Costis Versus the Volcano

(Originally published in Elle Decor, October, 2017)

Greece's economy may be in turmoil, but tourism is booming. Perhaps because of utopias like Santorini's Perivolas, which exists proudly out of time.

I was five months old when my parents carried me from a small Olympic Airlines plane onto the tarmac at Santorini, exposing my skin to the Mediterranean sun for the first time. There to meet us was Costis Psychas, my godfather and the owner of Perivolas, the iconic hotel perched on the precipitous edge of the impossibly picturesque village of Oia.

In the early 1980s, Psychas’s mother and father restored a cluster of 300-year-old fisherman’s and shepherd’s cave dwellings, turning them into pristine white guest rooms that feel as if they’ve been scooped out of solid rock by the hand of a benevolent Greek god to provide sanctuary to voyagers lost at sea. I’ve returned to Perivolas so many times since, I’ve actually lost count. I guess it’s not surprising, then, that it is my favorite hotel in the world. 

Clinging to a cliff edge hundreds of feet above the Aegean Sea, Perivolas is the ideal aerie from which to watch the winds play on the vast, seven-mile-wide sunken volcanic caldera that Santorini and smaller islands, such as Therassia, encircle like cupped hands. Observing this union of wind and water for hours on end is what you do at Perivolas; from the hotel’s fabled infinity pool, the view of forbidding cliffs and the parade of passing yachts is an agenda in itself. Waiters in crisp white and khaki ferry chilled bottles of local Assyrtiko wine to honeymooners and Greek tycoons with their model companions. The azure sky deepens, and dusk sneaks up.

Of the hotel’s 20 minimalist suites, each a whitewashed study in negative space, number 18 holds a special charm. It’s where Costis put me on my first solo Greek idyll after I graduated from high school. Though smaller in scale than the suites with private pools, its relative intimacy represents the refinement that makes the place unique. It isn’t about thread count, amenities, or fine dining, though Perivolas has all of those. It’s the glass of cold water on a marble tabletop, the open book on an unmade bed of white linen, and that mythical sunlight that makes you dream.