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To our friends across the Atlantic the two islands which spell the Cyclades most clearly are Mykonos and Santorini. Both are unique and both have much to offer; but it is probably true that to say they are actually the least typically Greek islands of the chain.
There’s nothing quite like holidaying in a volcano. Santorini actually consists of a main island, and a lesser island with the original cone (“Burnt Island”) sticking up from the centre of the giant crater the other two islands embrace. The much photographed precipice on the east side of the crater is where the town of Fira perches: dozens of hotels, apartments and houses cling desperately to the almost perpendicular cliffs, with rooms often literally hollowed out of the soft volcanic rock.
Sea traffic no longer anchors off the cliffs, leaving you to ascend to the ridge on foot, on a donkey or by chair-lift; instead a new harbour-front has been constructed and buses ferry passengers to and from the centre of Fira.
There’s plenty of sight-seeing – boat trips across the crater via the Burnt islands to the island of Therassia and back via the enchanting little port below Oia near the northern tip (splendid water-front for lunch). There is a major archaeological site at Akrotiri in the south; and on the east coast a succession of black volcanic sand beaches. The spinal road from Fira to Oia is a scenic switchback – and Oia is now rivalling Fira with its own café and night life, spectacular views and cave dwellings carved from the rock. Fira town has a huge array of jewellery shops and other boutiques which keep many people happy, the restaurant prices perhaps somewhat fewer. The views are stupendous, especially when the sun is setting behind the Burnt islands.
Unless you are a devotee of coarse black sand, Santorini is perhaps not the ideal choice for a beach holiday: the island itself is a must, but combine it with almost any other of the Cyclades for the relaxing-on-the-beach part of your time in Greece.
Santorini has a fine airport served by Greek domestic flights and by many direct charters from western Europe. It also has surprisingly fast sea connections with Piraeus.