The Andronis Exclusive resorts providing a fresh perspective on the best of Santorini
It’s all about the view in Santorini. It’s sufficiently magical to draw some 2 million tourists a year to this little volcanic island in the Aegean Sea, which was blown to smithereens by an eruption in 1620 BC, and now bears a scar of otherworldly beauty. After the centre of the island collapsed into the caldera, the sea surged forth to leave a ring of mottled cliffs facing the newly formed pool.
Looking downwards from those cliffs, I was frequently left breathless by the panorama. Mostly because of its drama and grandeur and the intensity of Santorini’s sunsets, radiant swashes of hot pink and peach mirrored in the water. But occasionally I was overwhelmed by the clamour and mania that it induced, too.
Santorini, with a permanent population of 25,000 or so, is currently grappling with the unwelcome consequences of its extreme popularity. To ease the burden on the island’s infrastructure, its mayor in 2017 limited the amount of cruise-ship passengers permitted to disembark per day from 12,000 to 8,000 people, but even during my mid-September visit last year it felt uncomfortably busy.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in the village of Oia on the northwest of the island. Once no doubt idyllic, with its whitewashed cottages tumbling down the cliff face towards the ocean, it can feel frenzied in summer, particularly when dusk descends and the crowds inundate its minuscule alleyways.
This, supposedly, is one of the best places to admire Santorini’s fabled sunsets but I found the scrum unsettling and the fetishisation of the spectacle unseemly. On the evening I joined a swell of what seemed to be thousands of tourists, a stadium of selfie-takers and aspiring videographers documenting every moment of this daily occurrence, gasping and groaning throughout, then clapping flimsily when the sun finally sank beneath the horizon. Fascinating though it was, the experience wasn’t quite what I’d expected.
I didn’t fully appreciate the distinction at the time, but my first Santorini sunset, a few days earlier at the west-facing Andronis Concept Wellness Resort by the village of Imerovigli, was an altogether more pleasurable event.
The property opened fully last summer and is one of a small number of exclusive Santorini resorts emerging in less predictable locations. It stands more or less alone on one of the island’s highest points, with the caldera on one side and a more benign sloping hillside on the other. Along the walking trail that runs along its cliffside perimeter it’s 15 minutes to Imerovigli, a lazily paced hour to the island’s capital Fira.
At dusk, or any time, the walk is sublime and more peaceful spots from which to watch the sunset, away from the throng of cruise ship passengers that descend on Oia, abound. But possibly better again is the option to enjoy it from the plunge pool at one of the resort’s simply finished sunset-facing suites, beer in hand, or from the terrace of Throubi.
That restaurant is named after an aromatic, medicinal herb that grows locally, a shorthand for the resort’s dining philosophy. Here the focus on wellbeing and restoration is reflected in its well-balanced, restorative menu (think a crab, basil and guacamole gazpacho to start, sea bream with wild greens and lemon-truffle sauce to follow), and Santorini’s produce takes centrestage. Much of it - including unusual, tasty white aubergine - is derived directly from the Andronis garden.
When not admiring the view, the expectation is that most guests will dedicate at least some of their time to the various treatments on offer at the Kallos Spa, for now the largest on the island.
Unfortunately the administration of my treatments wasn’t impressive - the sense that therapists aren’t overly experienced or intuitive means the spa isn’t the selling point it should be - but complimentary yoga classes each morning were enjoyable, afternoons spent by the 56-metre pool completely agreeable and nightly film screenings fully manageable.
All in all, it’s a markedly more peaceful environment than many of the hotels around Oia, but the Andronis Exclusive group is one of Santorini’s most established luxury hotel companies and a number of its other properties abut the bustle.
From Andronis Concept I moved on to Andronis Luxury Suites, a more traditional, more conventionally romantic proposition, even if its southerly prospect doesn’t allow for the same dazzling sunsets.
At the start of the 20th century, a hodgepodge of outhouses and storage sheds here were used by impoverished farmers, forced to eke out a living from the infertile land on the caldera’s rim while more privileged families took ownership of the more fruitful soils below.
Their descendents now own some of the most valuable real estate in Greece, and while livestock were once housed in what are today the property’s 29 suites and villas, there’s no doubt this is a fully fledged luxury proposition.
Each room comes with its own hot tub or pool and most have momentous views of the caldera. With the main street of Oia above and behind the tiered rows of houses that form the property, the intensity of the tourist trail feels far away.
I happily lost hours gazing out from the main infinity pool, from my shaded balcony and from the outdoor bar, watching the sun glitter on the water and the shadows ebb across the interior of the caldera. Though my immediate surroundings were markedly different - one part or another of the property is whitewashed every week or so and always looks entirely pristine - I felt as though I’d found a portal to Santorini as it was before the tour groups discovered it.
Commendably, too, the property doesn’t rely solely on its location to make a positive impact. I was impressed by the staff, always engaged and enthusiastic though they were in the final weeks of what must have been another exhausting peak season, and the food.
At Andronis Luxury Suites, outdoor Lycabettus Restaurant serves thoughtfully prepared Mediterranean cuisine (risotto with shiitake and smoked gruyere, lemon chicken breast with artichoke and truffle) from a plateau on the caldera’s edge. I ate there after dark, on another spectacular Santorini evening when moonlight danced on the sea and illuminated the whitewashed villages that ringed the caldera.
The caldera setting never lost its allure, which is why the newest Andronis opening on June 1 will, in some ways, be its hardest sell, despite being its most ambitious.
The challenge comes from the location of Andronis Arcadia, not on the caldera’s edge but on gently sloping land a five-minute walk downhill from the centre of Oia.
There’s no question that a pitch on the island’s peak is a huge selling point, but the resort will have plenty to encourage Santorini stalwarts to consider a setting away from the centre of the village, not least that it provides a complete detachment from the associated scrum.
Each with private pool and sea views, and many still looking towards the sunset, its suites and villas are modern, uncluttered and open-plan. A spread of two- and four-bedroom villas will provide family-friendly accommodation (a rarity in an island so heavily populated by honeymooners) and the inventory will extend to Santorini’s most lavish and capacious villa. At 600sq metres, the three-storey, six-bedroom Eden Villa has ample space for a second pool, its own fitness centre and spa room.
Amenities will include Evexia Spa, set to be the largest on the island and developed in collaboration with ila founder Denise Leicester. Beyond the expected array of massages and facials, there’ll be a spread of bespoke treatments and wellbeing programmes devised to help guests rest, balance and destress.
Afterwards, they can wallow in the island’s largest pool, or replenish in bars and restaurants that will again draw inspiration from Mediterranean dishes and the best of the island’s produce.
At Opson Restaurant, the chef has devised two tasting menus that together provide a chronology of the best of Greek cuisine, extending from dishes enjoyed by philosophers such as Aristotle and Socrates to progressive dishes more popular today. By the infinity pool’s cabanas, Oishii Sushi Bar will fuse Japanese techniques with Greek seafood; some 1,000 wines, including the best of Santorini’s, will be on offer at Ampelos.
Were I splurging on a first-time visit to Santorini, I wouldn't be able to forgo spending at least some of my visit in a property facing the caldera - this is one of the world’s most magnificent panoramas - but the breadth of the Andronis portfolio means mix-and-match stays that combine more traditional properties with the sheen and extensive facilities of this new arrival can be arranged without any bother.
For frequent visitors to Santorini, meanwhile, if it possible to tire of that caldera-side setting, then a resort-style stay at Andronis Arcadia, still witness to those fabled sunsets, seems likely to be a very attractive proposition.