Santorini among legends, superstitions and trails
On Santorini, the village folk tell stories of ghosts. Old men sipping ouzo in the tavernas say they’ve heard the music of Pan’s pipes and the clicking of little hooves in the branches of the plane trees. There is a feeling that something mysterious lingered behind after the great explosion that destroyed Santorini during the Bronze Age and you can’t question the superstitions of the islanders. There is no adequate description of this remarkable island. The author, Lawrence Durrell said: “The reality is so astonishing that prose and poetry will forever be forced to limp behind.” It is an island steeped in legend and tragedy. Once the centre of a flourishing culture, its destruction in the year 1250 BC was the result of one of the greatest volcanic eruptions ever recorded in history. The aftermath of the explosion, the earth tremors and tidal waves, were responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilization on nearby Crete.
In ancient times they called the island “Kalliste” (the most beautiful). In fact, there is a theory that this was the legendary “Atlantis” mentioned in Plato’s dialogues. Today it is known as Santorini. It is the farthest island of the Cyclades chain southeast of mainland Greece, some 128 nautical miles from Pireaus. The volcano that destroyed the island was known as “Hephaesto’s Forge”. Now, where the blacksmith god’s forge once steamed and the sloping hills were rich with vineyards and olive groves, there is a deep basin known as the “Caldera” and the five islands shaped in a crescent forming the lips of the basin are all that remains of beautiful Kalliste.
Santorini is the main island, 72 sq. kilometers; population is 15.500 and that increases during the holiday season when the cruise ships arrive. There are three ports on the island serviced by ferries and cruise ships. Oia, on the northwest tip; Thera, just a few kilometers south along the ridge; and the new port of Athenios, the only anchorage which is connected to the roads serving the villages. Regular boat services connect Santorini with mainland Greece, Crete, and many of the surrounding islands. There is also an airport with daily service to and from Athens. Taxis, buses and private vehicles provide transportation for a modest fee to any part of the island but we believe that the best way to discover more about the myths and the legends of this magical islands is by hiking. Following we suggest our 3 best scenic hiking trails on Santorini Islands. Don’t forget to put in your suitcase a pair of sneakers, after all you can’t wear just flip-flop!
Fira to Oia (via Firostefani and Imerovigli)
There’s a good reason this hike is the most talked about trek in Santorini: it is absolutely incredible and offers a real taste of the Aegean experience. The trail starts in the picturesque port of Fira and follows the rim of the caldera to Oia at the tip of Santorini, passing the historic sights of Firostefani and Imerovigli on the way. The hike includes spectacular, cliff-top walking with the sparkling, azure Aegean sea stretching for miles before your eyes, if you’re going to hike in Santorini, this one is not to be missed.
Start off at the Archeological Centre in Fira and head northwest toward Firostefani and the Church of Saint Gerasimos. While there are often many tourists to start, most stop fairly early and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded only by the splendour of Santorini. Follow the inland road through the village of Firostefani; you will pass the Covent of Saint Nicholas, a remarkable monument, and continue through Imerovigli, enjoying the astonishing views of the famous Skaros rock (if you’re feeling adventurous, its an exciting climb offering some of the finest views). The Skaros Restaurant in Imerovigli is ideal for a gourmet break. Continue north past the Chapel of Saint Antony and the Chapel of Prophet Elias (both worth a visit and make for a well-deserved break with mesmerising vistas of Thirasia and the Caldera), along a short stretch of road and the dry stone walls until your reach the picturesque sight of Oia.
Nea Kameni volcano & hot springs
This is a hike that combines many of the most exciting elements of Santorini: sailing, the volcano, the hot-springs, the views.
Starting from Fira, take the switch-backing path down the cliff to the Old Port (save taking the cable car for the way back up), a place of beauty and charm where you can hop aboard a boat tour that will take you across the Caldera to the volcano on Nea Kameni. A spectacular hike up over this dormant mountain is moderately challenging but worth the effort for the breathtaking views. It takes at least 20 mins to get up to the edge of the volcano and feel the sulphurous heat from the underground steam vents. The path is rough and ready, so flipflops are best avoided. Back on the boat, you will circle around to the other side of the volcano, where you weary legs will relish a chance to soak in the thermal hot-springs at Palia Kameni before looping back to Fira. The cable car or, if you’re feeling old-fashioned, you can ride a donkey,is a great way to look back at the sunset over the twinkling Mediterranean sea.
For a unique and astonishing look at Santorini and a chance to completely escape the tourist bustle, a hike of Thirassia (it is also in the picture on top) is ideal. Nearly deserted but for a few locals, Santorini’s island neighbour, Thirasia, has all of Santorini’s natural splendour without the crowd.
A ferry running from Oia to Thirassia three times a day makes for an easy island hop. Once on Thirassia, strike out up the hill, the path is hard to miss. It’s steep in places but every time you turn around, the glorious views of Santorini across the deep blue of the Caldera get more and more astonishing. From the ancient monastery at the top, the Aegean seascape spreads out around you in a full 360º panorama that will take your breath away. Remember to pack water and and food for this hike though, as this sparsely populated island has none of Santorini’s many restaurants or supermarkets.