you’re exploring further afield look to Magganari. Legend has it that the literary hero Homer (author of The Odyssey and The Iliad) drew his last breath on the island and there is a tomb you can visit in memory of him.

For a little further flung affair, Crete is a two-hour ride on the fast ferry – if you leave early you’ll have plenty of time to explore. Heraklion is both port and capital and from here you can venture out into Greece’s biggest island. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a treasure trove of ancient finds – combine it with the ruins at Knossos and you’ll have a cultural injection of note. Wind down with a visit to the picturesque Old Venetian Port of Chania – Daliani Street is where you’ll find a buzz of bars and restaurants.

Then, back at Santorini, after all the exploring it’s time to retreat to your sanctuary at Athina Luxury Suites, order one of the bar’s signature cocktails and watch the sun slowly descend on another perfect day in paradise.

You may also like

south african travel journalist