The extraordinary island of Santorini in the Southern Aegean is on the eastern chunk of a collapsed caldera. These west facing settlements like Oia, Fira and Imerovigli enjoy front-row views of one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets and in summer their tavernas fill up long before the sun slips behind Nea Kameni and Therasia in the caldera.
On the road from Thera to Oia, Imerovogli is a listed “Traditional Settlement”, which means there are tough guidelines about new development. Those low, whitewashed Cycladic houses are lined up in a bowl along the rim of the caldera at its highest point.
Skaros Rock was the most important of medieval Santorini’s five Venetian fortified settlements and once had hundreds of houses. In medieval times Skaros was virtually impregnable, surrounded on three sides by precipitous cliffs.
Set away from the edge of the caldera, the picture-perfect village of Megalochori is less frequented by tourists even though it could claim to be Santorini’s wine capital. There are vineyards all around the village and a couple of wineries to visit within seconds.
In Oia there’s a stairway with 350 steps leading down to the water at the tiny port of Amoudi Bay. This is the rugged way to descend to Amoudi Bay, but there’s also a zigzagging road.At the bottom is a huddle of whitewashed houses.
Fira to Oia Hike
The trail north from Fira to Oia is on the protected rim of the caldera and treats you to scenery that almost defies description. With the sun beating down in July or August it can take up to half a day to complete the walk, and you’ll need a hat, good walking shoes, snacks and lots of water.
Nea Kameni was born on the back of repeated eruptions of ash and dacite lava, and an early reference to the island was made by the Roman historian Cassius Dio. It has grown larger after four eruptions in the last 400 years, including two in the 20th century.
The beach and its village lie at the foot of the gargantuan rock, Mesa Vouno, home of Ancient Thera. From here the beach curls out gently for seven kilometres and has long columns of palm sunshades and sun loungers.When the sun is shining the sea is perfectly clear and the moderate surf and shallow gradient mean that non-swimmers can hold their own.
This settlement was founded in the 9th century BC on a ridge on Mesa Vouno Mountain, long after the cataclysmic eruption and was inhabited for the next 800 years. At this height you’ll certainly feel closer to the Greek gods.
Oia has Santorini’s signature cave houses, bored from the rock and arranged amphitheatre-like in steep rows. In the 19th century Oia flourished thanks to a fleet of merchant ships that sailed as far as St Petersburg.The captains of these ships built themselves some of the finest houses in the village, boasting Venetian-inspired architecture and prime views of the caldera.
Caldera Boat Tour
Sometimes you’ll have to do the touristy things to get the most out of a destination, and that is the case for cruises around Santorini’s caldera. Departing from the port just south of Fira, these boats will take you ashore at Nea Kameni, which we’ll talk about next.At neighbouring Palea Kameni you’ll be free to bathe in the green sulphurous hot spring, a strange experience beneath scorched volcanic rocks.