Cruising The Greek Islands: Part One, Santorini

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With more than 6,000 islands and islets scattered haphazardly across the Aegean and Ionian Seas, the Greek Islands has become synonymous with great beaches, wonderful food, unique wines, friendly people, and a fascinating and rich history which is heavily influenced by its maritime surroundings. Around 230 of the islands are actually inhabited and combined they provide the most diverse landscapes of any island group with thousands of kilometres of beaches with black sand, white sand and pebbles, sheltered by stunning bays and coves, volcanic mountains, lush forests, deserts, and of course the deep blue of the Mediterranean. The Greek Islands almost always feature on Eastern Mediterranean cruises and two of the most popular destinations are Santorini in The Cyclades and Rhodes in the Dodecanese group. 

Of all the Greek islands, Santorini stands out for its natural beauty. It was created out of a cataclysmic event 3,500 years ago when a volcanic eruption wiped out all human life on the island and in the cities of nearby Crete, and it’s believed to have been largely responsible for the demise of the mighty Minoan civilisation. Three quarters of Santorini’s land mass vanished, and the nearby islands of Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni were pushed up higher, and formed the dramatic caldera which is now filled with water.

Ancient writers, including Plato, claimed this eruption and others that followed brought an end to the utopian city of Atlantis and although this has been disproved, wandering the cobbled alleys and cliff top paths could convince the most unimaginative that the theory had some credibility. The island still undergoes eruptions periodically, the last in 1956, and the ancient Santorini residents accepted the fact that the island would need to fight the gods of earth and fire to win the battles against the volcanoes and earthquakes.

Most land-based visitors to Santorini arrive by ferry, with the natural phenomenon undoubtedly best seen from the ocean, but is also an unforgettable experience from a cruise ship sail in or sail out. From the ocean, the sheer scale of the towering volcanic cliffs is put well and truly in perspective, as is the realisation that you’re actually floating above an active volcano and perched along the rim of the dramatic caldera are whitewashed homes, churches, cafes, restaurants and hotels with arguably the most stunning views in the world. On land, and the main town of Fira can be over-run with tourists in the peak season from June to August, but outside of this time it does become more genteel and relaxed, despite the abundance of tourist shops.

A 20-30 minute trip away by car or moped to the north is the quieter and more refined town of Oia, which seems to have avoided the trappings of mass tourism with a different set of bylaws which limits the numbers of bars and late night music. The large neoclassical homes have been rebuilt as have the traditional fishermen's homes built centuries ago, and this town of just over 1,000 seems to exist in a world of its own. And its sunsets are legendary with the main point looking directly west and every day hundreds of tourists, and locals, sit quietly and wait for the highlight of the day in this part of the world. There’s not actually that much to do in Oia, and apart from the Maritime Museum, a typical day revolves around where to have breakfast, lunch and a fish dinner and which rock to sit on to watch the sunset.

The beaches of Santorini are also an attraction in their own right and are generally typically Mediterranean with bright blue water and volcanic rocks and they range from the tourist resorts of Perissa and Kamari to famous Red Beach, to the quieter Cape Columbo, Perivolos and Agios Georgios. North-east of Oia, Sigalas Winery provides a fun and interesting taste of Santorini wines which somehow thrive in this arid environment, and prices are cheap and can be sampled with a cheese platter. Despite being super busy in the peak season, the locals themselves remain cheerful and are proud of their stunning island home. They appear happy to pass on any insider knowledge of where to eat and where the quiet beaches are, but the island is so compact and welcoming you’ll fell like one of the locals within a very short time.

Joanna Hall


  • 5
    Greece Is The Best

    Posted by Barbara S on 29th Jul 2019

    Love cruising the Greek Islands, we went back for a longer stay and travelled by ferry between our favourite three with Santorini being one. If you get away from Fira it's okay crowds wise.

  • 3
    Nice Place Too Crowded

    Posted by Bette Lansing on 29th Jul 2019

    Stopped here on a cruise a couple of years ago and while it was lovely there were four ships in port and it was crowded everywhere!

  • 5
    Love Santorini

    Posted by Helen R on 29th Jul 2019

    Love this place been there twice can't wait to go back!

  • 5
    My Tips For Santorini

    Posted by Milo Devaney on 29th Jul 2019

    A dream island vacation spot for sure, but it does get busy as the article says. But my recommendation for a romantic dinner for two with a view to match is Enigma Cafe in Fira.....great food, great drinks and a perfect sunset view. Also try secluded Koloumbos Beach which has lovely dramatic cliffs and a promontory....its about 4ks northeast of Oia, near the northern tip of the island....but be warned it's popular with nudists!