Port of Santorini
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This is the island for lovers of natural beauty, though sun seekers may not fancy its beaches. Best views are from the cliffs bordering the caldera, which was formed when the center of the island basically collapsed into itself. Geologists marvel at the cliffs' multi-hued strata of rock, lava and pumice, so take your camera and be prepared to feel the earth move (perhaps even literally -- Santorini's most recent major earthquake was in 1956, although there was one nearby in 2009).
It's worth remembering that the bay surrounding Santorini is actually the world's largest volcanic crater, created 3,500 years ago by a massive eruption of the Thera volcano (which is still active). The bay is also believed by some to conceal the legendary lost city of Atlantis. There's plenty here to set your imagination working, even though the modern-day city of Thira, officially Fira, was completely rebuilt after an earthquake in 1956.
If you're happy to enjoy a browse around the shops and a lazy lunch with a view, Fira will fit the bill perfectly -- and it even has some 9th-century clifftop ruins to explore. But to see the best of Santorini, you should take a shore excursion, via bus or taxi, further afield.
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Where You're Docked
There are actually two ports within caldera, Fira and Athinos. Ships have to anchor off Santorini and tender passengers into Skala Fira, the small port below the capital, Fira (also known as Thira). Thira dates from the 9th century and lies atop 1,000-foot cliffs at the edge of the caldera. You can reach it by funicular, bus or go up the steep, winding steps the fun way -- by donkey! Some ships transfer their passengers direct to Athinos from where there are bus transfers to the top.
Tenders shuttle passengers right to the base of Fira; you must ride the funicular (or a donkey) up to the town itself.
Good to Know
Ubiquitous -- and noisy -- Greek motorcycles. Also, be prepared to be hustled onto a donkey at the port.
Fira can easily be explored on foot, and buses run hourly to Akrotiri and Oia from the bus station at the end of Gold Street. Taxis also abound (negotiate a rate in advance) and are a more reliable option if time is at a premium.
A lot of people hire quad bikes now, just for the day. It's a massive new industry, and you can't miss the hire shops in Fira.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Euro. There are banks and exchange bureaus in Fira.
Greek, but virtually everybody speaks English.
Food and Drink
Avoid restaurants and cafes advertising pizza, toasted sandwiches and other fast-food staples, and seek out a clifftop restaurant with fresh fish on the menu; grilled red mullet is particularly good. Too hot to pig out? Order mezedes -- small portions of traditional Greek food like taramosalata, olives and tsatsiki -- with bread and salata choriatiki (salty feta cheese salad) on the side and a bottle of local wine to wash it down. Sit back, savour the view -- and enjoy.
Fanari Restaurant in central Fira is near the main square and cable car, serves traditional Greek cuisine and also local recipes centered around fresh seafood, tomatoes, white eggplant and zucchini. Fanari has a special offer for cruisers that claims to discount unique delicacies, mezedes, traditional dishes and Santorini wines up to 50 percent or more. The catch is you must have a large party with you. (Fira; +30 22860 25107)
For a quick bite, the light menu of Classico Cafe-Restaurant is in the heart of Fira with wonderful views of the caldera and the chapel of Agios Minas. The cafeteria style is offset by the coziness. The limited choices may include omelets, cheese and Greek olives, grilled pork or seafood plates of shrimp, salmon, octopus and shellfish, as well as fruit salad and homemade ice creams.
It's also worth hunting out some of the restaurants that face inland eg. Metaxis Mas in Exo Gonia (00 30 2286 031323) or Roka in Oia (00 30 2286 071896). The locals will tell you that every restaurant with a caldera view is charging you 50 per cent for the view: the food is much better value and the service less rushed at the non-Caldera-facing restaurants.
Santorini's soil and climate means that local ingredients are few. Even olives, that Greek staple, have to be imported. Ask for dishes that include Santorini fava or sweet tomatoes or the very sweet Santorini egg plant that can be eaten raw.
There are great one day cookery schools run by Selene Restaurant (+30 22860 22249) that explain Santorini's cuisine.
The best art shops are in Oia, although Mati Art Gallery in Fira (00 30 22860 23814) and Santorini Art Center on the Caldera Steps, Fira (00 30 22860 23577) are well worth visiting. Mati is one of many small art-cum-jewellery shops running north from the Orthodox Cathedral. The Art Centre sells a lot of sculptures and oil paintings out of an old wine cellar. Oia has a fine independent bookshop, Atlantis Books (00 30 22860 72346).
The wine industry has taken off massively, with a Wine Road running the length of the island. If your ship will allow you to, buy this gorgeous wine (70 percent of the output goes direct to the U.S.). Santo Wines in Pirgos (0030 2286 028058) is the island cooperative and seems to be a must for cruise ships. It's right above Athinos port. As the wine is so good -- and the view superb -- this is one excursion not to miss.
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