For more than a couple of years, I was literally obsessed with Santorini. I wanted to see that beautiful blue dome church with my own eyes and every summer tried to plan a trip that miserably failed every time (sometimes because of the ridicously expensive cost of the holiday, sometimes because of other duties). When I finally managed to book this (much desired) trip, it looked like a dream come true. However, after a couple of days wandering around my beloved Oia and Fira I slowly realised how much these (undoubtedly beautiful) coastal towns are overvalued compared to the rest of the island. In effect, when you think about Santorini the first image that comes into your mind is probably the famous blue dome overlooking at the Ionian Sea from the beautiful town of Oia. Surely you do not identify Santorini with a Venetian castle in the middle of the countryside. These towns attracts 90% of the tourism in the island and what nobody tells you is that they are incredibly overcrowded (and overpriced). So much that in certain streets you have to make your way shoulder to shoulder with other people! NOT FUN! Another thing that nobody tells you is that there is WAY much more to see in Santorini than Oia and Fira. Here I’m not telling you to skip the two main cities (this would be crazy) but to give yourself the privilege of seeing the true Santorini. The one that is barely untouched by tourism, the one that is not yet “instagrammable” but will take your breath away granting you a truly unforgettable experience.
With this article (which is 1 of a series of 5 -to be published soon) I will show you the nicest and underrated villages of Santorini ready to be added to your vacation top places to visit! However, first of all, a couple of useful info about Santorini.
How to reach Santorini
Most of the countries in Europe have direct flights to Santorini. These are not always cheap and it is advisable to book your flights well in advance (like 4-5 months before) during the peak season (June-August). I personally took a direct flight from London with Easyjet lasting about 3h 55 mins and costing about £150 per person in early August. It’s quite rare that you can find a cheaper direct flight during high season but keep an eye on skyscanner and maybe you have luck! If your country doesn’t have a direct flight, the most convenient route include a first flight to Athens connecting with a second flight to Santorini. This can take longer but in certain cases can be cheaper. Another solution, (if you are on a budget), is flying to Athens and take the ferry to Santorini. There are various companies offering sea passages. Price ranges from €20-80 and journeys take usually 4-8hours (depending on the type of ferry). A third and last solution are cruise ships that stop by the island for a short time or the islands hopping tours. These ones are a sort of mini-cruise taking you from one island to another in the Aegean Sea.
Transport in Santorini
- Bus. Moving by bus in Santorini is very easy and during high season, buses run frequently and cover most of the island. The only issue is that these tend to be quite crowded and sometimes drivers don’t stop if they feel there is no space aboard. During the first part of our trip to Santorini we went around by bus and, despite the crowd, we found it pleasant and smooth. Tickets are sold on board (generally for about € 2,5) so keep the exact change with you.
- Motorbike/scooter. During the second part of our trip, we rented a scooter and I think it was the best decision ever. The scooter gives you more flexibility and allows you to visit places that are not reachable by bus. TIP. Before our holiday, I looked online for scooter rentals and prices were quite high ranging around € 150-200 for a couple of days. It sounded a bit too expensive for our pockets. For this reason, we decided to go around by bus for a while and check the situation while there. There are many companies renting scooters and motorbikes around Santorini and we did not know what of these was reliable. Therefore, we asked our hotel. It turned out that our hotel had a sort of convention with the rental people and allowed us to rent a scooter for 5 days at € 80 in total! My advice is, before booking a scooter online check if the place where you are staying has a discount/convention for its guests! Going around by scooter is one of my favourite things and loved to do it in Santorini! Main roads are quite good but to reach some beaches/sunset points you may cross gravel roads that are not pleasant to drive. For this reason, many people prefer to rent ATV. These are much more expensive and prices change according to the season. During high season Quad bikes rental go from € 45-120 per day or you can ask for an hourly price.
- Car. This is advisable if you are traveling in a group and want to save a bit of money. I did not rent a car personally, but I’ve seen the counter at the airport. I would probably rent a car also if travelling off-season during chilling months when the weather is a bit unstable.
Villages and towns in Santorini
You’ll need just a quick look to the countryside while going from the airport to your accommodation to see how much Santorini has to offer! Churches, little alleys, hidden castles, colourful paths and quite beaches are just a small number of things you can find by detouring the island. Akrotiri is the first of the five places I will write about in this little series about Santorini’s villages.
The village of Akrotiri (in Greek Ακρωτήρι) has a millenary history. Indeed, excavations on the site show the first settlements of the village existed already during the Minoan Bronze Age. Akrotiri is actually situated in a little peninsula of the Santorini island and it’s widespread into three different main locations: the village itself, the excavation site and the beach. You can easily dedicate an entire day to this place and never get tired of its beauty!
During the Minoan Bronze Age (3500 to 2100 BC) the town of Akrotiri was one of the main flourishing inhabited centres of the island. High quality potter, frescoes and paved streets found by the latest excavations demonstrate the village was a little gem in the Aegean Sea. Unfortunately, the volcanic eruption of Thera, sometimes around the 16th century BC, destroyed the ancient settlement and buried the village under the volcanic ash. Sounds familiar? Yes, it is actually the same thing that happened in Pompeii with the difference that in Akrotiri no human remaining have been found. However, the volcanic ash helped the preservation of the frescoes and all the various objects and artworks left in the settlement that now can be admired in the Archaeological Museum of Thera. During the medieval period, Akrotiri was one of the five fortified areas of Santorini. During the 13th century, the Venetian Republic occupied Santorini as part of the government expansion into the Aegean Sea. Akrotiri became one of the main Venetian sites because of its strategic position. Indeed the castle was called “La Ponta” (that in Italian/Latin means “la punta” tr. “the top”). A name that locals still use to describe the ruins of the place. The castle was built around a defensive tower called “The Goulas” that was used as an observation point. The castle and settlement were partially destroyed under the Turkish attacks in 1617, when the Venetian lost the control of the island. However, the tower survived in good conditions and still stands on the top of the hill of Akrotiri, hosting now the tsabouna exhibition.
What to visit in Akrotiri
Akrotiri main sites are widespread from the hill to the coast. You can plan an entire day and enjoy a traditional Greek lunch in the picturesque village that connects the low area of Akrotiri to the castle. Among the best places to visit there are:
The Castle of Akrotiri is situated in the highest point of the village, so it’s quite easy to spot. However, once you are inside the village it’s easy to get lost in the many little alleys, so is better to follow the lovely hand-painted signs leading to the castle! The entrance to the castle is completely free and from the terrace, you can admire one of the most amazing Santorini views. During summer, the castle is also used to host concerts and I think that listen to a concert in this place it’s a very unique occasion!
The Red Beach
The Red Beach in Santorini is probably one of the most unique beaches of the island, famous for its red volcanic sand. You are advised that the Greek authorities officially FORBID going to this beach.
This because the volcanic rocks surrounding it are very fragile and there are serious risks of landslides, without counting the fact that to reach the actual beach you have to go down some of these friable rocks without protection from an eventual fall into the ocean. Having said this, it is also true that nothing (except a visible sign) has actually been done to prevent people climbing down to the beach and if you want to go there, you can still do it at your own risk.
We personally took the risk of going down after having considered the weather/sea conditions and the practicability of the path. The best time to go is early morning before the crowd arrives. We were there around 8 am and there were already a few people on the beach. However, it was nice and we decided to go away around 10.30 when the beach became unbearably crowded. There is a small parking near the beach but, likewise, you should arrive early to find a space!
Prehistoric town of Akrotiri
The ruins of the town of Akrotiri are still visitable on the excavated archaeological site. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit them because the day we went the site was close! If you want to visit, you can find below some practical info.
The ticket price to access the excavation is €12. There is a reduced admission of €6 for escorting parents on educational visits of primary schools, Greek citizens, EU people over 65 years old, university students with a valid ID. You can buy also a Special Ticket Package at €14 that will last 4 days and grants you the access to Ancient Thera, the Akrotiri Archaeological Museum, Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Collection of Icons and Ecclesiastical Artefacts at Pyrgos.
Winter: (1 November – 31 March 2019) – 08.00 – 15.00 Tuesday – Sunday
Summer: (4 April – 31 October 2018) 08:00 – 20:00 and on Thursdays 08:00 – 15:00 – Closed on Monday.
Akrotiri Lighthouse is situated in the extreme soutwest side of the island and it’s well-known for being one of the best spots from where to watch the sunset in Santorini. The original lighthouse was one of the first built in Greece and was built by a French company in 1892. Unfortunately, this stopped working during the WWII. After the war, in 1945, the lighthouse was rebuilt by the Greek Navy and changed from fuel to fully automatic in 1988. We reached this spot by scooter about 20 mins before sunset and it was totally packed (and with this I mean there were people sitting on ther rock wherever I could watch! don’t be fooled by the picture). There is a space where you can park your scooter/car and then you have to climb till the lighthouse. I would not recommend doing this if you are afraid of height. In fact, there is not an actual footpath to follow and you have to walk on the steep (and crumbling) slope to find a suitable place to seat and watch the sunset. The lighthouse itself is closed to the public and surrounded by military fences. I was actually a bit upset that we remained stuck on the hedge of the cliff for about ten minutes because people were quequing to find a spot on the rocks. So we left. I found a bit dangerous trying to overcome people sit on the rocks in a such precarious spot! Instead, we watched the sunset from a spot nearby. If you go back to the main road for about 5 minutes going towards the centre of the village there is a church just in front a a shop called “Pricky Pear”. From here you can watch an amazing sunset, whitout people!
Where to eat in Akrotiri
Akrotiri is wonderfully full of places where to have a good lunch/dinner. You can always have the choice to buy something on the go and dine on the beach but if you want to stop in Akrotiri there are plenty of choices. We chose for lunch Taverna Glaros where you can have a glorious Greek salad or very fresh sea food. If you want to stay closer to the beach, near Mesa Pigadia Beach you can find Akro. We haven’t tried this personally but we heard good things about it and the view at sunset is magical (and less crowded than Oia).
And that’s all for Akrotiri! Soon on the blog, another hidden gem of Santorini! Below you can find a map showing you were all the places mentioned in this blog piece are located!
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