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One way to do Santorini

Santorini is probably the most archetypal of Greek islands on the Mediterranean cruise ship circuit,  and on most days of the season can accommodate upwards of six ships.

It is one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea and was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, forever shaping its rugged landscape in a crescent-shaped island…

The whitewashed, cubiform houses of its 2 principal towns, Fira and Oia, cling to cliffs above an underwater caldera (crater).

They overlook the sea, small islands to the west and beaches made up of black, red and white lava pebbles…

The next part of this review describes what cruise ship passengers can expect as they step ashore below the main town on the island, Fira. Fira will then be covered in detail before other options, on how to spend one’s day on Santorini, are explored. Hopefully this review will be of benefit to new visitors to Santorini as well as those who are returning.

Santorini is a tender port for visiting cruise ships. The landing point is at Ormos Firon – The Old Port –  which is situated directly below the town of Fira…

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The landing jetty has limited facilities including a number of cafes/restaurants and gift shops…

…and a Tour Agent…

To reach the main town of Fira there are three options. The first, and most popular is the Cable car…

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Currently for 2017,  a one-way ticket costs €6.00…

The cable car website states the lift can move 1,200 people per hour between the port and Fira — which often isn’t adequate capacity for the demand when a number of cruise ships are visiting on the same day. Even worse are the queues to return which often stretch around the local square with passengers eager to return for their lunch onboard…

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The second choice is to take a ‘donkey’ up the steep zig-zag path…

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A one way donkey/mule ride will cost €5.00 and sadly are all too popular with many tourists…

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The third alternative is of course to walk the ‘donkey’ path. However, this can be risky. Apart from anything else you’ll also have to contend with donkeys going up and down the path, sometimes at speed …

…and of course there is the small matter of the 588 steps…

…to reach the top…

Other options are to take a boat from the tender port which will be described later in this review.

Exploring Fira

Fira is the capital of Santorini and its  white-washed houses,  built on the edge of the 400 metres high ‘caldera’, are the iconic face of  both cruise ship and shoreside holiday brochures.

The town itself consists of mainly a labyrinth of  narrow traffic-free streets filled with cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. The majority   of the cafes and restaurants  offer panoramic views over the ‘caldera’ and some even boast  several levels of terraced patios and balconies.

There are some idyllic pathways that fan out from both the cable car upper station and the donkey path…

One follows the cliff top and is the recognised route to Fira’s adjacent town, Imerovigli…

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The town bustles once the tender boats arrive and the cafes fill up with ships’ passengers eager to make use of the usually complimentary wifi on offer.

Without any doubt it is Santorini’s vernacular and ecclesiastical architecture that make the island a  photographer’s dream and Fira offers an easily navigated  microcosum of the whole island…

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On the subject of religion, for those interested there are two Cathedrals, The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral…

…and the Roman Catholic Cathedral Church of St John…

This cathedral is in great contrast to many of its Byzantine neighbours. The peach exterior and its size make it stand out from afar. There is a wonderfully ornate clock tower  overlooking the town. The interior is beautifully decorated with large religious portraits framed with pillars while the dome from the interior is lilac blue with other areas  coloured orange and cream…

 

Meanwhile other quirky churches can be found while exploring  the many intertwined terraced paths…

Fira also supports  two museums, the most popular being the Museum of Pre-Historic Thera, which can be found the opposite side of the Orthodox Cathedral pictured above…

The fun of Fira though is in the exploring, finding the perfect restaurant for lunch…

or the perfect positioned Cafe with a view for that all important coffee…

The souvenir shop…

…or the typical British pub for a few beers…

…while not forgetting that tiple to take back onboard…

Fira is also the hub for cross island transport. This map shows where the local bus terminal is in relation to the cable car…

..basically a 5 minute walk…

There is a pretty good local bus service. Buses leave around every 20 minutes to most of the island’s tourist spots. Fares are generally a fixed price of €1.80 no matter the length of the journey. As the sign says at the terminus, tickets are bought on the bus.

Having now covered Fira it is time to look a little further at what Santorini has to offer. First up is…

Imerovigli

Imerovigli is a village that almost blends into Fira and, like Fira, enjoys some excellent panoramic views of the Caldera. Its position at the central and highest point of the caldera rim is graphically illustrated in the picture below…

… where the break between the two enclaves is easily visible.

One of the highlights of Imerovigli is that it gives access to the promontory where once stood Skaros Castle, seen here from the water…

…and from Imerovigli…

 

…and here from the path leading to Skaros from Imerovigli…

For those capable of the hike the views from the top offer a whole new aspect of the surrounding caldera…

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and back to Imerovigli…

…and out over the active volcanic island, Nea Kamenh…

In addition to Skaros Rock Imerovigli has a number of prime photographic options…

 

…particularly the Anastasi Church

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It goes without saying that Imerovigli, Fira and Oia are popular places for Japanese couples to have their wedding photographs…

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Oia

There is on the island of Santorini another town with outstanding photographic opportunities that also boasts some high end boutiques and a somewhat more upmarket ambiance than that of Fira. It is the town of Oia (pronounced Ear!)…

Located on the northern tip  of the island, on a peninsula some 10 kilometres by road from Fira, Oia sits  directly opposite the island of Thirasia which will be covered later.

Oia stands slightly lower than Fira, nearer the sea, and can be reached by local bus or, alternatively,  by ferry or speedboat from  Ormos Firon – The Old Port – described earlier. Remember this photograph?…

A word of warning though. To reach Oia having utilised the ferry from the Old Port there are, depending on the drop off point, one of  two sets of steps to climb. From Ammoudi there are 214 steps…

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…or from the jetty below Armeni, there are 286 steps…

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Oia is particularly popular with honeymooners and the chic in crowd. The town is pedestrianised and criss-crossed by a myriad winding alleyways and cobbled streets while its coastal paths offer dramatic views…

The unique appeal of Oia lies in its houses, many hewn out of the volcanic rock, and windmills…

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Central to Oia is its town square with the Ekklisia Agios Onoufrios Church…

…and a short walk from the square,  the ruins of its Venetian Castle…

Oia is also the home of Santorini’s Maritime Museum…

Visiting the three townships covered above are not the only options available when visiting  Santorini. The main island, a horse-shoe shaped area of some 70 sq. kilometres, offers a number of the best archeological sites, beaches  and water born scenic activities to be found in the Aegean.

What else is there to do on Santorini?

How’s about a boat cruise around the Caldera?

One of the most popular of these water born activities is a cruise around the Caldera with a visit to the live volcanic island of Nea Kamenh and the picturesque island of Thirasia. As with the ferry/speedboat to Oia, these cruises can be booked at the ‘Old Port’…

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Berthing alongside at  Nea Kamenh…

there is a guided walk…

…to the top of the crater…

…where there are great views over  Palia Kamenh Island…

On the return to the boat there is a short distance cruise to the channel between Nea Kamenh and Palia Kamenh…

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…for a chance to swim in the hot springs flowing from the Volcano…

The next destination on this excursion is the island of Thirasia, seen here from Nea Kamenh…

…and the approach to the harbour village of Korfos on  Thirasia

Once ashore there are excellent restaurants in the village while for the more adventurous there is the hike, or donkey ride, up to…

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It’s  an exhilarating hike but well worth the effort. Alternatively there is a great atmosphere to be experienced in the busy waterfront restaurants …

 

I had set my heart on reaching the summit of Thirasia in order to capture the views which began to unfold as I climbed the path in the direction of Manolas.

The higher I reached, the more panoramic the view and once I had reached Manolos my destination became visible…

 

 

My photographs tell me that it took 31 minutes to reach Manolas and then another 15 minutes to walk along the ridge…

…to the point where I was able to capture the view towards Oia…

Our boat trip also included a stop at Oia and that has already been covered earlier.

 

What about a day on the beach?

There are a number of beaches on Santorini, though there are no sandy beaches on the island. The two main beach resorts are at Kamari…

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…and Perissa…

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The two beaches are, in fact, divided into two separate resorts by Mesa Vouno mountain: a fact I will revisit when I cover the visit to Ancient Thira.

Both are easily accessible by local bus though we found the Kamari service to be more frequent and the resort somewhat more vibrant. Both beaches have a mixture of black sand and fine pebbles rather than fine golden sand. Each is well served with sunbeds which are usually free in return for the exclusive purchase of lunch and drinks from the restaurants and cafes that offer access to them…

On Santorini there are two important archeological sites, both worth a visit. The first of these is the Prehistoric Town of Akrotiri…

The Prehistoric Town of Akrotiri was the centre of a highly advanced civilisation around 1500 BC. It is without doubt the best preserved such site in the Aegean and is easily reached by local bus from Fira.

The site is completely covered and there is a reasonable admission charge…

There is a recommended route around the complex though it isn’t mandatory. Each individual site/excavation is named and descriptive plaques are informative…

 

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Some areas, including the Triangle Square…

…allow closer inspection…

All in all the Akrotiri Prehistoric Town is well worth a visit, particularly for those with an interest in such sites. Ancient Akrotiri is a Minoan outpost at the southwestern tip of Santorini. It is the most important archaeological discovery in the Eastern Mediterranean, being the largest Minoan city outside of Crete. The site was first discovered in 1866 after a volcanic eruption.

The area of the site also offers a chance to visit two local beaches, the first of which is just a 5 minute walk from the site entrance,  Akrotiri South Beach…

and a 15 minute walk along the shoreline, the famous Red Beach…

Ancient Thira

The second of the Santorini archeological sites worth visiting is that of Ancient Thira.

The ruins of Ancient Thira are located on a headland called Mesa Vouna between the two popular beaches of Kamari and Perissa. In addition to its ancient ruins, the site offers spectacular views over cliffs that drop into the sea on three sides.

A visit to Ancient Thira is somewhat more physically challenging  than to the  Akrotiri site. That’s it over there on the left of this photograph…

…or, seen from Kamari, the route up to Sellada Ridge which joins the two mountains of Mt. Elias and Mt. Mess Vouno...

Worth pointing out at this stage  that for those who wish, there is a bus transfer operated by a number of tour operators in Kamari. One,  Kamari Tours & Excursions, is conveniently situated on Kamari’s main street…

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However the alternative, and much more of a challenge,  was to tackle Sellada Ridge from the Perissa side using the water taxi from Kamari beach…

…and trek the path up to Ancient Thira…

The water taxi takes 15 minutes to sail around  Mt. Mesa Vouno peninsula…

…to Perissa beach…

 

As always on Santorini a donkey taxi is usually available for those not up to the walk…

Setting out one is instantly impressed at the position, at an altitude of 200 metres, and  view of the church of Panagia Katefiani…

…seen here with an added zoom…

Built on a huge rock circa 1650, the name Katefiani comes from the word ‘katefio’ meaning refuge or hideaway and it was used in the past as a refuge for the locals in times of war and pirate attack. Behind the chancel, there is a small cave with an ancient fountain whose water is believed to have therapeutic effects.

Apart from the views back over Perissa, and in particular over one of the largest churches on Santorini, the Church of Holy Cross

…the hike up gives a chance to view the many burial grounds used by the ancient Thirans…

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…while some tombs have been unearthed over time…

The climb to the top…

…and according to the timings on my photographs, it took 32 minutes and, what a view…

The mountain of Profitis Ilias, Santorini’s highest peak, runs eastward into the lower rocky outcropping of Mesa Vouno. These two mountains are joined by a ridge named Sellada. At an altitude of 369 metres, Mesa Vouno extends from west to south and its steep slopes plunge to the coast at Kamari to the north side and Perissa to the south.

A naturally fortified spot, it was an ideal place for the Spartan colonists to found their city. They built two roads, one to Kamari, where they had their port, and the other to Perissa.

Excavations began in 1896 and revealed ruins of a town which bore evidence of settlement as early as 9th century BC.

The archaeological site of Ancient Thira is open daily except Mondays from 08:30 am until 14:30 pm.

Admission cost is €4.00 or €2.00 for concession (Proof was needed)

Once accessed, there is another short climb from the ticket office to the first excavation of note, the  Sanctuary of Aphrodite...

…and the remarkably preserved Early Christian Basilica...

From the Basilica the city extends along the long narrow ridge  with the main axis a road that traversed it lengthwise. Continuing along the path the next site worth a stop is Temenos ( Shrine) of Artemidoros…

The temenos was founded in the mid 3rd c. B.C. by a priest named Artemidoros.

The open-air sanctuary was chiseled out of the rock by Artemidoros himself: altars, relief sculptures and numerous inscriptions cover the front side of the rock, including the Lion of Apollo, the Eagle of Zeus

 

…and the Dolphin of Poseidon and a portrait of Artemidoros depicted wearing a wreath …

Ancient Thira could effectively occupy a whole ‘One way to do…’ subject and certainly could hijack this one with ease. However, here are just a few more highlights to possibly whet the appetite for a visit…

The central main square, or Agora…

Dominating the Agora, the Basilica Stoa entrance…

…and lengthwise view

The Theatre…

The Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods…

A city Water Reserve...

 

…and no need to guess what occupation went on in this house…

Okay, some zoom on that corner stone…

 

Ancient Thira is a fascinating site to explore and certainly around two hours should be allocated for a visit. It is amazing to be able to walk around a site, not only of such archaeological importance but one with such incredible views.

Summary

I hope that this review has illustrated that a port visit to Santorini isn’t just a chance to wander a few streets of the islands capital, Fira.

There are many places to visit and many options on how to get to them including car hire. Indeed, hiring a car opens further options to explore places such as Emborio with its Venetian castle…

…and fascinating alleyways…

or exploring Cape Akrotiri with its Lighthouse…

and the Hristos ta Thermi Church…

…balanced precariously on the Thermi cliff tops above cliff hewn houses.

But, whatever one chooses, enjoy your visit to Santorini, there is lots on offer.

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Out of the blue, and quite unexpectedly, I have received  notification from the ‘World of Cruising’ that I have been shortlisted in their  ‘Wave Awards’ section for ‘Favourite Cruise Blogger of the Year…

http://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote

If you have enjoyed this review, and others of mine that you may have read,  I’d really appreciate your support. This is the voting link…

http://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote

Thank you.

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