The last stop on our trip was the island of Santorini.

Great views

On a few of the other Greek Islands, people told us Santorini was the most beautiful island in Greece.

The houses of Oia, viewed from the side, showing the different coloured houses running down the cliff

View from a pathway through the houses in Fira

Sunset over the Santorini lagoon

They weren’t wrong.


The geography of Santorini is part of what makes it so amazing. It’s the largest of a ring of islands in the middle of the Aegean.

The islands were formed 3,600 years ago by a big volcanic eruption called the Minoan eruption. They’re what’s left of the caldera it created.

Lagoon at the centre of the Santorini caldera

The caldera started off as the top of a massive volcano. When the aftermath of the eruption caused the top to fall inwards, the space it left filled with water and became a lagoon. The cliffs on the inside of the caldera go straight down, revealing a cross-section lots of different layers of rock.

Close up of the cliffside rock on Santorini showing the different coloured layers of rock

There’s another island in the middle of the lagoon but it’s the top of a volcano that appeared later. It was active as recently as 1956 when it last erupted but it’s now dormant enough that there are tours around the crater.

You can see other signs of Santorini’s origins everywhere you look, particularly on its beaches. They have either red, white or black pebbles or sand depending on the type of lava they’re made of.

Pebbles on a Santorini beach

They also make a great sound when the tide comes out.

Cave houses, churches and windmills

We stayed in Fira and Oia, which are towns on the inside edge of the caldera. The houses there are all built into the cliffs in a mass of (mainly) white geometric shapes.

View of Oia from above

There are also lots of small, blue and white churches that almost always have pleasing blue domes.

Small blue and white chapel in Santorini against the blue sky

Light ochre church in Santorini at sunset, viewed through a white arch

Two level blue and white bell tower against a blue sky

Blue dome of church in Santorini

We saw two excellent windmills at the top of the island in Oia. There are a few more in the town but these two were the only ones with the frames of their sails still intact.

Windmill in Oia nested between houses, on the edge of a path between them

Sails on the windmill in Oia close up showing the wooden legs connected to the axle in the centre by ropes

Out of season

Arriving in the middle of December, we were in Santorini out of season. This meant most of the shops and restaurants were closed.

The majority of the houses in Fira and Oia are for tourists. Most of the actual islanders live on the other side of the island - away from the tall cliffs. Clever.

According to local shopkeepers, at peak season they get up to 1.5 million visitors a day. Off-season, there are only a few people around so it feels like a bit of a ghost town.

We were told that most of the people working in the local tourist industry live in Athens. They come across to work for the season so when it’s over they close up shop.


Free of tourists, off-season is when the locals of Fira and Oia get most of their building and repair work done.

The houses are built into the cliffs and accessed by passageways and flights of steps. The builders still use donkeys to move all their heavy materials around.

They were everywhere.

White statue of a donkey looking out across the lagoon in Santorini

Even when we didn’t see donkeys, we usually saw trails of their poo wherever we went.

Cats and dogs

We read that one of the outcomes of the 2008 final crisis in Greece was that lots of people gave up their dogs because they couldn’t afford them any more. This led to a big increase in strays.

There are stray cats and dogs everywhere in Greece but Santorini had the most. They were all pretty friendly.

Friendly old english sheepdog sitting on the steps of a path in Santorini

At one point, a spookily co-ordinated group of cats almost tripped us up. The way they organised themselves we started to feel like we were in a feline version of The Birds.

Scary walks

We always try to walk on well-defined routes with as few steep drops as possible. But the bit of Santorini we were in has a steep slope inland on one side and a sheer drop to the sea on the other side. This made hiking much more… interesting.

In theory, there are a few walking routes around Santorini. But we found that a few of the surfaces were a bit sketchy and some routes had been covered by rocks after landslides. That, together with Roz’s vertigo, meant we didn’t do as much hardcore walking in Santorini as we did everywhere else.

The famous bookshop

Atlantis Books in Oia is a beautiful bookshop built into in some cleverly organised caves.

Atlantis books from the outside showing the entrance, the steps down to it and all the books around it

It’s got a lovely mix of new books, rare editions and some original works from its own print shop.

Tom browsing the collection in Atlantis books

Inside Atlantis books

Rare editions in Atlantis books

We loved it so much it was hard to leave. It was only later that we found out that Atlantis Books is kind of famous.

Goodbye Greece

On our last night in Greece, we read this quote by Odysseas Elytis in a restaurant menu:

“If you take Greece apart,
in the end you will be left with
an olive tree, a vineyard and a boat…
which means that in the end with these items,
you can rebuild Greece…”

Not that we’re planning on taking Greece apart or anything. It just seemed like a neat quote.