RUNNER-UP: ABOVE AND BEYOND – SMITH HOTEL AWARDS 2015
A series of sugar cubes on Santorini, Aenaon Villas hotel is all about sweet seclusion on a sun-kissed stretch between Imerovigli and Oia – a part of the island where you can watch the sun both rise and set. Bleached-white architecture is matched with clean-lined, modern interiors and those bursts of Aegean turqoise, courtesy of sea-view windows, that you dream about on dreary days back home.
Noon, but flexible free if there’s availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $440.61 (€398), excluding tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of 0.05% per room per night on check-out.
Rates include breakfast (full English, Greek or Continental). You can take it on various terraces depending on which view you'd prefer.
The hotel owners have really thrown themselves into this project, aside from cosseting their guests and being incredibly helpful, hearing Giorgos talk about the engineering feats involved in building a stepped stay from the ground up is really rather fascinating – bend his ear before you check out.
The hotel is closed from mid October to late April or early May.
At the hotel
Terraces to relax on, a small library in reception, free WiFi, and CDs and DVDs to borrow. In rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, mini fridge and Korres bath products. Each villa feels a little different; some have a full kitchen and some have a fireplace.
Our favourite rooms
Villa Elidami is at the complex’s summit, so pick it for peace, and its outdoor space: a veranda above the entrance, and a big terrace stretching to the front of the hotel to overlook the main lounge. There's also a private egg-shaped plunge pool, which is perfectly poised for sunset views. Its bedroom is on a loft level, and the floor breaks from the white with a bit of dark wood. The lounge downstairs has views out across Santorini to the sea on both sides. Open-plan Villa Zaneti has a bedroom tucked behind the lounge, and a fireplace by the bed.
Curved edges, volcanic boulders and contemporary lighting line the freeform pool, with deck chairs, sunloungers and white parasols scattered around it. Villa Elidami has its own private plunge pool.
Bring cliff-climbing shoes and sun-shielding hats.
Enjoy the serenity with a yoga class or in-room massage, both of which can be arranged on request.
This incredibly romantic stay is best left to adults, although over-12s can be accommodated on request.
Settle in for a sundowner on one of the terrace’s day-beds.
Billowy cottons in any shade – except white and blue.
There’s no restaurant; breakfast will be brought to your room, or you can have it outside on your private terrace. Expect a hearty spread of pastries (our favourite was ricotta-filled), eggs and fresh juices, and a few local dishes: cheese and spinach pies, fresh feta, Grecian omelettes with locally harvested vegetables. To accompany drinks on the terrace – a crisp glass of assyrtiko wine? A G&T? – Giorgos will rustle up a plate of bruschetta, a generous Greek salad or a few scoops of ice-cream for you.
There’s no bar, but, as with any guesthouse worth its keep, there’s always someone on hand to mix you something up. The owner knows the local wine scene well, so something chilled, with an excellent nose can be served on-demand. Rooms have fridges to stock as you please.
Breakfast can be delivered from 8am to a lie-in-worthy 11am.
Order simple snacks and salads between 8am and 6pm.
Aenaon Villas is on sunny Santorini, just off the island’s main road that links Fira, Imerovigli and Oia.
Santorini’s Thira airport is 12 kilometres from the hotel. Fly direct to the island from London Gatwick every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday during the summer or connect from Athens in 45 minutes. The Smith24 Team can help you arrange transportation if you wish (whether you need flights or transfers); call at any time on 03333 318 506.
The hotel is six kilometres out of Imerovigli and Fira, and five kilometres from Oia. There’s free parking.
Athinios port can be reached by boat from Athens/Piraeus and other locations such as Mykonos or Crete; see www.gtp.gr. The fast boat from Piraeus is three-and-a-half hours, but others are slower, so it’s definitely worth looking at the timetable.
Worth getting out of bed for
Follow the cliffs and walk to Oia to shop for silver and amber jewellery in the maze of streets. The hotel can arrange sailing trips around the Cyclades, diving, hiking, wine tours and a trip to various archaelogical sites. For a wine tasting through steel and oak barrels, sweet sun-ripened tipples and sharp, pale whites hit Sigalas winery close by. Their food is excellent too.
In Oia, try Dimitris, the finest and friendliest fish taverna along the waterfront (+30 22860 71606). For traditional Greek food, head to Metaxi Mas in Exo Gonia and sample the Cretan fare (+30 22860 31323). For fine dining in Fira, splash out on some Mediterranean cuisine at Koukoumavlos: menu highlights include lobster and monkfish terrine, and grilled beef with bergamot-spiced mash and parmesan ice-cream (+30 22860 23807).
Meteor Café (+30 22860 71015)is a 10-minute drive away in Oia. Painted in coral and purple, it looks more like a dolls' house than a place you'd eat in, but they serve remarkably good milkshakes and desserts, and mix a mean cocktail or two. As a former antique shop that's been buffed and groomed, it has a laid-back atmosphere and views to make you sigh contentedly.
Head to Oia after sundown for a drink or two at Hasapiko (+30 22860 71244), once a butcher’s.
If my brief were to create heaven as a film set, I wouldn’t bother with studios and props and special effects. I’d bundle the crew on a flight to Santorini and set up camp at Aenaon Villas. Hidden up in the rocks on the highest and narrowest part of the island, it’s a vision in clean, celestial whiteness. It’s hidden away on the road between Fira and Oia, so you aren’t stacked up like playing blocks here – but totally crowd-clear in a secluded sanctuary. Cycladic villas set into the cliffside, designer loungers scattered around curved infinity pools that melt into the Aegean horizon, billowing linen on outdoor four-poster beds – even the flooring is a bright, crisp expanse of snow-blindness-inducing white.
Checking in, I anticipate a man in robes with a long fluffy beard; instead we find George, the owner, tapping away on his brand new (white) iPad. George tells us that it has taken him, and his wife Alexandra, almost 15 years to perfect the seven villas at Aenaon; it is truly their labour of love. And the properties are indeed lovely, rising from the dark rock as neat and gleaming as a Hollywood smile. All the villas are connected, but cleverly so across different levels so that each feels entirely private and separate. At first, it all looks traditionally Santorinian, but scrutinise closer and spy unique details: gates handmade by gypsies in Athens, devotedly buffed wooden doors, and dark cement used in place of whitewash overkill.
Mrs Smith and I are staying in Villa Marily, the largest of these stylish Santorini stays. Our Aenaon abode has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large living space with a double-height ceiling. Gliding through yet more wonderful whiteness, I feel as though I should be wearing linen trousers and leading a tiger cub about on a diamanté-studded leash. I knew I’d underpacked.
Yes, two bathrooms. Mrs Smith declares the master bathroom hers (naturally) and secures it by instantly covering every inch of surface with beauty paraphernalia. I retreat to my own, smaller bathroom – but not before Mrs Smith dashes in and swipes the Korres products from next to the sink. ‘I’m saving the nice products for home,’ she announces clutching the herbal homeopathy-inspired potions. ‘You can use that shampoo in your wash bag.’
Now, a note to the prudish: there is no door, or even wall, between our master bedroom and ensuite. So for those of you who don’t enjoy listening to the morning symphonies of your loved one, the extra bathroom is a welcome bonus. In my books it’s a strange notion that ‘in-bedroom’ ensuites are an aphrodisiac – if you want to keep the romance alive, I reckon that includes a solid bathroom door.
Distraction comes in a complimentary bottle of a nice Santorini white waiting for us in an ice bucket. We clink glasses at our outside table before plunging ourselves into that searing Greek afternoon sun. Oddly, even though all the villas are fully booked, there’s not a soul to be seen. Perhaps it’s Aenaon’s ingenious layout, or maybe everyone is out ‘doing things’. Mrs Smith, however, balks at the idea of any activity when there is sunbathing to be done. On this note, she deems she has carte blanche to de-robe and gets stuck into what she calls her proper sunbathing. (Read: improper sunbathing.)
There is no restaurant as such at Aenaon, so appetites are catered to by the multi-tasking Archangel Dennis; he has a marvellous knack of appearing only when you need him. There’s no menu, but if you’re peckish, ask your hosts to rustle up a salad or pasta dish in their little kitchen and they will. This is what I love about Aenaon – there’s just the right amount of ‘hotel’ involved. You can order snacks when you can’t be bothered to move from the poolside, but there’s no fuss, and you’re mostly left to your own devices. Everything has been fine-tuned for romantic seclusion so it’s like being on honeymoon, but without the post-traumatic stress disorder.
While Mrs Smith slowly bastes and roasts, I sip a strong iced coffee. The caffeine kick instantly renders me unable to lie still, so I pace about the huge expanses of terrace, taking photographs, talking to myself. To call the view from Aenaon ‘dramatic’ is an understatement; steep, dangerous cliffs plunge into deep inky waters of the volcanic caldera with mysterious isles dotting the kingfisher-blue horizon.
Admiring the light and how it constantly changes the landscape, I reflect that I could sit like this for hours. But as the sun begins to drop Mrs Smith, like a vampire, rises from her bed; three shades darker, she insists we galvanise ourselves to action. We take a taxi down to the old harbor at Oia and nab a table at Dimitri’s Taverna in time to see the blood-orange-red sun setting.
The seafood is as fresh as can be and we order shrimp, calamari, octopus and a rainbow of dips and salads. Dishes in busy Greek restaurants seem to arrive haphazardly but we devour each dish as it arrives and wait greedily for the next. Soon enough we’re stuffed, and we roll into our villa to fall asleep quickly to the surprisingly soporific sound of a whistling wind rattling the shutters and twirling about the terraces.
Less than one waking hour later, we’re eating again. Breakfast has been magically laid out on our table before our eyelids have even flickered. Yesterday we’d whizzed through a long tick-list of options and our choices have now manifested. I plumped for my usual boiled eggs with rye; Mrs Smith, newly emancipated from the restraints of her latest ‘bikini diet’ went berserk and ordered just about everything on the menu.
As we munch our way through a mountain of pastries and fruits and yoghurts, a thick mist descends on the luxurious villas so that only the very tops of the cliffs are visible. ‘It’s like… Dining with the Gods.’ I announce.
‘Hey, what a great idea for a TV series,’ says Mrs Smith.
And I know just where they could shoot it...
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