Arriving in Santorini by boat, a bewitching panorama of powder-dusted cornices between sea and sky, veiled in romance and escapism, slowly reveals itself. Clusters of sugarcoated cave houses almost tumble down the lava-encrusted cliffs to greet you.
Arriving by air is equally enchanting, as this crescent moon-shaped isle arcs around its 400 metre-deep cobalt caldera. This ancient chasm swallowed the sea when the island’s core collapsed after the colossal volcanic explosion of 1660 BC.
Lose yourselves in the labyrinthine lanes of Santorini’s cliff-top villages; Fira is for the courting, Oia is for the proposing, and Imerovigli is for the honeymooning. Find hand-painted cushions, bags and clothing at Aegean Designs in Firostefani. Get sparkly on Ypapantis Street in Fira’s gold quarter. And fall for Oia, the sexy supermodel of Greek island architecture, tiered with curves, clefts and cleavages. Stroll her marble laneways at sunset, when they become bathed in molten gold.
The three-hour cliff-top walk that etches the caldera rim between Fira and Oia is secluded and fragrant. Along this inspiring passageway, above a bathtub of cruise ships, pass other hand-in-hand lovers, locals carrying baskets of freshly-picked tomatoes, and tiny chapels peeping down the sheer, pumice-stone cliffs.
Traditional wooden ships sail you to the islet of Nea Kameni. On this active volcano, layered with time, tread the rubbly paths around sulphur-emitting craters. At the 127 metre-high summit, spread your rug-for-two on the thermal ground, and absorb neighbouring Palea Kamini, Thirassia and dazzling Santorini.
COCKTAILS, COFFEES AND CANOODLES
At barrel-vaulted Meteor Cocktail Café in Oia, chink your umbrella-garlanded glasses. Sip espresso martinis in this pint-sized, once-upon-a-time art gallery, beneath lampshades crafted by famed Athens glassblower, Nikos Troulinos. Original paintings grace the pastel pink, blue and lemon watercolour interiors, while bougainvillea dresses the red ochre walls of the outdoor terrace, as atmospheric jazz drifts through the balmy breeze.
Also caldera-clasping is Palia Kameni Bar in Fira, with its overhanging balcony 220 metres above the Aegean. Choose cocktails from wooden menus as the salty air dances around ornate wrought-iron balustrades. The cobbled floor and terracotta statue of a Greek goddess make this miniature bar impossibly romantic.
At Korfos Bay, on the islet of Thirassia (population just 300), Windmill Café serves homemade baklava and traditional briki coffee beneath its picture-postcard sails. If you survive a briki coffee’s intense flavour, remember to pour the sediments into your saucer. Tasseography (fortune-telling) is a Greek tradition with briki grounds.
Santorini’s fertile volcanic soil harvests unrivalled fava beans, capers, baby tomatoes and white eggplant. Sample it all at Mama Thira Taverna, elevated above Firostefani’s laneways. Toast your partner with “Yamas!” as you complement your meze with Santorini’s sweet Vinsanto wine. The taverna’s dollhouse-like windows, in azure and white, perfectly capture the unforgettable sunset.
For discerning tastebuds seeking fine fish roe, head to 1800 Restaurant in Oia. This restored 19th-century mansion belonged to the famous ship-owner Captain Sarris. Dine alongside original walnut sofas, a bedframe and chest belonging to the captain, and lithographs from the period. Or feast upstairs on the intimate jasmine-festooned roof terrace
Join the artists and poets at Ancient Thira, built upon the lofty slopes of the 380 metre-high Mesa Vouno. Inhabited during the 9th century BC, Ancient Thira was excavated only in 1902, and is known as ‘the Pompeii of the Aegean’. Meander through this mountainous town’s stone-paved paths, alongside crumbled Byzantine churches, roman baths, temples, private residences and a sea-facing amphitheatre. Find the tree-shaded bench and ponder the Minoan civilisation that was extinguished by the 1660 BC explosion.
For sea, salt and sulphur, board the luxurious Ocean Voyager 74. Sail the length of Santorini before swimming off Kokkini Paralia (Red Beach). On-board chefs prepare a succulent barbecue when mooring in the sheltered cove off Aspri Paralia (White Beach). Your next port of call is the hot springs by the islet of Palea Kameni. Smooch in its healing lime-green mineral waters by a miniature whitewashed chapel as mountain goats gaze down from precipitous peaks. The final showdown catches Santorini’s Helios sinking into the Aegean.With camera in one hand and champagne glass in the other, work out for yourself if this is (as is believed) the lost kingdom of Atlantis.
CAVE HOUSE SNUGGLES
The island’s highest village, at 300 metres, is Imerovigli, known as ‘the balcony of Santorini’. Retreat to the exquisite hideaways at romanticPegasus Suites. Each is uniquely designed, with private terrace and caldera- viewing Jacuzzi, and features dream-inducing circular beds on stone bases. The onsite spa offers chocolate oil massages and reflexology with honey, so prepare – you might may wake up in this fairytale island looking just like Aphrodite and Adonis!
MORE ROMANTIC PLACES TO STAY IN SANTORINI
A regular fixture on the Conde Nast Hot Lists (USA & UK) the stylish adults-only Perivolas is poised cliffside in Oia. Originally designed as a family home, the property still carries a plush ‘private residence’ feel–although the Perivolas Infinity Pool has an international flavour, having graced many a magazine cover with its magnificent panoramic views.
Most Romantic Room for Two: Try the new Perivolas Suite, a romantic hideaway with curved whitewashed walls, dashes of vivid mauve and pink, your own private swimming pool, and a bathroom with private steam room. Ideal for honeymooners or lovestruck travellers. Rates include full buffet breakfast.
The multi-award winning Grace Santorini (Grace Hotels) is positioned high on Santorini’s caldera and has been designed to showcase the area’s breathtaking vistas and sunsets. Individually styled villas, suites and rooms are perfect for a romantic escape.
Most Romantic Room for Two: The Villa–an ultra spacious 400 square-metre, two-bedroom private residence with its own private spa, kitchen, terraces and swimming pool. The Villa allows guests to experience all the luxury and service of the hotel while enjoying the exclusivity of a self-contained residence. Guests at The Villa will enjoy a dedicated Villa Concierge who will fully customise all services, facilities and experiences to ensure a truly memorable stay, ideal for a honeymoon. Ask about their SANTORINI ROMANCE* package including one Grace Restaurant ‘Romance Dinner’; island sunset sailing and more.
*Conditions apply, contact the resort for more details and other special offers.
IKIES TRADITIONAL HOUSES
A boutique hotel with a charming range of luxury accommodation, Ikies is Santorini sublime, located in the picturesque village of Oia.
Most Romantic Room for Two: The Winemaker’s House features a truly secluded terrace with uninterrupted, cinematic views of the Aegean. The private hot-tub with its spacious deck and the terrace futon offer endless hours of outdoors relaxation and romance. As part of this honeymoon suite experience, champagne breakfast is offered on the private terrace every morning, as well as evening cocktails.
Ferry timetables. Bus services are generally good on the islands, though many visitors choose to hire a car.
CURRENCY AND EXCHANGE RATE: Greece uses the Euro. Travellers cheques in Euros are accepted in most island banks, but there can sometimes be a hefty administration fee per cheque (so buy cheques in large denominations). ATMs are located on most islands, but enquire about overseas transaction charges with your bank before leaving.
VISAS: Australian and New Zealand passport holders are allowed to stay up to 90 days (within a 180-day period) in Greece without a visa.