Atmosphere: Free from concrete skyscrapers, neon lights, mega malls, Starbucks and all-night dance clubs, Santorini is a magical escape where frazzled urbanites can enjoy deep rest and relaxation amidst whitewashed Cycladic architecture, breathtaking scenes of the Aegean sea, apricot-coloured sunsets, and a volcanic landscape that transports one to the realm of Homer’s “Odyssey”.
The villages of Santorini line the top and sides of a caldera – the crescent-shaped remnant of a volcanic eruption that took place during the Minoan civilisation, which destroyed the once rounded island. Sensational views of the caldera jutting out of the sea will be the highlight of your visit.
To enjoy as much of this epic panorama as you can, where you choose to stay will make a BIG difference. During the summer months, hotels fill up with tourists, so a “home-base” that is private and serene is something you’ll be thankful for.
Spitia Houses – a collection of three vacation houses in the village of Oia is perfect if you want to enjoy your spectacular surroundings in complete privacy. The houses offer prime views of the sunset and exclusive access to your own outdoor terraces with a Jacuzzi, away from the prying eyes of other travellers and strollers. While the views from outdoors are a big part of Spitia’s charm, the interiors of the houses – a perfect marriage between traditional and modern, are equally enchanting.
Houses: A professional interior designer, the owner of Spitia Houses, Zaverdinos Panagiotis personally and lovingly renovated and decorated each property.
The sun-drenched Fisherman’s Cave House and Sunset Cave House sit 150 meters above sea level, literally hanging from the cliff. Both have floors and walls composed of a stucco surface called patitio, an aggregate commonly used in traditional Aegean homes. “Many of the new hotels here use shiny tiles, which is not appropriate for the hot weather in Santorini. I followed traditional principals when designing the houses, using patito – concrete with colour, laid out with a spatula. This creates an overall feel that is more comfortable, more rustic, purer and more natural,” says Panagiotis.
Abiding by the architecture of Santorini’s cave dwellings or yposkafos – the type of homes where Santorini’s poorer classes used to live (thought not anymore); The Fisherman’s Cave House and Sunset Cave House have semi-domed ceilings and arced doorways, which bestow the spaces with a warm and somewhat provincial feel.
Built in the 1830s, The Fisherman’s Cave House is an authentic yposkafo that was excavated from the sides of the caldera. It has two-bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, bathroom and a terrace with a Jacuzzi.
The Sunset Cave House is a split-level unit with a kitchen, bathroom, steps that lead up to a cosy loft bedroom, two commodious private terraces with sun chairs, and a brise soleil shaded Jacuzzi. The former is ideal for families or couples, while the later is suitable for couples, a single traveller, or writers and artists seeking solitude and inspiration.
Santorini’s wealthier folks used to live in a style of residence known as “captain’s houses”. A former “captain’s house”, The Old Captain’s Home is a larger property closer to the town centre that accommodates four to six guests. It has two floors with terraces on both levels, a Jacuzzi, a spacious living room, kitchen and two bedrooms.
Unvarnished, weathered-looking wooden furniture, sage-coloured wooden doors and shuttered windows, carved stone sinks, sconce uplights with dimmer functions, candle lanterns and accent pieces like driftwood, nautical paraphernalia, rattan weave baskets, elegant wood framed mirrors, and earth-toned linens, pillows and cushions imbue the houses with bucolic, old-world appeal.
Stylish, yet homey, with good ventilation and a remarkable quality of light, the Spitia Houses are a splendid way to experience a life less ordinary, if only for a few days. Checking out was almost heartbreaking!
Amenities: The houses each have a Jacuzzi that is heated in the cooler months, a television, air-conditioning, heating, a fan, microwave, stove, kettle, espresso machine, cutlery and utensils, muesli and cereal, a fruit basket, Internet, a hairdryer, towels and toiletries.
Location: There are many pretty villages in Santorini, but the two most vibrant ones, with the most restaurants and shops are the capital city of Fira, which is in the middle of the island, and the village of Oia on the Western tip. Oia, where Spitia Houses is situated is the more picturesque and less hectic of the two.
The old castle ruins in Oia, which is a five-minute walk from The Fisherman’s Cave House and Sunset Cave House is where people come from throughout the island in the evenings to watch the sunset. For excellent caldera and sunset views combined with convenient access to restaurants, supermarkets and shops, Oia is your best best bet.
Service: A lovely Georgian lady named Khartoumi comes by in the morning to prepare and serve you a breakfast of orange juice, milk, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, a bread basket with grissini sticks, bread and croissants, Lupark butter, jam and honey. She then comes by later in the day to clean and freshen up the house. You can let her know when you’d like her to serve breakfast and to clean. A porter will meet you at a designated spot to carry your bags to the house when you arrive, and from the house to your bus or taxi when you depart.
Things to do while here: Stroll through the main town of Oia and browse through the art galleries, boutiques and gift shops. Enjoy authentic Greek food at one of the restaurants while you’re there. Take a 10-minute walk down an old cobblestone path to Ammoudi Bay, where you can watch the waves crashing against the cliffs or enjoy a seafood dinner at one of the tavernas. See the ruins of an old Byzantine castle, light a votive candle in the Church of Pangia in the main town square. Take a boat excursion to the nearby island of Thirasa or a cruise around the island. Visit the Maritime Museum, or get a massage.
Take a two to three-hour hike along the gorgeous ridgeline of the caldera to the neighbouring villages of Imerovigli then Fira. Soak in your own Jacuzzi, sunbath and read a book on your private terrace or just take a nap with the windows open and let the cool Aegean winds caress your face as you doze off.
Room rate at time of Review: Sunset Cave House (The Cave House Retreat): €265–445 per night (US$299–502); The Fisherman’s Cave House: €245–425 (US$276-480)per night; The Old Captain’s Home: €215–405 (US$243-457) per night