Postcard-perfect stop at Santorini's Grace Hotel

The outdoor portion of the bar at Grace Hotel, an Auberge Collection property on Santorini. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin
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There are a few places in the world where, when you get there, you think, "You know, this really does look like the postcard."

Santorini is one of those places.

The spotlessly whitewashed buildings against the brilliant blue of the sky, sea and famous domes cascading down the cliff until it drops off into the caldera? It's all as advertised. I had plenty of time to reflect on this as I made my way through the walkways and up and down the stairs of the town of Imerovigli looking for the Grace Hotel, part of the Auberge Collection.

Guests are not supposed to use their phone's GPS feature to find the hotel, but I didn't understand why until I tried to enter a low gate that said, "Private property." That was some other person's property, not the hotel's.

If you know what to look for and where to look for it, the entrance is not confusing at all: A small, black plaque that says "Grace Hotel" by the top of a steep staircase indicates that you have reached your haven. Then, you can stand at the stairs (pose, if you like), look down and survey your kingdom: a mix of terraces and plunge pools, a true infinity-edge pool, the sea and the blue sky beyond. You then can carefully saunter down the stairs to the check-in room. 

The hotel, like many places on Santorini, is hanging on the edge of the island, so magnificent views are absolutely everywhere -- as are the stairs. Everything is blindingly sunny, minimal and pristine. Clouds have no place in Santorini's summer sky: It's just all a sapphire hue. Jackie O sunglasses are recommended for protection against the summer sun ­­-- and, of course, to look the part.

The hotel claims it has the longest infinity-edge pool in Imerovigli.
The hotel claims it has the longest infinity-edge pool in Imerovigli. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

Of course, I didn't do the dignified entrance. Sweaty and confused, I entered along the side of the hotel by the pool and then had to climb up the stairs, where I presented my winded, disheveled self to the sympathetic staff. They immediately brought out glasses of cold water and patiently waited till I caught my breath.

So the hotel layout teaches you one thing about the type of clientele who stay here: Take your time; there is no need to hurry anywhere. 

The amenities are few, but important. 

The pool, of course, is the primary feature; Grace says that at 72 feet it's the longest infinity-edge pool in town. Why would someone jet halfway around the world just for some swimming pool? At Grace, there's actually an answer to that. 

Above the pool but below check-in, the mid-level 363 Bar mixes some blond-toned wood sofas, gold accents and a back bar of black, volcanic stones (the stones also are set in front of the windows of some of the rooms, which helps keep the rooms cool while letting light filter in). Thanos Prunarus, the founder of Baba Au Rum bar in Athens, redid the cocktail menu to give it a Tiki and rum vibe -- and the bar is open to nonguests.

A fitness studio and yoga facility is available, and spa treatments can be conducted in-room if desired.

The Grace's entry in the top-tier dining category is the Varoulko Santorini, helmed by Athens chef Lefteris Lazarou. In addition to three different tasting menus, with seafood prominent, each table is a front-row seat to Santorini's famous sunset.

I didn't sample the dinner menu, but I did try the pool-bar lunch; linguine with minced shrimp tomato sauce was the absolute winner. A delicious Greek salad (when in Greece ... ) also brought a pop of color to the table.

The stairs at the Grace Hotel seem to lead to Skaros Rock.
The stairs at the Grace Hotel seem to lead to Skaros Rock. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

Back up the stairs ...

But one might only stay on property for so long. Although Santorini is not a large island, there are plenty of things to do that would fill several days on an island-hopping vacation: wine-tasting, shopping, beach-hopping, archaeological tours.

The nearest option would be to hike Skaros Rock, which rears up in front of Grace Hotel and is easily accessible from the same gate I used to enter the pool area. The jagged rock was once a medieval fortress, all but destroyed by earthquakes, but it makes for a rewarding and challenging walk (tip: bring water, sunblock, a hat).

Imerovigli is on a six-mile, paved walkway along the caldera's edge between Fira and Oia, so anyone looking for a good half-day of exercise could make the jaunt, perhaps making either town a lunch destination (tip: bring water, sunblock, a hat). 

Farther afield but considered a must if you're on the island for any length of time is a visit to Akrotiri, which was buried in the 17th century in a volcanic explosion and is considered to be one of the finest archaeological sites in Greece.

Grace Hotel this year launched an experiences program to introduce guests to "authentic local traditions and secret Santorini spots." Among the options mentioned were cooking classes, pottery demonstrations, a yacht charter or guided hikes. 

... back down the stairs

Once you return to Grace, you'll realize how serene the place is.

The heart of the hotel is the main infinity-edge pool area, where the pool bar and restaurant and Varoulko are located. But the atmosphere is low-key in the extreme.

A bright Greek salad brings a pop of color to a pool-bar lunch.
A bright Greek salad brings a pop of color to a pool-bar lunch. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

Children are only allowed as guests in the Villa, Grace's 1,600-square-foot, ultraprivate, two-bedroom suite (the Villa has its own pool as well as a kitchen and dining area), so the hotel is a de facto adults-only property. No cannonballs off the pool's edge, no shouting.

The main activities appeared to be elegant snacking, reading, sunbathing, drinking poolside cocktails and staring out at the incomparable view. 

As the sun began to sink a bit lower in the sky and cast dazzling sparkles on the sea, staff moved about unobtrusively, and several began setting up tables for dinner, ironing tablecloths as they went. Guests slipped from lounge chairs to the pool almost soundlessly, and elsewhere they had hushed, murmured conversations with their partners. Remember: no hurrying. 

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