The story behind this island is legendary. In 1600 BC after a volcano erupted and its center collapsed into the ocean, it left behind parts of its caldera that formed the island of Santorini today. The views from pretty much anywhere on this crescent-shaped outcrop are spectacular. Sheer rock faces are striated in different shades, towns and villages cling to the tops of cliffs, and the caldera is filled with a clear deep turquoise water, home to the visiting cruise ships. The whitewashed buildings in the main town Fira resemble a fresh blanket of snow on top of a mountain.
It is located on the northern tip at Oia, where the sunsets are outstanding, and hotels, homes and churches tumble down the rock walls. Every evening busloads of tourists come down to watch the sun sink into the Aegean. The scenery is just as impressive at sea level. Red Beach has a rust-colored backdrop and Mars-esque rocks. Eros Beach has eerie hoodoo-like walls that would fit right in at a national park in Utah. Caldera Beach is the only one that faces in toward the caldera and gives visitors a discernible sense of the volcano's immensity.
This is Greece's version of Ibiza, but without the posturing and attitude. Mykonos is another low-key beach destination during July and August. Night owls arrive in droves and the main streets of Mykonos Town are packed with travelers. Sometimes the narrow alleys are so jammed with crowds, that the only way to move is to sway through the streets in a singular motion.
Like the Greeks always say, nothing here starts until late, even though you can party in the daytime with twenty-year-old Italians at Super Paradise beach. Many people start to have drinks at sunset at the Sea Breeze Cocktail Bar in Little Venice, getting a table up the steps for the best views. Across the island at Kalo Livadi you can find a less crowded beach where the new Nice n Easy bio-restaurant has fantastic organic food at low prices.
Deeper inland, Jackie O' is a lively waterfront bar that draws the gay crowd. Agyra Bar has attractive staff from Athens. At the always packed Rock 'n' Roll, locals and tourists are evenly split and the bartender blows a whistle before doling out oxygen shots. Our personal favorite is the bar Caprice, where all are united in their mission to just have fun with no judgment. The barmen are as much into the music and dancing as the customers.
The largest island in the Cyclades has a string of swoon-worthy beaches on the western coast. There is a Venetian castle in its main town, interesting ruins and great local produce and dairy. But the special thing that sets it apart from the other islands are its traditional villages. The village life is evident. There is a sign at the outskirts of town that simply reads the word "Villages." There are forty-six villages on Naxos, some small, but all a window into Greece’s traditional life.
Each village has a cafe or bakery, a village square where old men with sun-kissed faces sit around on tables drinking coffee and trading stories, and a nicely preserved church. The hamlets are tucked among the hills and the switchback road in Naxos. Kinidaros is famous for its bakery. It’s the best on the island and is known for having an oven fired by wood and musicians. Chalki has the superb artisanal jam shop called Era. The locals visit the cobble-stoned streets of Apeiranthos to eat the crepes at Samardako. Keramoti is located in a valley, seemingly cut off from civilization and is also the base for hiking to the Routsouna waterfall. Since most tourists don't travel inland, the villages have not succumbed to money-making gimmicks.
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