Santorini is the southernmost island of the Cycladic group in the Aegean Sea, located 63 nautical miles north of Crete. Regarded by many as the most spectacular of the Greek Islands, visitors come to Santorini for its impressive archaeological sites, its famous beaches and above all its weather.
The island enjoys a marvellously dry climate with virtually unbroken sunshine year-round. Even during the winter months, consecutive rainy days are uncommon and the coldest months have a relatively mild average temperature of 12 degrees Celsius.
Santorini received its present name in the 13th century, when the Crusaders named the island after a chapel of Santa Irene. The island owes its existence to a volcano, whose last major eruption took place 3,600 years ago. Visitors come to see the island's large, sea-filled caldera or crater, the remnant of what might possibly have been the world's largest ever eruption.
Although man is known to have inhabited the island during the Early Cycladic civilisation from 3,200 - 2,000 BC, an eruption around 1,500 BC buried the entire island and all traces of civilisation disappeared for several centuries. Evidence of more recent volcanic activity is apparent, and the two small islands of Palea and Nea Kameni are the youngest landmasses in the Eastern Mediterranean. The latter began to form just 425 years ago and represents the volcano's latest activity in 1950.
Santorini, like many of the Greek Islands, holds significant interest for archaeologists, boasting remains of both prehistoric and Greek civilisation. The ancient city of Akrotiri is the most important prehistoric settlement in the Eastern Mediterranean, thanks to its excellent state of preservation. Mesa Vouno, meanwhile, is an ancient Greek city, built on limestone rock during the ninth century BC. Until the spread of Christianity, Mesa Vouno was the only urban centre on Santorini.
The Archaeological Museum, which is located in the island's capital, Fira, is well worth a visit as it houses a wide range of sculptures, inscriptions, vases and clay figurines which document the island's lengthy past. Also in Fira is the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, which contains artistic masterpieces from the prehistoric Aegean.
For the less culturally-inclined, Santorini is renowned for its scenic beaches, mainly spread along the eastern and south-eastern edges of the island. Perivolos and Perissa are black-sand beaches which benefit from a range of hotels, restaurants and tavernas. The beaches of Monolithos, Avis and Kamari are located on the south-east of the island and are particularly popular with families with young children.
The island benefits from a range of accommodation, from budget hotels through to luxury apartments, and also has a selection of some 300 restaurants to choose from. Food on Santorini is a pleasure rather than a necessity and everything from the Greek salads and vegetables through to the local goat's cheese and fish is as fresh as you could find anywhere.
In addition, the island is well-known for its outstanding wines and it is possible for visitors to indulge in a little wine-tasting at six different wineries. Even if you don't manage to get to a tasting, make sure you try some of the local dessert wines when you are out.
Santorini is a 40 minute flight away from Athens and charter flights travel directly to the island during the summer months. With an ever-increasing number of cheap flights travelling to the Greek Islands, there has never been a better time to travel to Santorini and experience its ancient charm firsthand.
Like everything else about this island, its beaches are extraordinary huge swathes of coarse black or red sand shelving quickly into deep crystal waters. The most famous is Kamari, a 5km black sand and shingle beach in the islands most popular resort, with countless tavernas and an energetic busy nightlife.