Iconic Santorini: Vantage point for wine and food and luxury

And safe for COVID19 free tourism

Text and photos by Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

7 July 2020

Despite continued COVID19 concerns, many people are taking vacations to relieve 2020 stress for a summer getaway. It is a tricky period, but Greece proves a popular destination, given its solid track record in reacting to the virus.

The independent Paris based think tank Institut Montaigne noted in an essay “Europe Versus Coronavirus: Greece, an Unexpected Model”, that Greece had time to prepare itself against the virus spread, with the government taking drastic measures just as the first cases were detected, including canceling cultural events, closing schools, and prohibiting public gatherings. On March 23, with only 13 dead, the authorities ordered a general lockdown. As early as April, a person with COVID19 infected less than one other person.

With some confidence, then, at the beginning of this month, Greece opened for tourism to most countries, and media report that over 21,100 passengers on 55 international flights arrived at Athens International Airport on 1 July alone.

Safe destination this summer

According to the Greek government, flights resumed to Greek airports from “all countries”, except from those “seriously affected” by COVID19, as per EU guidelines. For example, while passengers from many countries this month already can travel to Greece, direct flights from the United Kingdom, Turkey and Sweden will resume only as of July 15.

Numbers are positive so far, as Associated Press reporter Elena Becatoros tweeted on 5 July: Since June 12, 29,450 coronavirus tests were carried out on incoming flight passengers. Of those, only 62 were found to be positive: 0.2%.

This Visit Greece page updates and answers to frequent questions that come to mind if you are concerned about travel, from permitted border crossings to testing requirements.

Side view from nearly 300 meters high: Iconic Santorini

Do it in grand style, in Santorini

For needed sanity after being cooped up so long this year, the volcanic island of Santorini, located in the heart of the Cyclades, is a perfect choice. It has its own airport for direct flights, a superb choice of wineries to visit along with fantastic views and an award winning boutique hotel. I have travelled to Santorini already to explore its wine route, which has changed significantly since my first foray, way back in 1987, with many more vineyards throughout the island. Most wine-chronicles.com readers know that Santorini has is a world-class wine mecca, mainly because of the Assyrtiko grape that dominates the excellent whites crafted there.

Casual Santorini chic

For luxury minded travelers seeking a vantage point affording easy access to island vineyards, the cliffside village of Imerovigli is ideal. And the choice is not only for the sake of luxury: one exclusive boutique hotel that I know personally, with a nearly one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio, ensures confidence against COVID19 these days. For this reason, I feature Iconic Santorini, which is regularly ranked among the very top luxury hotel options* not just on Santorini but throughout Greece. Built into the natural cliff rock of the village of Imerovigli, each of the hotel’s residences offer gorgeous sunset views, forming an amphitheater over the half-moon-shaped bay.

I was lucky to be offered a sojourn at this hotel as part of a press junket I took last September, and my stay at Iconic Santorini counts among the most memorable, and not just for its tailor made care: for its 19 residences, the villa boasts 20 staff. White glove treatment begins just after you book a stay with emails on how to make your experience the most convenient, from changing breakfast menus to travel assistance. Rooms and suites are clearly separated, affording plenty of social distancing. Your private, sun soaked terrace and individual outdoor jacuzzi (the title photo) offer plenty of natural COVID19-fighting Vitamin D.

Welcome to the interior grotto plunge pool

The 19 rooms and suites are uniquely designed with subtle Greek design. Deeply ensconced into the volcanic rock, some residences offer generous interior spaces. A soothing series of repeated lines in relief on some walls discretely suggest the sea and the Ancient Greek meander or meandros decorative motif. Fine pottery, lamps and wall art furthermore suggest the colors and themes of Greece without being too obvious, but you cannot miss where you are while lounging on white terrace furniture padded with blue seat covers, mirroring the sky above and sea below.

Private terrace

It amounts to a resplendent cave dwelling whose smoothly contoured walls are best epitomized by the Iconic Suite, which once housed the village bakery. The former bakery oven is now a decorative space along the wall. That suite includes an interior grotto plunge pool with rain shower, which I happily enjoyed on my final day in Santorini. A pergola-covered terrace (with another jetted plunge pool outside) was ideal for finishing up some text in the shade, while drinking fresh squeezed orange juice.

Feel-at-home elegance in the main room of the Iconic Suite

Somewhat labyrinthine narrow and uneven paved passages linking hotel spaces, including an amazing cliffside pool, with three mini waterfalls on one end and massage therapy jets on the other, accentuate a private bungalow ambiance.

Pool with (quite) a view

Guests enjoy modern amenities, such as top bath products, layered beds for peaceful sleep, flat-screen televisions with international satellite channels, and personal lounge seating on terraces overlooking the historic ancient volcano.

As I worked to post wine tasting notes, the Wi-Fi routers provided high speed Internet access everywhere within the hotel space. Indeed, I had several tasting appointments during my stay, from the celebrated Hatzidakis and Sigalas wineries. Iconic Santorini was ideally situated to go to all of them, although I almost regretted not having just stayed in my residence. As the cliché goes in such a blissful surrounding, the “world stops”, and here was no exception.

Breakfast with hotel manager

Although each room is equipped with air conditioning, I enjoyed deep sleep with open windows drawing in fresh island air. Time stood still indeed after waking to look down some 300 meters to the Aegean Sea from my private terrace.

Morning greeting

The breakfast tray arrived with fresh baked local breads –  including the famous Greek koulouri bread – juicy watermelon slices among other fresh fruits, salmon and cream cheese, a tasty omelette, rice pudding worthy of my grandmother’s home recipe, complete with cinnamon spice, fresh squeezed juices, Greek or regular coffees, among other nice things … I just wish that there were less cruise ships in the bay.

Koulouri bread high on Iconic Santorini

Hotel manager Marcela Alfaya, who comes from Argentina, joined me for breakfast, over which she explained her 20-years hospitality experience. After having earned a degree in hotel business administration, she worked at such prestigious hotels as The Four Seasons and Park Hyatt in South America and in the Caribbean. A specialist in the luxury market with deluxe segment properties, she would not tell me names of any famous people who have spent time at Iconic Santorini since she arrived here in 2018, but her past experience includes catering to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, U2 singer Bono, Madonna, The Rolling Stones and Saudi royalty among other well-known people. She splits her time between South America and Santorini.

Measures against COVID19

Although COVID19 has cast doubt on this year’s summer season, Marcela assures readers that her team not only treats guests as welcome friends, but also takes COVID19 very seriously. In a phone message, she outlined measures taken such as sanitization of all rooms with virus killers and air purification systems. Before opening this month, the boutique hotel signed a contract with a private clinic, in cases of suspicious or detected illness.

Fine terrace dining with top Assyrtiko

Unlike large hotels with big restaurants that make managing hygiene in the COVID19 era a most formidable challenge, Iconic Santorini boasts a charmingly small terrace for restaurant service. Local chef Matheos Zorostos and his team prepare foods that can match even the best of a Greek grandmother. Because I traveled to the island to visit various wineries – for an upcoming article in The World of Fine Wine – Hatzidakis Winery vineyard worker Stavroula Liapi joined Marcela and me for dinner and Stavroula can confirm the high cuisine quality, which proved to be the icing on the cake of my stay. Like any dedicated chef, Zorostos goes to market each day to get fresh ingredients, including garden herbs, fruits, vegetables and fish catches of the day.

Marcela Alfaya, at left, with Stavroula Liapi, just outside my private residence

We began with the 2017 Nykteri from Hatzidakis, a very good vintage from oak aged Assyrtiko. Handpicked in late August, the de-stemmed grapes remained in skin contact for 12 hours. The must was then fermented with indigenous yeasts at 18˚C. The wine was matured in oak barrels of different capacity for 12 months and then bottled unfiltered.

As you can see in my video, the wine’s lemon color is quite youthful and the wine releases aromas that include lemon and ripe stone fruit. It went very well with a superb Saganaki – fried cheese named after the pan in which the dish is prepared: the Sagani – with fig marmalade. Then came some of the most succulent Tomatokeftedes I have ever enjoyed: locally grown fried cherry tomatoes, a famous Santorini appetizer, with Greek yoghurt and fresh peppermint.  We also enjoyed fresh beetroot salad among other delicacies. Indeed, the courses kept coming in tapas fashion, which in Greek could be translated as mezedes.

Classic Fava, with a truffle twist 😉

One of my favorite dishes was a twist on the traditional Santorini Fava, pureed local yellow peas, but here infused with a touch of truffle oil and smoked pork, that matched the youthfully dynamic Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2018, which came across pure and refined, an elegant expression of the grape, with full body and ripeness.

On the wine list: top Assyrtiko from Santorini

Such wines count among many fine selections on the restaurant list, and it also paired well with main dishes of roast rooster with eggplant purée and fresh caught sea bream. Dessert included one of the best baklavas I have ever tasted.  Attention to detail is essential at Iconic Santorini, down to the stemware, cutlery and beautiful Limoges plates.

Chef Matheos Zorostos

So, if you can travel to Greece from your home country this summer, then a safe bet is an island, and Santorini especially for its wines and amazing views. The success of the boutique hotel Iconic Santorini is reflected by its policy of no paid ads. Guests come via word of mouth or at least based on online reviews from websites like Trip Advisor, where the hotel earned that platform’s 2019 “Traveler’s Choice Award”, rating 5 out 5 stars for three categories (location, cleanliness and service) and 4.5 of 5 for the value category. If you are itching for a luxurious (and safe) escape to Greece, make a reservation, pack your bags and get going. 😉

*The World Travel Awards in 2019 ranked Iconic Santorini as Greece’s Leading Luxury Boutique Hotel. It was also recognized by the prestigious Haute Grandeur Global Awards, receiving accolades for Best Small Hotel in Europe and Best Island Hotel on a Global Level

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