With the bright sunshine dazzling our eyes, at first it is hard to make out the caves in the shadows of the gorge. Unless you are virtually right on top of it , the village of Akrilia is well hidden from view. Our guide, of course, knew exactly which track to follow to find our way here.
Having explored the village of Manolas and walked along a track through the countryside, we are now on the far side of the island of Thirassia, the little sister of the better known island of Thira (more commonly called Santorini).
Walking on, along the top of the gorge, I catch a glimpse of what had tempted me to come on this hike in the first place.
Just before I came to Santorini I had seen a picture of a brightly painted church on the website of Santorini Experts. It was so different from the simple white and blue colouring you normally associate with religious buildings here. I longed to see it for myself. Coupled together with visiting an island barely touched by tourism, as well as an abandoned cave village, how could I resist?
I try to imagine what the village would have looked like with the caves bricked up and painted white and blue, like those we had seen in Manolas, and with the paths cleared of the vegetation that now hide virtually all of them from view.
Once as many as 700 people lived here. They worked in the fields that lead down to the sea, growing the little Santorini tomatoes, fava beans, barley and grapes. The children would have walked the track we had come down to go to school in Manolas, the only school on the island.
However, after the Second World War the tomato paste factories that they supplied all closed down. Working the fields was no longer profitable and in the 1960s the village was abandoned with just a view people remaining until the late 70s.
Today just two villages on Thirassia remain inhabited, Manolas and Potamos, with only around 200 people living on the whole island.
The Church of the Virgin Mary in Akrilia, however, looks anything but abandoned. The paint is clean and bright, as Kathrin our guide explains, no church in Greece is ever abandoned. There is a service held here just once a year on 21st November in memory of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For anyone who loves photographing doors and windows, you have to admit, rural buildings in Greece are a dream to photograph.
Kathrin has a key and we are privileged to look inside.
And by the way, have you noticed the stones that you see sticking up on the domes of churches in Greece? They are there to stop the devil sitting down, thus protecting the church from evil.
Having explored the abandoned village we walk down to a rough track. A car is waiting to take us to Riva where we’ll meet the boat back to Thira. It’s the first car we’ve seen since we’ve been on the island. Up until just three years ago there wasn’t even a petrol station here. Even now, with so few cars on the island and a full tank lasting a very long time, you have to make an appointment with the garage owner in order to fill up again.
Having spent the last couple of hours walking, we all feel we’ve earned the late lunch that is waiting for us at the Angira Tavern. And what a fabulous feast it is, all washed down with a glass (or two) of the house wine, made by the Priest of Akrilia and Potamus.
With a slightly fuzzy head and a full stomach, we said our goodbyes to the lovely island of Thirassia, having seen a very different side of Santorini.
Read Hiking Santorini 1: Volcanoes, cave houses and the lost city of Atlantis
Santorini Experts Guided Walking Tour on Thirassia
Thanks to Kathrin, my wonderful guide from Santorini Experts. She was informative, friendly and fun and I’m sure the memory of this day will stay with me forever. Afterwards I had a think about just why this tour was so very good. And I think it was because it felt like I was being shown around by a friend rather than someone I had only just met that morning.
This small group walking tour with Santorini Experts costs 60€, lasts 5 hours (plus time for pick-ups and transfers) and includes
- pick-up from your hotel on Thira (Santorini) and transport to Oia
- a return boat trip from Oia to the neighbouring island of Thirassia
- a bottle of water, a drink in Manolas and use of a hiking pole
- your expert guide
- a late lunch with wine
For more information on this and other tours visit the Santorini Experts’ website.
Disclosure: I paid a reduce rate for this tour but I will always give you my honest opinions and am free to write whatever I like.
Join my 'Behind the Scenes' newsletter
Delivered monthly to your inbox with all my behind the scenes news, latest posts and giveaways exclusive to my subscribers.
Hi Kathryn, this looks like a beautiful hike. It’s interesting to see how different the landscape of Thirassia is from Santorini. It’s good to know that although they abandoned the village they still maintain the church. What a wonderful spiritual tradition. I hope to visit Thirassia next time I go to Santorini. Oh those food…it’s worth going back just for them. Lovely photos.
It’s wonderful to see how Santorini was before the tourists came. I’m sure you will love it. And yes, the food, particularly at the restaurant was superb. I’ve lots more to share about the food and wine of Santorini, as well as another hike, but not just yet!
I have been to Santorini once, but never to this the island. What a great hike! Your photos are stunning! Would love to explore more of Santorini like you did. The church looks amazing, and I really enjoyed reading the history of this place.
It was a real treat to visit an island so devoid of tourism, especially considering its closeness to Thira (the main Santorini island) which is lovely but overflowing with tourists.
Sounds like a lovely litle island that’s undergone a lot of change in the last 50 years. Do they get many visitors nowadays? Interesting to see the cave dwellings and amazing to think that as many as 700 people once lived there… must have been quite a thriving community!
Think there’s a B&B in Manolas (plus a ‘secret hotel’ for celebrities in another part of the island). Other than that it’s just day trippers, most of which don’t get further than the port at Korfus. And that’s the only touristy bit of the island. The rest is untouched.
What a fabulous day you had Kathryn – just the sort of trip I’d have booked. The church is so pretty and I’d never heard of the stones stopping the devil before. Lunch looked delicious too. You’ve really inspired me to visit Santorini and the nearby islands now 🙂
There were so many anecdotes that Kathrin told us that you really would miss out on if you went on your own. It was a fascinating day out.
Looks like an awesome trek… and that food looks amazing!! Great read.
The whole day was wonderful and the meal was the perfect ending.
Thank you for introducing me to a side of Santorini that I didn’t know existed, and a new name which I will use from now on! My first visit to Greece was this autumn and I loved how untouched the area we saw was, so this looks like exactly the sort of place to visit next! What a stunning church and those views are fabulous!!
Hope you get to visit yourself one day. There’s a B&B in Manolas I believe. Alternatively you can stay on the main island and visit for the day like I did but you’ll probably find that too busy, unless you go out of season.
Thanks for the information and the great photos. I enjoy reading about out of the way places like this and it would be interesting to take this tour myself.
It’s the perfect place to avoid the crowds of Oia and Fira. I’m sure you’d enjoy it.
Sounds (and looks!) totally amazing, Kat! 21st November? If I hurry I can just make that church service! I wish 🙂 Thanks for a look at a side of Santorini few people see.
Oh it was Jo and I’m sure you would love it to.