I’m not at all ashamed to admit that Mamma Mia was one of my favorite movies in high school. The beach parties. The crystal clear water. That romantic island energy. It was all so dreamy. Once it became safe to travel again, there was only one place I wanted to be: on a beach in Greece having fun—and feeling like a number one.
My teenage dream came true on a recent vacation to beautiful Santorini, the supermodel of all the Greek islands. Situated in the Aegean Sea, Santorini is famous for its sun-bleached buildings, ’gram-worthy pink bougainvillea, and dazzling panoramic views. The island also has incredible beaches, nightlife, and (of course) cuisine. Think: fresh feta drizzled with olive oil, juicy tomatoes bursting with flavor, and crisp white wine.
There’s paradise and then there’s Santorini. For ELLE Escapes, I compiled some of my favorite spots to eat, drink, stay, and experience the magic of the island. There’s a reason they made Mamma Mia 2—once you visit Greece, you’ll definitely want to come back again.
Symposion Cultural Center
Down a winding path of whitewashed homes and mysterious wooden doors in the practically untouched (and car-free!) village of Megalochori is a hidden treasure for those interested in Greek mythology. The Symposion Cultural Center, set in a turn-of-the-century wine shop, is an immersive experience that blends ancient storytelling and music. At the Symposion, you’ll enjoy a live band, a tour of a traditional artisan’s workshop, an adorable herb garden, and a café serving local wine and beers.
The best way to see Santorini? By boat, of course. Santorini Sailing offers exclusive access to the island’s most popular spots without having to muscle your way through crowds. Lay out on one of the catamaran’s netted areas, snap a photo or two, and feel your blood pressure lower in real time as you cruise by red sand beaches and the volcanic islands in the center of the caldera. While onboard, the crew cooks up a delicious lunch of local fish, Greek salad, homemade tzatziki, and freshly baked bread, so come hungry.
Church of Agios Nikolaos
The dusty path to Agios Nikolaos is precarious—and steep—but so worth a visit with the right shoes. The humble church, built into a rocky cliff, has the traditional triptych of bells you’ll see all over Greece. On the switchbacks down to find Agios Nikolaos (and, fair warning, it can be difficult to find) you’ll pass a cobblestone staircase where, on the right-hand side, there is a hole in the white volcanic ash looking out to sea. The cut-out is called the “Heart of Santorini.” Two stunning attractions, one walk.
Dinner inside a 400-year-old winery cave? Wine not! (Sorry, had to.) Alati is a Mediterranean restaurant that has fabulous fresh fish and local libations. With an innovative seafood menu, Alati offers a unique (and very romantic!) dining experience by candlelight. Try the grilled white fish and Greek salad made with the island’s famous cherry tomatoes. The carefully chosen wine list features picks from local vineyards, and do not—do not skip out on dessert. The pavlova will change your life.
Helmed by renowned chef Olivier Campanha, Lure is just as much an experience as it is a restaurant. Tucked into the stunning hillside town of Oia, the heartbeat of Santorini, Lure is an upscale Greek restaurant that is, without question, the most romantic spot on the island. Here’s the receipt to prove it: During a recent dinner at Lure, I witnessed a beautiful proposal go down at a nearby table.
For a more casual lunch spot, consider Raki in the village of Megalochori. To get there, you’ll walk under the iconic bell tower of the Virgin Mary Church and pass by locals playing card games on picnic benches. In Megalochori’s main square, Raki stands out for its outdoor tables set under a magnificent drape of bougainvillea. The staff treated me like I’d been coming by for years, and the traditional Greek food is some of the best on the island—especially the feta with honey and sesame seeds. Wash it all down with a shot of ouzo.
The Gavalas family winery is one of the oldest and most prestigious wineries in Santorini, focused on limited production bottling of local varieties. Gavalas is also the only winery in Santorini that vinifies indigenous rare varieties like Katsano and Voudomato. The result is a crisp, airy, and fragrant Greek wine. Gavalas offers intimate tastings and tours, where a member of the staff will explain the unique process of making each variety on offer. Heads up, the experience takes about an hour, and reservations should be made in advance.
A celebrity hotspot, Franco’s in Fira is one of the best places to watch a famous Santorini sunset. The bar, which plays classical music on loop, has a stunning balcony view of the Aegean Sea. Skip the food and instead opt for something on Franco’s long list of innovative cocktails and aperitifs. The ouzo daiquiri is a standout.
Theros Wave Bar
Located on the Eros beach of Vlychada, Theros Wave Bar has been voted one of the best beach bars in the Mediterranean—and for good reason. Situated away from the overcrowded beach clubs you might think of when you picture Santorini, Theros is the ultimate place to relax in paradise—with a drink in hand, of course.
While many luxury hotels in Santorini cling to the cliffside, Vedema is farther inland in the medieval village of Megalochori. Lesser known than Oia and Fira, Megalochori has less tourists and all the charm. On a recent tour of the property, Vedema’s manager told me that celebrities like Beyoncé prefer Vedema for their Santorini stays because of its quiet location. In addition to private luxury, Vedema offers free parking, shuttle service, and a helipad—plus several pools, bars, and restaurants. Front desk agent Pavlos is the perfect tour guide, helping book boat excursions and reservations at traditional tavernas.
Mystique is a luxury hotel in Oia that features two sparkling pools, a spa, and the stunning on-site restaurant Lure. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, Mystique is it. The retreat offers unparalleled—and unobstructed!—private sea views. Plus, most of the rooms have private jacuzzis, pools, or both.
Adronis Concept Wellness Resort
Located in Imerovigli, Andronis boasts private terraces and infinity pools that look out to the Aegean. What sets this property apart from other hotels is its focus on health and well-being. Guests can utilize the yoga deck and world-class spa with private rooms, Tibetan body treatments, and massages.
Rose is a Senior Editor at ELLE overseeing features and projects about women’s issues. She is an accomplished and compassionate storyteller and editor who excels in obtaining exclusive interviews and unearthing compelling features.