When you visit Megalochoiri Santorini, whether as a day trip or as your holiday base, you’ll be experiencing the heart of Santorini – an old traditional village of white churches, pirate hideaways, stunning hotels, wonderful Aegean sea views, and narrow streets and alleys. A true hidden gem, Megalochori is close to excellent wineries, the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri, the airport, and only a 10-minute drive to the capital, Fira. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the best things to see and do, and where to stay.
How to Get to Megalochori, Santorini
The traditional village of Megalochori is located around seven kilometers (km) or five miles (mi) from the island of Santorini’s main airport.
Both buses and private taxis can be chartered from the airport, buses from €12 and taxis from €45.
Additionally, it’s about an hour’s walk for visitors who are light on luggage and don’t mind a hike past the stunning Santorini caldera.
An Ancient History
Megalochori means “great village.” As a village, Megalochori as we know it dates back until at least the 17th Century, making it comparatively young by Greek standards.
That said, the area around Megalochori has an ancient heritage, with traces of settlements that date back around five thousand years.
Pirates of the Mediterranean
Sitting at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, the seas around Santorini have always been rich with trade.
But along with that wealth came real danger, as pirates from across the Mediterranean flocked to prey on passing traders and even enslave local villages.
Unlike many frightened and fortified towns around the Cyclades, Megalochori took a different attitude towards piracy and was considered to be a kind of haven for them, with numerous pirate hideaways dotted throughout the area, some of which remain today.
Decline and Restoration
Despite many upheavals, Megalochori did well throughout the early 20th Century, exporting fine wine across Europe and becoming somewhat of a boomtown.
However, all that changed with the 1956 earthquake, which ruined the city and destroyed many of its older buildings.
Megalochori remained neglected and abandoned by most of its local residents until 1999 when it began to be restored by local property developers.
Special attention was paid to restoring Megalochori‘s traditional houses with its picture book Cycladic architecture and reviving its rich winemaking heritage.
A Classic Cycladian Village
Today, the old town has been restored. Visitors can walk down cobblestone streets past historic mansions with their high walls and tranquil inner courtyards.
Many of these great houses now offer quite cheap overnight accommodation, with easy access to nearby restaurants and tavernas.
Aside from these venues, the Megalochori‘s focal point is the center of the village itself, the hub of social life for local residents.
The Chapel of Agios Nikolaos
If you’re taking a walk a little way out of the village, make sure to check out the Chapel of Agios Nikolaos.
This beautiful white church is built into the rocky cliffs facing out into the Aegean, its bell tower a triptych of bells built in a pyramid formation.
A Stark and Striking Environment
Santorini was once a much bigger island and included the wealthy village of Ancient Akrotiri.
A vibrant enclave of the Minoan culture, everything changed around 1600 BC when a cataclysmic volcanic eruption destroyed much of the island, sinking its middle part into a deeply submerged caldera.
It’s this caldera, and the ring-shaped archipelago that surrounds it, that now dominates Santorini’s geology and brings in onlookers from all over the world.
Megalochori itself lies on the caldera side of the island rather than the side facing the Aegean and is blessed with brilliant caldera views.
The Volcanic Beach of Thermi
The best place to take advantage of these views is the little beach of Thermi.
Also called Tou Christou ta Thermi or Christos due to the small church nestled in the red volcanic rocks nearby, Thermi sits just below Megalochori.
Access to the beach isn’t easy, the path is steep and narrow and can take around half an hour to walk down and even longer to hike back up.
The journey you need to take to get down to the beach means that Thermi is rarely crowded – you can often explore this black pebble and pumice beach and its deep clear waters in private serenity.
A Winemaking Eden
In the first half of the twentieth century, Megalochori was known as a winemaking hub, exporting the sweet dark wine known as Vinsanto (not to be confused with Tuscan Vin santo) to countries near and far.
And although this industry took a big hit following the 1956 earthquake, it’s since recovered much of its old heritage, with a number of great wineries popping back up in the area.
You can visit these wineries in combined wine-tasting tour packages or simply check them out yourself, but bear in mind that due to the pandemic some wineries, such as the lovely Antoniou Winery, are now closed.
The well-known Vinsanto wine is regulated to protect its quality and must follow a number of rules to be worthy of the ancient label.
Firstly, it must be 51% Assyrtiko, a popular grape variety on the island that is known for its acidity and its citrusy and mineral flavors. The remainder of the wine is usually made from medium-bodied Athiri and Aidani grapes.
Secondly, the grapes must be harvested late in the season and then sundried for twelve days to a fortnight. Thirdly, they must be aged for a minimum of two years in oaken barrels.
Finally, the finished product must be a minimum of 9% alcohol by volume.
Vinsanto falls on to the palate as an excellent dessert wine and (as its name attests) has been extensively used in the Catholic Eucharist ceremony over the years.
Perched on the hills between Megalochori and the ferry terminal at Athinios, Venetsanos Winery was an early pioneer of industrial winemaking techniques.
Even though it has added a modern facade, the winery has managed to keep its traditional aesthetic and outlook, which couples perfectly with its views out over the caldera.
Venetsanos Winery is open from 10 am to 6 pm every day except Sunday, with wine-tasting tours and accompanying lunches available via booking.
Tracing its heritage back to the late 18th Century, Gavalas Winery is a family-run affair that only began bottling in earnest in the late 1990s.
Its focus on local heritage has seen it revive and promote the endemic Katsano grape, saving it from extinction it is produced in small batches today. Since that time Gavalas Winery has expanded greatly and has become open to the public all year round.
Wine tasting runs from 11 am to 7 pm from April to October and 11 am to 4 pm in the cooler months from November to March, though booking is recommended.
Much like its neighbors, Boutari Winery is a family establishment that also traces its heritage back into the distant past.
The Boutari vineyard at Santorini, with its iconic white dome and modern restaurant, offers private and public tours from 11 am Monday through to Saturday.
Best Places to Stay in Megalochori
Here are the three best hotels and villas from luxury to outstanding value.
Athermi Suites – Adults Only
White Harmony Suites
Only 100 m from the center of Megalochori and less than 1 km from Thermi Beach, lovely private pools and views feature in this popular and well-priced small hotel.
Aegean Mist Luxury Suites
Great value, excellent location in the heart of Megalochori, a lovely host, and a shared hot tub.
Thermes Luxury Villas and Spa
An incredible luxury hotel with facilities including a pool, spa, and onsite restaurant.