Thirassia, a slower pace of life

Following on from our visit to the active volcano on New Burnt we carried onto the nearby hot springs where the man had a swim and permanently ruined his swimmers with smelly mud!!

Then it was onto the little island of Thirassia which is located in close proximity to Santorini.

In fact, it was once a part of the same island previously known as Stronghyle, or Strongili, which in Greek means round, because of its shape.

P1050930The volcanic eruption that happened at around 1500 B.C. broke the previously circular island into many pieces and Thirassia emerged as one and Santorini became another.

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The explosion of the volcano which was in the center of the island and the greater part sunk forming today’s caldera, the largest of its kind.

All that left in the surface were segments of its perimeter which today consist of Santorini, Thirasia , and Aspronisi.

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Thirassia is a small, laid back island with a scattering of beach front restaurants and Manolas, the island’s capital is accessible from the beach via a winding path.

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The tiny island has only one hundred and fifty permanent inhabitants. Apart from Manolas other settlements include Korfos, Riva and Potamos.

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We have a couple of hours free time on the island and we opt to have a light lunch in one of the many restaurants that are strung out along the beach.

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Here’s the man enjoying the sunshine with the gorgeous azure sea lapping at his feet.

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There’s pretty much nothing to do on Thirassia except eat, drink and watch the world go by.

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Neil’s fuelled up with a gyros and heads off for a swim in the harbour.

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Tempting as the blue waters are, I stay dry and warm in the restaurant, noshing on a fresh Greek salad and crusty bread.

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Life doesn’t get much better than this (says my slightly cheesy / smug grin .. )

Must have been having a photogenic moment as there appears to be more than one photo of me on the island!

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As there is so little to do here, there is also very little to write about ..  so just enjoy some sunny shots of the harbour.

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The glassy blue of the sea is so gorgeous that it looks almost fake but it’s completely filter free I promise!

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Here’s one of the traditional Greecian windmills that can be found across the islands.

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And here’s a final few sunsoaked images to leave you with as we bid adieu to Thirassia and to Santorini.

All in all an incredible week spent in a stunning location that I am missing already!!! Must make plans, my wandering feet are itching again . . .

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New Burnt

Santorini has been shaped by violent natural events and nowhere is this more clear than at its volcanic heart.

First on our floaty boaty day trip is a stop off on the Island of Nea Kameni (New Burnt) where there still bristles an active volcano at its very peak.

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New Burnt and its nearby neighbour Old Burnt have formed over the past two millennia by repeated eruptions of dacite lava and ash.

Its most catastrophic eruption happened in around 1650 BC and that is recorded as one of the  largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history.

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Here’s the queue for the entrance to the island (just a tiny little ticket desk!) and it costs two Euros to enter.

Nea Kameni has a  diameter of approximately 2 kilometers and is monitored closely by scientists from the Institute for the Study and Monitoring of the Santorini Volcano.

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We make our way up to the summit of the 130-meter-high volcanic crater, all very rocky and dusty! Not the most thrilling of scenery if I am totally honest but the man is very excited by it all! Here he is observing one of the huge craters.

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Expecting great things as we near the active area of the volcano. Lava, glowing red, drama, heat . . . .  nope a small hole that occasionally wifts a tiny puff of smoke out and is a bit green from sulphur deposits. . . . humpf.

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At least there’s a nice view out across to sea and Oia beyond and umbrellas provide some welcome shade.

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Nea Kameni is the eastern Mediterannean’s youngest volcanic landform, and today it is a protected natural monument and national geological park. It’s possibly the newest piece of the earth’s surface that I have ever walked on!!

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It’s erupted approximately eight times in the past 1,900 years and has been dormant since 1950 when it last erupted.

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However previous eruptions caused a great deal of damage  and shaped the volcanic landscape you can see today.

Late in August 1940, two major explosions from the summit of the island blew a rock plug from 1866 into the air, opening two large craters each 50 meters across. These are the craters which can been seen today.

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Geological evidence shows that this sleeping giant of a volcano erupted numerous times over several hundred thousand years before the cataclysmic Minoan eruption in around 1650 BC that wiped out a civilization.

The Minoan eruption was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history. It destroyed most of the island of Thira, along with communities and agricultural areas on nearby islands and on the coast of Crete, contributing to the collapse of the Minoan culture.

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Even though the giant slumbers I was still quite relieved to leave and get back on board. Next stop the island of Old Burnt and its hot springs!

Volcano visiting

Following on from our whistlestop tour of the smaller villages we decide to take a boat trip to visit the volcano that formed the Santorini that we see today.

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So we hop on a traditional boat (along with hundreds of other eager beavers) ready to set sail from the harbour and onto see the two volcanic islands of Old Burnt and New Burnt.

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Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera.

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A giant central, rectangular lagoon, which measures about 7.5 by 4.3 miles is surrounded by 300 metre high, steep cliffs on three sides.

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On the fourth side, the lagoon is separated from the sea by another much smaller island called Therasia.

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The trip takes in the island of Nea Kameni,(New Burnt) with its active volcano followed by a stop at the island of Palea Kameni (Old Burnt) with its hot springs.

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First up we explore the wild landscape of New Burnt with its various volcanic rocks and craters, where smoke still billows out with strong smell of sulfur. Eyes peeled for pictures of rocks . . .

Final glimpses

Since the Byzantine times, pirates were a huge problem faced by the Aegean islands,  imposing taxes and looting local communities.

To protect themselves the inhabitants of Santorini built several fortified settlements known as Kastelia. Emporio is one of five such Kastelia on the island.

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You can spend hours just wandering the compact little streets, the houses all huddled close together to protect against the marauding pirate hoardes.

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As you explore the higgly piggly passages ways you feel as if time has stood still for centuries in this incredible place. Not least when you final discover the actual heart of the Kastelia.

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With its maze of staircases, passageways and tiny hobbit hole doors, it’s like something out of middle earth. And people actually live in it too!

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The castles looked a lot like fortresses, due to the fortified houses of the outer perimeter that had few openings to the outside and so practically formed a wall.

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The inside of the castles are densely structured, with two or three-story buildings leaning against each other and streets are very narrow.

Lower floors were partly built above the ground and partly rock-hewn underground.

Here you can see some of the densely packed together houses, each complete with their own cute little entrances.

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And so ended our fantastic whirlwind tour of some of Santorini’s lovely little villages. Next we take to the seas and visit the volcano that created the present day island.

Enchanting Emporio

The final village on our whistle stop day tour around Santorini is the gorgeous little Emporio.

It takes its name from the Greek word for “trade” (Emporeio) and for centuries was the traditional trade centre of Santorini.

From the main road Emporio might seem like any normal, fairly bland modern town but head up to the traditional, fortified old village and you’re in for a treat!

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Emporio is the largest village of the island with all the Greek elements you could wish for –  windmills on the top of the hills, narrow streets painted in white, blue domed churches, a cathedral, a medieval castle and a pagan church dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

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Once you reach the traditional old section of the village you are spoilt for choice in which little inviting alley to explore first. As usual I get completely side tracked by a delightful selection of blue hued doors . . .

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Here’s a few more snaps from some of the twisty alleyways of this gorgeous little village.

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We find a fab little watering hole in the centre of the old village, The Old Barbershop. We have the place to ourselves and enjoy a relaxing beverage as the sun starts to drop low.

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Next up we beetle around the incredible old Castle at the heart of the old village that is currently in the process of being restored and is a maze of twisting passageways and tiny hobbit hole doors.

Colour burst

Here’s a final glimpse of some of the colourful sights of Megalochori. This little village is the center of the wine industry of Santorini and it is surrounded by vine yards

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While the majority of the village is still firmly dressed in the traditional white and blue uniform of the island, you can discover some mouth wateringly tasty colour combinations if you scout about a bit.

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We spot a tiny sign offering a glimpse of the inside of one of the many traditional cave houses on the island.

While many are private or transformed into fancy rental properties, this one was completely bare and you can see the actual rock it is formed from.

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As you can see below, this fascinating below ground treasure is actually just in someone’s back yard, just a tiny sign alerts you to the fact that it is there.

P1050684Plus the householder had the most gloriously painted back yard ever – so lots of happy snapping to be had.

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Peeling paint and colourful wall heaven!

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But reluctantly dragging myself away from my frenzied orgy of papping walls and doors, there’s still more twisting alleyways to explore.

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The ubiquitous bougainvillea creeps over the blindingly white walls, while occasionally you can catch a glimpse of what lies beneath the pristine paintwork when you come across some of the unrestored houses.

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Next up, possibly the best village on Santorini . . watch this space!

Magical Megalochori

Megalochori is our next stop and it’s another picturesque village. Its existence is recorded all the way back to the 17th century.

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Home to historical mansions, old traditional houses and wine canavas it is a colourful, traditional little place. Apparently it has a history of merchants exporting the Vinsanto wine that the island still produces.

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One striking 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.

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In the center of the village, there is a pretty little traditional square with taverns, restaurants and trees providing welcome shade and relaxation.

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The square is the heart and soul of Megalochori, a gathering place for the locals to play a game of cards or ‘tavli’ (backgammon).

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Spiraling out in all directions is a maze of winding cobbled streets and smooth edged pathways, just waiting to be discovered.

Next up we take a peek inside one of the traditional cave houses in the village and enjoy a riot of colour.

Free wheeling Greek style!

Continuing our quad bike tour of Santorini here’s a few random shots of  the scenery between the whitewashed villages.

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We head to a tiny beach for a quick picnic and we have the whole place to ourselves.

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Here’s a few pictures of the north east of the island including a hillside of traditional windmills.

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Although they might look old it is actually a new resort of holiday homes, built to resemble the traditional mills.

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Next up we head up the hair raising set of hairpin bends that lead us up Profitis Ilias mountain – Santorini’s highest peak.

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Here’s a look back at some of the twisting horror road!!!

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Profitis Ilias at its highest peak is 565 meters high. On the top of this mountain there is a monastery built in 1771 dedicated to the prophet Elijah and some military buildings.

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After the vertiginous views of the mountain we head briefly to the beach resort of Kamari. It’s another black volcanic beach.

P1050647Then it’s on to the lovely villages of Megalohori and Emporio.

Vothonas village

Vothonas is a small rock village and architecturally it is one of the strangest villages on Santorini.

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A tangle of paths climb up to the cave houses – some perfectly restored and others derelict and deserted.

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It’s a complex network of open and closed excavations, almost like being on an archaeological dig in places.

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As the coastal villagers did with the Caldera, so the people of the interior dug their houses into rocky walls of ravines.

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The houses come in all shapes and sizes and in all states of disrepair.

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The village is as traditional as they come. With meandering, sun bleached alleys, tiered rows of bells adorning the village church and weather worn doors aplenty.

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High on the hillside this duck egg blue church welcomes dedicated (and athletic!) worshippers.

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Back in the maze of streets you can spot every shade of pastel paint and this heavy duty wooden door has so many bolts that you have to wonder what it is they are hiding!

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A traditional feature of many Santorini churches are the multi layered rows of bells that form pleasing patterns against the blue sky.

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Agia Anna is the oldest church of the village that dates back to 1827.

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The most beautiful part of the church is actually the carved wooden panels inside which portray scenes from the Old Testament.

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As you aimlessly wander and enjoy the slow, peaceful pace of life, take a moment to appreciate the village craftsmen. They knew how to build strong houses with the cheapest of materials and exploited the depth of the gully to protect them from the winds.

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To end our little mooch around Vothonas here’s a trio of perfectly coloured windows and doors.

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Pyrgos

Moving on from the delights of Oia, we decided that the best way to explore the rest of Santorini was to follow other visitors leads and hire a quad bike for the day.

Our beast cost us 40 euros for 24 hours – if we’d haggled we’d have probably got an even better deal but we were itching to be off! Here’s Neil Born to be Mild!

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The first stopover on our whirlwind tour is the hilltop village of Pyrgos and we arrived early in the morning, just as shops were opening.

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Pyrgos is at the highest point of Santorini, with panoramic views of the whole island all the way to Oia and it was declared a protected settlement in 1995.

Pyrgos is a typical fortress settlement found around the Cyclades. On the hilltop you can find ruins of Kasteli Castle, one of the five ‘kastelia’ on the island.

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As you move up from the central square you can easily start to lose yourself in the labyrinth of back streets and quaint houses.

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As early as we were, we still bumped into huge groups of Japanese tourists all frantically snapping at the pretty details including this Juliette balcony.

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Heading through the village we find lots of cute details including this little painted donkey rock sign!

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We headed directly up to the castle first of all to enjoy the panoramic views across the island. The Venetian Kasteli has a commanding position at the very top of the village although it is mainly ruins now.

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You can see for miles and miles across the island. Large areas of the island are flat but there are impressive mountains and cliff tops too.

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Santorini is essentially what remained after an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island.

Much of the current island is made of layers of solidified lava. However you can still find areas that are from the former non-volcanic island.

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The Profitis Ilias mountains are one such place – the exposed mountain rock is made of the metamorphosed limestone and schist that formed the bedrock of the previous island.

Pyrgos is another place where the non volcanic rock is exposed.

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After pootling around the castle for a while we head back down into the maze of streets to admire some of the traditional craft shops that have started to ply their daily trade.

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These gorgeous colourful paintings utilise all manner of wooden backdrops including old window shutters and drift wood.

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The village has many churches, around 33 in total. That’s a lot of bells to peal!

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As we wind our way back down through the narrow twisting alleyways we have time to enjoy a few more of the colourful traditional arts including painted donkey bells and an odd little wooden rider!

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There’s a multitude of blues to be seen around the village from azure to turquoise, appearing in everything from peeling paint to plant pots and window surrounds.

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Here’s a last look before we head onto the next village on our quad bike whistle stop adventure.

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