To visitors, the Greek island of Santorini seems as though it was designed in a fairytale: Ancient villages hang over staggering cliffs that were formed by volcanic eruptions—appearing as though they were carved into the landscape, with the glittering crystal blue water of the Aegean Sea at its feet. Santorini’s best known and visited town of Oia has arguably become one of the most popular honeymoon, destination wedding, and all-around romance spots on the planet. But with that popularity comes crowds of tourists flooding its tiny streets in droves, turning the charming village into Times Square just before and after sunset, when most visitors arrive to get their coveted Instagram shot. Discerning newlyweds who are looking to experience Santorini’s magic in a more relaxed setting should look instead to the nearby town of Pyrgos, which has maintained its authentic Greek life as much as it has its beauty, seclusion, and exclusivity.
Explore on foot by climbing to the castle fortress at the top of the village to take in Pyrgos’s incredible views over the entire island of Santorini, which are at their best during sunrise and sunset. Make sure to wear your walking shoes though, because you’ll be ascending up and around the town’s windy steps and alleyways, many of which turn a corner to reveal Byzantine-era churches, artisan shops, art galleries, and adorable, cave-like restaurants.
The town boasts plenty of posh, medieval mansions to gawk at since wealthy captains and merchants of the time found Pyrgos’s elevation a good place to protect themselves from pirates, and thus build their homes. But the real charm of the village can be found in its simpler, traditional white Greek homes—full to the brim with plants in terra cotta pots—where you just might find a donkey tied up at its owner’s post.
Just on the outskirts of town are many surrounding wineries, like Hatzidakis Haridimos, where you can get a sense of Santorini’s celebrated Greek wines, which produce unique tasting grapes because of the island’s volcanic subsoil. Make sure to try the Assyrtiko and Aidani varietals, along with Vinsanto, a delicious dessert wine.
Honeymooners looking for a hideaway will find it at Carpe Diem Exclusive Boutique Resort, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Despite being steps from the town of Pyrgos, this adults-only property is completely secluded thanks to its location—having been built in a Cycladic style directly into the hillside—with no neighboring hotels in sight.
Furnished in comfortable, contemporary Greek decor, each of Carpe Diem’s ten luxurious suites feature expansive terraces with their own private plunge pools, where you and your beloved can take in panoramic views over the entire northern part of Santorini. Further upping the romance factor, some of the rooms come complete with a carefully curated wine or champagne bar, and a vinyl record player and collection of music from the likes of Frank Sinatra.
And while the hotel’s tranquil setting might have already put you into a state of complete bliss, Carpe Diem’s on-site spa suite, Althea, offers an intimate experience of having the entire spa to you and yours, along with some incredible treatments—like hot stone massages, facials, hydrating body treatments and body scrubs that are rooted in Greek beauty practices and ingredients.
It’s hard not to eat well in Greece, but on an island that caters to tourists, it’s good to have a few solid places written down in your Evernote before you head out on your ‘moon. Luckily, Pyrgos and the surrounding area have outstanding food options—arguably some of the best in Santorini.
The taverna-style restaurant Brusco and its excellent, authentic Greek grub is a must at lunchtime. Sit outside on the patio and watch the life of Pyrgos go by right from the center of town while you try the bouyiourdi—feta cheese with tomatoes, onions and herbs baked in an oven and served with a side of pita—and the eggplant-stuffed peppers, a smoked chicken Cretan apaki, and a Greek salad that is so simple and delicious that you’ll never stop dreaming about it.
For dinner, Selene Restaurant’s contemporary farm-to-table Greek fare is arguably some of the finest gourmet food you’ll find in Santorini. Originally located in another popular Santorini town, Fira, Selene moved to Pyrgos to be closer to the farms and vineyards where it sources its ingredients, and now offers regular cooking and tasting classes paired with wine.
At Alati Resturanti, incredibly fresh and simple seafood dishes are just a short drive away and served inside at a romantic, 400-year-old wine cave illuminated by candlelight. Outside, you can take your dinner on the rooftop terrace which overlooks the neighboring Pyrgos town of Megalochori.
Though you’ll probably never want to leave the enchanting village of Pyrgos, when you’re ready for a day of exploring outside of town, consider making a romantic, half-day sailing tour through Santorini’s volcanic islands, which will stop along the way at famed swimming locations like the Red Beach, the White Beach, and Ammoudi Bay. You can choose to jump off and splash around in the transparent water, bathe in hot springs, or just laze around in the sun with your boo at the front of a catamaran. There are lots of different sailing options at many different price points, from private speedboats to 18th-and-19th-century replica sailboats that will remind you of a pirate ship, as well as luxury yacht-style boats that you can share with a small group and offer a family-style meal on board.
Regardless of the boat you choose, it’s important it drops you off in Oia, a town you do want to see but may not necessarily want to stay in. It’s here you can explore the quaint gift shops and lively restaurant scene of this infamous sunset spot. The best way to enjoy it, avoid the crowds and still get that super touristy pic is by booking a sunset couples massage at Caldera Massages Studio. This luxe, cave-like spa offers an 85-minute massage for two which finishes on a private terrace with a bottle of champagne as the sun sets into the Mediterranean.