Let’s reveal what’s behind the curtain of the least touristic, least popular, traditional villages of Santorini. While a very small percentage of tourists stay in accommodations in these villages, they truly remain unmasked by the majority. Let me bring to light what you are missing out on and help you plan a true authentic experience of this Greek island.
Emporio is the largest and most densely populated settlement of Santorini, containing roughly 3,000 permanent residents. It is located 12 kilometers from Fira, on the foothills of Mount Profitis Ilias. The village itself has a strong medieval character and most of the houses have been well-preserved. At the entrance of the village stands two lovely, blue domed Cycladic churches with an impressive bell tower that dominates Emporio.
Half way up the village is a 15th century Venetian fortress called Casteli, which its remains are still visible and the two entrances to the castle have been nicely preserved. North of the village there is a strong, square, tower building named Goulas in which the village people protected themselves from the pirates. It was built during the Ottoman occupation of the island and safely hosts the treasures of the Monastery of Patmos.
Emporio is a rather impressive village. Fortified during the medieval times, the old village has such narrow streets and paths that it’s difficult even for two people to walk side by side or cross each other. The houses climb on the slope of a hill and those built up high look like a castle, if seen from the exterior.
One of the oldest churches on the island, Palia Panagia, which is famous for the ornately carved wooden dome on its bell-tower, extracts the attention of every visitor. Also, if you would like to experience an authentic local tradition in Emporio, mark your calendar for October 22nd when a local feast, called the "panighyri," takes place in honor of Aghios Averkios, the protector of wines.
Several alternatives of accommodation are offered in Emporio. Hotels with sport facilities, Airbnb housing inside the castle and rooms to let, cover the needs of tourists. As in every other village, food is not a problem. It's a quaintness village with several shops, tavernas, cafes and bars that are more than sufficient, offering good food, wine and amusement.
Messaria is a small, quaint village located 4 kilometers southeast of Fira and in the center of Santorini, which makes perfect sense because the word ‘mesa’ in Greek means ‘inside.’ Its existence is recorded back to the middle of 17th century. During the 19th century, Messaria was the center of industry in Santorini and an impressive landmark is the old Markezinis knitting factory.
Messaria is vineyard country and most of the inhabitants are engaged in the art of winemaking. There are also a couple local wineries to see and taste a wide range of wine flavors.
The roads are very busy during the day as it is on the main road for getting around to many other locations on the island. You may notice many locals sitting at the main square for a nice Greek coffee under the trees. Messaria has a large local population and is serviced by many shops, restaurants, supermarkets and specialty shops. This is a village where everything is operational throughout the year. At the crossroad, you are more than likely to spot street vendors who have parked with their small trucks, selling almost anything from fresh fish, vegetables and fruit, potted plants and even large ceramic urns.
A stroll around the village reveals magnificent neoclassical buildings and restored mansions. The original architecture of the village is interesting, a combination of stately homes and domed shape cavehouses tunneled into the volcanic rock. In Messaria, you can find a few, yet beautiful churches with impressive bell towers that dominate the area. One of the best examples of neoclassical architecture in Santorini is the Argyros Mansion, which was built in 1888. It is one of the most distinguished recent monuments of the island of Santorini and occupies an important place within the Messaria community as it is significant for its morphological and its architectural value.
Also impressive is the Saliveros Mansion which was built in 1893. Today it is uninhabited and unavailable for viewing by the public.
Megalochori is one of the most picturesque and traditional villages on the island, with its existence dating back to the 17th century. Its name in Greek means the ‘big village’ as ‘megalo’ means ‘big’ and ‘chori’ means ‘village.’ However, it is not the largest village on the island. One could say that it is the largest village for producing wine, though. Predominantly vineyard country, the area of Megalochori covers a large expanse of the southwestern plains of Santorini, stretching towards the Caldera on the west and the traditional settlement built on the banks of a stream to the east. Evidence of prehistoric settlements has been found in the area covering the Early and Later Cycladic periods. The countless vineyards which extend beyond the countryside offer a magnificent setting and some of the best quality wine on Santorini. Megalochori is definitely a place to experience the rich wine tradition. The famous Boutari winery is found on the village's outskirts, plus the first industrial winery built along the magnificent caldera, named Venetsanos.
Megalochori lies on a hill creating a labyrinth of sloping pathways and streets. This village offers a nice mix of white Cycladic houses, several churches and narrow alleys witnessing the strong Aegean tradition. Home to historical mansions, old traditional houses, pirate hideaways and wine canavas, it has a history of merchants and wealthy land barons exporting Vinsanto wine that the island still produces. A prominent feature of the historical homes and mansions are the high walls, inner courtyards and solid wooden door entrances, built for privacy and for safety against marauding pirates. A great effort is being made by local residents and businessmen to preserve the characteristics and beauty of this traditional settlement and many of the original houses that had fallen into disrepair have been restored to their former glory.
If you follow the road to the center of the village you will find the main square that hosts trees, providing shade for a relaxing cup of coffee and a couple of nice tavernas and restaurants, serving delicious authentic Greek food. The square is the heart and soul of Megalochori, a gathering place for the locals to play a game of cards or 'tavli,' which many know as ‘backgammon.’ Spiraling out in all directions is a maze of winding cobbled streets and smooth edge pathways, just waiting to be discovered. There are two remote beaches on the Caldera side, both named after churches in the area, Plaka beach and Thermi beach. They are not accessible by car, making them a hidden gem for most tourists. One must take a footpath down to these quiet beach areas.
Finikia is a small village which contains some traditional Cycladic churches and some of Santorini’s famous cavehouses that are dug into the rocks. These houses of Santorini are designed to insulate the occupants in the winter and if you get the chance to enter one during the summer, you will notice how nice and cool the temperature is.
Finikia is one of the most well-preserved settlements on Santorini and a nice alternative to spend a night if you stay in Oia, which is close. The small church of Kyra Panagia or Lady of the Virgin, is the ideal spot to enjoy a breathtaking sunset in total peace.
This small village offers to its visitors some lodging in rented rooms and food in small tavernas. It is ideal for a quiet stay, without being completely isolated, as Oia with its various alternatives and nightlife is only a few minutes walk. From Finikia you can also explore the appealing beaches of the northeast coast like Baxedes and Paradisos.
Set amidst the vines of Santorini, Mesa Gonia is a rural village located approximately 8 kilometers from Fira. The village is also referred to as the “Ghost Town” as it was almost entirely destroyed during the 1956 earthquake. After that catastrophe, many of its residents abandoned it to settle in the village of Kamari. However, the village has made a comeback recently and is worth visiting for its traditional architecture.
One of the best attractions of Mesa Gonia is the Church of Panagia Episkopi, the most important Byzantine monument of Santorini. This Byzantine style church was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and built at the end of the 11th century with all expenses paid by the Byzantine emperor, Alexios Komninos. It is located about six kilometers from Fira near Kamari. The best time to visit the church is on August 15th during the feast of the Virgin Mary when the church celebrates with a large festival.
Before the devastating earthquake in 1956, Mesa Gonia used to be one of the most important wine tasting places of the island. At the entrance of the village you can visit Roussos Winery, one of the oldest wineries of the island that dates since 1836.
Kamari was completely rebuilt after the 1956 earthquake and was the most important strategic point on the island after the decline of Akrotiri in ancient times. Nowadays, Kamari is a tourist hotspot situated on the southeast side of Santorini. This village is considered a cosmopolitan beach resort, which has been awarded the Blue Flag. The long stretch of beach lies under the impressive mountain of Mesa Vouno. The water is deep and blue, the sand is black and there is a lifeguard on duty, making it an ideal beach for families. The area is famous for its beautiful beach that extends all the way to Monolithos and for its green landscape. A stone-paved promenade for strolling that runs parallel to the beach, stretches across the crescent moon shaped bay. This is closed off to traffic during the summer months.
Kamari offers a wealth of cafes, bars, restaurants, shops and supermarkets, as well as a lively nightlife. The beach is organized with sun beds, umbrellas, water sports and diving.
The Kamari area includes Agia Paraskevi, Kamari village and Kamari beach. Kamari underwent a large period of development after the earthquake of 1956, instigated by the residents of Mesa Gonia village which had been almost totally destroyed.
In 2002 an ancient Sanctuary of the legendary Achilleas was discovered. Amongst the stone ruins, a chalice of the Ionic period was found with engravings which wrote the names of the craftsman and of the Greek hero.
Kamari is also the village providing the road ascending Mesa Vouno to the Archaeological Site of the Ancient Thira Settlement. The second important period in the history of Santorini is linked with the city of Ancient Thira. The excavation there, begun in 1896 by Baron Hiller von Gaertringen in the area of Mesa Vouno, revealed ruins of a town, which contained evidence of a settlement as early as 9th century BC.
In addition, every year Kamari hosts the Jazz Festival that takes place in the lovely atmosphere of its outdoor cinema. The official name of the village is "Episkopi Gonia" and it took its name from the interesting church of Panagia Episkopi which was built in 1100. Also, on September 24th the church Panagia Myrtidiotissa, celebrates with a festival, where the food and the wine is plentiful.
The small village of Exo Gonia lies at the southeastern side of Santorini, close to Pyrgos village, almost 8 kilometers away from the capital Fira. It overlooks green valleys, the open sea, Kamari village and the imposing Mesa Vouno Mountain. It is a small, picturesque settlement built on the side of a mountain with beautiful churches and traditional tavernas.
Exo Gonia keeps its traditional character as it remains undeveloped with a specific number of cafes and restaurants and restricted accommodations. It has a combination of old and new houses, manor houses and beautiful churches. Most notable is the church of Agios Charalambos, a male monastery that was built around 1705. The church is adorned with wall-paintings by Christoforos Assimis and its location provides a view of the entire island. This and the church of Panagia Episkopi, in Mesa Gonia village, are the only churches in Santorini that have tiled roofs, unlike the numerous blue-domed churches.
In 1999 an art center was founded in Exo Gonia, called “Art Space”. It was an old winery that has been transformed into an art gallery, a museum and a renovated winery. It holds exhibitions of various Greek and foreign artists in which visitors have the chance to select their favorite work of art, from paintings and sculptures, or excellent wines from the modern underground winery. In the museum area, visitors can admire the old winery and the distillery, along with the machinery and tools used for wine-making and other products.
Karterados is a lovely Mediterranean village, surrounded by uncountable vineyards that create a beautiful setting. This picturesque village lies just 2 kilometers away from the town of Fira, about a 15 minute walk from the capital. Centrally situated on the island, the area starts from the main road that leads to Fira and reaches all the way down to the beach and the east coast of Santorini. Its existence is recorded back to the 17th century. The original dwellings are cavehouses built deep into the rock face. During the 19th century, it was one of the large sea captain villages on the island. The name of the village comes from the Greek word 'karteri,' which means ‘waiting point’ or ‘ambush point,’ probably because ambushes were set to trap invading pirates. The village is distinguished for its unique architecture and natural landscape.
The village square has a traditional windmill and a memorial plaque to commemorate those who died in the Second World War. On the left-hand side, as you leave the square, the road curves sharply to the left, and there you will discover the 'Steps of Galaios.' Barely visible from the main road is a small neighborhood of cobbled streets, Captains houses and cave houses built into the rock.
Karterados offers a plethora of modern amenities like a modern sports facility, ethnic tavernas with scrumptious delicacies, cozy cafes and lively bars. In addition, there is an old Cretan bakery named Erotokritos, which makes homemade bread, pastries, cakes, sandwiches and delicious cookies. If you ask any local on the island, they will tell you this is the most popular bakery of the entire island. Keep in mind, bakeries are plentiful in Greece, even on a smaller Greek island. The shops are open all year round, since Karterados also has a considerable number of permanent residents.
Several whitewashed churches with brilliant architecture are found around the village, while the location of church of Agios Nikolaos will take your breath away. The beaches are truly attractive offering total tranquility.
A visit to Karterados reveals many traditional stone built houses and 19th century elegant mansions that many shipowners built here witnessing its prosperity in the past. If you follow the road past the village you will meet the tranquil rocky beach of Exo Gialos. Plus, one can easily find numerous hotels for accommodation.
The village of Vothonas is among the most picturesque settlements of Santorini, offering a peaceful and beautiful setting for your holidays.
Vothonas village is built on a beautiful ravine with traditional houses, which are literally carved out of rocks. A stroll around the paved streets leaves any visitor spellbound by the creativity of the craftsmen who knew how to protect their houses from violent storms. Vothonas is characterized by this unique layout and stylish details that match perfectly with the white domed churches and the traditional houses.
Upon a visit to this traditional village, one must experience the magnificent church of Agia Anna, the oldest church of the village, that dates back to 1827. The most ornately beautiful part of the church is the carved wooden panel, which artistically portrays scenes from the Old Testament. If you have enough time and energy left, you may as well visit the pretty chapel of Panagia Trypa, located on the edge of the cliff. One can reach the cliffside chapel by way of a walking trail that takes approximately 20 minutes.
A trip to Vothonas village would be incomplete without visiting the famous underground wine museum. The Wine Museum is an extraordinary natural cave, 6 meters below ground and 300 meters long. It presents the history and life of wine from 1660 to 1970.
The Wine Museum of Santorini along with Koutsogiannopoulos winery that produces Volcan Wines, and the vineyards are situated around Vothonas, on the way to Kamari beach. A small family business, established in 1880 from brothers Gregory and Dimitris Koutsogiannopoulos, four generations later, George Koutsogiannopoulos is the new owner. The Museum offers a personal tour, where one can view semi-mobile and still life figurines, accompanied by audio guides and sound effects. With the Koutsoyannopoulos family knowledge and historical exhibits, guests will get a glimpse of what life was like as a winemaker here. At the end of the passage way, there is a room where the visitor can watch a film of the history of Santorini from 1500 BC till the present day, the evolution of life and wine production in Santorini.
There is also an opportunity to join in the ritual of wine tasting, which is held in the winery. Plus, each Friday, the winery hosts a traditional Greek night in which a buffet meal is offered and entertainment includes live music and local dancers in traditional costumes, giving a display of Greek dancing. The Cycladic culture, along with the process and hardships of winemaking, continue to captivate thousands of visitors each year.
Monolithos is on the southeast coastline of Santorini. The village took its name from the large rock, called 'Monolitho' upon which stands the church of Agios Ioannis.
Monolithos is an ideal place for a quiet relaxing holiday, with crystal clear waters and a fine black sand beach. The shallow wading waters make it deal for children, plus there is a playground and a volleyball area on the beach. Some areas are organized so you can rent sun beds and umbrellas. There are several good fish tavernas and restaurants as well.
Monolithos is just below the airport. You can get there by driving through Karterados village all the way down to the seashore and turning right, along the dirt road below the cliffs. The more orthodox way is to get to the Messaria crossroad, drive along the airport road and keep going till you get to the sea. Monolithos has the only Tomato Canning Factory that is still operational on the island. The factory belongs to the Cooperative Association of Theraic Products.
Perissa is one of Santorini’s best beaches, attracting guests each summer with its long, dark sand, endless beach.
Perissa beach is the start of the longest black sandy beach on Santorini, known for its crystal-clear water and smooth sand. More specifically, the “sand” here is truly made up of small black volcanic pebbles. They are so small, however, that they are still extremely comfortable to walk on and lay atop with just a towel. A feature that makes Perissa unique is the fact that it is the best protected beach from the summer Aegean winds, called "Meltemia" in Greek. This is because Perissa lies right next to Profitis Ilias mountain, totally protected from the North. This long continuous beach is 4 kilometers in length. It is so long that they break it up into 3 distinct named villages. Starting at the tip of the mountain, Mesa Vouno, is Perissa, next is Perivolos and then St. George follows.
However, the enormous rock called Mesa Vouno that rises from the sea is the main attraction of the beach and the entire area. Visitors are left spellbound by the stunning view of the rock especially when it shines in the dark.
Perissa is a nice tourist resort witnessing a huge tourist movement that starts in the middle of the summer season. The village offers a great variety of hotels for all tastes and budgets, restaurants, tavernas, cafes and bars. The area is extremely developed with modern amenities and quite inviting while retaining its strong traditional character. This is almost the most popular beach spot for nightlife, dancing and entertainment.
One of the largest churches on the island, Timiou Stavrou can be found in Perissa square. The original church, built during the period 1835 up until 1840, was destroyed by the 1956 earthquake and was later rebuilt.
At the base of the mountain of Mesa Vouno, one can find the ruins of the Basilica of Agia Irini. The building dates to the 5th century, while evidence of a second construction period during the second half of the 6th century was discovered in 1992. The completion of the excavation of the site, whose floor reaches to a depth of two meters, will take several more years. For many years it was thought that Santorini was given its name by the Venetians in the 13th century. Nowadays there is strong evidence that the Basilica of Agia Irini gave Santorini its name as ‘Agia Irini’ means ‘Saint Irene,’ hence we get ‘Santorini.’
Two hundred meters up on the slopes of Mesa Vouno is the tiny chapel of the Genethlion of Theotokou otherwise known as Panagia Katefiani. The name Katefiani comes from the word 'katefio,' which means ‘refuge’ or ‘hideaway’ in Greek. The local inhabitants use to go there for protection in times of hostile attacks. Many took refuge there during the 'Time of Evil,' the volcanic eruption of the Kolumbo submarine crater in 1650. If one continues ascending this hiking path, you will each the ruins site of Ancient Thira.
There is a theory that Perissa stands on the site on the ancient city of Elevsina, referred to by Ptolelmaios, geographer, mathematician and astronomer of the 2nd Century AC, as one of the cities of Santorini. The port of Ancient Elevsina is thought to be near to the Akrotiri of Exomiti. Findings prove that Perissa, at one time, was an ancient city discovered in 1836. During the Byzantine years, a second city of considerable riches was built over the original one. It is estimated that the city fell into a decline during the reign of the Emperor Leontas the 3rd of Isavrou. This is a reason that Perissa is home to the Museum of Fossils & Minerals.