A chauffeur was waiting to whisk us to Mystique, the latest A-list establishment perched on the rim of Santorini’s caldera, with uninterrupted views of volcanic cliffs and the sparkling sea. Arriving from Athens at dawn, delirious with fatigue, the glasses of champagne greeting us at this boutique hotel in Santorini were slightly redundant, sadly, but a nice touch. We wanted a bed to sleep in right away, but nobody checks out at 6am so we made do with a gorgeous breakfast by the pool and a snooze on the sunbeds for a couple of hours. As other guests awoke and staked out their spots for the day they must have thought two travelling tramps had invaded their immaculate and pristine world, dishevelled as we were from flying and surrounded by tacky plastic duty free bags filled with copies of Grazia and Vanity Fair. We soon put that right later on when we had freshened up and slipped into our finest swimming togs.
This was my third trip to Santorini, the volcano island that three and a half thousand years ago erupted, its heart sinking beneath the sea and leaving a crater (caldera) 10km in diameter. Ever since, the island’s history has been linked to the fabled city of Atlantis. In 1956 nature intervened again when an earthquake led many Santorinians to pack up their donkeys and call it a day – then some clever clogs bought up the ruins on the caldera rim and turned their old dwellings into small hotels. Bingo. With the arrival of the cruise ships Santorini became a firm fixture on the globe-trotting hot-list. Even today Americans seemingly can’t get enough of the place, and navigating through the tiny streets of Oia (where Mystique is located), the northernmost town and by far the most chic, can be like a Fourth of July parade at times. But you don’t come to visit this Greek idyll simply for the tranquil ruins and local culture – you come for the jawdrop-spectacular views of course.
Hugging the edge of the crater, Mystique sticks out from the other dwellings, having been painted cream rather than the blinding fluorescent white of its neighbours. A later conversation with the owner’s wife (a very glamorous lady called Kalia who if she wasn’t a recent Miss Greece should have been), alluded to some turf wars in Santorini – so perhaps our gang wanted to stick two fingers up to the cranky old neighbours, who knows – but Mystique stands out, that’s for sure.
Given that the hotel shares its name with those so so so scandalous Mis-teeq girls, we thought perhaps our suite would be named after another defunct girl group (Spice Girls Villa?). But of the eighteen rooms carved into the cliff face, we had the so-called Vibrant Suite. It has a definite touch of the Flintstones chic about it. Cream, clean soul-soothingly neutral tones blend with original art on the walls and locally-quarried limestone on the floor together with some clever use of driftwood creates a Robinson Crusoe ‘island style’ which this pair of Smiths loved. Our room was surprisingly airy, considering space is at a premium on the caldera – as I learnt when I leant over our veranda only to catch a glimpse of the guest below, whose white robe was perhaps a little more open than he was aware of. He had nothing to be ashamed of, as it turned out, and was none the wiser about my eyeball intrusion, thank goodness.
We'd heard whispers that the Spiritual Suites have treadmills and fitness kits – though we were secretly pleased not to have exercise equipment in our suite to feel guilty about neglecting. Tackling the vertiginous steps down to the infinity pool was work enough for me. In fact the potentially hazardous geography means that children below the age of fourteen are not welcome. Fine by me, as screaming kids would certainly kill that sundowner cocktail.
That evening, we ventured into Oia, plumping for a meal at 1800 restaurant. Tucked away in a captain’s mansion, this eaterie boasts such a knee-bucklingly beautiful sunset view that my other Smith half immediately thanked me for planning supper around the sun-burning ceremony so perfectly. (I, of course, did not correct this assumption.) Managing to bagsy a table on the rooftop garden, we ate a gorgeous fig salad, fresh seafood pasta and drank lots of red wine as the sun slipped below a blue horizon.
The eye-squintingly bright Santorini sky seeped through our shutters the next morning, waking us up and pushing us down the stairs towards the poolside alfresco Aura Bar. I resisted my knee-jerk breakfast reaction (eggs and bacon) and, anticipating my imminent need to squeeze into swimmers, instead opted for something far healthier (a fruit smoothie). Settling down for a read and a simmer in the sunshine (turning occasionally for full deep-frying), my fellow sun-worshiper and I took great delight in not having to move from our loungers when having lunch. Tip: the non-bloating herby chicken with a zingy salad comes highly recommended.
Alternating food with sunshine for most of the day, we finished off with a G&T on our terrace before heading down for dinner in the hotel’s ‘secret’ wine cave. As we worked our way through (deep breath) leek soup with salmon eggs, shrimp and saffron risotto, beef fillet fricassee and chocolate grapes, a different wine was brought with every course. Reaching the finishing line of our menu marathon, and in dire need of a breather, we joined a rather overexcited American couple outside for a nightcap at the pool bar. Soon suitably sozzled in the Santorini evening air, we decided to cap the night off with a nightcap at Enigma: Santorini’s famous nightclub, a 20-minute drive away in Fira. (Although our new American friends couldn’t be tempted, despite countless “C’mon you’d love it” prods from us.)
Although chocka with flatscreens, DVD and CD players and WiFi waves, something about the suites of Mystique steers you clean away from technology. Personally, I can’t wait to escape from the whirring din of my laptop or the constant beeping of texts (‘r u on facebook?’ seems to be the query du jour), leaving my state of relaxation in tatters. And herein lies Santorini’s USP. Maybe it’s because you are transported onto a mythological fairytale island, but this place is reassuringly anachronistic and eerily other-worldly. In fact it all felt very Agatha Christie Evil Under the Sun – with me as Hercule Poirot obviously – acting as detective and discovering all the naughty secrets of our fellow guests. Fortunately no murder took place on our visit, but looking for one last time at that staggering caldera vista you could almost believe that somewhere down there Atlantis lives under the sea.