As I hiked through the village of Oia in Santorini, Greece, slightly out of breath from navigating the hilly streets, I was certain that I had seen few places in the world as attractive. Majestically perched atop a cliff, Oia faced the sparkling Aegean Sea and was awash in gleaming white villas built into the hills.
Many travelers think of Santorini as a beach destination, similar to Mykonos, but locals have long known that the magic of the island is the gorgeous views to be had from its many steep cliffs. And the best way to take in these views is through Santorini’s more than 12 scenic walking routes, ranging from between two to eight miles each.
Increasingly, hotel owners, walking tour companies and local travel companies are promoting the idea of experiencing Santorini by foot.
Markos Chaidemenos, the affable owner of Canaves Oia, a luxury hotel in the village that offers guests maps of walking trails, was my unofficial guide on my two-hour walk. It began at Ammoudi Port at the base of Oia and followed a path of about 300 steps up into the heart of the village. We walked past art galleries lining the main thoroughfare and up and down narrow lanes, where he pointed out locallyowned boutiques and seafood restaurants with water views.
Eventually, we stopped at the widely photographed blue-domed churches and I, too, snapped the requisite tourist shots. “Walks like these,” Mr. Chaidemenos said, “are the essence of what Santorini is about.”
According to Mr. Chaidemenos, cars weren’t common on the island until the late 1950s, following the 1956 earthquake that destroyed much of the island. “Before then, Santorinians got around by foot or on a donkey,” he said.
Aressana Spa Hotel and Suites, in the town of Fira, also encourages guests to walk, said the hotel’s co-owner and island native Evangelia Mendrinou. Guests are sent off with maps, complimentary bottles of water and in-house dried figs as well as cellphones, which they can use to call the hotel in case they tire out or lose their way.
“We’ll pick them up if that happens,” Ms. Mendrinou said.
Ms. Mendrinou’s favorite island trail is the roughly six-mile, sea-facing route between Oia and Fira, along the rim of the island’s volcanic caldera. She told me that I would finish in two hours. While the steep hills I encountered slowed me down, it was the stunning vistas that brought me to a standstill.
I had started on the outskirts of Oia and trekked on a trail snaking along the sea and past terraced, blooming gardens and the picturesque villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli. I ended up in Fira nearly four hours later.
Travelers who like some hand-holding or want to venture off marked trails can hire a guide to lead the way.
The Greece-based travel company TrueGreece, for one, has new private half-day to multiday walking tours of Santorini.
And at Santorini Walking Tours, a small company offering both group and private excursions, the owner and lead guide, Nikos Boutsinis said that his business was born when he came to Santorini on vacation a few years ago and discovered the rich network of walking paths. “I got inspired to start my company while I was on one of the walks,” he said.
That same walk — more like a challenging full-day hike — is what Mr. Boutsinis took me on. We met in the village of Pyrgos, situated in the center of the island, where he showed me the ruins of a 15th-century Venetian castle from the era when Venetians ruled Santorini and pointed out the medieval architecture along the maze of slim streets.
Then, we trekked into the countryside through groves of fruit trees and along fields of barley and white eggplants. We paused for a break at an abandoned Byzantine church then hiked for another hour to reach the gallery and winery, Art Space Winery, set in a 19th-century building in the foothills of Pyrgos.
There, I admired paintings, sculptures and other local works while tasting the owner Antonis N. Argyros’s crisp white wines and a sweet vinsanto wine.
Lunch at Metaxi Mas, a taverna in the village of Exo Gonia, came an hour later, and our meal of pomegranate salad, pan-fried feta cheese and prawn and mussel orzo was a highlight of the day.
The sharp climb to the Mountain of Prophet Elias began at the restaurant and had my heart racing. Mr. Boutsinis and I then walked along a path on a mountain ridge and found ourselves encircled by sea views.
We arrived in the village of Kamari as the sun was setting, casting an enchanting glow over Santorini. This was the last of my three walking-filled days on the island, and given more time, I would have done more walking still.