The Guardian — 25 of the best places to stay in Greece and the Greek islands
Santorini’s luxury boutique hotels have a ringside seat to one of the most dramatic seascapes in the world. The island is arguably the most photogenic of all the Cyclades, the white washed Greek island group of the southern Aegean. Villages of boxy white houses and white painted caves cling to tops of 1,000 foot cliffs, the rim of a lava-stained caldera, like seven-minute icing on a Christmas fruitcake. The whole island is actually a huge, dormant but still active volcano, its cliffs the boundaries of a lagoon. And in the center, a blackened island, Nea Kameni, is the surface evidence of that “dormant” volcano, still belching sulphur into the sea. With plains that slope away to beaches to the west, behind the cliffs, one wonders why so may gorgeous settlements, filled with expensive, luxury hotels, restaurants and shops, choose to spread across the rim and slopes of the volcanic caldera. Perhaps it’s that volcano. Best keep an eye on it. More than 4,000 years ago its eruption destroyed the Minoan civilization — here and on Crete. And it erupted three times in the 20th century, most recently in 1950. Meanwhile, you can live it up in champagne style at these five glorious hotels.
Despite their superficial identikit looks, Santorini’s luxury hotels come in a surprising variety of shapes and sizes each with its own unique features. But based on our spring 2018 experiences as the guest of five special hotels, we can attest to these qualities they all share:
A very high staff to guest ratio resulting in attentive and patient service. Glamorous hot tubs or private pools Free, relatively reliable wi-fi and international cable television if you can’t tear yourself away from the news. Amazing views of the caldera and the sunset Romantic, indulgent privacy. Even when the island is crowded with day trippers from the twice weekly visits of cruise ships, guests at these boutique hotels can be in a world of their own.
There is no getting away from the fact that most of these hotels are pricey by anyone’s standards. But they provide memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for honeymoons, anniversaries and special, romantic getaways.
And a note about the steps: Santorini is essentially the shell of a mountain and access to its Caldera hotels often involves negotiating long or zigzag flights of stairs, frequently without handrails. Most that we visited are not suitable for visitors with mobility issues.
From about two hours before the sunset, hundreds of people wielding Nikons, smartphones and selfie sticks swarm ruins of Oia Castle on the northwest tip of Santorini for the daily spectacle of the sunset. If you are a guest at the Oia Mansion, you can toast each other with cocktails and watch the spectacle — of both the sunset and the tourist multitude — from your private rooftop retreat, well above the melee and the noise.
Or, even better, you can watch while floating in your nice warm hot tub, angled just perfectly to salute the last rays of the sun.
The mansion, a distinctive, pink and blue confection on four levels, with spectacular views of the lagoon and the open sea, has been in the Nomikos family of ship captains and ship owners since 1870. It’s a registered Greek Cultural Heritage Building, a neoclassical landmark and a very comfortable four-bedroom house. Oia Mansion accommodates up to eight very lucky people in a combination of period splendor (dining room, sitting room,captain’s office) and traditional island style (minimalist, white washed bedrooms, most with outdoor access).
Although it’s a sort of villa, its rooms and facilities are booked and priced by the night so it positions itself as a boutique hotel. It’s on one of the main streets of Oia and its gated front terrace, with table and umbrella, are passed by all and sundry. But that terrace is just for show. There’s the well furnished roof deck and a lovely, coral painted interior patio for outdoor dining and lounging. And, in inclement weather, a formal dining room. The house is let on a bed and breakfast basis, and looked after by the lovely Lily — who offers island advice and makes all your arrangements — and her mother, who cooks fabulous breakfasts of eggs, breads, yogurt, pancakes with banana and chocolate, coffee, pastries and fruit salad. The house is well set up for small weddings and wedding receptions — including most licensed religious ceremonies (except Greek Orthodox which must be performed in one of Santorini’s many churches). It’s great for family reunions or groups of friends, but surprisingly, it’s just as comfortable for a couple and priced similarly to other boutique hotels on Santorini.
Four bedrooms sleeping eight. Prices in season range from €1,512 per night for two people with a minimum of two nights stay to €3,000 per night for 8 people with private transfers and a minimum of three nights stay. The house is available year round, including Christmas and Easter, with deeply discounted rates available in early spring and autumn. Children under 6 stay for free.