Santorini is right up there among the most popular destinations for a romantic getaway, and the reasons are not surprising. Where else in the world can you enjoy crystal clear waters and the most exceptional sunsets, from the front row, right on the edge of a spectacular volcano in the beautiful Aegean Sea?
1. See the sunsets from the best vantage points on the island
The favourite sunset viewing point inevitably comes down on the side of Oia. Oia is also arguably Santorini’s most picturesque town, with its distinctive white cave-like houses carved into niches on the volcanic rock of the caldera, seemingly tumbling down the slopes towards the sea. This is what happened in actuality to the 15th century Oia Castle in the earthquake in 1956, and the castle ruins, from its position at the highest point in Oia, now provide the most popular sunset views. However, it is also possible to witness magnificent sunsets from most places on the rim of the Caldera, including Fira, Firostefani and Imerovigli. However, if you want to see the sunset in relative peace from other tourists, an atmospheric alternative is the lighthouse at Akrotiri, where you can you can also appreciate the historic significance of the island, when Akrotiri was one of the Aegean’s most important cities, dating back to the Minoan Bronze Age.
2. Indulge in local gastronomic delights
Beautiful scenery, architecture, atmosphere and views should certainly be accompanied by a special gastronomic experience. At the many restaurant and taverna choices, it is well worth trying the local specialities, such as the white eggplants, fava beans and a special goat’s cheese called ‘hloró tyrí’, local wild capers, the distinctive tiny and flavour-packed cherry tomatoes, as well as the exceptional fresh fish dishes. A few tried and tested ideas (where you can combine sunset viewing with a great meal) include:
Selene restaurant has moved in 2010 from its original location in Fira, to the beautifully preserved village of Pyrgos, which surrounds a medieval castle on one of the highest points of the island. The aim of the restaurant has always been to create imaginative and delicious dishes, making full use of local products. Its location, surrounded by Santorini’s famous vineyards and farmland, no doubt helps its ethos! The restaurant was the winner of a Gold Award as a Gastronomic Destination at the Greek Tourism Awards 2015.
Ochre Restaurant, Oia
Ochre restaurant sits in a truly stunning location, right at the very edge of Oia, perfect for those sunset views while dining on its outdoor terrace. They even provide you with blankets so you enjoy your dinner outdoors on cooler evenings. The restaurant offers a gourmet menu and excellent wine list.
Archipelagos Restaurant, Fira
Converted from an old captain’s house, dating from 1860, Archipelagos, carved into a volcanic cliff on the edge of the caldera, offers exceptional panoramic views of the island, and the Aegean Sea. If you are wanting the unique experience of dining in one of the most breathtaking locations in Greece, look no further than either of the two verandas here which literally hang over the caldera.
Sunset Fish Tavern, Ammoudi
Featured in the New York Times as a recommended Santorini experience, this restaurant does not disappoint either in terms of location or cuisine. It sits in an idyllic location at the bottom of Oia’s cliffs, right by the sea, at Ammoudi, an old fishing port. Enjoy freshly cooked seafood, lobster spaghetti, stuffed eggplant, and fisherman’s salad.
3. Try the very distinctive and enjoyable local wines
If you didn’t know already, Santorini wines are among the most popular in Greece, and the island has become very credible as a wine tourist destination. The vines, cultivated in the volcanic soil produce a unique grape variety, assyrtiko, indigenous to Santorini , which makes up 70% of the vineyards of Santorini. Assyrtiko produces dry, full-bodied white wines with a distinctive character derived from the volcanic soil. It is also blended with Athiri and Aidani to make the sweet wine, Vinsanto. There are a number of wineries to visit offering organised tours, as well as wine tasting. If you only have time for one, try the Boutari Winery, close to the traditional village of Megalochori, on the way to Akrotiri. You can take a guided tour to take a look at how Greek wine is made, and/or sample some wines as well.
4. Admire the architecture, both coastal and inland
The traditional architecture of Santorini is similar to that of the other islands in the Cyclades, with its cubic white-washed houses and blue domed churches. Set against the backdrop of the stark volcanic cliffs, on which they are perched, almost as if stacked on top of each other, they are uniquely appealing. Oia is a typically pictuesque example where you can witness both the old ‘cave houses’ (working men’s houses),the ‘captains’ houses’ (mansions) and the blue-domed churches for which Santorini is so well known. Despite having been seriously damaged by the earthquake, it has been rebuilt with total respect to the traditional architecture and, over recent years many of the original cave houses and captains’ houses have been converted into modern and luxurious rental houses and hotels.
Inland, about 9 kms from the capital, Fira, the peaceful little village of Megalochori is a popular holiday base from which to enjoy the many attractions of this unique island from a different perspective. Built in the mid-19th century, it was inhabited by merchants and feudal landlords who became wealthy by exporting the unique Vinsanto wine, which the island still produces. Megalochori had a particularly strong link with Odessa in Russia and many of the church bells which still toll in the village today are from Russia. Further inland, in the heart of the island, and close to the beaches of Perivolos and Perissa, it is also worth visiting the very pretty preserved village of Emporio. With its narrow whitewashed streets, churches and a ruined medieval castle. On the hill above the village you will find picturesque old Santorini windmills, and the ruins of a fortress, known as Kastel, dating from the Byzantine period.The village itself has a strong medieval character and most of the houses have been well-preserved. At the entrance stand two lovely, blue domed Cycladic churches with impressive bell tower that dominate the village.
5. Don’t miss the museums and Akrotiri
Probably the most important archaeological site in the Aegean, and open to the public, walking around the streets and squares of the original pre-historic settlement of Akrotiri, is like travelling back in time. Destroyed by the Theran volcanic eruption around 1627 BC, excavations provide a glimpse into urban life during the Minoan period, including multi-level buildings and wall frescoes. Visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thera and the Archaeological Museum is to delve further into the long and interesting history of the island. Exhibits at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera include plaster furniture mouldings and bronze pottery items, while the Archaeological Museum has collections of sculptures and inscriptions from the Archaic to the Roman Era.
6. Take a Boat Trip to the Volcano
There are several companies offering boat trips to the island of Nea Kameni on a romantic boat fully rigged out with sails. On arrival at Nea Kameni, you will have a little over one hour to visit the active craters. The journey is a couple of hours each way to and from the island, but a wonderful way to experience the beauty and sheet magic of Santorini from the sea, as well as get a close-up view of the volcano.