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Fira – Where Natural Beauty and Greek History Collide
Fira is the capital city of Santorini (also known as Thira), a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Tourists flock here not only to enjoy the beautiful weather, comfortable hotels and sparkling blue waters but also to learn about the local history: several thousand years ago the Minoan civilisation was dominant until the island was devastated by a volcanic explosion; it is thought that the story of Atlantis is based on this event. Many of the artefacts found in archaeological excavations are on display in the island’s selection of fascinating museums.
Santorini Airport is located to the south east of Fira, about a ten-minute car journey away; those arriving by scheduled ferry will arrive at Athinios which is a 20-minute drive from Fira. Both places have several car hire companies nearby which is handy. Cruise liners also drop off tourists in Fira’s Old Port; from there, visitors can use the cable car, take a donkey ride or just walk up to the town centre with its great range of hotels, some 300 feet above sea level. Fira is a typically Greek town with lovely white and blue buildings in the Cycladic architectural style. The town is usually quiet for a few hours during the hot afternoon sun; but things really get going in the evening when the tavernas and nightclubs open. Theotokopoulo Square is a popular place to congregate and 25is Martiou is the main road through the town along which there are many bars, shops and restaurants.
Exploring Santorini’s Culture
Food and drink play an important part in Greek culture and there is no shortage of opportunities for tourists to partake. Some of the delicious dishes served in the tavernas and hotels include saganaki (fried cheese in pastry), tomato keftedes (tomato fritters) and the famous souvlaki (skewered meat and vegetables). Greek mountain tea, or Sideritis, is a popular herbal drink and there are also local beers and ouzo, the aniseed aperitif, to sample. A short taxi ride outside the town, Wine Museum Koutsoyannopoulos offers a fascinating insight into local wine production over the centuries; at the end of the tour there’s a tasting session too! Back in Fira, The White Door Theatro’s Greek Wedding Show provides excellent evening entertainment. Singing, dancing, plate breaking, food and drink, basically everything that’s part of a 1940s Greek wedding is included and it’s great fun; those that are so inclined can even participate if they wish, smashing plates to their heart’s content!
Historic Attractions and Museums
Over the years, numerous excavations on the island have unearthed a treasure trove of ancient artefacts, many of which are now on display in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. In Fira, the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, near the magnificent Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Archaeological Museum of Thera on Erithrou Stavrou retain a good selection of sculptures, frescoes and pottery. Many of the exhibits come from the town of Akrotiri, located a 20-minute drive to the south of Fira; it was a large settlement on the island during the Minoan era and the ruins are open to the public. For those keen to learn more about Akrotiri, the Santozeum on Agiou Mina displays reproductions of other frescoes from the site. Nearby, there are hotels with great views of the sea and Megaro Gyzi Museum, a 17th-century family mansion that was one of the few to survive the 1956 earthquake. Its collection includes pictures, engravings and manuscripts of local importance.
The Caldera Hike
One of the best ways to get a feel for this area’s stunning geography is to take a walk to the town of Oia along the edge of the volcanic crater, or caldera. The hike takes a few hours and can be strenuous in places; it’s best undertaken early in the day before the afternoon heat. Not far along the trail is the picturesque village of Imerovigli, nicknamed the ‘balcony to the Aegean’ because of the amazing views it offers over the bay. The nearby Skaros Rock, the site of a ruined Venetian castle, arguably provides the best photo opportunities. Upon arrival in Oia it should be time to take lunch in one of the many tavernas and Ammoudi Bay is a great spot for a cooling swim in the afternoon. All that is left is to enjoy the awe-inspiring sunset before checking into a nearby hotel or getting the last bus back to Fira.
Other Places of Interest
A great way to enjoy the water is to take a boat trip around the bay to see wildlife and the scenery; several companies in Fira offer their services. Those looking to enjoy a day relaxing on the beach can head to the eastern shore of Santorini. A 15-minute drive from Fira, Kamari beach is said to be one of the best on the island, with its distinctive black sand and pebble shoreline. As well as a selection of apartments and hotels to choose from in the town, there’s also a very popular open air cinema. Further up the coast to the north is Monolithos, a much sandier beach, and to the south Perissa which is popular with backpackers. Inland, the delightfully peaceful village of Pyrgos is a step back in time. Perched on one of the highest points of the island, it is built around another Venetian castle and gives a real sense of a bygone way of life.