Everything about Santorini revolves around its volcanic nature and crater or caldera, resulting from one of the biggest volcanic eruptions on the planet over 3,500 years ago. Luckily, the volcano is now dormant but it has left its mark on the gleaming charcoal beaches, the fertile soil that grows outstanding wines and a mountainous topography that exudes Mediterranean magic in the middle of the sea. This is a befitting description considering that some experts even believe Santorini might have been no other than ancient Atlantis.
Beyond being known as the island of beautiful sunsets, Santorini or Thira today offers much to the eco-visitor, as many hotels have kept the traditional style of architecture without spoiling the surroundings. Some of these small hotels are transformed villas that make for a delightful stay (See Eco-stay section). On an ecological note, part of Santorini is included in the Natura 2000 network, beginning south of Pirgos to the highest peak of the island and to Mesa Vouno.
Reaching the main town of Fira from the port requires a hike up 588 steps or on the back of a donkey. There's also a funicular for the more lazy, and of course by car. Windmills, arcades and narrow streets characterize Fira, particularly the once upper-crust neighbourhood reserved for the catholic nobility.
Further away from the main town the little village of Mesa Gonia features ruins from the 1956 earthquake, as well as restored villas and a winery. The village of Pyrgos is also worthy of attention with its grand villas, Byzantine churches and what's left of a Venetian castle. For a more authentic feel you can venture to Mesaria in the middle of the island, where the noteworthy Argiros estate dates from the 19th century. For a modest beach and small village try Vlichada. With the help of daily excursions, you can cross over to the volcano island and nearby island of Thirasia which boasts less tourists than Santorini.
Overall, Santorini is full of little surprises over and above the obvious delights. You can still see many cave houses around the island, some of which are still inhabited today. For an interesting read, visit the Atlantis Bookstore in Ia, run by an international collective of artists and writers.