EliteVoyage co-owner David Eder explores what’s new and what’s happening on the iconic Greek island of Santorini.
Among his discoveries are the fabulous new design hotel, Abyss Santorini, Greek cuisine as its best, and exploring the island by quad bike.
David travelled with his wife Maar and it was their first visit to this incredibly famous but partially misunderstood destination. He says:
It was an amazing long and romantic weekend. Santorini is a perfect destination for couples: views, atmosphere, gastronomy and the hotel.
Why we Visited Santorini
We didn’t visit Santorini together before because of the island’s cliches: all those white buildings with blue rooftops and lots of tourists!
My wife Maar used to live in Greece, speaks Greek and visited Santorini 20 years ago, when it was a different island. She prefers less-known islands, like Paros (Tom Hanks has a beautiful villa there, where Michelle Obama is spending the summer).
We were persuaded by the direct convenient flights. From Prague there’s a 5.10am flight to Santorini. A very early start but you gain a whole full day on the island. No outbound layovers in Athens or somewhere else either.
Plus, Tom Hanks’s villa was fully booked and we wanted to test some of Santorini’s newest hotels.
Direct Prague to Santorini flights operate on Fridays and Tuesdays. Of course, if you don’t want the early start or want a direct flight to other Greek islands, use a private jet charter.
Authentic Experiences on Santorini Island
Santorini is famous for great views. It’s not so much a beach destination, which is why I think we wouldn’t enjoy it as much with our kids.
The best way to explore Santorini is on a quad bike.
Travelling by car is slow and the island traffic jams are annoying. A quad has the flexibility of a motorbike and is a lot more stable.
We tried a two-hour hike, from Oia to Fira via Imerovigli. It wasn’t so challenging but definitely made us sweat.
If you love wine you’ll be surprised by the quality of local wine. The volcanic soil creates a mineral taste with citrus smells. The rare Assyrtiko grape that’s famous in Greece, actually originates from Santorini. I definitely recommend visiting a vineyard.
I also recommend trying some water activities. There is a huge choice of speed boats and catamarans for charter. You can also rent a yacht and start a Greek island hopping holiday on Santorini.
Where to (not) Stay on Santorini
We wanted to try something different: Magma Resort Santorini, away from the main tourist spots, in the middle of vineyards.
I can’t say anything good about this hotel. Sometimes, part of our job is disappointment on holiday. We visit these new hotels to save our clients from having the same negative experience.
We didn’t even spend a night. After two hours we left. Despite the positive online reviews, Magma epitomises the negative impacts of over tourism and extreme demand. I wish them all the best but we definitely won’t send any clients there.
There are so many new hotels under construction. Hoteliers told me that demand is decreasing, which is good news. Prices should go down and Santorini will be more peaceful.
Imerovigli village is promising, with Katikies Chromata, The Buddha Bar, the Grace and Kivotos. However, I preferred the vibe in Oia more.
New properties like Nobu, Cavo Tagoo Santorini and Andronis Wellness Concept are located between Oia and Imerovigli. They have a view but are in the middle of nowhere. I also didn’t feel these hotels reflect the quality their brands are known for.
I don’t recommend staying in Fira either, because cruise ships deliver thousands of day-trippers onto the narrow streets every day. It’s far too crowded.
Discovering Abyss Oia, Santorini
After these disappointments, what a lovely contrast to discover Abyss Oia, where we changed our plans to extend our stay from two to four nights.
The main reasons we wanted to try this hotel were its small size, premium Oia location and unique design concept.
Abyss Oia feels like a home, rather than a hotel. Staff treated us like we were at their place and we didn’t hear a “no” for the entire stay.
We met Kostas the owner and designer of the property. We also spent a long evening drinking wine with him, an insight into the hotel’s intimate and personal atmosphere.
Kostas told me: “Santorini is a bucketlist destination and most hoteliers are focused on receiving a new booking, rather than a repeat client. We are a very small boutique hotel with only six rooms and this gives us space to provide a very bespoke, personalised experience.
We’re not here to only provide a good bed and breakfast. We put in our heart and soul, we are part of the experience. Our feedback is that photos don’t do us justice and the stay is far above expectations (Kostas Stasinopoulos).
I must admit that I’m a very complicated and demanding client. Usually reception and housekeeping doesn’t work well in these small properties. Not here. Sonia and Elena at reception were amazing, recommending and booking the best restaurant tables for us.
The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant but the breakfast served in our suites was awesome, with a breathtaking view too.
Our grand villa had an open bathroom with two shower heads, so we could shower together with an uninterrupted view onto the famous Santorini caldera.
The entrance from the bathroom to the pool by the terrace was a highlight, plus an evening nap after watching the sunset straight from our terrace.
Abyss isn’t a hotel for everybody and that is the main selling point: you will love it or hate it. The design is so different to other hotels and Kostas explained how he created his luxury suites.
“I handpicked everything in the hotel. We’re using metallic, gold, copper, black, to create an assimilation with the volcano. I didn’t take a photo of a designer item and ask somebody to recreate it. I picked the original, I wanted the craftsmanship of the designer.
I am a perfectionist. I completely deconstructed an entire suite because the ceiling wasn’t high enough. We had to break the roof of the grand villa to bring in a 500 kg basin and one-ton freestanding bathtub.
My vision is that people do notice quality. I wanted to create something above mediocrity, something above what already existed. Abyss, is the absence of any limitations. (Kostas Stasinopoulos).
Where to Dine on Santorini
As I mentioned, my wife lived in Greece and she knows what good Greek cuisine means. We didn’t have high expectations, but were astonished. The food impressed us more than the views.
To visit such a touristic place and find amazing food is rare.
Fino was our favourite restaurant. The owner told me, “we don’t have a view to impress our guests, so we must impress them with food.” Dining here was a wow experience: you have to try their lamb and seabass ceviche.
Sapiens didn’t have a view either. They serve more contemporary cuisine, more Mediterranean than Greek. We loved the wagyu tartare, pork belly and yellow tail.
Qhera Santorini was an eye-opening experience. It’s a fish tavern on a small island, 15 minutes by boat from Santorini. You pick your fish from the catch of the day. Then the chef prepares the catch in different ways, so from the same fish we had tartare, fried pieces and grilled fillet.
Roza’s tavern is run by Kyriakos and Katerina, who prepared some of the best traditional Greek dishes we’ve ever tried. We highly recommend their Santorini salad, artichokes and asparagus, plus the sun-dried octopus. It’s not fancy and you might need to overcome a disappointing first impression. If you want authentic Greek cooking go here.
We were sceptical about visiting Santorini. But what an amazing and romantic long weekend!
For a couple it’s a perfect destination: views, atmosphere, gastronomy and new discoveries.