Perhaps the most enduring and magical image of the Greek islands is the iconic view of blue-domed churches overlooking a cobalt sea. This postcard-perfect scene is the signature shot of Santorini and has made the Cycladic isle a staple on many a bucket list.
Though its picture-perfect vineyards and whitewashed villages are beguiling, Santorini’s geography tells of a much more violent past: those cliff-top churches gaze out on a sea-filled volcanic crater.
Some of the island’s best hotels are located along its rim, but there are hideaways worth checking out inland and on the beach too.
Best for Santorini sunsets: Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa
That famous view of the church domes is found in the village of Oia (pronounced ee-ya), way up on the island’s northwest tip. Avoid the crowds that descend at sunset by staying a five-minute walk away at the adults-only, all-suite Santo Maris. Each suite is a romantic retreat with its own plunge pool and Jacuzzi, plus the westerly aspect makes this an unbeatable spot for soaking up sunsets in privacy.
Suites from €447 (£412) per night, including breakfast
Best for classic caldera views: Andronis Luxury Suites
More centrally located to Oia’s action is Andronis Luxury Suites. Perched on the caldera’s edge, its jumble of spacious guestrooms tumble down towards the sea and offer a peaceful sanctuary from the hubbub above. When not being mesmerised by the astonishing views from each suite, the cliff-edge infinity pool and the spa (housed in a cave) are noteworthy distractions, as is the open-air fine dining at Lycabettus Restaurant, the hotel’s trump card.
Suites from €500 (£460) per night, including breakfast
Best for spa breaks: Andronis Concept
For sunset views without Oia’s crowds, try the sleepier village of Imerovigli. A 15-minute walk from its bars and tavernas is Andronis Concept, a spa retreat with a tailor-made programme of therapies, nutrition and yoga. Many of the ingredients used in the restaurant come from the hotel’s garden, and the treatments at the on-site spa are exceptional. For a sense of adventure, follow the cliff-top footpath that skirts the caldera all the way to Oia.
Suites from €500 (£460) per night, including breakfast
Best for gastronomy: OMMA Santorini
New for 2019 is OMMA Santorini, a luxury boutique hotel set high on the caldera. Its individually styled suites and rooms are attached to OMMA Restaurant, which is helmed by celebrated chef, Dimitris Stamoudis. Expect traditional Mediterranean cuisine with a contemporary twist and an emphasis on ingredients grown right here on Santorini, including a good selection of local wines. A treatment room and multi-level swimming pool are the standout facilities.
Doubles from €558 (£514) per night, including breakfast
Best for nightlife: Kalisti Hotel & Suites
Fira, the island capital, is as lively as it is beautiful. Spread along the caldera’s rim, this whitewashed town is packed full of bars, clubs and restaurants, many of which can be enjoyed alfresco. Stay in the thick of things at the newly renovated Kalisti, which has the largest pool in town and rooms with typically Cycladic interiors: a mix of minimalism and natural materials. Recover from nights out with poolside mocktails or a massage at the in-house spa.
Doubles from €196 (£180), including breakfast
Best for honeymooners: Carpe Diem Santorini
Set inland on the outskirts of the lovely village of Pyrgos, Carpe Diem is the perfect hideaway for two. The ultra-private complex has just 10 lavish suites complete with butler service, chic design and individual plunge pools. The swish, on-site spa offers couples’ massages and a Turkish bath, plus there’s an excellent restaurant that celebrates Greek cuisine. One of Santorini’s best wineries is a short walk away, or guests can take a cab to Fira’s bars and restaurants.
Doubles from €315 (£290) per night, including breakfast
Best for budget breaks: Gianna Suites
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Caldera views are costly, so save money by staying away from the rim. Located well below the buzz of the town centre’s bars and restaurants, Gianna Suites is a handy base for discovering Fira. This comfortable and characterful hotel embodies traditional Cycladic style but at a fraction of the price of properties further uphill. A courtyard and pool deck provides space for daytime relaxing, while the Lignos Folklore Museum around the corner offers a cultural fix.
Doubles from €115 (£106), including breakfast
Best for design: Perivolas Hotel
Renowned as the boutique hotel that put Oia on the map, Perivolas is an island legend. Carved into a series of centuries-old caves that were formerly stables and wine cellars, the 17 private houses overlook the Aegean and are decorated in a striking “Cycladic Zen” style. Inside, it’s all organic curves, whitewashed walls and splashes of bold, bright colour, while outside there’s an Instagram-friendly show-stopper of an infinity pool and a welcoming, pervading sense of calm.
Studios from €575 (£529) per night, including breakfast
Best for beachside chic: Istoria Hotel
On the far side of the island from the sheer caldera cliffs, Santorini slides gently into the midnight-blue Aegean. Here you’ll find beaches of sea-worn pebbles or dark volcanic sand, among which the jet-black stretch at Perivolos is a favourite. Perched right above it is Istoria Hotel, a former stable block transformed into 12 very lovely beachfront suites. This is, without doubt, one of the very best hotels on this side of the island.
Suites from €390 (£359) per night, including breakfast
Best for family fun: Aqua Blue Hotel
Not everybody comes to Santorini for sunsets and style. The black sand beaches on the island’s south easterly edge also appeal for laid-back family holidays. Aqua Blue Hotel is a brilliant bet due to its three outdoor pools (including a kids’ pool) and buffet-style dining that pleases every palate. There are more pools (plus water slides) at the nearby Santorini Water Park, or stay local on a lounger at the hotel’s stretch of private beach.
Doubles from €138 (£127), including breakfast