Santorini is one of the world’s most popular islands- known for its crisp white cliffside homes, romantic walkways, mesmerising sunsets and the world’s only inhabited Caldera.
Over the last few years (pre-COVID) Santorini played host to two million visitors and although this popular Cycladic island is filled with tourists, you can actually avoid the massive crowds and enjoy a more authentic experience when guided by a local.
IN+SIGHTS GREECE spoke with hotel owner George Sigalas, who was born and raised in Santorini, and along with his siblings, George warmly welcomes thousands of guests each year to Above Blue Suites and Amber Light Villas.
Here he shares tips about his beloved island, and also takes us through his beautiful hotels, which were built by his grandfather.
What do you love most about your island home?
I really love a lot of things about our island- the fresh air, the sea, our enchanting Caldera but mainly the people- my family and friends.
What makes your hotels stand out?
There are many hotels with similar facilities but what makes ours unique is the personal touch and the love we have for our guests. Above Blue Suites consists of ten suites and one villa- offering a unique combination of privacy, luxury, unique interior design, and breathtaking views of the endless blue sea and the famous sunset. Amber Light Villas is curved in the mountain and provides comfortable villas opening up to private terraces and balconies with stunning views out to the Aegean Sea. We want everyone to have a unique experience that will create lasting memories. We do it with love, passion, and a smile because that’s how we feel.
What changes have you made to your hotels since you took over from your grandfather?
We have definitely given a lot of emphasis on the upgrade of our facilities and services, including the heating of the pool. We also expanded our menu to include gluten-free and vegan dishes. Of course, we try to improve day by day.
Where are your favourite places to eat out?
There are many good spots but I would recommend Kira Katina in Ammoudi for seafood, Agogi in Imerovigli for traditional delicacies, and also Metaxi Mas in Pyrgos, for the famous Rakomelo. For brunch head to TERA NERA in Perivolos as well Galini restaurant. The places for ice cream- Chill Box in Fira and Lolita’s Gelato in Oia.
Must-try local delicacies or dishes?
Santorini Fava, Tomatokeftedes, Santorini salad, and Fried White Eggplant. Also don’t leave the island without drinking a glass of Ouzo, while enjoying local seafood by the sea.
For a drink?
In Fira, you will find the famous Enigma and Mamounia bars, where you can enjoy a drink and music, as well as PK and Tango Bar.
Best places to swim?
The best beaches in Santorini are located in the southern part of the island and are none other than Perissa and Perivolos, that features black sand due to the volcanic eruption- definitely a unique experience.
Archeological must-see sites?
Akrotiri is definitely worth a visit. The settlement was one of the most important urban centres and ports of the Aegean during the Middle and Late Bronze Age. Also, for hiking lovers, I would unreservedly recommend a visit to Ancient Thira. It is an ancient city located at the top of Mesa Vouno, the city was founded in the 8th century BC. Access to the city is on foot, with stairs to the mountain slope.
What are some of the most authentic experiences you can have on the island?
Start with a visit to Kastelli village in Pyrgos and admire its wonderful view. Then head to the traditional village of Megalochori and try a Greek coffee by a traditional coffee maker. The architecture of the village in combination with the Greek aromas will make you sense the true heartbeat of the island. Akrotiri is also a beautiful village worth visiting. Entering the archeological site you will feel the aura of the settlement and its inhabitants who were so suddenly lost by the eruption of the volcano. There are many traditional taverns such as Delfinia that serve delicious Tomatokeftedes and other Greek delicacies.
To capture the spectacular sunset?
To enjoy the famous sunset you have to head to Imergovigli as it’s the highest point of the Caldera and the view here is magical.
Hike from Fira to Oia. Being a local and having done this route many times, I can tell you that for a few minutes you will feel as though you are walking in paradise. The view is magical and unique. I’m sure the experience will reward you. Also, a catamaran trip to the volcano and the hot springs is a must!
And you must visit one of the wineries on the island to taste local wines. Ideally, you should visit at least three wineries to browse the vineyards of the island and taste some of the most delicious and famous wines in the world.
Best places to shop?
In Fira, there are many boutique stores, souvenir shops. In Oia, you will also find amazing galleries, jewellery shops, and concept stores. Also in Oia, you will find the leading Atlantis bookstore, which has been named one of the best in the world.
Must-see museums and monasteries?
Any museums or monasteries that shouldn’t be missed? Definitely the prehistoric settlement in Akrotiri but also Ancient Thira in Kamari. In Fira, you will find the Archaeological and the Folklore Museum of Thira. Do not miss a visit to the Wine Museum of Mr. Koutsogiannopoulos, it’s amazing. Also, the Monastery of the Prophet Elias in Pyrgos is located at the top of the mountain and so you can admire its architecture as well as the panoramic view of Santorini from its highest point.