There’s a sense of magic about Santorini, the biggest island in the mini-archipelago of the Cyclades. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed its lava-baked mass to be a result of the volcano that destroyed the lost city of Atlantis. Other rumours say it was once infested with vampires. For us, though, one of its most magical (and unexpected) elements of our stay at the Astra hotel was the outstanding wine (or oenus, if we’re getting native).
Let’s face it. When a free bottle of wine is left in your hotel room, it’s usually only suitable for clearing troublesome plugholes. Yet this Santorini-born wine, along with the bottle that followed it, was one of the freshest, driest whites we’d ever enjoyed. Our obliging room-service chap informed us that it was made from the celebrated Assyrtiko grape of Santorini. We called it nectar in a bottle.
As introductions to accommodation go, this was a good one. Super-luxe hotels can keep their personal butlers, hot-towel assistants, sunglass-cleaning technicians and other trappings of nanny-like pampering. What we want is a funky room with a world-class view and a jaw-droppingly good bottle of wine to help us enjoy it. If you’re of a like mind, then this boutique abode delivers in spades. Hugging the island’s postcard-perfect cliffs like a particularly pretty limpet, Astra’s apartments provide a level of satisfaction that would be surprising in a five-star big-city hotel, let alone a place perched on a quiet corner of a Greek island.
Even an attempt to be blasé about it falls flat. Let’s try. The view from the balcony is of your standard volcanic islands, surrounded by the requisite turquoise-blue bay and flanked by the usual twinkling lights of the nearby villages sitting flush on the cliffs. See, it just doesn’t work.
With its high ceilings, arty ornaments and candles – so many candles – perched on every available surface, this is clearly a room to spend some time in. Add in the giant his ’n’ hers whole-body shower, a four-poster bed and an outrageously comfortable sofa in the separate lounge area and you have a ready-made excuse for permanent room service. Call it sad, call it unadventurous, call it what you like – so entranced were we with this room that, on the first night, the call went out for a delivery. Mezze. Hummus, pitta, skewered meat and all manner of Greek exotica appeared a short while later, along with another bottle of that amazing Santorinian wine.
At this point we made our only mistake. Just outside the bedroom is a private pool. Now, in the daytime, this is a thing of luxurious joy. The sun is beating down, your skinny white body is crying out for respite, and right there in front of you is a cool, clean waterworld all of your own. Perfect. At one o’clock in the morning, however, it’s the coldest plunge pool you’ve ever jumped in. Take my advice and do the baby-bathing elbow-dip first. If nothing else, it’ll save waking up the neighbours with your wussy yelps.
Our equilibrium was restored by a breakfast delivered to our room at no extra charge. While laying down the yoghurt, breads and cheeses on the terrace table, our waiter tactfully ignored the empty wine bottles and glasses sitting around the edge of the pool. Clearly, slightly sozzled guests who fancied a bracing midnight dip were nothing new to him. A hefty tip recognised his Jeeves-like aplomb. Thanks again, my friend, and sorry about the wine bottle floating in the pool.
Although gazing from our terrace at the beauty of the deep-blue caldera (underwater volcano crater, to those without geology degrees) held us entranced for some time, it’s worth taking the 20-minute walk into the town of Fira. There’s a fair bit of nightlife in high season and some excellent food to be found at Imerovigli, a traditional Greek taverna a short walk from the Astra hotel. If you manage to push the night on long enough, as we did, you’ll find that Corner Crepes provides all your late-night munchy needs.
Like a siren call, though, Astra begs you to come home, offering you a midnight view of the three facing volcanic isles of Thirasia, Palea Kammeni and Nea Kammeni. To complete the picture, cruise ships slowly pull into dock, their onboard lights throwing the massive cliffs of the nearby islands into sharp relief.
Like all the best holidays, Astra has us wondering how we can possibly wangle staying here forever. Is there a gap in the market for event-organising experts? What about penniless writers – do they have enough of them? In truth, though, Santorini and the Astra apartments should remain a place for temporary visitors because no one deserves this level of spiritual uplift all the time. Perfect happiness can only be savoured in small doses.