If we were doctors, we’d prescribe a stay at Santorini’s Avaton Resort & Spa: its white and latte-hued minimalism will calm you, its sea views will soothe you, its spa and restaurant will indulge you, and its aspect – gazing out over the caldera – will mesmerise you. You'll also be rather taken with its sleek Italian furnishings, the sense of utter peace and quiet throughout, and the starlit-cave spa, which doubles up as a restaurant on windy days – so even on Santorini's few and far, far between 'bad' days, this stay remains as desireable as ever.
Double rooms from £186.25 (€208), including tax at 13 per cent.
Rates include breakfast (à la carte, and served out on the terrace); and all guests are treated to a free bottle of Avaton's own wine in their rooms. Honeymooners get a bouquet of flowers too.
Pick up some new baubles: the owner has a jewellery shop, Babalu (www.babalu.gr) in Fira; a selection of beautifully crafted, gem-encrusted trinkets are on sale in the reception.
From the beginning of December until the end of March.
At the hotel
Spa, caldera-facing terraces, a stash of DVDs and CDs, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, preloaded iPod and dock, CD/DVD player, and natural Greek bath products. The Honeymoon Suites and Avaton Suite have private Jacuzzis.
Our favourite rooms
Superior rooms really are that – they have direct access to the pool (so no lugging swimming paraphernalia up and down stairs), and come with a snug sitting area and the appropriate sea-and-Santorini-scenery views. That said, it’s hard to rival the romance of the Honeymoon Suite. This white expanse has not one but two private balconies, one with a gurgling Jacuzzi.
Simple, understated, and big enough to swim off some of the baklava, the hotel’s pool is raised up from the restaurant area by a few steps, with grey, concrete decking and dark grey mesh loungers.
The hotel's spa is set in a sultry cave on a lower level. Lit by star-like lights, it's a romantic space with a Jacuzzi and plunge pool, an infrared sauna and a steam cavern. There's a couples treatment room – a necessity in this stay of honeymoon-courting romance – and plenty of beautifying options on the spa menu.
Zingy bright swimwear to pep up the hotel’s all-white backdrop: cherry bikinis, aquamarine beach shorts. Avoid binding eveningwear – you’ll want to dine with impunity.
Smokers can light up in communal areas and outside, but not in the bedrooms.
Over-15s are welcome, but this is one for adults, so leave the little Smiths at home.
The restaurant has just one area to dine in: out on the terrace. Pray for bad weather: when it rains, staff transform the cave-like spa, carved from volcanic rock, into a candlelit dining room. Alternatively, opt for the indulgent room service option...
Casual as you like by day, but spruced-up by night to honour the menu: linen for Mr Smith, a silk dress for Mrs.
Waiters at Cave, the hotel’s restaurant, don’t just bring you plates of Mediterranean deliciousness, they also act as sun sheriffs – darting out and repositioning the white sun umbrellas whenever rays dare touch guests’ skin. A glass wall and sweeping views put the emphasis on outside – admire the caldera from your seat, and expect to be equally wowed by your food: succulent squid-ink risotto, a flawless starter of warm fava bean purée with bottarga, and colourful salads (we like the feta and watermelon best).
There’s no formal bar area, but you can have drinks by the pool, or in the Sunset Lounge, the restaurant/cocktail terrace. Choose from a range of local wines, or sample Avaton’s signature cocktail: champagne, Santorini dessert wine and strawberries. The full drinks menu is available until 11pm, with a limited selection on offer until 8am after that.
Breakfast is served between 8am and noon, lunch is a relaxed 12.20pm–3.30pm, and expect to dine deliciously late, between 7.30pm and 10.30pm.
From 8am until 11pm, order items from the full restaurant menu; a leaner menu is then on offer until morning.
Santorini’s Thira airport is 8km away from the hotel. You can fly direct to the island from London Gatwick every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday during the summer with EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) or connect from Athens in 45 minutes with Aegean Airlines (www.aegeanair.com), Olympic Air (www.olympicair.com) or Athens Airways (www.athensairways.com).
Fira is a seven-minute drive from the hotel, and there’s free public parking just 100m from Avaton.
Worth getting out of bed for
Get up early and follow the winding caldera cliff path into Oia. Visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thira at Fira (+30 22860 23217) and the castle in Pyrgos. Ask Avaton’s staff to book you on a boat ride. Get into the Bacchanalian spirit with a trip to the KoutsoyannopoulosWinery. Go beach hopping: pick from Pori, Perivolos, Perissa, Koloumbo or Kamari. Vlychada beach has dramatic cliffs lurking behind the sand, Red Beach has striking ruby-hued grains and Monolithos is a good family-friendly option. Pick up paintings and jewellery in Oia and the island’s capital, Fira.
Sample experimental Greek cuisine at Koukoumavlos (+30 22860 23807) in Fira. Food is pricey, reflecting the menu’s dash of Heston-style daring: parmesan or cucumber ice-cream, bergamot-flavoured mash, veal cheeks with mango, and the ilk. The Ginger Sushi Lounge (+30 22860 21335) at St. Gerasimos, Firostefani, serves delicious fishy nibbles and ice-cold crisp wine. There’s also a little garden, designed for leisurely cocktail sipping. Continuing the global theme, Classico(+30 22860 34245) at Kamari Beach serves sophisticated Italian fare, with nods to the local diet.
Cassablanca (+30 22860 23157) in Firostefani is a club-bar-restaurant hybrid that manages to fulfil each of its three functions with aplomb. Food is simple and flavoursome, the bar serves giddy cocktails, and the club delivers on atmosphere and anthems.
Let’s talk about the word ‘resort’… If playing the word-association game, I’d follow it with ‘all-inclusive wristband’ or ‘karaoke night’. Before Avaton, it conjured images of Mr Smith queuing for an omelette at the breakfast buffet, and me slowly banging my head against the table. Thank goodness, my ‘resort’ fears were very, very wrong. Perched on the peaceful, caldera-side of Santorini, the sheer cliffs drop so dramatically into the water that a daily stream of camera-clutchers pass to capture the view. Although Imerovigli is close by and Oia a mere few minutes’ drive away, Avaton feels secluded. The only sounds you are likely to hear? A splash as someone plunges into the glittering pool; a request for tanning lotion; a sigh of contentment as someone lowers themselves onto the geometric loungers.
In short, it’s as far removed as can be from my less flattering idea of traditional holiday resorts. Utterly exclusive and stylish, Avaton is a bijoux cluster of nine rooms around a perfect turquoise infinity pool. After the postcard-perfect arches and smooth, curved white stone of the traditional luxury hotels on Santorini, Avaton’s sleek dark concrete and designer furnishings are beyond cool. Design buffs will appreciate an Eames bucket chair here, a vintage Tribu seat there, while traditionalists will love beds and sofas, hewn from the Santorini rock.
This pair of Smiths have a ground-floor superior suite – the luxury rooms above have balconies, but as Mr Smith points out, we have the advantage of no stairs to climb. Possibly the two most immobile holidaymakers under the age of 90 (through laziness, not disability), we consider stairs bad. Flat is good. Another bonus? We’re feet from the pool. And once the door is shut, our room feels as private as can be.
Quiet and perfectly cooled, our suite also has fast WiFi, a flatscreen TV and free mineral water in the (silent) fridge. The considered layout has areas for lounging, dining, working and sleeping. Simple touches abound: fresh flowers wrapped in bolts of vivid fabric, organic Apivita bathroom unguents, bowls of ripe, exotic fruits. I move a huge bouquet of flowers from near the bed for the final test: a quick bounce. With the quality of the mattress established, we retire, slightly smug, to the terrace for the afternoon.
Mr Smith dives straight into the still blue water and takes up position at the infinity edge – his book on dry land, his body submerged. Clearly he aims to remain here for the foreseeable. I, on the other hand, am peckish. Eating arrangements are informal and flexible with meals and snacks available all day. Nice. Take them in-room, next to the pool, or in the restaurant. Even nicer. I peruse the grazing, order, and promptly fall asleep with my hot face pressed against the menu. I awake to plates of creamy tzatziki, crispy fries, a fresh colourful salad and an iced banana milkshake. (And a semi-permanent tattoo on my face reading ‘Greek Salad, €9’, but this I don’t discover until much later.)
As the sky turns slowly from cobalt blue to vermilion, violet, coral and citrine, Avaton becomes all the more magical. I realise, gazing at the horizon, that the entire resort – rooms, pool, restaurant – is angled to face the most heart-stopping, cinematic view of the caldera. It’s like an Imax theatre. Mr Smith and I grab towels and the bottle of red wine from our room and take positions on the warm stone wall beside the pool. Behind us, those with balconies are seated waiting for the show to start. Spectators in the tiny restaurant have ordered special sunset cocktails and even sharing-platters of meats and cheese.
Ever wondered why the sun is redder at dusk? There’s nowhere better to muse over that than here. (Maybe don’t ponder out loud with Mr Smith in earshot unless you want to hear ‘blah blah Rayleigh scattering blah particles the size of the wavelength of visible light blah.) After all traces of any glow (and explanation) have faded, we pad the few feet to the restaurant. More alchemy and surprises await. Santorini staples are made Michelin-worthy: a regal shrimp cocktail arrives with unexpected fruit courtiers, a generous portion of lobster with papardelle is fresh as can be and dessert is presented in a bowl fashioned from filo pastry.
Now, for those happy to shift their derrières more than 50 yards a day, there is an excellent taverna in Imerovigli, we discover. Ravenous from skipping lunch (thanks to a huge breakfast set up outside our room before we were even awake), and feeling intrepid, we venture to Anogi the following night. I would give you more details, but that Greek wine on an empty stomach is a devil.
Baking in the sun the next morning – and a tad hungover – I suggest a treatment in the Avaton Lifestyle Spa. After much silent contemplation, Mr Smith declares that he could have a half-hour massage because, and allow me to quote him, ‘an hour is too long’. Fast-forward to Mr Smith floating back from the volcanic-rock sanctuary to sunlounger, post holistic rub-down, appearing as though he has just hiked the Himalayas. Easing himself back into a horizontal position, he murmurs, ‘It was brilliant, but I could have done with twice as long.’
My sentiments about Avaton. Action-seekers can go further afield: the path to Oia runs directly past the pool, so you can do all without a hire car; turn left for Imerovigli and Fira, the bustling capital, or turn right for a scenic hike to Oia, for colourful tavernas, donkeys ambling up alleys and fishing boats bobbing in the old port. But for sloths such as Mr Smith and me, the resort is enough. Only thing? We could have done with twice as long.