Travel: A honey of a spa in mythic Santorini

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Santorini has been called perhaps the world’s most perfect island, and has the views to back it up. 

The journey from SoCal to Santorini, perhaps the world’s most perfect island, was one of epic proportions. It took 35 hours and four flights, yet it was worth it. Touching down in the island’s antiquated airport via an Aegean Airlines flight from Athens was, despite initial misgivings, breathtaking. On the horizon, the sun rose over the sea in a hue of honeydew pink so spectacular that harried passengers, rather than rushing to claim their bags, stood in awe and snapped photos instead. 

The trip was my gift upon turning 70. It entailed a week at the Aressana Spa Hotel and Suites in Fira, Santorini’s main town, which during the summer high season starting in late May turns into a mecca for gargantuan cruise ships that disgorge thousands of passengers per day. 

Instead I arrived shortly before then, on Greek Orthodox Easter, to a cacophony of nonstop firecrackers. Staying at the Aressana, a family-owned hotel located next to the town’s historic stunning white domed church, offered more charm than any corporate cookie-cutter hotel. 

I traveled a twisting whitewashed lane down to the Argo restaurant, a memorable place with stunning views of Santorini’s volcanic caldera. The Argo married seafood specialties from the owner, Constantinos Chatzopoulos, with an in-house yogurt shop that dispensed marvelously fruity yogurt drinks with fresh raspberries and other locally grown fruits. 

It was from Constantinos that I learned that local growers on Santorini supply many of the restaurants with the ingredients—from honey, to fava, to cherry tomatoes and tangy capers—found in many an island recipe. The cuisine on Santorini, enriched by the fertile volcanic soil, is unique in the world, a theme the island is celebrating with 2013 being the “Year of Gastronomy” in Santorini. 

My hosts were also in on the game. Every morning, breakfast was served at the Aressana under the guidance of a matronly chef who whipped up a buffet comprised of authentic Greek yogurt, delicate pastries with fillings such as fresh spinach, petite dishes with cherry jelly and honey-covered Greek donuts. Greek eating, in other words, is a priority over bland international fare. 

Honey is taken seriously here, with the hotel’s cozy spa rightly proud of its honey-inspired products from the fragrant Apivita range. Their Queen Bee two-hour body treatment is heightened by the application of a treasured product containing the Queen’s “royal jelly,” which left a radiant sheen on my travel-weary body. Sophie, the spa’s star therapist, confidently explained that this ritual has been used in Greek spa culture for ages. 

If there is anything Greece knows, it’s how to appreciate the passage of time. I finally made my way to Akrotiri, a site of ancient ruins on Santorini known as the “Pompeii of the Aegean” that were buried in a volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago and may have served as the origin of the legend of the lost city of Atlantis. The 100-acre archeological site, still only partially excavated, connects visitors to the Minoan civilization here, which was linked to the nearby, larger island of Crete. 

The Santorini Archeological Museum, located across the cobblestone road from my lodgings, held famous frescoes from the excavation site. One showed a woman posed gracefully, youthful in spirit still if not in age. It brought a moment of truth to the allegorical journey we all take, and which had brought me to this island. After a few days of mesmerizing views, captivating cuisine and the nearness of antiquity, you might find too you’ve left your heart in Santorini. 

Pamela Price is the co-author of three editions of “100 Best Spas of the World” (Globe Pequot Press)