Santorini: How to escape the crowds at Europe’s top destination
The weekend: Famous for its vivid sunsets, Santorini is now one of the most popular destinations in Europe. A volcanic island said to have inspired the legend of Atlantis, its black sand beaches, blue-domed churches and brilliant white buildings tumbling down the cliffside make it paradise for honeymooners, Instagrammers and Greek island hoppers. Though just 28 square miles, it also attracted up to 18,000 cruise ships passengers each day until this year, when the mayor capped the number to 8,000.
Where? The village of Oia on the island’s northern tip is where tourists flock to see the narrow, cobbled streets, charming boutiques and seafood restaurants, iconic bell towers and traditional sea windmills. Overlooking the caldera formed by Santorini’s long-sunken volcano, it’s also the best place to marvel at the spectacular sunset, making it the island’s most photographed location. Subsequently crowds line its tiny alleyways over an hour before dusk to ensure the best view and queues form to pose in front of those distinctive blue roofs. Stroll ten minutes outside Oia and it’s possible to enjoy the blazing orange skies in complete privacy instead at the brand new Andronis Arcadia, an elegantly understated hotel where each suite boasts its very own sweeping sunset view over the shimmering Aegean Sea.
The stay: Combining the peaceful seclusion of your own villa with the attentive service of a five-star hotel, each of the 53 contemporary suites are chic and minimalist with polished concrete floors, billowing linen and simple furniture made locally from wood and rattan. Every one has its own terrace and plunge pool facing the sunset for the ultimate romantic retreat. The hotel also offers Santorini’s largest infinity pool, with a sun-cream concierge and floating daybeds where you can order fresh sushi and frozen green apple mojitos to the chilled-out sounds of the resident DJ.
The food: For a meal with a difference, try the hotel’s own Opson restaurant, where a 10-course tasting menu recreates Ancient Greek dishes. I had calamari in black ink, red mullet flavoured with saffron and Greek Island cactus fruit and goat’s cheese.
The following night, I swerved the crowds again to visit my hotel’s sister property, Andronis Concept. A 15-minute drive away, the hotel clings to one of the island’s highest points near Imerovigli so its exquisite Mediterranean menu can be enjoyed against the ultimate Santorini backdrop of the sun setting over the caldera itself. Back in Oia, don’t miss charming Lycabettus, on a fairy-tale candlelit balcony overhanging the Aegean. The restaurant faces away from the sunset but is the perfect place to see the huge moon rise from the sea and lights flicker on all over the cliffside. Hardly surprising there was a proposal on the next table when I was there.
Ask about: Make the most of the hotel’s fantastic location and see Oia before the cruise ships dock. Before 9am, I had the streets almost entirely to myself as shop owners raised shutters, men delivered trays of vegetables to restaurants and donkeys negotiated Oia’s winding steps carrying bottled water on their back. As tour groups flooded in at 9am, I wandered back for breakfast feeling ever-so-slightly smug.
Need to know: Rooms at Andronis Arcadia in Oia start from €660 per night. Book at www.andronisarcadia.com. British Airways (ba.com) flies seasonally from London to Santorini from £84 each way.