If you’re looking for a place to celebrate love, look no further than Oia, a traditional settlement in the north of Santorini. Oia is the most famous of all Santorini’s villages and by far the most spectacularly scenic place to be. It is inimitably beautiful; a picture-perfect place that no picture can perfectly capture. You will be spellbound from the moment you set eyes upon it, and leave without a doubt that Santorini fully deserves its reputation as one of the world’s most romantic destinations.
Blindingly bright, whitewashed, dome-roofed buildings sit atop the rim of the curved caldera and spill down dramatic red cliffs to the Aegean sea. During the day these buildings can be a disorienting sight to look down upon: strewn as if by careless hand, they provide no clear direction for the eye to follow — yet somehow the grand design just works. Look across the caldera at night and the houses and hotels on the other side look like nothing more than trails of twinkling fairy lights strung up in empty darkness. The sea sweeps outwards from the shoreline and endlessly onwards into the horizon, a deep Mediterranean blue furiously aglitter under the sun, which, at the peak of day, beats down upon the island, and especially unforgivingly upon those who decide to take on the 200 steps to and from Amoudi Bay.
Oia Village itself is enchanting: a maze of pretty pastel streets lined with rows of small shops, restaurants and cafes; clusters of perfectly manicured pink bougainvilleas sprung here and there, vines clung to colourful walls. You get an entirely uninhibited panorama of the sea from practically wherever you are.
Set afoot exploring the village, passing by plenty of tourist shops and art galleries, and keep your camera close! The old Byzantine castle ruins are a particularly good photo-taking spot and conspicuous enough to easily find — just keep wandering ahead and you’ll come to it. Draped in the molten gold of Santorini’s infamous sunsets, tourists cluster atop these ruins to watch the sun slip away. As it sinks towards the sea, it throws out colours that set the sky afire with flaming reds and oranges, purples and pinks.
<< One of my favourite finds was Atlantis Books, a colourful bookstore founded in 2003 allegedly modeled on Shakespeare & Company, the English-language bookstore in Paris. A 2006 New York Times story called Atlantis “a haven for readers and writers in one of the most beautiful places in the Mediterranean”. Of course at the time I had no idea that it had been internationally lauded as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, but with its bright appearance and vast collection of books, I could tell it was something special.
|↓ Ammoudi Bay
Amoudi Bay is tucked away at the bottom of 200 steps leading down from Oia Village. It’s well worth venturing down here for the view of the whitewashed village carved into the hillside high above, the vast walls of red rock crumbling down to the sea and the sight of little boats bobbing atop clear blue water. In this case, what goes down must come up: if you come down here via the steps, brace yourself for a good bout of exercise back up!
For a true Mediterranean vibe, have dinner at one of the seafood restaurants in Amoudi Bay (and if you don’t want to walk it, you can always ask the hotel to arrange a taxi for you!) Amoudi Fish Taverna is one of a few seafood restaurants down here serving freshly-caught fish. All the food here is delicious but the starters especially so: calamari, Greek salad, bread, and ‘Mastelo with Honey and Sesame’. Mastelo is a white Greek cheese with a subtle smell, stretchy texture and milky taste; the waiters here will proudly claim that this cheese ‘isn’t served anywhere else on the island’. Paired with honey and sesame, the mastelo makes for one of the tastiest and most flavourful dishes on the menu and one that most strongly evokes the memory of Greece.
You should also do a day’s yacht excursion when in Santorini — because if you get the opportunity to get out on the Mediterranean, you do it! In Santorini, you can go on a private or a semi-private cruise, the former being more expensive and affording more privacy than the latter, which hosts about 10 people onboard. No matter which you choose, the net result is the same: you spend about 5 hours sailing around the caldera in beautiful blue Mediterranean water, appreciating the surrounding landscape. Yacht tours give you the opportunity to swim in the hot springs, although the water here is actually cold until around July/August. (The hot springs are typically around 4-5°C warmer than the sea.) Lunch aboard the yachts is a buffet-style offering of delicious chicken, rice, fish, bread, Greek salad, and fruit.
The Most Romantic Restaurant in Santorini: Lycabettus Restaurant
For the ultimate in romance, eat dinner at Lycabettus restaurant at Andronis Boutique Hotel, also located in Oia. It is undoubtedly one of the most visually arresting restaurants in the world. Eating here feels like pure luxury, not just because of the quality of the food but because of its unique location on the edge of a cliff-face jutting out into the sea. You won’t get a sunset view here, but you will get fantastic service, exceptional atmosphere, and breathtaking views. The chairs on the very ‘edge’ are the most highly sought after, with their prime position and royal appearance, but to sit here you have to eat a special 6 course degustation menu with matching wine pairings instead of the regular a-la-carte menu, which mainly serves pasta and seafood.
The rest of the time should be spent as all relaxing retreats deserve to be spent: lying by the pool sprawled on deck chairs under the sun, either asleep, reading, or listening to music. If you stay stay in a place like Katikies Hotel (not to be confused with the nearby Villa Katikies, owned by the same group), which offers honeymoon suites with open air jetted hot tubs, enjoy ordering drinks and snacks whilst soaking up as much heat — in all its various forms — as you can! Katikies Hotel is chic and comfortable, and the staff here are attentive and friendly, always eager to assist and do their utmost to make sure your stay is as perfect as it can be. Here you’ll feel very welcome indeed, not to mention entirely dazzled by the beauty of the place. The hotel itself is stunning: open and airy, combining traditional architecture with sleek modern interiors & facilities, and perfectly integrated with the natural environment. You feel as much a part of Oia (at least, in the touristy sense) when you’re sitting at breakfast or relaxing by the pool faced with sublime views of the sea and caldera, as when you’re wandering around the village.
April: Colder Temperature, More Space
The best time to go to Santorini for maximum peace is just before peak-season, in the months of April and May. However, you’ll have to sacrifice a little in the way temperature. If you go in April specifically like we did, beware the cold! During the day when the sun is out, you’ll roast, yes — (by our third day I was lobster-red) — but in the evenings it gets very chilly, especially because you’re by the sea and the cool breeze blows in. Bring a sweater, coat, and trousers, otherwise when you go out for dinner in the evening you’ll end up having to ask restaurant staff for blankets to wrap around yourself! (Which they do gladly have on hand, but you won’t be able to wear on the return journey to the hotel.) Don’t let a little bit of evening chill put you off. April is still a fantastic time to go simply because the island is far less busy, which means that the entire experience is much more relaxed, not to mention the fact that the staff are freer and therefore more attentive to your individual needs. According to local hotel staff, the easy 20 minute walk from Katikies Hotel to the the Byzantine castle ruins is, in the summer, an hour-long struggle through crowds of tourists blocking the narrow streets. If romance is your game, it being nippy at night is more than compensated for by peace and quiet.
Santorini’s beauty is surreal, its hospitality warm, and it offers plenty of intimate experiences. If you’re looking for a place to focus on the bond between you and your loved one, this is it.