Sunset sanctuary: Finding exclusivity on land in Santorini
by Elizabeth Finney
The world-renowned view out from Santorini’s coastline peppered with white sugar cube houses may be one of the most beautiful in the Med – meaning it’s also one of the most crowded. Elizabeth Finney drops anchor and goes in search of the perfect uninterrupted sunset.
At the top of the black volcanic cliff path, the spire of a tiny white church slowly comes into view, while sun spotlights the dramatic Caldera across the bay. Sapphire waves lap against the shores of the five Greek islands, the remnants of a cataclysmic eruption that took place approximately 3,600 years ago – the now dormant volcano sits innocently against the twinkling water. Guided by rugged American Kevin, we wend our way towards the famously bohemian village Oia, passing only two other hikers in as many hours while he lopes ahead. “Before the Minoan eruption, it was a ring island with a large, volcanic island in the centre,” he explains. “The magma chamber emptied and the weight of the sea collapsed down. It’s 400 metres deep out there!” As a result of this depth, superyachts will struggle to drop anchor must head to either Athinios Port or the Skala Port to make use of their large buoys.
According to Greek myth, Santorini, formerly known as Thera, was created when Euphemus, son of Poseidon, threw a clod of earth from nearby Anafi into the sea, because of a dream he’d had about making love to a nymph. Throughout recent history, the island has been dubbed a haven for couples and creatives – especially Oia. While still charming, the blue-roofed cliff side town is no longer Santorini’s best kept secret, though if you know where to look, you can still enjoy a snapshot of its Bohemian heyday.
The trick is to forgo the famous sunset – even in low season I’m buffeted by swathes of tourists at the old fort ruins, so I retreat to Meteor Café, a tiny, dome-ceilinged spot tucked away from the masses, littered with Greek and Turkish nick-nacks. Sipping a crisp glass of local white, I watch the sun descend uninterrupted from the minuscule balcony, nibbling at peanuts with a cool breeze bouncing off the patterned tiles. The locals appear at Marykay’s – one of the best bars in the Mediterranean – after 11pm, long after tourists have boarded coaches to make their dinner reservations. Here, you can drink until the small hours, sharing stories, listening to music and meeting the characters of Oia. One such individual is local musician Yannis Pantazis, who makes and plays traditional instruments, using them all – with the help of his audience – to tell stories from Greek mythology. The quiet night came alive with his singing, lyre and an array of drums and bells while he tunefully retold the tale of how the Apollo came to be the god of music.
As it’s difficult to drop anchor and watch the sunset from on board, I escape the busy port to Erosantorini, a private retreat perched on a cliff overlooking the caldera. It’s the ultimate hideaway, boasting classical and contemporary Santorini style, perfect for when the hustle and bustle on the rest of the island is too much. “People come here for the privacy. The problem with Santorini is that you go somewhere, and there are people all around you – you cannot be alone,” explains executive host, Takis Skolarikis. “Many people do not see Greece – they go to places in Greece but they do not see it.” His passion for Greek culture is infectious, and it is infused in every aspect of the Erosantorini experience. The five whitewashed suites are simple yet luxurious, each offering a cool refuge from the Mediterranean sun.
Takis is an effortlessly expert host and regularly appears with treats and snacks – one evening, he appears on the pool terrace with a glass of Champagne, hoping it might add to my sunset experience. The familiar kaleidoscope of colour engulfs the caldera, visible over the edge of the glassy infinity pool – I sip bubbles enjoying one of the best views on the island. All I can hear is the sound of the distant waves far below and as the last sliver of gold disappears over the horizon, rich magentas and indigos sweep the sky, revealing a web of stars. This is an experience best shared with family, close friends or partners, with nobody else to interrupt the peace.
Breakfast at Erosantorini can be anything guests desire, though I am committed to the Cyclades Islands way of life. Settled al fresco at a sheltered wooden table, I’m presented a bowl of delicious Greek yoghurt, peppered with pollen from the Erosantorini bees, their honey to one side. The estate also has it’s own kitchen garden, baked goods, olive oil and a gorgeous wine cellar, which is concealed beneath a sliding trap door a stones throw away from the on-site chapel. Additionally, there is a spa, one of the best in the Mediterranean, where you can request any treatment, perfect for after a private Pilates class on the patio or a stint in the steam room.
Privacy can be found elsewhere on the island, if you know where to look. For a truly unique experience, head to the Argyros vineyard for a wine tasting. Far away from the overcrowded bars on the coast, this elegant spot provides a sophisticated alternative to afternoons spent in search of a table in the shade. Instead, I sit in the estate’s high-ceilinged tasting room, the Aegean Sea visible through the terrace doors over the vineyard. “In Santorini, they grow only Santorinian grapes. There are 45 local grape varieties, which makes the island unique,” says in-house oenologist Dr Evan Beris enthusiastically. “In some places here, the vines have survived for 300 years.” The following hours are spent sipping, from the fruity 2017 rosé Atlantis (named due to the myth that Santorini is in fact the lost city of Atlantis) to the 2015 Santorini, finishing with the ludicrously moreish 1994 Vinsanto dessert wine, paired with locally produced meats, cheeses and chocolate.
Continuing my search for the perfect sunset spot, I head south to Pyrgos, a steep and sleepy village at the heart of the island. The maze of narrow lanes leads me up to through the protected fortress settlement the highest point in Santorini, passing intricate cobbled courtyards, chilly passageways and Medieval churches. The pace is slower here, with cats roaming aimlessly and locals gathered outside cafes for an afternoon ouzo.
At its lofty peak, I reach the remains of one of five Venetian castles on the island, and belts of crimson, fiery orange and gold wrap around the curved horizon, with pink and violet clouds drifting above me. Originally a monastery, the dense hamlet expanded with the arrival of the Venetians in the 13th century. Now, this charming village boasts little cafes, galleries and shops. This lesser-known spot offers a more idyllic picture than the tourist traps, perfect for those in search of the real Santorini.
While beauty is in abundance, privacy and seclusion are hard to find on Santorini, even on board your superyacht. The best way to discover everything this stunning little island has to offer is to follow the locals, who will lead you to some of the most raucous party spots, best restaurants and mind-blowing nature trails. To catch your breath between such escapades, the ultimate sunset sanctuary to fall in love with is Erosantorini.
All excursions were arranged by My Odyssey Tours.