Design lovers: where to stay in Santorini


Design lovers: where to stay in Santorini

It's all in the details at these design-savvy stays in Santorini

Kate Weir

BY Kate Weir10 June 2021

Violent natural forces have birthed the best places to stay in Santorini, and we’re thankful for it. Were it not for that ancient burst of volcanic bluster, we might not have such fine examples of angelic Cycladic minimalism or the abundance of darkly alluring rock, characteristic of Santorini’s most stylish hotels.

There’s a timestamp of authenticity to the island’s unique aesthetics too, due to residents who’ve carved their homes into the island’s rock face and settled in natural caves (yposkafa to the locals) for centuries, domed churches that bear the sizzling blue and white of the Grecian flag, and neighbourhoods threaded around still grand Minoan ruins. If you’ve a yen for sculptural surrounds, clean-cut elegance and views of the now-slumbering caldera, here’s where to stay in Santorini…

For lovers with dark humours

Canaves Oia Epitome

Blinding white cubic dwellings and cave houses have become a visual signature for this Cycladic isle, but some of Santorini’s best luxury hotels have opted for a more gothic Aegean look, making liberal use of its smoky volcanic stone. One such is Canaves Oia Epitome, which started out as two 17th-century wine stores on the dramatic cliffs above fishing village Ammoudi before being expanded into something akin to a seductive super-villain-with-taste’s lair by owners Yiannis and Anna Chaidemenos.

But that’s not to say it lacks romance; K-Studio architects have broken up the blocks into secluded suites scattered across the cliff face and carefully considered the composition of the elevated entrance, pool placement and landscaping with olive trees and natural rocks to make it at once sociable and intimate. So, if you’re wondering where to stay in Santorini as a couple, most of these villas with their sunset and sea views and private pools will fit the bill.

What made us look While it’s said that Santorini hotels with the best views are on the caldera-facing side of the island, Canaves Oia Epitome offers a double whammy of deep-blue sea and vividly coloured sunsets. And, on this northerly tip of the island – set away from Oia proper – there’s more space to breathe, so the hotel’s layout over the craggy rocks takes on an extraterrestrial feel.

The va-va-voom room As aspirational as its name suggests, the Epitome Pool Villa has shades of light and dark and an easy organic flow to proceedings with wide arched doorways, judiciously placed windows, ribbon walls around the terrace for privacy and just-so placement for the most magical panorama.

The most eye-catching sights Overhung with russet rocks, which make its turquoise waters pop all the more, Ammoudi is a petite bay with a big personality and clear swimmable waters. Oia’s winding shop-lined streets, cascading white-cube houses, domed churches and historic windmills are just a 10-minute walk away for exploring too. And those with a thirst for local viniculture should swing by Sigalas winery (a 10-minute drive inland), which serves very generous wine flights.

For modernist curves

Kapari Natural Resort

Where is the best place to stay in Santorini if you want to wake up to Skaros Rock and watch the sun sink behind it at the end of the day? Well, Imerovigli village is perhaps one of the most romantic places to stay in the Greek isles for its advantageous viewpoint over majestic Skaros Rock and the caldera. Here sundowner terraces run higgledy-piggledy over the cliff face and honeymooners have their pick of boutique stays, but from a design perspective, we like Kapari Natural Resort, whose latte hues and undulating spaces make it an alluring prospect for those who appreciate the comely inflections of a Henry Moore reclining figure or the striking simplicity of Jean Arp’s biomorphic paintings.

To make the hideaway, the original 300-year-old troglodytic houses were painstakingly restored after a devastating 1950s earthquake by Rena and Takis Adamidis, with further beautification by their son in the early 2000s. Now, throughout there are voluptuous ceilings, windows and cubbies for fireplaces and storage, with seamlessly incorporated benches, cavernous bath tubs and pool edges that seem to spill into the sea.

What made us look The loft bedrooms, accessed by a white wooden ladder, are some of the cosiest, especially the one in the Premium Room where a window by the bed gives you Santorini’s most iconic views to wake up to.

The va-va-voom room If wallowing in luxury is your aim, the Spa Premium room is all set with its oversized indoor Jacuzzi. Or if you prefer secluded alfresco bathing (usually not an easy feat with Imerovigli’s stacked terraces), try the sheltered Up & High suite.

The most eye-catching sights Imerovigli is truly the best location to stay in Santorini if you want a view of placid sapphire waters, but there are notable historic relics worth investigating too. Panagia Theoskepasti chapel has been the backdrop to many a Santorinian memory, with its crucifix-topped dome in Yves Klein blue and a pretty trio of bells. Or, if you have more stamina, hike the rocky, uneven path to the top of Skaros rock where there’s the remains of a Byzantine cathedral.

For hip heritage

Istoria Hotel

Not content with being simply stylish, boutique stay Istoria Hotel (quite literally ‘the story’ in Italian) adds substance by building on the legacy of the once grand residence’s horse-mad former owner. The property had fallen into disuse, but once again Athens-based K-Studio revamped the property and its five stables, aiming to keep the feel of an authentic Santorinian mansion. Using buff-hued plaster, dark rock and sand, they created a hideaway with a lavish feel where arched doorways lead from a plant-sheltered terracotta taverna to intimately enclosed suites and verandas that overlook the inky sands of Perivolos beach, to the breathtaking centrepiece: a lengthy pool lined in jet-black stone.

In rooms, some of the original wooden roofs and stone pillars have been salvaged and enhanced with light plaster walls, hunks of raw rock and simple modern furnishings in wood and bronze. And, equine touches – leather bridles hanging from the walls, the stables’ original vaulted ceilings, black-stone water troughs – bring a little of the past to life.

What made us look The pool really is a stand-out in Santorini, mirroring the sultry drama of the beach and sea below and tying together the alluring design elements as the main focal point.

The va-va-voom room An excellent hotel for a honeymoon in Santorini, rooms here balance privacy from fellow guests with sun-kissed relaxation. We like Tarina Suite for its herb- and aloe-edged terrace with a private plunge pool, grand entrance hall and shower big enough to beckon your beloved into.

The most eye-catching sights There are few sights as arresting as Perivolos Beach, whose black sand makes a sombre yet striking alternative to the golden shores you’ll find on neighbouring islands. If you walk north of the beach you’ll come across an ancient trail to Kamari (around a 90-minute walk in total) which passes the ruins of historic city Thera. Otherwise, the peaceful surroundings make this the best area to stay in Santorini for those who want to take it very easy indeed.

For grand designs with homey touches

Iconic Santorini

Iconic Santorini isn’t the easiest to find, sequestered away among labyrinthine staircases and buttressed by bougainvillea-strung buildings, but its secrecy does give it an alluring feel, as though you’ve stumbled upon somewhere few know about. When you do finally skip down the right grey staircase, Iconic feels like a little village that wows at each turn. The architects should be given credit for their Escher-esque wrangling of staircases and terraces, because they’ve managed to give rooms – dotted high and low over the cliff face – both privacy and an undisturbed eyeful of caldera.

It’s impressive, but equally so are the little details: individually-carved room keys, headboards made of strips of driftwood, cushions with local folk embroidery, tiny shelves topped with succulents and more cosy-making touches. Pebble-dashed façades and bamboo pergolas are zhuzhed up with lapis-lazuli sunloungers and tiles, and colourful flowers have been placed in every nook – Iconic offers the Cyclades with considerable charm.

What made us look The stepping stones over the pool brought out our playful side.

The va-va-voom room The Cliff Suite – while not for vertigo-sufferers – has a jaw-dropping setting, carved into the rock face, with a glass-fronted balcony jutting out over the caldera, so you’re assured some of the best views in Santorini from your private jetted plunge pool. And, the huge indoor bathroom feels like a grotto with its raw-stone walls.

The most eye-catching sights From your terrace you can spy two notable islands; Nea Kamini and Palea Kameni. You can book a boat tour that will take you out to see both, however, you’re more likely to disembark on Nea, where you can hike past smouldering craters then bathe in natural hot springs. Palea, while lovely, is home to a sole inhabitant and a tribe of goats.

For elbow room and laidback luxe

Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa

The Metaxa Hospitality Group hail from Crete, but Santo Maris Oia was their first venture on this Cycladic isle. One of the most stylish hotels on Santorini, it embraces the island’s signatures – whitewashed stone, chunky volcanic blocks – with a modicum of Cretan simplicity. The hotel’s lavish villas are divided up into ‘villages’ and all suites have either a Jacuzzi or pool, while sun and sea views are democratically distributed throughout. The hotel’s five main infinity pools aid the feeling of serenity with their infinity edges trickling into the sunset.

It’s within that the hotel distinguishes itself in style the most: from the lobby’s swoop of gunmetal staircase and glass fireplace to the suites’ free-spirited feel, achieved with woven wicker rugs, decorative plates, fur and wool throws and cushions bearing locally inspired patterns encased in smooth cream-hued walls. And the finishing touch of herbaceous borders has a practical use, for flavouring and garnishing the bar’s tip-top cocktails.

What made us look The restaurant is especially jazzy with its chevron-emblazoned wicker seats, laser-cut Moorish panels and high-backed sofas designed by local interiors company Lab 11.

The va-va-voom room The Royal Suite certainly takes the crown for its expansive verandah with both a swimmable pool and sunset-watching Jacuzzi. High ceilings, a beautiful freestanding metal bath tub and other ‘for the ‘gram’ finds give the interiors just as much clout.

The most eye-catching sights Of the best places to stay in Santorini, Santo Maris certainly stands out for its abundant space, set further inland from Oia’s clustered dwellings. But, should you miss the bustle or if you want to pick up some evil-eye charms or pause for some chilled Assyrtiko on a buzzy terrace then town is just a five-minute walk away. Or glimpse Santorini’s wild side with a trip to black-sand Katharos beach.

For living on the edge

Vòra Villas

K-Studio has had a starring role in shaping the best boutique hotels in Santorini, but Vòra Villas may have been their most challenging. The hotel’s three glamorous minimalist hideaways largely hang from the cliff face, with cooler cocooning rooms chiselled into the rock. The engineering acrobatics have paid off in handsome style, as each eyrie has a geometric infinity spa tub so cutting edge it looks like it’s floating in the sky and terraces with caldera views a drone might be jealous of.

Design takes the dark with the light: volcanic stone and Cycladic whites harmonise pleasantly, with sinuous door frames and window arches, and macho materials such as charred wood and blackened gunmetal are given a softer edge by white limewash finishes and pale linens. Artfully turned Scandi-style dark-wood furnishings, modernist lamps and wicker baskets are the final touch to some very high-end Santorini dwellings.

What made us look The huge black-stone bath tubs in the bathrooms (some in the bedrooms) might play second fiddle to those on the terraces, but they’re still very soothing to submerge yourself in. And much consideration has gone into the villas’ styling, from the grey earthenware post and plates in the kitchen, to the dinky plant pots on the terrace tables.

The va-va-voom room Each of the villas is worthy of a magazine spread; Villa Omikron feels a little more traditional with fewer straight edges, while Villa Ro and Villa Alpha are both laid out over two levels to offer extra space.

The most eye-catching sights In the near vicinity are three notable vineyards: Avantis Cellar Door, Pelican Kipos and Vassaltis Vineyards – the concierge can arrange a tour and bike hire for a taste of the trio (and possibly a cab back home afterwards too). In nearby Fira you can see Bronze Age relics in the Museum of Prehistoric Fira or see the frescoes in the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, or simply wander the winding backstreets, pausing for bites of baklawa and glasses of wine.

If you like the look of Santorini’s best-dressed boutique stays, there are more head-turners to discover in our Greece collection.