In the whitewashed wonder of Santorini, Lyndsey Steven revels in the novelty and unexpectedness of the ebony-coloured Kivotos hotel
In the words of author Hans F Hansen: “It takes nothing to join the crowd. It takes everything to stand alone.”
From the outset Kivotos, Santorini may look like the black sheep of the island with its dark, granite finishes in stark contrast to the blinding whites and blues of its surroundings. But it’s blatantly clear that the chic boutique property is not trying to fit in.
That said, it still manages to encapsulate the soul and setting of spellbinding Santorini, effortlessly incorporating the islet’s black pumice, ash, and volcanic lava – the result of the eruption of the famous Minoan eruption that occurred circa 1600 BC.
Quite literally hanging out on a cliff in Imerovigli, with its dramatic but discrete hideaways carved into the volcanic-rock face, Kivotos, Santorini boasts full-frontal views of the glittering caldera, Skaros Rock, and the petite and picturesque island of Folegandros. It’s also the place to be for those famous Santorini sunsets.
And even though we arrived three hours before check-in, happy to just drop off our bags and head off, our hosts could not have been more receptive, insisting that it was too hot to venture out and that we instead relax in the shade at the wickedly tempting pool – sipping on a chilled glass of something crisp and bubbly while we were at it. Don’t mind if we do. Our plans for the rest of the day immediately went out the window – or through the glass-panelled pool, over the balcony, and into the deep blue Aegean Sea – as we settled in for the afternoon and ordered a tuna poke bowl with perfectly seasoned rice and a Santorini salad bursting with ruby red baby tomatoes from the hotel’s restaurant, Mavro. It makes sense that the Greeks invented olive oil (the systematic cultivation of olive trees is said to have begun on the island of Crete in Neolithic times) as every salad we ate in Santorini was dressed immaculately.
While we could have happily spent all day staring out at the caldera – the blue lagoon sprinkled with white billowing sails and tips of the now hibernating volcano – we urged our weary legs to transport us to the village of Fira. It’s only 25 minutes away with a breathtaking photograph waiting to be taken around every corner, but we’d peaked too soon on our first day with a 20-kilometer hike around the island and every precipitous step was a struggle. Santorini’s steep cliffs are not for sissies, but even our indignant limbs acceded it was worth the effort. There’s also endless entertainment to be found spying on the now ubiquitous ‘Flying Dress Shoots’ which have become a booming business on the island. Starting from a mere € 400, you can channel your inner influencer by borrowing a dress (flowing sash mandatory), putting on a full face of make-up, and posing in the blinding sun for your very own set of ‘unique’ photos. Bustling Fira is great for people watching and shopping, but is very touristy and getting back to the more tranquil Imerovigli was akin to a sedative balm.
There are also hours of diversion to be had in the suites at Kivotos which are designed for fun-loving couples and friends. A sophisticated – and somewhat psychotropic – lighting system provides different colours for every mood. You can even shower in a cave with the hue of your choice, with all the Bulgari products your heart desires, and silky soft flannel robes to dry off.
The sound system features a fantastic chillout playlist, and there are enough USBs to ensure your gadgets are ready for action. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to try out one of the funkier rooms from the hotel’s original design, as well as one of the newer ones where the aesthetic takes a more traditional light and airy Santorini approach, with natural materials and local artefacts. Both featured indoor Jacuzzis, while the latter sports a small outdoor terrace where towering trays of breakfast delicacies can be delivered at your preferred time.
Just like Kivotos, we too defied the colour code that evening, eschewing the mandatory marine shades for green as we headed out the nearby La Moustache, admittedly selected by us purely by virtue of its name. A move which proved effective given its seductive surroundings– with tables overlooking Balinese- style sunbeds and a sublime infinity pool – great service, and one of the best seabass dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling.
The following morning, fortified by a hearty Santorini breakfast – eggs any way you like, including a fabulously fluffy egg white omelette with ricotta and asparagus, a basket of freshly-baked delights, Greek yoghurt with granola and roasted apples, and freshly pressed juices, we decided to take the plunge. Not into the glistening infinity pool but by hiring a quad bike for a day of high voltage adventure. After a dicey start which well-nigh put both our lives and those of unsuspecting passers-by in danger, we got into our biking mojo and were soon tearing up the tarmac as we traversed Oia, the wine region and a fair few of Santorini’s black beaches, stopping off for a revitalising swim and a bite at Yalos where my friend received a marriage proposal from a lovely little old man with less teeth than a gummy bear.
On a side note, for those after a horizontally laidback day on one of Santorini’s most stunning beaches, look no further than Seaside beach club which offers a world-class menu and stylish waterside decompressing.
For our final night we treated ourselves to dinner at Kivotos’ Mavro restaurant where award-winning chef Jean-Charles Metayer fuses Mediterranean and Greek ingredients and recipes with French fine dining techniques – to spectacular effect. By chance we happened to order two of his favourite dishes, the red mullet with pea beans and cannelloni stuffed with octopus ragout, and the lamb confit in olive oil with lemon paste, cherry tomatoes and black leek powder. Both delicately flavoured, picture-perfect dishes proved to be sunshine on a plate, especially when washed down with a pale, but interesting – and surprisingly well-priced – rosé.
For once going with the flow, we succumbed to staging a little photo shoot of our own, matching the vibe and the panache of the property in little black numbers. Because backdrops and occasions such as these deserve to be immortalised forever.