Gaunt, sheer cliffs loom hundreds of metres above the deep blue sea, nothing grows or grazes to soften the awesome view, and the only colours are the reddish-brown, black and grey pumice layers on the cliff face of Santorini.
The croissant shaped island lies in the southern Aegean Sea, right where the African and European tectonic plates touch. The region known as the Cyclades is deeply rooted in fiery volcanic history, which has wiped out ancient civilizations and over the years has fostered a whimsical lore which still to this day has locals whispering, “lost city of Atlantis.”
My heart explodes here on the regular, overwhelmed by Santorini’s profoundly pretty multi-sensory experience served up via moody folk songs, sweet baklava, fruit forward aromatic vino, endless horizon and the tickle of a sun-soaked kiss. It is no wonder then that the island is ranked as one of the most romantic destinations in the world and on the top of many honeymooners hit list.
Dreams Luxury Suites is an exclusive boutique luxury hotel comprised of six spacious villas which sit perched on a cliff overlooking moody volcano. Located between the capital Fira and postcard perfect Oia, Dreams offers the islands most decadent accommodation where style, opulence and perfection meet a world of beauty and tradition. The original houses were built more than 100 years ago, and renovated during 2007 by the talented local designer Francesca Tsempelis who maintained their Cycladic style of brilliant-white cuboid architecture, which pops as true blue splashes from sky to sea.
The Villa Ariadne offers a refuge of privacy and serenity. While walking through the double decker suite for the first time I find it impossible not to giggle and blurt out, “Oh. My. God.” The 70 square metre chic one bedroom suite features a minimalistic modern decor, combined with top notch facilities and breathtaking views. The Ariadni’s top luxury treats include upper veranda with a private heated swimming pool, a heated outdoor jacuzzi on the main private terrace and steam room which sits perched over an indoor heated swimming pool. After a long days road trip zig-zagging across the island one returns home with the challenge, “which of these three swimming pools shall I slip into?”
The main terrace offers the perfect spot to enjoy breakfast each morning. Stuff yourself with local olives, omelette, crispy nutella slathered croissant and the pop of champagne delivered to your door by handsome butler. The pool on the rooftop veranda offers a perfect panorama of the island and is the best place on the entire island to watch the sunset splash across the horizon. The tranquility and privacy here has me chirping to myself, “I basically don’t even know how to enjoy a sunset now unless I’m skinny dipping in a hot tub on a private terrace.” Dreams fulfils fantastical fantasies.
If you visit one winery during your stay in Santorini be sure to stop by Estate Argyros. Established in 1903, Argyros is a 4th generation family operation producing over 300 thousand bottles a year. It is the oldest and biggest private winery in Santorini which was recently awarded Winery of the Year 2014 by Wine and Spirits Magazine. The Argyros family owns more than 30 ha of vineyards with uncrafted (original rootstock) vines averaging 60 years old, including some of the oldest vines on the island which date back 150 years. During my visit I sipped through the vineyards best bottles, finishing with a glass of sweet vinsanto which is made from overripe white grapes which are spread out to dry beneath the burning sun for a number of days, to produce a sweet, concentrated wine.
Spa of the Gods is Santorini’s perfect spot to plop and pamper. The luxurious space takes over four levels of a cliff side resort offering guests stunning views of the Aegean Sea while relaxing after their treatment in turquoise pool and bubbling hot tub. Climbing through Spa of the Gods one flickers through a choir of candles. You’ll get goosebumps as you rip off your robe and slide yourself onto a massage table located in an ancient wine cave.
I wait for my therapist to arrive, watching light dance on the caves arched ceiling. I spend an hour indulging in a Honey and Milk Massage which takes sticky and sweet to an entirely new level. I’m naked on the table as a stream of warm cream splashes across my back. The decadent dairy is lightly smoothed across my skin before thick honey sourced from the island of Crete is massaged into my tense muscles. Once I’ve been successfully covered from head to toe in apiary sap I’m wrapped tight in parchment and left to steep on the solo. After tearing myself out of my sticky cocoon I tip toe towards an illuminated candelabra and step into a rain shower which drops from the weathered wall above. Hot steam fills the space as soothing honey and smooth butter fat wash away.
Spirikados Yacht Cruises offers daily four hour tours of Santorini’s jaw dropping coastline. Your best bet is to book the afternoon departure which sails back to the harbour as the sunset splashes across the horizon. Captain Leo and his crew offer a warm welcome as you skip onto their luxury catamaran.
We spend the next two hours sailing along the islands jagged coastline stopping to visit the islands famed red beach, white beach and spooky volcano. Local wine and beer are served and up beat Greek pop music blares along the top deck as couples and families splash into the sea from a petite plank. A fancy fresh feast is prepared in the galley and enjoyed al fresco around a communal table located at the stern. Garlic and olive aromatics mix and mingle with the salty splash of the sea as eager beavers gobble up plates of chicken souvlaki, sautéed prawns, fried fish, greek salad and creamy tzatziki.
The evacuation of Akrotiri begun by Professor Spyridon Marinatos in 1967 is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Aegean, and research there has contributed decisively to the understanding of the civilization of the region from the 4th to mid 2nd century BC.
To reach the prehistoric settlement you must drive to the southernmost tip of Santorini. The city whose ruins can be seen my visitors today date back from the first phase of the Late Bronze Age (1650-1500 BC). I was really impressed by Akrotiri’s state of the art open concept museum experience. It felt magical to walk through ancient doorways and past a plethora of pottery. Only then can one truly begin to appreciate how locals on the island lived thousands of years ago.
I hopped on the back of a scooter with a bit of trepidation before clutching my seat for dear life. If you are looking for an exhilarating joy ride, let your hair wave in the wind as your zig zag across Santorini’s breathtaking coast en route to Oia. This is perhaps the most photographed town on the island and was once a major commercial centre in the Aegean. Oia is where one comes to indulge in the islands classic white washed buildings which pop against the backdrop of bright sky meets deep blue sea. Donkeys climb up cobblestone steps while hoards of tourists snake their way along cafe and gift shop dotted lane-ways in search of the modest remains of a Venetian castle. It is here that oodles of tourists squish together each night to take in the islands famous sunset.
Rather than courting claustrophobia I stopped by Oia’s famous Cafe Melenio which offers a wild selection of cakes, pies, pastries and gelato. The atmosphere here is far more relaxed and as the sun starts to snooze south my mugs smug. I sip sweet espresso fredo and spoon tart lemon pie covered in an airy pillow of scorched meringue into my eager mouth. Leaning back I remove my sunglasses, slip sandals off my feet and realize I’ve set the scene: I’m found myself smack dab in the middle of paradise!
My visit to Santorini was a press trip coordinated in conjunction with my speaking gig at TBEX via This Is Athens and Aqua Vista Hotels. Transportation, accommodation, meals and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.