The Colours of Santorini Make it a Greek Island Unlike Any Other

The Many Shades of Santorini.

Beyond the classic Greek blue and white skyline, Santorini is an island of burnt orange and blood red, royal purple and butter yellow, electric green and pastel pink.

Santorini, Greece, Greek islands, Cyclades, caldera, Oia (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

A rainbow of colour

Even at first glance, it’s clear that Santorini is unlike any other island in Greece. Located some 300km southeast of Athens in the Cyclades, the volcanic isle is home to a world-famous caldera edged by 300m-tall cliffs that plummet into the sea. Just as surreal as the crater, however, is Santorini’s rainbow of colours; even its cliffs, made up of layers of volcanic rock and soil, are banded with bright hues. Yes, Santorini is an island of the classic Greek blue and white variety – but with a bit of exploring, it’s easy to see a place of burnt orange and blood red, royal purple and butter yellow, electric green and pastel pink. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Santorini, caldera, Manolas, Oia, Greek islands (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

A caldera creation

The most famous eruption of Santorini’s volcano was in 1600BC, creating the caldera as we know it now. At about 200 times the force of the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens, the volcano’s upsurge was felt across the Aegean, sending a 150m-tall tsunami rolling to Crete, 70km south. Some archaeologists say the disaster may have brought an end to the flourishing Minoan civilisation, which began in Crete and spread to other Aegean islands. This view of the town of Oia, on the northwestern tip of Santorini, shows the hills of Manolas island, about 3km in the distance. In the foreground, the caldera cliffs show some of the extraordinary colours of the volcanic rocks and the flora that thrive in the mineral-rich soil. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Santorini, wineries, viniculture, Greek islands (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Ancient agriculture

Santorini’s porous volcanic soil retains water even when there is little rain. That, combined with the soil’s mineral content, makes the island perfect for growing grapes, creating vistas of vineyards so verdant, they almost appear fluorescent. The same 1600BC volcanic eruption that destroyed parts of the island, in fact, also preserved evidence of Bronze Age viniculture, meaning that winemaking has been a local industry for at least 3,600 years. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Santorini, wines, wineries, Domaine Sigalas, assyrtiko (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Flavours of a volcano

Today, the 75sqkm island is home to some 14sqkm of vineyards, most of which grow assyrtiko. The native grape is now found across Greece, producing white wines that are full-bodied, dry and, unsurprisingly, have a slightly mineral taste. The varieties shown here were featured at a tasting at the vineyard Domaine Sigalas, just on the outskirts of Oia. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Santorini, Akrotiri, Greek islands, colours (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Kaleidoscope of flora

Santorini’s volcanic soil grows a veritable kaleidoscope of colourful flowers, brush and grasses. Most travellers taking ferries or cruise ships in and out of the hub of Thira, however, don’t see the wildflower-dotted landscape that covers much of the island. To get this vantage point, you need to rent a car – or, for the very relaxed and schedule-independent, take a local bus – and explore parts of the island that, while just a few kilometres from Thira, often feel worlds away. On the southwestern tip of the island, some 12km from Thira and less than 1km from the archaeological site of Akrotiri, for example, you can find not only serenity, but stunning patches of natural colour as well. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Perissa beach, Santorini, Red Beach, White Beach, Black Beach, lava, Greek islands (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

A beach for every colour

Even Santorini’s beaches come in a variety of hues. In fact, a glance at a map looks like a passage from a Dr Seuss book: Red Beach, White Beach, Black Beach. The pebbles and sand come from hardened lava, and the colours vary depending on which geological layer has been exposed. The hue of the massive rocks at Red Beach, shown here, in the island’s southwest, comes from iron deposits. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Santorini, Red Beach, White Beach, Black Beach, Greek islands (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Lying on lava

Santorini is home to several black-sand beaches, like the one at Perissa, shown here. Most of Santorini’s visitors stay in the island’s capital of Thira – or on cruise ships – and few travellers make the 10km trip to Perissa. As a result, the beach isn’t just picturesque (and, thanks to its dark shade, unusually warm to lie on), but it is often surprisingly quiet – at least outside of high season, from June to September. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Akrotiri, Museum of Prehistoric Thira, Santorini, Minoans, Greek islands, frescoes (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Minoan monkeys

Before the 1600BC eruption, Santorini was home to the thriving Bronze Age city of Akrotiri. The eruption, however, spewed out a 30km-high column of ash and rock, entombing the city some 1,700 years before a similar disaster encased Pompeii – and preserving a rare glimpse into the everyday life, art and industry of the Minoans. After a seven-year closure, the archaeological site of Akrotiri, complete with houses, streets and squares, reopened to the public in 2012. Most of the site’s exquisite frescoes, figurines and other artefacts are on display at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, where wall paintings have been set up to show visitors what the frescoes would have looked like in situ. The frescoes are surprisingly colourful, and playful – including this scene of monkeys in reds, yellows and blues. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Oia, Santorini, Greek islands, Aegean (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Pretty palettes

It wasn’t only the Minoans who may have drawn inspiration from the island’s palette. Today’s residents employ a range of colours, too. While many of the island’s buildings are white, others, like those shown here in Oia, range from robin’s-egg blue to salmon-pink. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Emporio, Santorini, doorway, Greek islands (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Pops of colour

Even Santorini’s white buildings have pops of colour, displayed on the trim, on a gate or on a doorway, as shown here in Emporio, a lovely town 12km south of Thira. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Oia, Santorini, sunset, Greek islands (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Dusky shades

With its uninterrupted view west, Oia is the island’s most popular place to take in the Aegean sunset’s festival of colour. The show is so popular, in fact, that each summer evening the town’s streets fill with camera-toting visitors ready to capture the spectacle. But even before the sky lights up with fluorescent oranges and pinks, Oia itself turns a peach hue, bringing out the oranges in the volcanic rocks of the cliffs below. (Amanda Ruggeri)

Amoudi, Santorini, Oia, Greek islands, sunset (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Colourful cliffs

A less crowded spot to watch the sun drop is from the harbour of Amoudi, located 1km down a steep, winding path from Oia. From here, you can drink local wine, dine on fresh fish and watch as the light sets both the Aegean and the red cliffs above aglow. It’s the perfect place to make a toast to Santorini – and to the volcano that made it the striking, colourful place it is today. (Amanda Ruggeri)

By Amanda Ruggeri

Source: BBC TRavel



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