Santorini hotel Perivolas marries stunning scenery with a handsome hunk of history. An alluringly renovated cluster of 300-year-old caves, once the homes, wineries and stables of fishermen and farmers, these tranquil private houses hug the edge of a cliff overlooking the brilliantly blue Aegean horizon.
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A bottle of local Santorini white wine from one of the island's excellent wineries
Noon. Earliest check-in, 2.30pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from $585.04 (€531), excluding tax at 13 per cent.
Rate includes a Mediterranean buffet breakfast with made-to-order omelettes.
The Psychas family, who set about restoring these ancient caves in the Sixties, once traded wine with Odessa; don't leave without sampling a selection of Santorini finest vintages.
Closing 30 October 2017.
At the hotel
Spa, steam room, sauna, gym, outdoor Jacuzzi, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: speakers, minibar, kettle, Rituals toiletries. The Perivolas Suite, New Perivolas Suite and Deluxe Suite with Pool have a private steam room and pool, two Deluxe Suites have a private outdoor Jacuzzi.
Our favourite rooms
The cave-carved rooms are bright and breezy, with whitewashed walls, smooth vaulted ceilings and clever skylights that let in plenty of light. Splashes of fuschia and lilac echo the bougainvillea dotted around the grounds. The Lifestyle Studio makes a perfect little bolthole with big windows looking out to sea and a downstairs bathroom. Suite 15 (a Deluxe Suite) has a big, secluded outdoor terrace. Two of the Deluxe Suites have their own Jacuzzi. The Perivolas Suite is a true rock-star retreat, with its steam room, indoor hot tub big enough for ten, and a private pool extending out from a cave to a wow-worthy terrace.
The unheated infinity pool is all curves and startling Aegean views – a knockout splash of bright blue against black volcanic rock that's graced the cover of many a magazine. Claim a poolside lounger for front-row seats to Oia's famed sunsets, far from the selfie-loving crowds.
When you tire of watching the graceful ballet of ships across the bay, retreat to the 60sq m spa, carved right into the cliffside. The steam room, sauna, massaging jet showers and outdoor hot tub make short work of travel-weary limbs; for total indulgence, try a holistic massage, detoxing body wrap or sea-lavender-infused facial. There's even a range of anti-fatigue eye masks for the seriously jet-lagged. Luxurious Rituals products are used, and the therapist is in high demand, so it's best to book a week in advance. A super-size gym has everything for your cardio, core-strengthening and weight-training needs. Pilates and yoga sessions are held here too (for an additional charge), and there's a stash of mats and a pilates reformer machine.
Bring a pair of Havaianas: the terraces' black volcanic stone can get hot in the sun.
This is a haven for grown-ups – no under-16s allowed.
The outside terrace only has six; book one by the pool. Inside, the best tables are those nearest the entrance.
Carefree kaftans, draped dresses, light linens.
Dressed in crisp linen and the warm glow of candlelight, the restaurant's tables are set beneath a converted cellar's arched ceiling and the poolside terrace, turned towards the sea beyond. Feast on fresh local seafood – grilled seabass, octopus carapccio and ravioli with langoustines – or sample lemon-braised lamb, proscuitto salad with roasted walnuts and the decadent chocolate soufflé.
Gather around the candelit pool for a cocktail or a glass of chilled Santorini wine.
Breakfast is served 8.30am–11.30am and lunch 1pm–4pm, after which a snack menu is available until dinner (7.30pm–11.30pm). The last tipple is poured at midnight.
A selection of the restaurant's contemporary Greek cuisine is available until 11pm.
On a quiet path facing the caldera, Perivolas is a short stroll from Oia's boutique-lined pedestrian area.
In the summer, Santorini airport serves direct flights from London Gatwick and Heathrow, as well as many other European destinations. Connecting flights from Athens take about 45 minutes. There are limited taxis on the island, so it’s best to organise transfers in advance.
Perivolas is a half-hour drive from the airport and the port; take the twisting ‘high road’ if you want to see views on both sides, or the ‘low road’ to follow the coast. Once you arrive in Oia, park for free at the town hall or post office.
Athinios port can be reached by boat from Athens' Piraeus port 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
Get up early to take in the view from Perivolas, a quiet stretch of undisturbed blue sparkling peacefully in the rising sun. If you’re itching to tour the caldera, the hotel can set you up with a private catamaran or a traditional boat charter, as well as scuba diving, horseback riding and hiking excursions. Nearby, Koloumbos and Baxedes beaches offer otherworldly landscapes and quiet swimming spots. With its popular beaches, picturesque windmills and archeological sites (Homer is rumoured to be buried there), the nearby island of Ios makes a worthwhile day trip; a high-speed hydrofoil will take you there in about 45 minutes.
The marble-lined road into Oia is lined with colourful tavernas serving up great traditional food. Housed in a sea captain’s abode in one of the town’s little streets, the acclaimed 1800 has a roof terrace perfect for watching the sun set. Ambrosia clings dramatically to the cliff edge, high above the caldera, and serves equally impressive seafood. Overlooking the caldera in Fira are Koukoumavlos for adventurous gourmet dining with a view. A favourite for dinner à deux is Vanilia, located opposite the church high on the cliff in Firostefani. Trying a local wine is a must – Nikteri was our favourite. For a late lunch or an early supper, head down to the bustling fish tavernas in Ammoudi Bay, below Oia; Katina’s Taverna (+30 22860 71280) is recommended for its fresh fish dishes. If you fancy somewhere contemporary, try the Perivolos beach clubSea Side by Notos. On the road to Kamari, you’ll find barbecue heaven, Taverna Kritikos (+30 22460 4170), famous for its lamb chops, don’t expect any frills. Depending on what time you visit you’ll be surrounded by large Greek families, local farmers and their wives or glamorous professionals.
‘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.
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