An insider’s guide to Santorini
Santorini is drenched in beautiful light, blue skies, and some of the world's most stunning scenery, so it's no wonder the island crawls with sun-seeking tourists in the hotter months. But the fall shoulder season also gives seasoned travellers the chance to explore the island's best offerings while avoiding the maddening crowds. Here's what to do when you get there.
The grand dame of Santorini hotels, Perivolas offers exclusive privacy in busy Oia. Designer Le Courbusier has transformed traditional cave dwellings into a sleek boutique property with pools, a small spa, and dashes of lilac and pink. Food is served in the converted wine cellar.
Kapari Natural Resort
If eco-friendly is more your style, there's Kapari Natural Resort. Greece's only National Geographic lodge boasts plenty of smooth curves and earthy tones. Enjoy caldera views from one of the 14 rooms bursting with mod cons and unique features like fireplaces or whirlpools. You can also enjoy breakfast on your private veranda.
A good compromise between the two extremes, Charisma Suites is a sleek and sexy bolt-hole featuring luxe Cyclades designs and famous caldera views. Opt for the Charisma Pool Suite which comes with plenty of white and wood features, a private pool, and a wine cellar. One thing you shouldn't miss? Their in-room spa treatment.
A well-preserved Minoan Bronze Age settlement, Akrotiri brings Santorini's history to life. The village was buried in ash after a volcanic eruption in 1627BC, and visitors can now check out the well-preserved shells of houses and shops, and a number of interesting daily life objects. It's also entirely covered, so a perfect activity when you need respite from the heat.
Museum of Prehistoric Thera
Carry on the Akrotini experience at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, which houses many of the site's greatest treasures. There are plenty of art, everyday objects, and the famous blue monkey frescos.
Lignos Folklore Museum
Get another view of Santorini's past at the Lignos Folklore Museum, which brings a touch of quirk to this touristy island. Step into a reproduction of a 19th Century cave house, see an old-fashioned cave winery, and explore rebuilt workshops of traditional rural crafts.
With nearly 40 sites, diving is an unexpected but rewarding way to explore the waters around Santorini. This under-the-radar experience offers divers the chance to explore Santorini's volcanic elements, frolic with sealife, and explore World War II wrecks. Shallower waters allow perfect lighting for underwater photography, too.
Fire to Oia hike
Of course, you'll need a way to work off all these indulgences. If diving doesn't appeal, then perhaps the Fire to Oia hike will. It'll take two to four hours, depending how fast you walk and how often you stop, but it's worth it. Stock up on water and snacks, and go in the evening to avoid the heat — get the most spectacular sunset shots here.
Serving up hearty meals in Firostefani, Aktaion is one of the oldest tavernas in Santorini. Since 1922, this humble, family-run spot serves up local specialities including octopus with cress, a trio of white aubergine recipes, and two types of fava. This is also the place to go to sample some of the local ouzo.
Of course, if fish is your thing, To Psaraki is a must. At this seafood haven, renowned local chef Thanassis Sfougaris dishes up a plethora of fresh seafood dishes. Feast on tuna, swordfish, and local favourites like fava amid charming rustic décor and views of the island's main fishing port.
For the ultimate view, grab one of the 20 terrace tables at Meze Meze. Sunset dinners don't come any better than this. The menu is short and sharp, focusing on local specialities like creamy fava, oysters, and grilled meats and seafood. Pair with the local wines on offer.
On land, food and drink is easy to come by, but a stop at Santo Wines is not to be missed. There are plenty of options to choose from, but true oenophiles won't want to miss the 18-wine flight which comes with a tour of the winery and vineyards, and a tasting platter laden with Greek cheese, olives, Santorini tomato dip, fava, and barley rusks. Go at dusk for jaw-dropping vistas.
Founded in 1976, Kira Thira is said to be the oldest bar in town. Crowd-pleasing tunes of jazz, Latin and blues reverberate through the vaulted space, though sometimes live bands steal the scene. The hole-in-the-wall bar comes alive at night as patrons file in to sip on the house signature — sangria.
The Magic Bus
For all-day revelry that includes tourists and locals, pop into The Magic Bus, at the heart of Perissa Beach. By day, crowds lounge on waterfront sunbeds with food and cocktails; by night, the place morphs into a busy club with DJ sets.
Theros Wave Bar
Club vibes and DJ-spun tunes are just the tip of the iceberg at Theros Wave Bar. This must-see beach club is made up of decks and verandas perched above a beach. There are cocktails and wicker hammocks aplenty, but this does-it-all spot also comes with a solid food menu and even a spa for massages.
A thoroughly atmospheric bookstore in Oia, Atlantis is a multi-lingual bibliophile's treasure trove (it stocks books in several languages). Started in 2004 by a group of friends from Cyprus, England and the United States, it's one of the best bookstores you'll find anywhere, and even hosts literary festivals, book readings, and film screenings.
Had your fill of books? Get creative and place your own custom order at Aegean Designs Gallery, a boutique retail outlet and studio for Greek art of all kind. If the muses have left you uninspired, pick up a selection of ready-to-go jewels, hand-painted linens, wall-hangings, and canvases.
Carry on the design theme at Ilias Lalounis, a local producer of fine jewels. With a storied history spanning four generations, the brand's beautiful pieces are inspired by Greek history and lovingly crafted by hand. This just might be the best souvenir you'll find on the island.
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- Image: Gayatri Bhaumik, Getty Images
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