Discover the Greek Cyclade islands of Santorini, Thirasia, Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni from above and below sea level.
Situated in Europe’s Aegon Sea, the island of Santorini is named after Saint Irene. The island and once connected smaller neighbouring islands of Thirasia, Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni all have a rugged, hilly landscape and black beaches due to a long history of earthquakes and volcanoes.
Perissa is a picturesque, well located and pleasant coastal village. The black beach and generally calm water is great for swimming and snorkelling. Be careful getting into the sea because from being fairly shallow it just drops, one of the reasons why it is so great for snorkelling. Without swimming too far out, a variety of colourful fish and sea creatures can be seen.
The beach is lined with places to eat and drink and a traditional Greek church with its white walls and blue domed roof is nearby. The village is home to little gift shops, tourist offices and restaurants.
Hellas Restaurant is a great place to try out Greek food and drinks whilst in Perissa. Spiros and his family offer a warm welcome, friendly service, good prices and traditional dishes that will not leave you feeling hungry.
There is a selection of places to stay, including the friendly aparthotel of Villa Markos. At Villa Markos they speak both Greek and English with room options including studios, apartments and penthouses. The property is close to Perissa beach and offers views of the hills leading up to Ancient Thira.
The mountainous area is great for walking up. Although it is not too difficult, adequate footwear, clothing, water, sun cream and definitely a camera are all advised. There is a small church approximately halfway up, which can be seen lit up at night and is worth a stop off.
At the top lies the archaeological site of Ancient Thira, which you can go in and get a closer look at for an entry fee of a few euros. Roman baths, churches, temples, gymnasiums, sanctuaries and a theatre can all be seen in the ruins, with accompanying information. Spectacular views can be taken in across Perissa beach and Kamari, which lies at the other side of the mountain.
For surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers, Monolithos which is further up the east coast from Perissa and Kamari is the ideal location to hit the waves. The water conditions there are considered good for all levels from beginners to advanced.
For those looking for some slightly different accommodation, Tzannis Cave House in Monolithos offers enchanting overnight stays in a nautical cave. The charming location is surrounded by sand dunes and the sound of the waves. There is an outdoor terrace to enjoy the views.
On the southern tip of Santorini lies Vlychada. A small coastal town with a port that receives the daily catch from the local fishermen in their small boats. This is a pleasant, quiet place to enjoy some fresh seafood and local wine at a beach side table. The evening is particularly nice to quietly watch the sun go down.
On the west coast of the island are the best spots to watch the famous Santorini sunsets.
Pirgos, is the home of Santos wines. They have a lovely outdoor seating area offering spectacular coastal and sunset views over the Caldera volcano. They serve their own wines, other drinks and food, plus they have a gift shop full of local produce. The winery also offers cellar tours to give guests an insight to the wine making process and understand why the volcanic soil is ideal for growing wine grapes, tomatoes and fava beans.
Probably the most popular place on the island to see the sunset is the purpose-built tourist town of Oia. It is quaint and picturesque but is far from quiet. It is bustling with tourists and holiday makers in every nook and cranny of the town. Gift shops, bars and restaurants line the small streets and anywhere with a sunset view will be busy from early evening. It is very different to anywhere else on the island, but no Santorini experience would be complete without it.
Oia is on the north-west coast of the island and is accessible by road or boat. The town is much higher than the port, built on the cliff edge, so there is a steep climb up. Donkeys are available to ride up and either way there are plenty of photo opportunities.
The port of Fira is Santorini’s main port and the ideal place to sail across to not only the neighbouring islands, but also those further away. Also based at the bottom of a cliff there is a steep journey or the option of a cable car.
The largest and most northern of the neighbouring islands is Thirasia. This island has held on to its own traditions and the main sights consist of little white and blue buildings, small colourful boats and a rugged landscape that contrasts against the bright blue sea. The food is outstanding, especially at the places serving from a barbecue. The fresh daily fish and seafood is cooked on the terrace of the waterside restaurants. There is accommodation on the island and there are many places to go exploring on foot or by swimming.
The island of Nea Kameni is most commonly known for the volcano of Caldera. It is the most central of this group of islands. Accessible only by boat, it is possible to walk up and around the smouldering volcanic land. Lava marks and craters can be seen as a constant reminder to the devastation the eruption of this volcano brought to the area in the 16th Century B.C.E.
As this is a very small island, sea views are all around and the clear water is ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
Palea Kameni sits just next to Nea Kameni. This is the best place for a swim stop to enjoy the hot springs at Nikolaos Bay. The sulphur levels in the sea are said to have healing properties. Entering the bay by boat, it is an unforgettable experience to jump off and swim across to the hot springs and bathe in the mud. Be careful what swimwear you choose for this experience as the mud stains an orangey colour.
So, there is far more to Santorini and her small group of islands than just sunsets, as spectacular as they may be.