For achingly beautiful caldera views from whitewashed balconies and a haute spin on traditional Hellenic food. Grace Hotel Santorini’s privileged vantage point is that of a bird perched at the top of a steep cliff. It’s terraces and balconies are the ultimate theatre seats for those legendary Santorini sunsets, which paint the sky in red and orange strokes. Pure Cyclades light dances on Grace Hotel Santorini’s layered plunge pools, which appear to tumble like aquamarine cubes down the cliff edge.
Far from intrepid or secluded territory, this is where honeymooners head to for a blast of sunshine and to recharge batteries after a tense wedding build up, without the long haul flight. Mornings are slow and typically Cycladic (late breakfasts of feta and spinach omelettes), afternoons are usually horizontal with fava bean dips and local wines arriving poolside, and evenings pair a lofty standard of food with a low-key dress code. There are of course private yacht tours, exploring secret coves, and wine tasting experiences curated by the hotel, but couples would be excused for simlly cocooning themselves in this cubic maze for days on end, with tip-top room service and those knockout Santorini sunsets.
Set the scene
Sugar cube rooms tumble down a steep cliff with front row views of the caldera and yachts filling the bays on the uninhabited Kameni island. Skaros rock pierces this dizzying Imerovigli vista with its craggy texture and snaking steps trodden by the sunset chasers. Behind it lies a pretty blue and white church, which is worth visiting first thing before the crowds draw in. The hotel stands out from the surrounding warren of stays with its freshly-painted grey paths that runs through a tidy labyrinth of suites and up to a restaurant and immaculate pool area, then still higher to a spruce bar (a prime sundowner spot). Its design feels lightly hipster and almost monastic in its restraint, with a glossy grey and white canvas interrupted only by smooth pools and minimalist furniture. A mix of hiking gear and Instagram-ready outfits settle in for elaborate Grace breakfasts, before spilling out into the Santorini vineyards and black-sand beaches, or simply parking themselves on a sun lounger for some downtime before lunch.
While all 14 rooms are positioned for the views Santorini is famed for, the VIP and Superior Suites are highly recommended for ultimate privacy (there is a distinct absence of it on the whole island… courtesy of its layered suites clinging to cliffs). The white and grey scheme continues in all rooms, and a clipped simplicity design theme holds sway, with suspended faux marble lamps either side of the bed, black and white photos depicting the island’s original rugged soul directly above it and traditional grey shutters peeling open romantic morning views of the Caldera. Cream linen rugs and cushions are threaded in blues and purple detail, while a smooth wardrobe door folds out to reveal an espresso machine, teas and swishy tipples for nightcaps or private sundowners.
Small-but-mighty bathrooms don serious power showers, delicious Apivita products (a natural Greek brand) and scrub sleeves and sponges for some pre-supper pampering. If private whirlpools are high on the agenda, opt for any room except the junior suites, though it’s worth noting that these are very much plunge pools (you’ll need to scale the stairs to the main pool for anything resembling a paddle). That being said, the private villa enjoys a proper sized pool (particularly by Santorini standards) for morning swims à deux, without any peeping Toms looking down from the town’s clifftop circuits above.
Food and Drink
This is where Grace Hotel flies. The food here is truly spectacular without the fussy molecular style that feels done and dated. Great Greek chefs cut their teeth in Athens or Santorini (when not taking their talent to New York, Paris or London), so, for a small island, Santorini has an impressive food offering. And at the helm of Grace Auberge’s kitchen is Jean-Charles Métayer and head chef Giannis Koutsourakis, the latter being the first Greek chef to obtain a Michelin star in Greece – an accolade that is beautifully showcased in the seven-course tasting menus that shift according to the fishermen’s daily plunder.
Expect plates such as red mullet tartar in a tangle of bottarga and blackcurrant and drizzled in truffle oil, a crispy skin sea bream on a bed of roasted aubergine and carrot puree, or a just-caught fillet adorned with beetroot and carob, all served on hand-spun glazed ceramics like little works of art. A la carte options blend a few of these tasting menu dishes with lunchtime favourites – an exquisite spin on the classic Greek salad, sprinkled in crunchy rye bread, and generously loaded club sandwiches with manchego cheese and perfectly fried bacon. Even the chip wedges swing towards the gourmet side of the food scale – delightfully wonky and crispy. The Venetians left their wine-making mark on the island (which they attempted to harness for its mineral rich soil) and it’s worth exploring this heritage through wine pairings or with an afternoon glass of Estate Argyros.
Breakfast is no afterthought. In place of a buffet, guests are treated to a foodie epic not far removed from the previous evening’s impressive tasting menu. The team are quick to remember niche coffee orders and any dietaries – an extra cappuccino or rye bread toast, no problem. Menus change according to the chef’s whim and the sea and surrounding farms’ offering, with an Aloha pineapple and coconut smoothie and basket of rustic breads and pastries opening the show, followed by creamy Greek yoghurt sprinkled in pistachio, a spinach and fluffy feta pie and then perfectly cooked omelettes or scrambled eggs with asparagus. What reads like a marathon breakfast is in fact remarkably light, indescribably delicious and a photogenic way to start the day on a sun-trap terrace perched high above the Caldera.
This is adult only territory (or more precisely 14+), which is music to the ears of most honeymooners who haven’t dipped into their savings to be splashed by energetic sprogs in the pool.
While there is no spa, a small-but-perfectly-formed treatment room sits beside the gym and gift shop offers where a holistic menu draws on the island’s mineral-rich volcanic soil and the ancient healing traditions of the mediterranean. Yoga and Pilates classes must be organised with concierge, and the pocket-sized fitness studio, featuring treadmills and weights, is open early for the gym bunnies.
While the island’s hotspots feel a little ‘discovered,’ Grace Auberge is a calm, white-washed oasis from throngs of visitors in swish Imerovigli. Arrivals back at the hotel after a day’s exploring are usually accompanied by a deep sigh of relief. While Oia and Fira are worth diving into for their trinket stores, cool galleries and scenic bars (beware Fira’s line of donkeys whose maltreatment is well-documented), there are more authentic patches of Santorini that the Instagram brigade have yet to conquer. The sleepy village of Pyrgos is one of them, whose eerie, labyrinthine streets dotted with an abundance of churches once served as the safest spot on the island from pirates, during Santorini’s Venetian chapter. Climb up to the once fortified castle and imagine the town alight at Easter, where teenagers traditionally burn thousands of candles along every rooftop as an orthodox procession makes its way through the town. There is a convivial café by the town centre selling delicious pitas and proper Greek coffee. Grace Auberge can easily arrange taxis to the island’s various villages and vineyards, while delving into their own treasure trove of insider spots to visit and excursions to book.