The villa is overlooking the Caldera, a beautiful bay created by a volcano. It is right beside the town of Fira, yet is completely private. Therefore you never have to get a taxi unless you want to explore other parts of the island, yet once you are in the villa, you feel a million miles from the hustle and bustle. The villa is looked after by Christina and Themis (spelling?), who provide warmth, fun and incredible service. Your laundry is done without even asking! A beautiful breakfast is provided each morning. They are warm and efficient, a great combination.
Santorini in ancient times, was known as Kalliste, the most beautiful one.
From a distance, the cluster of pure white buildings on the rim of the volcanic caldera looks like a coating of fresh snow.
The sight of the rock face gouged with striations of red, black and ochre, was staggering.
Santorini is the crescent-shaped remnant of an island blown to pieces in one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, 3600 years ago. The eruption left a broken necklace of islands encircling a deep sheltered lagoon of emerald-sapphire water with an active volcanic crater, Nea Kameni, in the centre. The cataclysm may have caused a giant tsunami which led to the collapse of the great Minoan civilisation on the island of Crete.
Christina met us at the foot of the zigzag road and took us to Seahorse Residence in the caldera-top village of Firostefani, next to the island’s capital, Fira.
Sea Horse Residence is a breathtaking vision of dionysos white marble.
The only touches of contrast are the sparkling blue/green of the jacuzzi and swimming pool, aqua glass seahorse statues, shocking-pink bougainvillea and a stately araucaria.
Built around 1720 into the volcanic rock on the wall of the caldera, the villa was originally a convent, and was once owned by a German prince, Karl von Hohenlohe-Öehringen.
Carefully restored from 1982 to 1988, Sea Horse was purchased in 1998 by current owner Chantal who created its present beautiful form.
Chantal is now developing the villa into a wedding, conference and reunion venue beyond compare, ably assisted by manager Christina and her husband Themis, the most hospitable, generous people you could ever hope to meet.
Built on four levels or terraces linked by a network of steep winding steps, Sea Horse is a series of luxurious fully self-contained suites which can function as one large venue or many individual apartments. The villa accommodates 18 people and hosts weddings and parties of up to 50 people.
Each room and suite is unique — there’s a shower cut into the volcanic rock, a shell-shaped bath, sculptures in a rock inset by gifted Santorini marble sculptor Grigoris Kouskouris, and stunning paintings by local artist Georgia Paraschi, Greek artefacts, urns, statues and Italian glassware. All the suites have balconies facing the sunset-over-the-Aegean view that tourists long for.
At pool level, a long outside bar with a white marble bench and adjoin a kitchen which is ideal for catering for large numbers in a climate where every summer day is cloudless and the nights are warm.
We had the spacious second top level to ourselves, with a full kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and balcony, and a panoramic view of the whole island from Oia to Akrotiri. Lying in bed, I could see Therasia and the active volcanic island of Nea Kameni.
Above us was the famous, much-photographed blue-domed chapel of Agios Theodori with its triple bell-tower.
Hard-working Ka Anna serviced the apartments daily and took our laundry away to wash and iron.
Towards the end of our week in Santorini, Christina and Themis hosted a Greek barbecue for the guests at Sea Horse. Christina seasoned pork and lamb kebabs and tasty village sausages with black and white pepper, sea salt, lots of oregano, olive oil and lemon juice, using a half lemon on the end of a fork to mix the ingredients and coat the meat. We watched the sky turn lilac and vermillion as the sun set behind the island of Therasia, learned Zorba’s dance, drank exquisite Lava rosé, and savoured Santorini delicacies like white aubergines and cherry tomatoes with an incredible intensity of flavour.
The sunsets from the caldera rim are so dazzling that people flock in their thousands to the village of Oia at the far end of the island where they jostle and scramble for the best position to take photographs, and cheer and applaud as the fiery orange orb sinks into the Aegean. We felt smug because we had our own spectacular sunset heaven on the balcony by the Sea Horse pool where we toasted the "iliovasílema" at the close of each day.
Santorini is paradise photographers, artists, volcanologists and historians too with its well-preserved Minoan ruins at Akrotiri. It is also heaven for hikers, shoppers, gourmets and beach-seekers. Fira, the island’s main tourist village, is a fascinating maze of bustling alleyways, with shops selling everything from local art and crafts to exclusive fashions and jewellery.
But Sea Horse was like a magnet. We were constantly drawn back to our idyllic, peaceful haven away from the crowds.
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