Arriving at Greek-owned and-run Santo Maris - with its 200-year-old olive tree and whitewashed buildings tumbling down the hillside to the sparkling Aegean Sea - felt like we were stepping into a small Cycladic village.
Sixty-five suites - divided into five areas - are named after Greek Island groups, with five shared pools between them - some tucked away in cosy squares. Our suite (501) offered fabulous sea views from a large terrace with private pool and hydromassage function.
Inside, the aesthetic is earthy and minimalist with olive-tinged cement furniture and floors against cool white walls. Organic materials - such as slatted wooden bedheads, wicker lampshades and cane chairs – add warmth, while local pottery, weavings and mirrors remind guests they are in Greece.
The bathroom - complete with rain shower and double basins - was stocked with large bottles of Argan Source shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion. As our stay was courtesy of the property’s new Wellness Package - created by spa journalist and founder of wellness platform Onolla Suzanne Duckett - healthy drinks and snacks were aplenty, together with our own yoga mat. An espresso machine and a half bottle of local Nychteri wine kept things grown up.
Guests are also offered a choice of locally-made organic essential oils (lavender, eucalyptus, orange, mint, sandalwood, or rosemary) for use in the diffuser, as well as the best lavender pillow spray we have come across. The cherry on the cake was the gift box of spa goodies (body oil, scrub, avocado face mask) courtesy of the hotel’s Aegeo Spa.
What’s on offer?
Although it has just three treatment rooms - one of them a double – Aegeo Spa is one of the largest in Santorini. Descend limestone steps from the reception area (soon to become a gallery when a new reception opens) and enter a cave-like space inspired by the island’s canaves – the old wine stores.
Cleverly back-lit white arches project from rustic stone walls in a pleasing interplay of angles, light and texture. Unmissable is the 12-metre pool which is heated to a pleasant 31°C and from which a cobalt aura seems to emanate. We were offered a shot of Cretan aloe vera and pomegranate to sip while completing consultation forms.
Changing rooms are small – one each for men and women – and basic (concrete floors; white walls), with a shower, changing cubicle, loo, and two basins. Wooden five-code lockers contain small bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a towel, a robe and a pair of strange flat-pack slippers that required a degree in origami to assemble (the hotel is big on sustainability).
The sauna (which could accommodate two people lying down) and steam room can be found beyond the pool. We hopped from one to the other via the bracing ice fountain to stimulate our sluggish circulation.
Tell us about your treatment
We tried the Ancient Greek Massage (60 minutes, £113, included in the Wellness package).
Michalis (aka Mike) met me in the reception area and led me to a candle-lit treatment room where he invited me to sit on a chair so that he could begin the treatment with a salt-water foot bath – this felt soothing.
Mike then talked me through the treatment which harks back to the massages performed during the Olympic Games by ancient healers known as paedotribes. It consists of three elements: a deep-pressure massage, cupping and stretching.
The traditional massage, using almond oil infused with lemon essence, was glorious. Mike, a qualified physiotherapist, instinctively adapted his techniques to the creaks and idiosyncrasies of my body, altering pressure on limbs and torso, and intermittently checking that I was happy (I was). He then asked if I would like a scalp massage (I would).
Cupping came next, with cold silicone cups applied to my back to create small vacuum patches. This, Mike explained, draws out impurities and stimulates circulation, much like leeches used in ancient Greece. I loved the sensation of the cups being drawn down my back as Mike released pressure. Surprisingly, they left no marks.
Finally: the stretching. Mike wound towels around my ankles and wrists and gently teased each arm and leg from its socket. The neck stretch – using a towel wedged beneath my head - felt particularly good, and I got up to sip a tea of Cretan Mountain herbs feeling several centimetres taller.
The Aegeo Spa offers a range of facials and massages – including masks, peels and scrubs. Guests in the Wellness programme can choose between the Ancient Greek Massage or a gentler relaxation massage as part of their package.
Breakfasts - served in the all-day dining area near the main pool - are exceptional. As well as an egg counter, guests can tuck into local delights such as soft Manouri cheese, thyme honey, sheep’s yoghurt, pistachios, goji berries and home-made preserves. The huge selection of freshly baked Greek cakes will see you pile on the pounds. Coffee lovers rejoice: the coffee is still properly made at Santo Maris in a traditional briki (a rarity these days).
Lunches, served here or at the pool bar, consist of dishes such as tuna salad, seafood pasta, burgers and pizzas - all very more-ish (though we were sorry not to see more Greek-style meze, or as simple grilled fish on the menu),
For dinner, we hopped across to the fine dining restaurant, Alios Llios, whose minimalist, functional aesthetic allows the food - and the setting - to do the talking. Greek dishes are interpreted in a modern manner; the fish ball soup with shrimp and Greek saffron was a highlight. Dishes all marry splendidly with Santorini wines - of which the Assyrtiko grape, with its mineralised flavour - is the most famous.
Akratos, the hotel bar - with its cosy outdoor area with direct sunset views - is where barman Jasonas concocts his magic cocktails using fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables from the hotel’s organic garden. The Flutist, not to be missed, combines Tequila with carrot purée and turmeric, and could (almost) be deemed detoxifying.
We loved/we didn’t love
The traditional Greek hospitality: there’s a genuine warmth to the service; the presence of Greek staff and waiters creates an authentic sense of place.
The relaxed attitude to wellbeing: there’s nothing prescriptive or hard core about the programme; emphasis is more on the importance of nature for a healthy mind, body and soul.
The privacy and the setting: enjoy those spectacular views and sunsets in peace and quiet.
We didn’t love
The amenities in the changing rooms could be better: the bath robes have seen better days and the origami slippers have to go.
Who do you think would like it?
Honeymooners: the ban on children under 12, the privacy afforded by some of the suites and the romantic setting combine to make this a popular choice for honeymooners.
American tourists for whom air-conditioning, large flatscreen TVs and the option of familiar, unchallenging food are all pluses.
Island-hoppers: Santorini – and Oia - are on a par with Mykonos, Crete and Corfu as must-see islands.
A highlight of the Wellness programme is the five-hour trip to the neighbouring island of Thirasia where guests can choose a guided walk or a challenging cycle tour through a landscape of parched, gloriously unspoilt nature.
A 4-night stay in a Wellness Junior Suite with private pool costs €2500 (£2,148) for two people sharing, including breakfast, spa treatment and trip to Thirasia
24th June 2022
Minimalist lines; organic products; facial massage; tranquillity; interesting people-watching.
Discarded towels on loungers; steam rooms that aren't steamy; mobile phones.
Behind the scenes