You’ve seen the classic images of Santorini, the ones that beg you to “take me away.” They draw your eye to the tight cluster of whitewashed terraced houses precariously clinging to high crimson cliffs and to marine—blue church domes topped by golden crosses. The isle’s famed fire-in-the-sky sunsets, black sand beaches—reminders of past volcanic spews—and legends of the lost continent of Atlantis add drama, color, and mystery to an already rich palate. Santorini’s wow factor just has to be seen and experienced in person.

Colorful sunsets are a tradition on Santorini: ©Debi Lander.

Arriving on the Island

Those arriving by boat feel dwarfed as they stare upward at the towering cliffs. Passengers going ashore (and who wouldn’t) disembark from tender boats at the main harbor. From there a gondola, donkey ride or long hike 885 feet up the zigzag path await. The tourist-centric village of Fira (sometimes spelled Thira) nests at the top of the gondola run, dangling like a fish on a hook.

On a previous visit, I selected the donkey ride, getting a fella that had his own mind. He decided halfway up to reverse course and careen back down the path. A memorable episode, but this time, the 6 euro gondola ride seemed a “safe” bet.

An earthquake devastated Fira in 1956, but the persistent residents rebuilt. Narrow alleyways and tight staircases squeeze between packed promenades of white stucco cave houses, small hotels, bars and restaurants—some basic, others high-end. Everything is bright white accented with blue and occasional sand tan and elephant gray. Visitors can browse the shops and cafes of Fira or push on even higher, where the views expand. The wide cliff-side path provides swoon-inducing panoramas, not to mention a chance to catch your breath. You’ll likely encounter a few sellers with trinket stands—some well-made and artistic. From the hilltop summit, massive cruise ships bob below like toy boats in a tub.

Cruise ships look like toy boats off Santorini; ©Debi Lander.

The upper elevations dramatically showcase how an about 1,450 BC volcano’s eruption created today’s magical scene. The tumultuous event sank a vast swath of land into the sea, producing a crescent-shaped archipelago and harbor, with a single outlet to the Aegean. The resulting, near 360-degree vista, is unforgettable.

Visiting the Boutique Hotel

On my recent cruise, I hired a taxi to drive me from Fira to Imerovigli, Santorini’s highest village, to tour and photograph the Iconic Santorini Boutique Hotel (where I had been invited). The Iconic Santorini has annually won the best boutique hotel award since 2014, and I wanted to find out why. I discovered 19 cave-like rooms offering heart-stopping views from private terraces, many with their own plunge pool. The attention to detail is quite apparent. Soon, I wanted to melt into the lounge chair and never leave.

If you can afford five-star luxury, this is the place to get away, relax, and indulge your dreams or life’s simpler pleasures. The award-winning hotel welcomes families with children ages 14 and older. The concierge staff makes a point of contacting guests ahead of arrival to confirm any special requests. They also offer suggestions for sightseeing tours and make reservations ahead of time to make sure their guests get the finest attention.

Marcella, the charming and gregarious general manager, likely will greet you personally upon arrival. She makes you feel at home and at ease. A recent guest’s TripAdvisor review stated, “What sets the Iconic aside is the staff. They are incredibly attentive without being overwhelming, and nothing is too much trouble.”

Don’t look for an expansive lobby; there is none. Short flights of gray painted stairs led through a maze of white-washed terraces and guest suites. The inspired architect managed to tuck everything into cool, cave-like rooms—all very private. Suites offer supersized king beds and classy Cycladic inspired accents. Of course, plush terry robes, flat-screen televisions, BJL sound-systems, and plenty of outlets come standard. Some suites even tempt with both an outdoor plunge pool and secret indoor pool.

Private terraces and plunge pools at the Iconic Santorini Boutique Hotel; ©Debi Lander.

All guests have access to the hotel’s dreamy infinity pool (one of the largest on Santorini), a traditional Greek private taverna with more grand views of the caldera, and a small pampering spa with its own jetted grotto pool and fitness machines.

Don’t look for a breakfast menu either; you place your request the night before or ask the chef to surprise you. You take breakfast on your personal terrace whenever you choose. Light lunches might include fish or Greek salads, available poolside, under the slated-bamboo roof of the pergola or on your terrace.

The bamboo-slated roof creates intriguing shadows; ©Debi Lander

Sunset dining ranks as a treasured tradition on Santorini. There’s no shortage of top-tier restaurants and live music. But, if you don’t feel like venturing out, dine in. The Iconic’s dinner menu changes daily, depending upon the chef’s whims and what’s in season. He leans toward authentic Greek classics and wine selection includes some of Santorini’s own vintages.

Island Activities

If I were planning a wedding, honeymoon or special anniversary, the Iconic Santorini would be at the top of my list. I’d plop myself on an oh-so-comfy poolside lounger, sip Assyrtiko—Santorini’s own white wine—then wiggle my toes into the private pool or perhaps slip in for a midnight dip. I’d wear white and shop for exquisite antique icons. I’d explore all the pathways in Fira and Oia (another town at a lower elevation), take hundreds of photos and visit the archeological site, Akrotiri. I’d cruise the caldera to the island named Nea Kameni, a place still vibrating with volcanic rumbles. Hiking its lava-strewn trails takes you past steaming volcanic vents and sulfur smells. Afterward, I’d jump into the nearby thermal springs. I might even rent a motorized bike. No matter what, I’d relish every moment.

A stay on Santorini is a lifelong gift for your soul. Make it Iconic.

View from the patio of the Iconic Santorini Boutique Hotel; ©Debi Lander.

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For information on special packages (and a gallery of stunning photographs) log on to www.iconicsantorini.com.