Santorini: Where to stay, what to do and where to eat

Santorini WWW

Oia is the only place to base yourself on Santorini. This is the source of all Santorini’s iconic images that grace the covers of travel magazines.

Here is everything you need to know to enjoy your stay in Oia: Where to Stay, What to do, and Where to Eat.

Where to stay

Perivolas is the pick of the cave house hotels in Oia

Perivolas swimming pool overlooking the caldera

The pick of the skafta or cave-house resorts is Perivolas, owned by Costis Psychas, who returned to his family’s seafaring roots on Santorini. Today, 17 unique, carefully restored domed cave houses, each with its own deck and furnished simply with Aegean antiques and hand-woven rugs, step down around a central stone terrace to the black volcanic rock-rimmed infinity pool framed with wild fig, geraniums, cactus and bougainvillea.  An old winery is now a cool poolside café; a charming wellness studio is buried into another cave.  There are no televisions or hot and cold running waiters, just laid-back luxury, and space to relax.  Pyschas’ latest creation is Perivolas Hideaway, a serene white-domed, four-bedroom villa built at water-level inside an 1850 pumice mine on the island of Thirassia.  Access is only by boat.

Katikies is closer to Oia, a modern incarnation of 22 white-washed cave houses wedged into the cliff. Each has wide plank floors, country antiques and its own deck.  A tiny dreamy outdoor restaurant and an intimate white cave wine cellar are found near the smallish infinity pool where guests are known to jostle for lounge chairs. The long stairs make for quite a workout, but the hotel provides complimentary mobile phones and super service.

The three-suite 1864 Sea Captain’s Houseis a Renaissance-influenced mansion with arched doorways, cross-vaulted ceilings, and spacious sundecks where delectable breakfasts are served. Owner Tony Mosiman, who treats guests like royalty, is part owner of Ambrosia Restaurant, which supplies meals on request. You can also access Caldera Massages Studio, via a secret passage through the wine cellar, to indulge in hot volcanic stone treatments.  There is no pool, however.

While all three resorts have front and centre caldera views, the western tip of Oia, at the entrance to the caldera, is the obvious location to see the setting sun.  Here the traditional barrel-vaulted Fanari Villas, under the Oia windmill and above the colourful fishing village of Ammoudi, offer the best sunset views from the privacy of your spacious deck, where a delicious breakfast is also delivered, at the stark bright end of the day. Even the fresh-water pool is partially burrowed into a cave.  Fewer bells and whistles mean lower prices too.

What to do

We fall into a ritual of early morning adventures by car before the blazing sun reaches its zenith.

donkey-ready-to-give-rides-up-the-hill-to-Oia-by-Susan-Gough-HenlyOne day, we explore the ruins of ancient Thira, first settled by the Dorians in 900 BC. We explore its impressive amphitheater, a sanctuary carved with symbols of the gods, and foundations of temples and houses laid out on a terrace at a dizzy height above the blue Aegean.

We also visit the 1600 BC Minoan outpost of Akrotiri where we discover well-planned streets and three-story houses decorated with prehistoric frescoes that were buried under volcanic ash.

At sunset we take a catamaran tour with Greek American/Australian couple Ted and Dina Stathis. We cruise past the Venetian lighthouse, enjoy a dip in the volcanic hot springs, and salute that crimson sun over a fabulous deck-side barbecue of local Greek specialties.

There are lots of boutiques and jewelry stores in Oia, most of which are overpriced tourist traps. Do make time to explore the charming Atlantis bookstore, which will have everything you need to enjoy long lazy days on your deck.

Be sure to leave lots of time for lounging on the flawless sun-drenched terraces of Oia to watch the play of light on white and blue and marvel at the buildings tumbling like snow down sheer cliffs of brown, red and black.

Where to eat

Santorini's Ambrosia restaurant in Oia offers great caldera views

Anbrosia restaurant with spectacular views over the caldera

Santorini’s gastronomy is a triumph over extreme odds (rather like the island itself). The volcanic landscape spawns no rivers and water is extremely scarce. The local specialties, such as fava beans, cherry tomatoes, white eggplants and large yellow melon-like cucumbers, as well as grapes, depend largely on the moisture provided by early morning fog which condenses on the ground as dew. And then, of course, there is the plentiful seafood.

It is well worth visiting the Antoniou and Boutari wineries near the pretty village of Megalohori. En route, you’ll see century-old vines of the assyrtiko grape trained into crown-like baskets low to the ground, with the grapes hanging inside to protect them from the winds. Taste the highly acidic, citrus and minerally assyrtiko wines as well as Santorini’s Vinsanto (or holy wine), made from a blend of three sun-dried grape varieties that are barrel aged for decades to produce an unctuous desert wine with overtones of nuts, raisins, figs and honey.

Ambrosia’s antiques-filled dining room and two intimate terraces cantilevered over the caldera’s edge offers a sublime dining-with-view experience. Its inspired cuisine incorporates fresh seafood with local chloro goat’s cheese and cherry tomatoes.

Across the tiny pedestrian-only main street is Restaurant 1800 housed in an exquisitely restored captain’s mansion with two delightful cross-vaulted dining rooms, a garden courtyard and spectacular rooftop terrace. The chef creates imaginative dishes using the finest ingredients that are as pleasing to the eye as the palate.

For simpler fare, head down the 300 steps to Oia’s waterfront at Ammoudi to sample seafood that tastes like it has hopped right out of the water and into family-run fish tavernas, such as Katina, Paradiso and Dimitris.  Afterwards, pay whatever it takes to ride a donkey back up the hot and dusty hillside.

On the way to the top, you’ll appreciate even more how such sublime beauty has been created from the depths of destruction.



Villas tumble down the hill to the fishing port of Ammoudi below Oia



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Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

6 comments to Santorini: Where to stay, what to do and where to eat

  • AG Sloane  says:

    Incredible facts. Thanks for this helpful blog. Really like the insider tips.

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      I’m so glad you found the insider tips helpful.

  • Paul V.  says:

    Wow! Cool views.

    Great info too. Thanks.

    Keep the tips coming.

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      I sure will!

  • Polly Hester  says:

    What incredible views! I’ve always thought about visiting Santorini.

    This post really helps me picture the trip. Really excited to go now. Thanks

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      I’m glad this post has inspired you. It is an incredible place to visit.

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