Santorini, Greece

Santorini has become an almost obligatory stop on any eastern Mediterranean cruise. The horse shoe shaped island lies 200km (120 miles) south-east of Athens in the Aegean Sea and is part of the Cyclades island group.

The island is actually what remains of a volcanic caldera. About 3,600 years ago it was the site one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The local and surrounding populations were destroyed and legend has it that the resulting tsunami sunk Atlantis. Legends aside, the crater of the volcano flooded with sea water forming the deep lagoon we see today.

Many of the settlements on Santorini are atop the rim of this ancient volcano, perched on the cliffs 1,000ft above the lagoon. From below, the white washed homes look like snow drifts that might tumble into the sea with the slightest breeze.

All cruise ships visiting the Santorini cruise port anchor below the town of Fira. Travellers have the choice of ascending by cable car or on the back of a donkey up the winding Pros Ormo Athinio. The latter option can result in a sore behind and even sea-sickness owing to the swaying of the mule!

The prettiest town on Santorini is certainly Oia (pron: ee-ya) located on the northern tip of the island. In 1956 an earthquake destroyed much of the town and it wasn’t until the 1970s that reconstruction and tourism began in ernest. Now Oia is home to the most iconic vistas in all Greece; blue domed churches framed above the sparkling lagoon and classic windmills amid white washed homes.

The village of Oia is a maze of narrow ally-ways lined by shops, art galleries and restaurants. Every so often a passageway will turn abruptly offering stunning views over the caldera. Oia is a walking village – there are no cars.

Owing to its popularity the food in Oia can tend to be ‘tourist class’. However CruiseOyster has some favourites we return to time and again. The Red Bicycle is one. It’s located in an old mansion overlooking the caldera. It serves classic Mediterranean dishes that are light and fresh on the palate, and there is a strong focus on locally sourced produce. To find The Red Bicycle simply walk down Nikolaou Nomikou until you reach the fork in the road. Take the left fork down for about 30 meters and The Red Bicycle is on your right.

If you’re in the mood for very traditional Greek cuisine, then Krinaki Tavern will fit the bill. It specialises in BBQ meats and the lamb is particularly good. Krinaki is in the Hotel Finikia Place just outside Oia.

Perhaps the best spot to eat in Oia is Charisma Restaurant in the Mystique Hotel. It has a prime position with unobscured views and an inspired modern Greek menu showcasing produce grown in their own gardens. The wine cellar too is excellent. It features some of Santorini’s best as well as a wide French and Italian selection. For a unique experience you can chose to dine in the cool of the cellar, dug into the cliffs.

Santorini boasts some excellent wineries whose vintages are exported all over the world. The vineyards are located on the outer side of the volcanic rim which levels off toward the open sea. They are well worth a visit.

At sunset people throng to Oia to watch as the golden orb of sun lights up the village in a sea of colour. It’s a truly spectacular event!

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