Santorini – Cyclades

An Archetype of the Idyllic Greek Island

As everyone’s favorite Greek island, Santorini comes through with one of the Aegean’s most unusual landscapes. The island’s official name is Thira, although the medieval name – a corruption of St. Irene, left by the Italians – is far more commonly used.

By any name, anyplace this gorgeous is bound to figure, on every cruise ship’s and island hopper’s itinerary; large number of passengers, who fortunately never stay more than a few hours, take over the small island in the summer months.

There is intense volcanic activity (there are two smoldering cones within the sunken 6-mile-wide caldera), and speculation is rife that Santorini is the remains of the mythical lost kingdom of Atlantis. Thirty-six varieties of grape grow in rich volcanic soil, and Santorini produces delightful white wine, keeping everyone happy.

The whitewashed cubical houses of tiny Oia – known as one of the most beautiful settlements in the Mediterranean – sit atop the 1000 foot striated cliffs over the indigo waters of its partially sunken caldera (a “drinkable blue volcano”, wrote Greece’s Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseus Elytis).

In Oia, maximize your visit with a stay at Perivolas, where the terraces provide the views that postcards are made of. Step out of your cool, cavelike apartment, and drink in a view similar to the scale of the Grand Canyon, only more beautiful.

There may be more luxurious hotels on Santorini, but none provides sunset-viewing rights like the elegantly simple cave houses of the family-run Perivolas. The seventeen dazzlingly white-washed guesthouses have curved ceilings and walls; each terrace is the roof of the apartment below. One terrace is the site of a lipless pool, its Aegean blue identical to the real thing beyond.

Perivolas is a labor of love. The owner’s handwoven, hand-dyed fabrics and rugs can be found throughout the elegantly spare rooms, where handmade Greek lace decorates windows and doors. It’s a two minute stroll down to the heart of the quiet town of Oia, and from there a twenty-minute ride to the tourist razzmatazz below in the island’s main town, Thira.

But for the daily ritual of sunset viewing, happiness is sitting on your own terrace with a glass of local white wine in hand and the promise of fresh-grilled mussels for dinner in a nearby rooftop taverna.

What: island, hotel.
Santorini: 12 hours by ferry from Athens; a small airport services daily flights to Athens in high season.
Perivolas: in Oia, on the northwest tip of the island. Tel 30/286-071308, fax 30/286-071309;
Cost: Doubles from $280 (low season), from $336 (high season)
When: open Apr-Oct.
Best times: Apr-Jul and Sept-Oct.

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