What is the name of this island? The Greeks called it Thera, and yet it was the Venetians who baptized it Santorini (in homage to Sainte Irene) — the name still used the world over.
However, if you go there, and you have the chance to stay at Kirini Suites & Spa, there is no doubt that you will have the desire to call it by its name from the days of antiquity: Kalliste, "the very beautiful".
With its beaches of black sand, this, the most southern of the Cyclades islands, is perhaps the most unique of them all. Seen from the sky, its shape somewhat resembles that of England, size notwithstanding! This configuration is due to an explosion dating back to 1600 BC. When the volcano at its centre exploded, Santorini broke apart and collapsed downward, and the sea came rushing in, forming the immense bay at the foot of the west coast: the caldera.
Due to the unruly nature of the land, the village of Oia is now found perched high on the cliffs on the western end of the island, overlooking the Aegean Sea. White houses, churches crowned with cupolas and endless stairs descending to a little port create a breathtaking setting. And it is here where Kirini is located.
Clinging to the cliffside, this Relais & Châteaux property towers over of the harbour on one side, with the spectacle of boats in constant movement below, and on the other boasts views over this tiny village of 900 residents for which it marks the entrance. Where do guests congregate? That would be at the infinity pool adjacent to the restaurant.
Let's face it, Kirini is a village in itself. Its 26 rooms and suites are like small houses scattered like confetti along the stairs. Hollowed out of the rock, or semi-troglodytic, these white cocoons are refreshing shelters from the island's often torrid sun.
In a contemporary and luminous style, architect Dimitris Tsitso completed the full renovation of this hotel in 2015. What was left unchanged? Each of the rooms still has its own private terrace facing the Aegean Sea.
Some of these scafta (the traditional name in Greece for these houses carved into the rocks) even have the privilege of possessing, in addition to their terraces, their own jacuzzi; and for some suites, even their own swimming pools.
Stretch your calves! Although there is a central lift that serves each level of Kirini, the fact remains that you will undoubtedly have to take a staircase at some point to get to your room. In addition to maintaining the blooming flowers that line them, these flights of grey and white stairs are constantly repainted. There is a person dedicated solely to this task all year long.
Between the lavender and the olive trees, a few steps from the bar, several cushions on a stone bench, a parasol, a glass of local wine chosen with the help of the sommelier and sunglasses are the perfect panoply for enjoying a summer read.
Under the guidance of the young Ilianna Chavianidou (photographed at the entrance of the spa), a team of thirty people welcome guests here at Kirini. Reflected by Heracles, the staff works here during a six-month season, from 1 April to 1 October.
From breakfast to dinner, whether beside the swimming pool or in the dining room with its bay windows facing out to the panorama, Anthos (lit. the flower), Kirini's restaurant, places Greek ingredients in a position of honour. From mushroom ravioli to lamb and celery puree or yoghurt mousse with honey and hazelnuts, all of delicacies of the Cyclades are to be found here.
Our favourite time of the day at this charming hotel is undoubtedly when the sun sets.
Below the arid cliffs, the boats lay at anchor; and from the terraces, the lights illuminate the small streets of Oia. This is the moment for “seeking fresh air", taking a final stroll or enjoying a last drink in the small local bars.
What is the takeaway image of Santorini? Perhaps it is this one, like something out of the last century. Carved into the rock, some of the stairs of this volcanic island go from the tops of the cliffs all the way down to the waves. They are travelled by donkeys, who, like in the capital Fira, climb 597 steps each day. “Take a ride on their back?” you may ask. Well, we prefer to watch them passing by...