The Secret’s Out

Charlie Bond heads to Santorini to be romanced by this beautiful Greek island

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Before our plane has even landed in Santorini, we know we’ve made the right choice of ‘mini moon’ destination. From the sky, the island looks like paradise – whitewashed walls, sparkling sea and sun-soaked shores, and once we land, it continues to romance us.

Trying to plan a honeymoon at the same time as planning a DIY wedding complete with ‘surprise the groom’ mini golf is a logistical nightmare, so we decide that instead of three weeks in the Maldives after our wedding, we’ll head off on a mini moon for a few days of R&R. Which is how we find ourselves on the ‘island for honeymooners’ headed to the northernmost point – the village of Oia.

The Greek island, which is the remnant of a volcanic caldera, has been voted as one of the ‘world’s most beautiful islands’, and, as our taxi wends its way along with our driver stopping to let us take in the breathtaking views – it’s easy to see why.

We arrive at Santorini Secret, our home for the next few nights, and are immediately offered a welcome cocktail while our room is finished. Manos, the restaurant and bar manager greets us warmly and tells us that here, he treats everyone as family. Then, he seats us where we can gaze out over the Caldera, and presents us with chunks of homemade bread and taramas while we enjoy the views.

The hotel is made up of 17 suites, all carved into the side of the cliff and beautifully furnished. We’re shown to our room – one of the Pure suites, and it’s stunning, somehow striking the balance between being stylish, modern, traditional and tranquil. Each suite also has a private terrace overlooking the Aegean, and ours boasts a hot tub. We haven’t even unpacked and I already never want to leave.

We spend a few hours wandering the streets of Oia, discovering what’s on offer. The village isn’t vast, but it’s packed with boutiques, restaurants and stunning buildings which make for some fantastic photos. Then there are the view points – you barely have to walk a few steps and you’re presented with another stunning aspect – from Oia you can see for miles across the sea, and spot the twinkling lights of neighbouring Imerovigli, which is the highest point of the island.

As the sun sets, we make our way to a tiny tavern, 39 Steps, tucked under a stairway, and sample local wines and beers, before stumbling across traditional restaurant Karma, tucked away in a small street, where we decide to have our evening meal. This turns out to be an excellent find – the restaurant is cosy and inviting, and full of locals as well as other holidaymakers. We order traditional Greek dishes – souvlaki, paidakia marinated lamb chops and tzatziki, as well as a carafe of local white wine, before walking back to our hotel admiring Oia’s beauty at night.

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Despite our large dinner, enjoying breakfast with a view is something we can’t refuse, so we don our fluffy white robes and sit out on the terrace, enjoying a selection of local meats, breads and fruit which are all brought to us on a platter. Each day, guests are given a menu to select from and there’s a huge array of choices – everything from pancakes to salads are available, made all the more delicious because of the accompanying backdrop.

Our plan for our first proper day is to relax by the pool with a cocktail in hand, but faced with a slightly overcast and breezy day, instead we decide to hop on a bus to the island’s capital Thira and complete a 10k coastal walk back to Oia. Although incredibly beautiful, the walk turns out to be more of a hike – complete with climbing at times what feel like vertical inclines. The spectacular views across the caldera more than make up for the aching thighs however, and a brief stop in Avocado, a restaurant in Imerovigli, provides some respite before our journey begins again.

Eventually, we do make our way back to Oia, where our first port of call is the hot tub, to relax our weary legs which weren’t quite over dancing at the wedding, let alone climbing clifftop inclines. Then, it’s back out to find another local eatery – we’ve definitely earned our dinner today.

Thankfully, we wake the next morning to glorious sunshine, so our day of pool lounging and cocktail sipping is able to commence with ease. Other newlyweds are also spending their first post-wedding days here, lazing in the sun, and Manos helps the celebrations to last that little bit longer by providing us all with different cocktails to try while we watch the world go by from the edge of the infinity pool.

Santorini is famed for its sunsets, so just before dusk we head to the tip of the island and join with the crowds – people sit on walls, still warm from the sun, passing bottles of rosé between them, waiting for the moment the sun starts to slip. We don’t have to wait long before the sky is awash with vibrant reds and oranges, and the buzz of chatter falls silent as everybody shares these magical few minutes. As sunsets go, this is pretty spectacular, and well worth waiting for.
In the height of summer, when the sunsets are later, there are plenty of sunset view restaurants and bars too.

Oia is nothing if not full of stairs, but take them and you’ll always discover something beautiful. This is certainly the case for our last day, when we venture down to Amoudi Bay. There’s some 200 steps between us and the crystal clear water below, but when we arrive (having been overtaken by several donkeys) the walk is worth it – taverns line the waterfront selling fresh fish and local produce, and boats sail past.
We tentatively climb some rocks, and there discover a little cove with a few sunbathers making the most of the warmth. We sit for a while, watching the world go by with the water lapping at our feet, then make our way back to one of the taverns to enjoy a sangria in the sun.

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Of course, there’s then the small matter of the 200 steps back up to Oia, and as we begin our incline, we begin to wonder what happened to the four days of relaxation we’d envisaged. The trouble is, as appealing as  ‘doing nothing’ sounds, when you’re staying somewhere as beautiful as Santorini, there’s only so many chapters of your novel you can read before you’re itching to go and explore. That said, tired from all the steps and rock climbing, we take full advantage of our sunny terrace and hot tub in the afternoon, and while away the hours winding down before our final evening arrives.

Over our last breakfast the following morning (lots of pancakes – thankfully I don’t have to worry about squeezing into a wedding dress any more), we muse over the favourite parts of the trip. It’s a hard call between the balcony views, the sunset or the amazing chocolates the maid brings every night at turn down, (again, thank god the diet’s over). Either way, there’s no doubt we’ll be back – we’ll just probably pack some walking boots next time.

Charlie Bond was a guest of Santorini Secret suites, which is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Book a stay at Santorini Secret Suites with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (www.slh.com/santorinisecret; 0800 0482 314)