If you are looking for some stylish but affordable accommodation on Santorini, Hotel Heliophos might just be it. It is an adorable collection of whitewashed little houses and restored cave dwellings dug into the rock. Interiors are done in the simple, local style, but appointed with heaps of artistic flair. Owner Sophia is a passionate traveller, who has gathered a fantastic collection of old bits and pieces from all over. An eclectic mix of furniture, objects and artwork give the houses a distinctive, but not overwhelming, exotic touch. You shouldn’t expect the kind luxury that so many cliff-side hotels offer: there’s no swimming pool, no room service, no Jacuzzis and that sort of thing, but you will be charmed, for sure, by the style of the houses, the lovely terraces and your bubbly hostess. It is only fair to say that there is nothing like this boutique hotel on Santorini. The combination of beautifully decorated houses, perfect quiet, the totally quiet location just behind the caldera (but with a sea view!), the extremely warm and personal welcome you get from Sophia and the very reasonable prices make it a simply unique place to stay during your holidays in Greece.
The quiet of this totally unspoiled village, the style and charm of the houses, and the friendliness of Sophia. There is definitely ‘something’ about Hotel Heliophos!
You don't get a view of the caldera (but there is a sea-view and you even get the sunset). Also, you should not expect full hotel services (it is a one-woman show) or the greatest luxury. Mattresses are quite hard and some of the bathrooms are small.
En-suite bathroom (shower)
You will find everything you need to prepare breakfast in your house (coffee, tea, cereals, bread, yoghurt, jams, ham & cheese for toast, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, cookies and more). The houses are equipped to prepare salads and sandwiches (but not to cook meals), but there is a traditional Greek restaurant only a few minutes on foot, and in Oia, at about 10-15 minutes’ walk, you have a large choice of Greek tavernas and more upscale restaurants.
Children are welcome to stay at Hotel Heliophos, and there is some family accommodation and a cot/crib for babies is available on request. The houses for up to four persons have two double beds. Keep in mind that as there are a lot of steps at the property, it is probably not the best place to go to with toddlers, and slightly older kids might prefer to stay somewhere with a pool or closer to the beach.
Santorini does has many beaches. Most have dark, volcanic sand (they get hot during the day) and there also is a spectacular red beach. The best beach to go to with young kids is probably Monolithos, which has nice shallow waters. Finikia is not a bad place to stay with children, who can roam freely through the little alleyways. For a day of real kid’s fun, you can take them to the water park at Perissa Beach.
Explore the volcanic beaches of Santorini. You can actually walk to the nearest (north-facing) beaches, 2 km away. There are many more long stretches of beach along the east-facing coast. If you don’t want to spread your towel on the dark sand, go to one of the beaches where you can hire sun beds and umbrellas. And even though it gets crowded, don’t miss out on the famous Red Beach all the way south. It is impressive.
Walking and hiking
The walking on Santorini is great. Inland trails take you through the island’s unique landscape past whitewashed chapels, churches, old windmills and traditional villages. The most spectacular walks are in the southern part of the island and by the caldera. The cliff-side walk between Fira and Oia is awe-inspiring. It can be done also with an English-speaking Trekking Hellas guide.
For kite surfing, windsurfing, waterskiing, jet skiing, sailing, parasailing or scuba diving, go to popular beaches such Kamari, Perivolos and Perissa. The scuba diving is really great, and there are several certified diving schools on the island. You can also go for stand-up paddling, kayak tours or starlight kayaking in the caldera.
You cannot come to Santorini without making a boat trip in the caldera. Take a mini-cruises with swimming, picnics and walks on the actual volcano crater included, or go for a luxury sailing or yachting trips.
Oia and Fira
Explore the cliff-side villages. It gets crowded in the summer, but the magic of the alleyways of Oia and Fira, the small chapels and churches, the views and the sunsets are always there. There are great places for drinks and meals, and shops and boutiques selling anything from souvenirs and traditional crafts to designer clothes and artwork.
History and museums
Visit the archaeological site of Agrotiri. Early morning is best, before the crowds get there. There are also several museums worth visiting: the Archaeological Museum of Fira, the Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum in Vothonas, the Argyros Mansion in Messaria and also the Tomato Industrial Museum in Vlychada.
Finikia is what might well be the only remaining quiet and unspoilt village on the island of Santorini. Let there be no misunderstanding, it is not on the cliff itself, and it does not overlook the caldera. However, it is only a ten-minute walk from Oia and its boutiques, café’s, restaurants and views! In Finikia, though, you will be quiet: apart from your fellow hotel guests, tourists usually don’t come to Finikia, and you hear birds, roosters, church bells and children’s voices instead of music from bars and “oh, it is so beautiful” in at least fifteen different languages. The village is 18 km from the airport and 20 km from the port. The sea (and beaches) are at 2 km.
Santorini has an international airport, and there are also several flights per day from Athens. That’s the fast way to get there. But arriving by ferry is such a wonderful experience that it’s worth the extra hours spent at sea (there are high-speed boats that take about 4-5 hours from the port of Piraeus). If you don’t have your own transport, the best way to get to Heliophos is by taxi. Ask the driver to drop you off at the parking lot of Foinikia, and call Sophia so she can help you with your luggage. If you have your own car or bike follow signs for Oia, and look out for the sign for Finikia on your right, as you arrive at Oia.
My husband and I had wonderful experiences staying at Heliophos and Notos. Heliophos was so beautiful, peaceful and romantic, a perfect location and we loved the eclectic decor in the atmospheric accommodations. Notos was very comfortable and well-appointed, with easy access to the sea and plentiful sites and activities in an area of spectacular beauty.
Mountain View, USA
What a beautiful place. At first, when I realized that it faced the open sea rather than the caldera, I was a little disappointed (how ridiculous that sounds; I guess I really am spoiled). Also it felt kind of isolated and dead. However, over the course of our first afternoon, and especially after I saw what a zoo Oia has become, the place grew on me and ended up being my favorite after the Archontikon. (All of us felt pretty much the same about all these places.) The village is slowly being restored, and the combination of inhabited/abandoned cliff dwellings is intriguing and kind of mysterious. It is astonishing to find this much peace and quiet a 5-minute walk from Oia. Very very nice that there is only foot traffic there. Sophia was very helpful — her advice on the less touristy & less expensive places to visit and eat was all perfect. Also, there was only one other family there, in the middle of high season! I had the impression Sophia kind of likes it that way. So it was doubly peaceful. Sophia’s presence was serene. The guest houses are special, beautiful, spare and somehow powerful. It almost felt like we were in another century, and experiencing the feel of a long-ago village. This stay was really unusual, even mystical, and I’d recommend it highly.
Pullman, WA, USA