There’s snow outside. We sitting here peering at our screensaver – the two of us on a ship with Santorini perched behind us as we sail away from this fabulous Greek paradise. Our in-box today revealed one fabulous reason to return (hey, any excuse, right?): A new, luxe, boutique cave hotel recreated from functioning homes and shops in one of Santorini’s typical white-cube villages, Imerovigli. Perched a thousand feet above the Mediterranean, on the rim of a dramatic volcanic caldera, the Iconic Santorini is boasting one of the most romantic settings in Europe.
All 22 rooms and suites echo the island’s unique style of white vaulted caves, now deftly restyled with modern amenities like JB sound systems and flat-screen televisions. London’s Tatler Magazine found the rustic-but-sensitive designs “terrifically stylish but with a real sense of place.” And the award-winning www.mrandmrsmsioth.com named it “One of the 10 Best Newcomers in the World” for being “style-savvy…with enough classic good looks to stand the test of time.”
Two Brothers, Two Goals, Big Reward
The task of converting the village into a hotel was assigned to two brothers, Alexis and Tasos Kontodimas, whose Athens-based architectural/design firm, A&T Kontodimas, has a stellar track record restoring classic public buildings and creating luxurious homes throughout the Greek Isles.
“We had two goals,” says Tasos Kontodimas. “First, do justice to the traditional white-cube architecture of Santorini; second, create an authentic Greek experience for the guests. The first we would have done anyway, even if there had been none of these strict preservation rules, and despite the challenges of the narrow, vertical site — five levels of volcanic cliff. From the sea, the breathtaking view of the village hasn’t changed one iota — the Iconic Santorini could have been there from the start. That’s our big reward.”
Grotto Pools, Flat-Screen TVs
Indoors, the Kontodimas team harnessed the caves’ rough-hewn white walls and vaulted ceilings to fashion a setting that captures the buildings’ simple Greek origins but add touches of contemporary elegance.
- Guestroom floors and walls feature decorative volcanic stones and a painted cement finish just the way the locals used to do with their floors and verandas;
- Headboards behind the beds are fashioned from the branches of native trees, nicely complementing the all-natural, cloud-like comfort of the triple-layer Coco-Mat bedding;
- Cisterns the homeowners used to collect rainwater have become magical indoor grotto-like pools, surrounded by arched niches for flickering candles;
- Even the village baker’s stone oven takes on a new life as the fireplace in the top-of-the-line Iconic Suite.
Now these dwellings have leaped into the 21st century with modern appointments and digital technology. “It was very risky to rework the old surfaces of these caves without injuring them,” says Kontodimas, “yet our craftsmen managed to find ways to discreetly incorporate air-conditioning units and oversized flat-screen TVs, which we’ve recessed into the volcanic walls to make them less obtrusive.”
Pots of Herbs, Lipless Pool
Since every suite at Iconic Santorini has a veranda, often the rooftop of the suite below, so in the interests of privacy, they are ringed with decorative candle boxes and pots of Greek plants and fresh herbs. “We were amazed by A&T’s attention to detail,“ says James St. John, vice president of operations for Hospitality America Inc., which manages the hotel. “As Tasos tells us, every Greek mother has a little garden filled with oregano, mint, and basil so when you walk around the meandering pathways of Iconic Santorini, your arms and legs brush against the plants sending their scents floating into the air.”
Another challenge during the design/planning phase was the deadline. “We had just 74 days from start to finish,” notes Alexis Kontodimas. “But with more than 50 people working every day and with meticulous timing of every delivery of supplies coming down those narrow paths, we succeeded.”
If You’re Going: Visit www.iconicsantorini.com. For reservations, call +30 22860 28950.
International Travel Examiner J.S. Fletcher and spouse, Kathy M. Newbern, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and operate YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.