An island with something for everyone: Santorini, Greece
It's hard to believe that honeymooners, history buffs, foodies, club hoppers, and backpackers on a budget could all find exactly what they are looking for in one destination, but the 30-square mile Greek Island of Santorini seems to fulfill the expectations of many different types of travelers. The island's crescent shape—an arc of sheer cliffs that drop into the sea—was caused by the explosion of a volcano around 1,500 B.C., which also wiped out the island's prehistoric civilization. Some archeologists believe that this lost civilization is the mythical city of Atlantis. Whatever you may think, Santorini has treasures for all to discover.
Island visitors tend to spend most of their time in Fira and Oia, the biggest towns on Santorini. Fira, which is spectacularly perched on the caldera (the rim of the volcanic crater) overlooking the harbor, is at the heart of the action. "If you like to be around all the shops, restaurants, nightlife, and hustle and bustle, Fira is best," says Alexis Gruber, who recently returned from her honeymoon on the island." However, Gruber says, "If you like things quiet and beautiful, definitely go to Oia."
Outside Fira and Oia, you can go to one of Santorini's famous black- and red-sand beaches, such as Kamari or Paralia Kokkini. Or, head inland to visit one of the island's smaller towns, like Episkopi Gonia, which has a 12th-century Byzantine church, and Pyrgos, a village known for its elaborate Easter celebrations.
Touring Santorini's ruins is also a must, particularly Akrotiri, the "Pompeii of the Aegean." (Editor's note: The site is currently closed for renovations, although you can still walk up to it. According to the Greek National Tourism Organization, it will likely reopen in spring 2007.) "Akrotiri is amazing," says Carrie Swan, an archeology PhD student at Brown University who has visited the site several times. "Because the site is covered, the preservation is very extensive, and you see things like two- and three-story buildings, huge pithoi pottery containers, and wall paintings." You should also visit Ancient Thera, a Classical Period city founded in the ninth century B.C.
As for cuisine, you'll find the same kind of fresh, tasty food you'll find all over Greece, plus lots of local wine. "I didn't have a bad meal the entire time I was there," says SmarterTravel.com Contributing Editor Christine Sarkis, who visited the island several years ago while backpacking around Europe. "The memories that stand out in my mind are of stuffed eggplant on Thirassa, moussaka in Oia, ice cream at sunset in Fira, and Greek salad on a bluff a few miles from Akrotiri."
From the U.S., the quickest way to get to the island is to fly to Athens and then hop on an Aegean Air flight to Santorini. In November, round-trip flights from New York to Athens start at $628 including taxes on United and Lufthansa, and flights from Athens to Santorini on Aegean Airlines start at $48 round-trip, plus taxes.