Carved out of the caldera's basin, with astonishing views of the volcanic islands and the Aegean sea, Sun Rocks hotel is exclusively for couples. Its rooms and suites are elegant in their simplicity: pure white, with just the odd black-and-white-striped cushion to break up the snowiness, they combine Cycladic tradition with modern-day comforts. The sunsets are spellbinding.
Double rooms from £363.00 (€404), including tax at 13 per cent.
Rates include a hearty feast of a champagne breakfast. The menu has English, American and Grecian picks, alongside pastries and breads, fresh juices and sweet treats.
Guests are given quite a wonderful welcome here – they're settled into comfy seats on a balcony with a typically brilliant caldera view, as iced lemon-y drinks are proffered. It makes quite the first impression.
The hotel closes on 5 November until March.
At the hotel
Pool deck, shuttle to A Spa in Oia and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: Nespresso machine, TV, CD player, minibar, free bottled water, and air-conditioning. The Superior Suites and higher categories have Jacuzzis.
Our favourite rooms
The Experience rooms are completely different from the rest: modern and open-plan, with sunken Jacuzzis by view-friendly windows. The VIP suites are more traditionally romantic, and spacious, with queen-size beds. The hideaway nature of the pool in the Sun Rocks Suite is a true blessing; Santorini's stacked terraces rarely provide this much cover when sunbathing or splashing about.
There's a cliffside swimming pool overlooking the caldera (there are only five day-beds: get to the pool early to stake a claim). At the Pool Bar, you can have breakfast with a view, and cocktails throughout the day. Some suites have a private Jacuzzi – our favourite is the one in the Sun Rocks Suite, which is secluded yet open to glorious sunset views.
There's no spa at the hotel, but on request a shuttle will ferry you to the A.Spa in Oia for steams, scrubs and massages with both hands and hot stones.
Gusty evenings aren't unheard off, so bring a wrap to keep off the chill. Santorini's many steps are best negotiated in trainers or flats, so leave the heels at home.
The hotel can organise sunset wine-tastings, and if that goes well, a wedding co-ordinator is available.
The tables scattered around the pool let you gaze lovingly at the sunsets and the water, and after dark the bewitching lights of the surrounding cliffside stays.
Elegant in the evening.
The Elea restaurant serves a light menu of international delicacies for lunch and dinner, with salads, sandwiches, burgers and snacks on the menu. Local classics are well-represented, with a generous Greek salad, cheese 'doughnuts' (a Nuno Mendes-esque take of traditional Greek cheese pies), bowls of cooling tzatziki, fine local olive oil, flavourful souvlaki skewers and whatever the fishermen have brought in that day. Grecian wines are well-represented on the drinks list, too.
The pool bar serves cocktails all day until 11.30pm. There are regular sunset tastings of native Santorini wines.
Elea serves food from 11am o 10.30pm. Last orders poolside are at 11.30pm.
Light snacks and more filling meals can be ferried to your terrace or into your room at any time day or night.
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. Sun Rocks is in the village of Firostefani, a kilometre from Fira and around eight kilometres from the airport; a taxi should cost around €35. The Smith24 team can arrange your flights or transfers on request.
Sun Rocks is in Firostefani, just past Fira. It’s 10 kilometres from Athinios port, and eight kilometres to the nearest beach, so a car will come in handy.
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. A taxi will should be roughly €35.
Worth getting out of bed for
First up, hitting the clear, blue waters for snorkelling, scuba diving and other watersports; we can arrane private boat excursions around the coast. Then, a little culture: visit the archaeological sites of Akrotiri or perhaps book a lesson in Greek bagpiping in a ruined Venetian tower. These can all be organised by the hotel. Perivolos is the nearest beach, a 15-minute drive from the hotel.
A Mr & Mrs Smith favourite is Vanilia, located opposite the old church high on the cliff in Firostefani. Sit downstairs for intimacy, and upstairs for the view. There are some highly sippable Santorinian wines on the well-chosen drinks list; Nikteri was our favourite). Very close to the hotel are Saltsa (+30 22860 28018), for dinner only, in contemporary Moroccan style, and Aktaion, a traditional taverna next to Vanilia. For an early supper of sublime fresh seafood, head to the bustling fish restaurants on the beach below Oia: our favourite is Paradiso. Another beachside recommendation is the contemporary Sea Side Lounge, at the very end of the beach, on the right-hand side). A classic family restaurant is Nikolas (+30 2286 036422) tucked in one of Fira’s back streets, next to Enigma nightclub. Be prepared to queue for the privilege of eating with the locals. On the road to Kamari you’ll find barbecue heaven. Taverna Kritikos (+30 2286 032300) is famous for its lamb chops; just don’t expect luxury. Depending on what time you visit, you’ll be surrounded by Greek families, local farmers and their wives, or glamorous professionals.
‘I refuse to swing!’ I whisper to Mrs Smith, as we walk alongside the immaculate member of staff sent to escort us to Sun Rocks, following an explanation that it’s a 'couples only' hotel. Our chaperone looks a little horrified. Mrs Smith looks strangely disappointed. We're in Greece, staying in Firostefani, on the western edge of Santorini. Our getaway is perched on rocky cliffs 300 metres above the Aegean, overlooking the volcanic cauldron that lends this island its mysterious feel. We're both wondering what to expect.
The first thing we can't help noticing about Sun Rocks is the service. It is perfect. Staff are attentive but relaxed. Knowledgeable, yet reserved. This is clearly a very well-planned operation. The second thing we can't help noticing are the steps. Several hundred link the 17 scattered rooms and the carefully preened facilities. The locals explain that this is great for keeping you trim. We don't care. Once we've been shown to our apartment, we don't want to leave.
Almost all of the comfortable rooms at the hotel are of the traditional whitewashed cave variety demanded by tourists. If you've glanced at any snaps of the area you'll immediately recognise these simple abodes clinging higgledy-piggledy to the sharp coastline. Studios, residences and VIP suites at Sun Rocks come in various shapes and sizes, each of their own design, but sticking to the theme. All have terraces overlooking the sea. We however, have broken with tradition and opted for one of Sun Rocks' two apartments.
Should you dare to be different you'll be rewarded with what at first glance appears to be a New York playboy's pad. It's sleek, it's sexy, it's… ‘Oh. My. God. Look at the view!’ It's the sort of sight your mind takes time adjusting to. Sure, we've already marvelled at the low-slung, black-rock volcano framed by islands. But this is the first time we've had it in our own room, all to ourselves. We quickly work out how to roll back the giant windows to enjoy the spectacle to the full. No other structures clutter our vista, which is extremely unusual in this crag. It all works very well with the champagne we were handed on check-in.
The apartment is an excellent size, generously equipped and perfectly presented. Japanese in flavour, furniture is simple but expensive. Our hosts have thoughtfully left us complimentary nibbles. Alcoves and storage are hidden by fancy sliding screens. The shower cubicle has a frosted glass wall for, ahem, extra light. Our bed is set into the floor. Just a few hurried steps away is a generous, black-slate Jacuzzi; again, sunken, and thankfully lacking in stark-naked Germans asking if this is our first time. Both the bed and bath have front-row seats to that view. It's all very James Bond, which suits us just fine as we've decided to go scuba the sunken volcano.
For those of you who think that squeezing into gaudy coloured wetsuits and strapping heavy equipment onto your back isn't romantic – well, to start with, you'd be right. Waddling into the water and floundering about as you strap on your fins isn't sexy. However, drop gracefully into the crystal-clear inner-space, and you'll be forced to reconsider. It's not the over-excited fish flickering around you or the unique feeling of weightlessness, although these help – it's the buddy system. Your scuba partner’s job is to keep a vigilant eye on your comfort and wellbeing. Anything goes wrong down here and it could be fatal without your guardian angel watching over you. There's nothing more relationship-affirming than having your partner as your buddy.
Although lacking bright coral, the Aegean around Santorini offers up a couple of interesting and relaxing dives that are perfect for beginners. Just offshore you'll see plenty of fish, and a variety of sponges dotted about. You may catch a glimpse of the occasional nudibranch – not fauna to hide one's embarrassment, but small, brightly coloured sea slugs. You might also, as we did, surface among a family of ducks happily bobbing about. Weird. On the way back to our pick-up point we drop in on the wreck of a trawler, mysteriously sunk 70 years ago. The only thing missing is a team of crack frogman on their way to assault an evil mastermind's secret base.
Slightly tired, but smugly content, we make our way back to dry white wine at Sun Rocks' pool bar. It's the centre of attraction at the hotel, with an excellent little restaurant and lounging space about the pristine piscine. This was our first real taste of the couples-only restrictions. Before sunset we had been invited to an intimate wedding. Drinking champagne and eating cake, I was forced to admit the company was delightful. Unsurprisingly a fair few of Sun Rocks' guests are here to tie the knot or propose. You'd be hard pressed to find a better setting.
In keeping with the exclusive feeling of our experience, we decide to sample the Elea ('Olive Tree') fine-dining room. Accommodating just four smart tables, it's exclusive enough to require booking at the same time as your room. Greek cuisine doesn’t usually get me too excited, but the dishes served here are exceptional. An excellent cheese, tomato and toasted-bread mousse get us in the mood. Lobster soup, fresh papardelle, baby veal and pineapple creme brulee excite and satisfy, in equal measure. Everything is washed down with some really excellent Greek wines, shattering yet more of our preconceptions.
As the weekend wears away we meet other guests, who are friendly but value the peace and tranquillity. They enjoy a poolside chat, but still want to disappear into the romance of this place all by themselves. No need for us to have worried. ‘Couples only’ turns out to mean ideal holidaying.