Created by a massive volcanic explosion that blew the middle out of the island some 3600 years ago, Santorini’s caldera, a huge sea-filled crater, is one of the world’s most dramatically beautiful natural sights, along with he island’s bizarre black sand beaches that rim the southeast coast. Perched 300m above the caldera, the cliff-top towns of Fira and Oia are made up of whitewashed Cycladic buildings and blue-domed churches (just like on the postcards), plus gourmet restaurants and lavish hotels with infinity pools. The island is very couple-oriented – Tara Reid and Zack Kehanyov had their honeymoon here in 2011 – and appeals to those who like their romance glitzy.
Main City Athens
Surface 90.69 km²
Density 151 /km²
Just a 20-minute walk from pretty Oia (up and down a few hills), Katharos beach lies hidden away between rugged cliffs and rocks. A total escape from the brasher aspects of the island, it remains blissfully undiscovered (no sun beds, no umbrellas), and its fine black volcanic sand, moody sea and stunning sunsets give it an other-worldly vibe. Along a path and up some steps, above the beach, the boho-chic Katharos Lounge (Tel: 6970 966 754; daily 11 am-2 am) serves freshly-squeezed juices and light snacks, and stages live music most evenings.
On Santorini’s south coast, the blissful Vlychada beach is set against a backdrop of white rocky cliffs, which have been sculpted into weird and wonderful formations by the wind and the sea, creating a wild moonlike atmosphere. The beach itself is a long stretch of grey volcanic sand, with limited facilities – just a few umbrellas and sun beds at one end. If you walk a little, you can find a secluded spot and even bathe naked. At the beginning of the beach, above the water, the low-key Theros Wave Bar is built of local natural stone and wood. Its stone terrace, with palm trees, flickering candles and chill-out music, makes a stunningly romantic setting for after-beach cocktails.
For a day in the open air plus some serious exercise in Santorini, try hiking along the 11km cliff-top path from Fira to Oia on Santorini’s west coast. On the way you’ll pass through the villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli, and experience ever-changing perspectives over the dramatically beautiful deep blue caldera, with the tiny black pumice islets of Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni billowing occasional clouds of volcanic gases. Wear comfortable walking boots and take a camera and plenty of water. And if you set off around mid-afternoon you’ll catch Oia’s notorious sunset at the end of your route.