Grace Hotel, part of the Auberge Resorts Collection,is a gleaming white minimalist marvel, carved out of a clifftop on Greece’s sunset paradise. Tottering up the cliff face, the hotel is steeply spread over different levels, with views of Skaros Rock's good side and a chalky restaurant taking up its own floor. The party scene extends to the lengthy infinity pool’s terrace by night, when all that glitters comes to life.
11am, but flexible for 50 per cent of the room rate. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £540.30 (€624), including tax at 13.5 per cent.
Rates usually include a frequently changing, five-course boozy breakfast and a welcome glass of something sparkling on arrival.
Daily free pilates and yoga classes are held in the resort's second-floor studio, by the boutique fitness room. Souvenir-seekers should steer themselves towards the resort's concept store, which sells artwork, floaty garments by super-cool Greek designers Zeus + Dione, and crafty trinkets from the Cycladic Art Museum. Local artwork is displayed in the 363 lounge too. Make your stay even more luxurious with the hotel's Bespoke by Grace service, which allows guests to customise their stay with a pillow menu, choice of fragrances and bath products, bespoke in-room cocktail kit and a personal fitness kit.
At the hotel
Fitness room, yoga and pilates studio, boutique, laptops on loan (Macs and PCs), free WiFi throughout, concierge. In rooms: flatscreen Smart TV, Apple TV, Nespresso machine, bar with local drinks and snacks, air-conditioning, free bottled water, tea- and coffee-making facilities, pampering kits and full-size Apivita bath products. Guests staying in a suite or the villa also get a bottle of sparkling wine and strawberries in their room on arrival.
Our favourite rooms
For double the plunge-pool fun, pick a Grace Suite with plunge pool – you get one indoors, with a partition so it can be ocean-facing or totally private, and an extra one out on the terrace. VIP Suites are similarly endowed, only their plunge pools are bigger, and they’ve got steam rooms and some flashy light installations, too. All the rooms are chalky white, with bright cushions and rugs to break up the serenity.
The hotel has a cover-model of a heated infinity pool (the largest by the caldera), which runs along the front of the hotel, perfect for swimming and Skaros Rock-spotting at the same time; there are well-cushioned double loungers, a bar and an outdoor shower.
Brightly coloured outfits to set off your suite; it’s hard to clash with whitewash.
The hotel's enviable clifftop setting means that access is via a not insignificant number of steps – it's not ideal for travellers with restricted mobility.
Over-14s are welcome at the hotel (with the exception of The Villa, which can accommodate children of any age). Extra beds cost €200 a night.
For a snug supper, ask for either of the two cosy alcoves overlooking the infinity pool and caldera bay.
Sparkly and sexy; and no bare legs for gents after dark, please.
Intimate restaurant, Santoro, with its high-domed ceiling, serves up contemporary Greek cuisine courtesy of accolade-awarded chef, Spiros Agious: pan-seared octopus with grass-fed beef fillet and Apiliotis wine reduction, fava bean- and Volaki cheese-stuffed gyoza, and lamb fricassee with preserved lemons and lime foam. There’s an open kitchen on show, and more of the same whitewashing and liquid black lava rock. Or, grab light meals and cocktails by the pool; we love the sea-view booths. The ultra-fresh yellowfin tuna sandwich and oh-so tender lamb burger are the stand-out stars of the menu. Breakfasts are bountiful five-course feasts which change frequently, so guests can try something new every day. Day one: Cretan-style pancakes with Xinomizithra cheese and thyme honey; day two: eggs Benedict washed down with a piña colada smoothie; day three: spinach-and-feta-filled spanakopita pie…
The pool bar expands from the restaurant, with half facing inwards to the kitchen and the rest spilling out to the infinity pool. Sit back to the sounds of Greek jazz and sip a speciality cocktail. 363 Lounge (set above the restaurant) has contrasting interiors of sleek cream upholstery and rugged black volcanic stone. Set a soaring 363 metres above sea level, the caldera views from the terrace will make you feel giddier than the bar's lengthy list of wines and cocktails. Signature drink the Grace Rose (devised by connoisseur Spyros Efstathiou) is a heady concoction of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, Grey Goose vodka, lemon, raspberries and rose water; the second signature drink, the Grace Cocktail (dreamt up by the equally au fait Salvatore Calabrese) is a blend of Grey Goose pear-infused vodka, lemongrass, honey, mint and fruit juice that's fabulously refreshing in the heat. Chef Spiros Agious' snack list is joy-inducing, with bottarga- (salted cod roe) and caviar-topped bites, freshly shucked oysters, cheese and charcuterie platters and hearty salads. Live music nights are hosted regularly at both Santoro and 363 Lounge.
Breakfast is on offer from 8am until 11.30am, when lunch service takes over until 7pm. Dinner is then available in Santoro right up until 11pm; 363 Lounge opens till midnight.
Breakfast and an all-day snack menu (salads, pizzas and puddings) can be ordered between 8am and 11pm.
Santorini’s Thira airport is just under half an hour away by car. You can 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 arrange flights on request (call on 03334 143 696 24 hours a day).
The hotel is in Imerovigli village, but the nearest big town is Fira, a two-minute drive away. There’s parking in the village square, where the porters will greet you.
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
Imerovigli does simplicity to the highest standard. The beauty of this slumbering village lies not in a crammed itinerary, but in savouring its slow, peaceful pace and sensational vistas. Sprinkle your stay with leisurely experiences arranged by hotel staff including a private vineyard tour, excursion with a professional photographer, catamaran hire for two, or a 90-minute tour of Akrotiri (the 'Minoan Pompeii') archaeological site, followed by a seafood lunch. Pop across to Skaros Rock, the island’s former capital, to see the church and fortress remains. It’s particularly spectacular at sunset.
Aktaion (+30 22860 22336) is a traditional taverna within walking distance of Grace Hotel, famed for its moussaka. Head over to the restaurant at Kapari Natural Resort for amazingly fresh Mediterranean fare, out overlooking the Aegean; menu highlights include squid stuffed with fennel, grilled peppers and smoked cheese. For fine fish, try Captain Dimitri’s Taverna (+30 22860 82210) in Oia. Koukoumavlos (+30 22860 23807) in Fira is the place to head for adventurous dining that comes with a view.
When it comes to jaw-dropping views, there are some places in this world that have a blithe disregard for the rules of fair play. From the get-go, they seize the high ground and bludgeon you into submission with impossibly gorgeous vistas. Some literally take your breath away with their high-altitude scenery – Namaste, Bhutan! – while others convince you that you’ve passed through into another dimension altogether. The latter is more or less how we felt the first time Mr Smith and I stepped onto the spacious patio at Grace Hotel and stared out over the famous volcanic caldera.
Shaped like a crescent moon, the island embraces a vast blue lagoon created thousands of years ago when devastating volcanic explosions caused the centre of the island to collapse into the sea. Almost every vantage point along the high-cliffed inner edge of the crescent bristles with crowds of white buildings. In high summer, it’s blinding. Here and there, blue cupolas mark a chapel, while slashes of azure, visible from the narrow paths that wind their way through the terraced buildings, invariably indicate the swimming pool of a hotel.
On Santorini, location is everything. Oía, the picturesque town at the northern tip of the island, suffers from an overabundance of tourists and streets clogged with tour buses. Thera, in the island’s centre, is equally crowded. Happily, the Grace is set a leisurely 40-minute walk from Thera in a quiet enclave of hotels (catering from low- to high-end budgets). Here, the illusion of seclusion is complete, especially when the morning mists shroud the high ground.
But that afternoon, as we checked in, Santorini lay before us in Olympus-like majesty, the soft rustling wind riding over the low Buddha Bar tracks piped over the stereo. Far below us in the caldera, we saw three cruiseships tooling around the flat sapphire water like little fat baby whales. A mesmerising stillness hung over the blue-tinged air.
It’s a view that, even four days later, we never tired of. ‘I don’t ever want to leave,’ I said at the end of the first day as we closed the shuttered double-glazed windows. And why would you ever need to? The Grace is one of those hotels that conspires to keep you happily captive: If you ever wondered what it feels like to be a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, this would be the place to try it.
The hotel’s 20 rooms, gym, restaurant, library, swimming pools and sundecks are terraced into the side of the cliff in a cascade of white walls and black rock buttresses. Inside, the rooms are sheathed entirely in white, and the flooring in cool polished grey concrete. Shelving, bedside tables and seats are hewn straight into the rock giving the space a very pleasing Francis of Assisi meets Four Seasons monastic feel. Our bed is a vast tract of white linen floating over triple mattress layers of coconut and rubber, all cushioned by layers of plump pillows; while the huge rainshower-studded ensuite is stocked with attention-grabbing bath and body products by local Greek brand Apivita.
Aromatherapy pillow ordered from the pillow menu, Mr Smith sighed at the view of the caldera through the bevelled windows. ‘Or should I get the goosedown instead?’ I wondered aloud, impressed by the gravity of such Solomon-like decisions.
And that was pretty much the pattern of our days. When we weren’t bobbing gently in the outdoor heated Jacuzzi, we lay supine under the sun umbrellas next to beds of lavender abuzz with lazy fat bumblebees. The April weather was still a little too cold to dip into one of the two spectacular pools that stretch out on separate levels. ‘Maybe we should stay on until the weather turns really hot?’ I suggested hopefully over our breakfast of Greek yoghurt with nuts and blossom honey, and poached eggs.
One morning, stirred by an uncharacteristic burst of energy, we descended the broad donkey steps next to the resort, past a bijoux 15th-century chapel and then we climbed up towards Scarpa, an irregular nub of a cliff that was once the island’s capital before an earthquake destroyed it.
These days, the natural drama is entirely botanical. The cliffs were festooned with yellow daisies and bursts of purple flowers. A gentle breeze rocked the sea below. We sat on a pile of shale and looked out over the Aegean, imagining that the fabled city of Atlantis – long rumoured to have been located in Santorini – had been just there in the little alcove where a cruiseliner now anchored.
It was a little surreal, too, to think that back in London at that very moment, Prince William was getting hitched to Kate. ‘I hope they’ll be happy,’ I mumbled shielding my eyes from the sun’s glare. We sat in companionable silence. Seagulls wheeled overhead and the breeze carried up the scent of grass and the approaching summer.
Presently, Mr Smith said, ‘Come on, then. Time for lunch.’