‘Now this,’ said my good lady, ‘is where we’re going on our honeymoon.’ It’s a phrase that strikes terror into the heart of the uncommitted but, although this reviewer’s Mrs Smith is a relatively new arrival, I had to admit I could see what she meant. Perivolas is perfect. Perched high on the hills of Santorini above the Aegean Sea, it’s the sort of boutique hotel hideaway that inspires spontaneous marriage proposals. Indeed, if top scientists were to analyse this splendid luxury inn from top to bottom, it’s likely that they’d find that it sits on top of the world’s most powerful love ley line.
Ancient history plays an important part in Santorini, arguably the most impressive of all the Greek islands. Formed entirely from volcanic rock, it’s the result of the massive Minoan eruption of 1645 BC which, legend has it, destroyed the lost city of Atlantis. It now sits in a circle with its neighbouring islands, surrounding the mile-deep undersea trench like disciples patiently awaiting the return of a deity.
It’s this connection to Mother Earth that makes Perivolas such an understated gem. Before it was owned by Costis Psychas, the site was a set of disused fishermen’s cottages which had been painstakingly carved out of the hillside itself. Anyone who’s ever experienced the childlike pleasure of climbing into a cave will be in seventh heaven here. The rooms are all whitewashed walls, with no hard edges. Santorini’s fishing folk, it seems, had a thing for curves, and the effect it has on visitors is quite astounding. Instantly welcoming, even womb-like, our room felt like home from the moment we walked in.
A well-stocked mini-bar, Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries and a view from every room over the caldera (the proper name for the volcanic crater-cum-bay, we learnt) saw us sitting in stunned silence for some time. Our terrace with its comfy sunloungers continued the relaxation theme, making any decision incredibly tricky. ‘Shall we go for lunch or do another ten minutes watching ships criss-cross the caldera?’ After a few hours, it became more basic still. ‘Shall I scratch my nose now, or later?’ Such is the lethargic power of Perivolas.
A quick swim in the infinity pool, followed by a Jacuzzi and cocktails from the surprisingly clued-up bar staff (well, would you know how to make a raspberry martini without a cocktail crib sheet?) saw us perfectly ready to enjoy the famous Santorini sunset. Without prompting, some olives and bread arrived at our table but, delicious though they both undoubtedly were, all superlatives were overshadowed by this merging of sun and sea. Hundreds of feet below us were dozens of boats bobbing around on the water, all sunset-seekers whose captains knew that this particular point was the place to see the big sky fires. Sitting above them on the cliff’s edge, we were realising just why the ancient Greeks worshipped such dramatic, powerful gods. Santorini is drama itself.
Drinks in the charming town of Oia are walking distance away, and we enjoyed a spectacular cliffside dinner at Ambrosia, a well-judged suggestion from our Perivolas concierge. Although the restaurant occasionally overreached itself in terms of trendy food fusion, the quality of the produce shone through. Indeed, if the swordfish had been any fresher it would probably have leapt off my plate, making a bid for freedom towards the crashing waves below. The walk back to the hotel passes all sorts of cute Greek tavernas and shops; dropping in for a shot of the extremely potent local vinsanto seems almost mandatory. Drinking an age-old recipe before returning to ancient traditional houses provided a beautiful synchronicity, which we found incredibly profound. At least until the booze had worn off.
The next day saw us cutting through the water on a catamaran as guests of Blue Lagoon Cruises (www.santorinisailing.com). Captain Ted, a Brooklyn-born Greek chap who has been settled in Santorini for more than ten years, took us on a gentle cruise around the island’s dramatic coastline before dropping anchor for a sunset dinner. Like culinary David Blaines, he and his sidekick produced some incredibly fresh Greek salad, roasted vegetables and on-board barbecued lamb and steak that had been marinated in – well, he’s keeping schtum. Despite my best efforts, the coy captain refused to give up the recipe, so give Mr & Mrs Smith HQ a call if you manage to extract it from him. We must have this marinade recipe.
The meditative silence of Perivolas greeted us on our return. With no TV in the room, and only the distant lapping of the waves as a soundtrack, one thing became clear. We had to book this place for next year. In a decade of reviewing, this is a first. Such is the ancient power of Perivolas.