If you’ve heard about Greece, then you’ve heard about Santorini, and that alone goes to show you just how popular this unique Greek island has become over the years, gathering massive crowds of tourists during summertime and basically becoming the “face” of Greece.
Santorini is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Greek islands and one of the most important tourist attractions in Greece, with its photos traveling to all lengths and breadths of the world.
]The uniqueness of the world-famous Caldera, the whitewashed houses that seem to almost be hanging off the steep cliffs, the volcanic ash dusting every corner of the land, and the magical Mediterranean sunsets honeymooners across the world beg to experience, make it special and differentiate it from the rest of the Cyclades.
As expected, an island so popular cannot escape its fate of often becoming overcrowded, driving away those visitors of Greece who are looking for a relaxing, calming, and carefree holiday that offers a quality of life no big city life can ever compare to. During the summer months, the island gets swamped by visitors, who come to experience the authentic Greek summer. But how authentic is it really?
With Fira and Oia being by far the most popular areas on the island, it comes as no surprise that most people choose those two destinations to reside in or visit. Additionally, most hotels, cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs are located in Fira and Oia, offering out-of-this-world sea views and moving hospitality to first-comers that need their help.
Apart from the two obvious choices however, Santorini has many regions of breath-taking beauty that have yet to be explored by the unsuspicious tourists that get blinded by the glitz and the glam of downtown.
There are some places that remain untouched by the influence of tourism and manage to maintain both their allure and identity. Here are five unexplored regions of the island that showcase a genuine, original, and traditional aspect of Santorini, the island that hides a history of ash and fire!
Colorful streets in Santorini - credits: Anilah/Shutterstock.com
Emporio, also known as ‘Nimborio’, located at the south side of Santorini and at about 12km from the central Fira, at the foot of the hill of Prophet Elias, is the largest village on the island and sports a rather impressive population of 1,773. The scenic settlement of Emporio used to be one of the most significant castles in Santorini, where during the medieval times the houses were built right next to each other so that the inhabitants were protected from pirates.
Much has been said about the origin of Emporio’s name, with the prevailing theory claiming that the name comes from the word ‘trade’ –or ‘emporio’ in Greek, either because all goods were traded there or because the area was adjacent to the commercial port. Another theory wants the name to come from the words ‘new’ and ‘bourg’, which in French means ‘medieval fortified village’.
The moment you step foot in Emporio, you’ll get the strong desire to wander around the whitewashed cobbled streets decorated with colorful, blooming bougainvilleas. Give in to that desire and explore the wonderful setting that unfolds before your eyes. Visit the Tower of Goula, Kastelli, and maybe make a stop to marvel at the pretty churches of the settlement.
Before leaving the village, take a walk on the hill of Gavrilos, where there are eight traditional 19th-century windmills and some Byzantine ruins. Emporio is very much like a travel back in time and will give you the opportunity to witness how the island of Santorini used to be before it became the massive tourist attraction of today.
Palaia Kameni, Santorini - credits: isabela66/Shutterstock.com
Only a few kilometers outside of the stunning yet busy Oia, the small village of Finikia stands as the perfect example of an incredibly well-preserved village of Santorini that maintains its old-time charm and authenticity. During the time when the city of Oia experienced great prosperity with shipping, Finikia used to be home to the farmers who worked in the lowlands and the vineyards.
Apart from being an absolute pleasure to visit, Finikia is also a great place to stay during your vacations if you don’t want the liveliness of Oia but don’t want to be too far out of the center either.
Once you reach Finikia, you can walk from Baxedon beach to the settlement, and take the road that leads to the valley with the vineyards and the beautiful churches of Agia Kyriaki and Agios Konstantinos. Especially if you’re visiting Santorini for your honeymoon, make sure to enjoy a peaceful sunset from the small church of Kyra Panagia!
On the left side of the road that leads from Baxedon beach to Finikia, you will find the famous winery ‘Sigala’, the only one in this area of the island; if you can, have a sip of one of the indigenous wine varieties and your perception of what a good wine should taste like will change forever!
Thera, Santorini - credits: WitR/Shutterstock.com
Pyrgos Kallistis –Kallistis’ Tower in English-, or usually just Pyrgos and formerly 'Kainourgiobourgo', is the village in Santorini that reaches the tallest height, and is located 10 km southeast of Fira, while it is home to 732 inhabitants. Pyrgos was one of the five castles of the island and was the seat of the municipality of Kallistis from 1835 to 1914 when it was transformed into a community of Pyrgos until the year 1997, which is annexed to the municipality of Thira.
During the Turkish occupation, in the 18th century, the first Thera School was founded in Pyrgos, with the initiative of the local authorities and the abbot of the Monastery of the Prophet Elias. Today, in the place where the old school used to lie, on the old road from Pyrgos to the Monastery of Profitis Ilias, one can find the church of Agios Apostolos, which is the old classroom of the school, while around there are the ruins of the teachers' and students' rooms.
Because of its location, Pyrgos has, in fact, also served as a place of exile during turbulent times. The castle suffered great damage with the 1956 earthquake, but the most damage was done by the army, which demolished parts of the castle during the war.
If you decide to visit the quiet village of Pyrgos, you can visit Kastelli and admire the architecture of the churches of Agia Theodosia, Theotokaki, Agios Georgios, Agios Nikolaos, and Agios Eleftherios. Also, keep in mind that the best time to visit Pyrgos is during Easter, where after the procession of the Epitaph on Good Friday night, fires are lit in tin lamps throughout the village, and the whole area looks like a flaming dragon!
Monolithos beach - credits: Claudio306/Shutterstock.com
Monolithos is a coastal village of Santorini, on the east side of the island, 8 km east of Fira. Home to only 405 people, this offbeat village got its name from the big homonymous rock on which the church of Agios Ioannis has been built. Although small and quiet, Monolithos hosts the Santorini State Airport, as well as the only tomato factory that operates today on the island and belongs to the Union of Thera Products Cooperatives.
On the striking beach of Monolithos, you will find the well-known black sand of Santorini, remnants of the island’s volcanic past. The black sand is so fine, in fact, that during winter it fills the whole area and the road. The beach of Monolithos was very popular at the time when the only beach bar in Santorini lied in its premises.
Now, despite still being –partly- organized and having a section of sunbeds and umbrellas, it doesn’t attract the younger crowds it used to but is instead considered as an ideal beach for those visiting Santorini with kids. In the left part of the beach of Monolithos called ‘Agria’ –or ‘Wild’ in English-, the rawness of landscape will take your breath away.
It is the part of the beach that is most affected by the weather and the one that has not been turned into an organized beach, giving its visitors the freedom to choose a more hippy-ish beach experience.
Oia, Santorini - credits: Mila Atkovska/Shutterstock.com
Last but definitely not least on the list of unexplored regions of Santorini, comes the place that is not exactly on Santorini, but actually straight across from it: the small island of Thirasia. Until the eruption of Santorini’s volcano in Minoan times, around 1600 BC, which created the stunning Caldera we enjoy today, Thirasia was part of the island of Strongyli, which today completes the circular outline along with the islands of Thira (Santorini) and Aspronisi.
The islet of Thirasia is located in the west part of Santorini, a little over a kilometer away from Oia. According to Greek mythology, the island was named after the youngest daughter of King Thira, Thirasia, to whom he had gifted the area in order to build there a regal palace.
Apart from its striking natural beauty, the settlement of Thirasia carries significant historic value in regard to not only Santorinian but also Greek history and heritage in general. Dating back to the Late Bronze Age, over the years, various excavations around the area have brought to light findings that have interested scientists from all over the world, and have contributed in revealing to us what we know about the culture that flourished there in ancient times.
Additionally, the excavations of Thirasia were the reason why other parts of Santorini were later also investigated thoroughly for ancient findings, resulting in the resurfacing of remnants of past civilizations, valuable for the deeper understanding of the region’s history.
Korfos, which is the island's port, is connected to Manolas, the capital of Thirasia, by a winding yet absolutely stunning path. There are a total of 21 churches and chapels on the island, often in privileged locations, while in addition to Korfos and Manolas, there are three other settlements: Agia Irini, Agrilia, and Potamos. Stroll the walking trails of the island, swim in the turquoise waters, and eat fresh fish and seafood in one of the picturesque taverns, by the sea; the best things in life are usually the simplest ones!
So there you have it: solid proof that people can, in fact, have a genuinely offbeat experience in Santorini, despite it being the number one Greek island destination around the word. Greek islands have this magical ability to be simultaneously lively, vibrant, and loud when you want them to, and peaceful, quiet, and restful, when you want.
Those who know where to seek, find what they’re looking for, regardless of when they visit. It’s not about avoiding the crowds, - no one’s got time to play ‘hide and seek’- but about searching for unique calming experiences and the way you choose to spend your time on the island. Don’t be intimidated by the popularity of Santorini! Come prepared and have faith in the fact that, after all, Santorini is so popular for a reason, and it’s time to discover why for yourself!