Four hours from Abu Dhabi With archaeological splendour, sprawling beaches and a vibrant cultural scene, the legendary island of Santorini promises to turn up the heat.
A volcano with a view
Santorini, or Thira as it was known to its ancient inhabitants, is an island located in the Cycladic archipelago south-east of mainland Greece. Devastated by a volcanic eruption in 1,650BC, the island remains a land of mythology and conjecture. Some say it is the home of the legendary Atlantis, which sunk into the underwater crater after the eruption. Interestingly enough, excavations in the cities of Akrotiri and ancient Thira have uncovered evidence of highly developed societies of the Bronze Age, whose inhabitants left behind some of the most stunning discoveries of the period. Make sure to stop by the archaeological museum in Fira, the island's capital, to see the finds.
When the Phoenicians settled the island, they named it Calliste (most-beautiful), and true to form, Santorini possesses some of the most captivating landscapes in Greece. To get a feel of its volcanic origin, stroll the boardwalks of Fira, Firostefani, or Oia, which are built along the rim of the caldera. The houses, or "hyposkafa", some of which are built directly into the rock, using a mixture of ash and soil, are painted white and blue. The result is a panorama of whitewashed domes and boxes that trip their way down to the ocean below, with narrow steps providing a way for donkeys and those who can bear the climb. Stop for dinner at one of the restaurants and cafes lining the boardwalk to enjoy the amazing sunsets. A good restaurant is any place that offers an unhindered view.
To bake - and you will - on the famed black sand beaches, head south towards ancient Thira, where Kamari, Perivolos and Perissa offer wide stretches of beach. Further below, Kokkini Paralia (Red Beach) is clear water and red boulders, while Monolithos offers views of traditional "hyposkafo". For more heat, take the boat to Thirasia and Nea Kameni, two islands formed from subsequent volcanic explosions, and dip into the geysers that lurk around their obsidian coastlines.
Santorini also has a vibrant arts and culture scene. Firostefani and Oia are home to galleries of local artists. Most notably, the Greek artist Yorgos Kypris's shop, Mati, which is known for its installation-style artwork (@email:www.matiartgallery.gr). Art and jewellery shops line the back-alleys off Fira's main street, while the occasional dilapidated mansion provides a welcome break from the shops.
Budget Kafieris Apartments in Firostefani offers lovely views from a high terrace, at the fraction of the cost of the large hotels down the street (@email:www.kafierisapartments.gr). Rooms start at Dh520.
Mid-range Efterpi Villas in Firostefani is a multi-story white complex of apartments built into the rock. Located at mid-height between the harbour and the rim, the villas offer front and centre views of the Aegean. Rooms start at Dh700.
Luxury Small is best on this island; the Belvedere Santorini is a boutique hotel that offers excellent service off the boardwalk between Fira and Firostefani. Rooms start at Dh900. Villas & Mansions of Santorini offer secluded luxury accommodations in Megalochori and Imerovigli (@email:www.santorini-villas.com). Villas range from Dh1,560 to Dh4,470.
Saltsa Restaurant is a hip joint for the crowd that wants a twist on traditional Mediterranean (@email:www.saltsa.gr), Koukoumavlos Restaurant serves up traditional with impeccable quality (www.koukoumavlos.eu/location_uk.htm), and set in a restored mansion, 1800 Restaurant offers unparalleled dishes (www.oia-1800.com/santorini-greek-food.html). For a relaxed meal on the beach, the Magic Bus Jazz & Gastro Pub in Perissa beach offers fresh food and large duvets for the perfect afternoon siesta.
Qatar Airways (@email:www.qatarairways.com) offers multiple flights daily from Abu Dhabi to Athens for Dh1,700 and Dubai to Athens for Dh2,300. Take a ferry from the Athens ports of Piraeus or Rafina on Hellenic Seaways (www.hellenicseaways.com) and Bluestar (www.bluestarferries.com). Aegean Air also offers daily 30-minute flights to Santorini (www.aegeanair.com) for Dh370.