Far from the madding crowds of Oia and Fira, Nicola Moyne discovers up-and-coming Pyrgos offers a slice of Santorini that’s both quintessentially Greek and utterly luxurious
Winding down the arid corkscrew road and hairpin bends, it’s hard to take my eyes off of the expanding pink and purple horizon. A cooling sea breeze is whipping through my hair and a whiff of blushing bougainvillea catches me at every twist and turn. Oia’s stylish crowds quickly give way to teak-decked sailing yachts that line the sun-scorched cliffs, bobbing in the emerald coves below, while blue-domed churches crown rustic hilltop villages ahead. Santorini, it’s definitely love at first sunset.
‘A whitewashed vision carved into the foothills’
Renowned for its postcard-perfect vistas and expensive tastes, this busy little bolthole in the Cyclades is one of the most ’grammed islands on Insta and I’ve come to soak up its sophisticated offerings with my partner for a long weekend. Rich and I are staying at the impossibly chic Carpe Diem Boutique Resort – an adults-only whitewashed vision carved into the foothills of the archetypal Greek village of Pyrgos.
Its handcrafted volcanic curves encase a smattering of plush private decks and azure-blue plunge pools (each of the 10 suites boast their own), with 270-degree-wide panoramic views out to the Aegean ocean. It’s also the most spacious resort on the island, with rooms ranging from a decadent 85 sq metres to a positively palatial 120 sq metres. Luxury touches, such as 24-hour butler service, on-arrival neck massages in the serene Althea Spa, plus an extensive pillow menu, come hand-in-hand with authentic Greek interior design and the level of attentiveness only found at the most exclusive, family-run boutique hideaways.
Designed by local engineer George Kopatsaris, Carpe Diem is now managed by his son Sotiris, who welcomes us with a chilled glass of crisp white wine produced by a nearby winery. Sotiris grew up in the sleepy cobbled streets and hilltop ruins of Pyrgos – Santorini’s most treasured medieval town, which remains untouched by the sunset-seeking crowds of Fira and Oia. ‘My father wanted to build something unique and beautiful here in the village where we grew up; a resort that offers luxury without being overlooked; a haven away from the chaos and crowds,’ he explains. As we talk, a serene infinity pool overlooking the island shimmers behind him, as if in validation of the vision.
‘Bypass the bustle in favour of a rustic foray into a hilltop labyrinth’
Once the obligatory dunk in our private pool is complete, Rich and I head off in search of the sights. Fusing luxury with adventure, we navigate the volcanic island’s slopes and peaks on a hired quad bike, taking in the Akrotiri Lighthouse and parasol-clad shores of White Beach, before hiking the steep, crowded cliff path that rims the caldera’s lip from Oia to Fira and wine tasting at Santo Wines Winery – a cliff-perched paradise where the cool crowd comes to sip pinot and pretend to like jazz.
By 7pm, an inimitable light envelopes the island and an army of iPhone cameras emerge from the welcoming shade of whitewashed taverns. Oia can become especially busy come sunset, thanks to its dreamy blue-domed backdrop, so we bypass the bustle in favour of a rustic foray into Pygros’s hilltop labyrinth of boutiques selling local crafts and earthenware amid the white-linen-clad bistros bedecked with alfresco diners. Following Sotiris’s recommendation, we eat at Selene, an unassuming restaurant in the centre of Pygros that hides a breathtaking terrace and the best sea bass dish I’ve ever tasted.
Encircled by plumes of wild rosemary and thyme, and acres of vineyards lining the volcanic slopes, we decide to snake up to the village’s monastery of Profitis Ilias, built on the highest point of the island, and watch the kaleidoscopic sky reveal it canopy of stars in peace – a peak-capped, handlebar-moustached farmer selling his produce our only companion.
‘Sailing from Red Beach to White Beach, we lunch on fresh, salty seafood washed down with local white wine’
The following day we cruise the volcanic beaches from a different vantage point: a luxurious Caldera Yachting Lagoon catamaran. Sailing from Red Beach to White Beach we sunbathe on deck and head towards the island’s hot springs, before taking a refreshing swim and lunching on platters of fresh, salty seafood washed down with white wine. A must-do experience that captures the beauty of the Aegean in true Santorini style, Caldera Yachting is a particular favourite with foodies, who come back year after year to sample its authentic Greek menu.
Island life has revealed itself in layers over the course of the weekend and as I indulge in one more plate of deliciously sauted calamari and zesty chorizo from the tranquility of Gaia – Carpe Diem’s fine-dining restaurant and bar – I can see why this sun-drenched croissant-shaped island has long been linked with the legendary lost city of Atlantis. Carpe Diem? You really must. Just make sure to swerve the crowds.
Double rooms at Carpe Diem Boutique Resort in Santorini, start from £250 per night on a B&B basis. Book now through www.i-escape.com. All i-escape.com bookings will also receive a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine and fruit platter.