Romance is not dead: A review of On The Rocks, Hyatt's Small Luxury Hotels in Santorini, Greece
On a related note, before booking any travel, be sure to keep up to date with our country-by-country guide to pandemic-era travel restrictions and requirements.
If you've ever wanted to visit the Greek islands, Santorini is likely to be at the top of your list. Dreamy, whitewashed villages cling to the sides of steep cliffs, with breathtaking panoramas and some of the world's most spectacular sunsets. Unfortunately, Santorini is also famous for crowds, cruise ships and overpriced, well, everything. I still wanted to see it for myself, so I did my research and visited in the off-season. While hotel rates for this high-end honeymoon oasis can be just as jaw-dropping as the views, I found a great value (and an excellent spot for a romantic getaway) using Hyatt points at a unique Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) property on the island.
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Santorini has no shortage of boutique accommodations. Its challengingly uneven terrain makes building large hotels with sought-after caldera and ocean views virtually impossible. While that means you won't have to contend with the hordes that all-inclusive megaresorts tend to draw, it also presents some challenges.
Rates for standard rooms at hotels across the island run well into four figures per night during the summer and early fall, which made On The Rocks a great find at a much lower price point. What's more, the hotel delivered everything I had hoped for from a luxurious Greek island retreat, from its airy, comfortable rooms to my own private balcony from which to enjoy the stunning sea vistas. The property even managed to squeeze a swimming pool into the tight, steep space, perfect for unwinding over long, sun-soaked afternoons.
Though I traveled alone, romance seemed to be everywhere, with loving couples in fluffy bathrobes enjoying room service breakfast with champagne. I could see them because there's not much privacy due to the hotel's layout. Neither I, nor they, seemed to care, though – and I never tired of those spectacular coastal views.
Active travelers will do best here since Santorini is so hilly. You'll encounter stairs in every direction, which might be an issue for those with accessibility concerns.
Santorini (JTR) receives no transatlantic flights but you can fly there non-stop from numerous major European airports in the summer, including hourly flights from the Greek capital, Athens (ATH). There are also frequent ferries from Athens stopping at nearby islands like Mykonos, Paros and Naxos. The hotel can arrange a transfer from the island's airport or the ferry terminal for €30 ($34.75) per person. Both routes take only 20 minutes. Local buses meet each ferry and flight and can transfer you to the charming nearby village of Thira, where you can then take another bus on a short ride to tiny Imerovigli, where the hotel is located. Each bus ride costs just €1.60 ($1.85), which is a bargain for a high-priced destination.
As a seasonal summer hotspot, hotel prices in Santorini vary enormously from month to month Expect to pay eye-watering amounts in August, when you will also battle tourist throngs from visiting cruise ships. Prices drop considerably in the shoulder seasons of April and October, when I visited. The property is closed from Nov. 1 to March 31 each year.
Compared to other hotels on the island, the 26-room On The Rocks is reasonably priced, with 2022 rates ranging from $232 to $580 per night including breakfast. You can expect to pay twice this much for some other Hyatt-affiliated Small Luxury Hotels on the island, like Canaves Oia.
You can also redeem 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night, though given how valuable Hyatt points are, it made more sense to pay $310 cash per night instead.
One of the best benefits about booking SLH properties via Hyatt is that, in addition to earning points and elite night credits, World of Hyatt members (regardless of status) receive:
- Daily complimentary continental breakfast for two
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Early check-in at 12:00 p.m. (based on availability at check-in)
- Late check-out at 2:00 p.m. (based on availability at check-in)
- Space-available one category room upgrade
Although elites won't receive benefits beyond these, for general members, that's a positive passel of perks.
- Magnificent views across the cobalt-blue Aegean Sea that never cease to amaze.
- Good overall points value for an aspirational luxury destination.
- Tireless, attentive staff who will run up and down all those stairs as many times as needed to ensure you have everything you could desire.
- Beautifully presented a la carte breakfasts delivered directly to your room every morning.
- Surprisingly fresh food and drinks at a small pool bar built into the side of a cliff.
- Countless stairs to get to anywhere on the property.
- No room numbers mean you can easily get lost among the winding lanes.
- Very little privacy. If you're not on your own honeymoon, you might feel like you're part of others' celebrations next door.
This hotel bills itself as all about romance. In fact, On The Rocks is an adults-only property, although children 13 and over are welcome. Unless your teenager is happy to just sunbathe and silently read a book all day, though, I would recommend another hotel.
Most other guests appeared either to be on their honeymoon or enjoying a much-needed romantic getaway. The constant background soundtrack was of champagne bottles being popped and couples playfully splashing around in private pools, a feature of some premium suites, then sneaking inside for a "nap." Sounds ideal, right? Just beware that the cliffside setting means rooms are right on top of one another and complete strangers may walk within sneezing distance of your front door or lounge chair.
No one comes to Santorini to sit inside a hotel room and watch TV all day. So while my 120 square-foot standard Cycladic cave-style room (each of the 26 rooms has a different layout) was basic and sparsely furnished for a luxury property, I found I did not mind. It drew me outdoors more easily, and that, after all, is the real attraction of coming to Santorini. The exposed stone, curved ceiling and whitewashed walls were all constant reminders that I was literally sleeping inside a cliff. The early-October weather was still summery and hot, but the air conditioner worked without fail – a boon after having to navigate all those stairs walking around the hotel.
There was almost as much personal outdoor space as indoor space, so I spent most of my waking hours on my private balcony, which had a pair of chairs and a side table where I could enjoy breakfast delivered directly to my room. In front of that was a large day bed with a handy removable market umbrella that could block the sun while still preserving the dreamy views.
The bathroom was a little tight, especially with its awkward shower glass that resulted in a few banged elbows and a wet basin, but I managed to wash my hair without difficulty.
Food and drink
The hotel's sole restaurant is located poolside and open for lunch and dinner. The all-day menu might bore some from the lack of choice, but the juicy lamb chops, still pink inside and served with sweet potato mash and tzatziki sauce, were excellent, especially considering the location and space limitations of the kitchen.
Each morning, like most guests, I awoke to a beautifully presented, pre-ordered breakfast served directly to my room to eat in bed or out on my balcony watching the sunrise (you could also get breakfast at the pool bar). Among the delicious dishes I tried were the vegan semolina halva (a traditional Greek cinnamon confection) and perfectly poached eggs.
Amenities and service
My ideal honeymoon wouldn't involve a daily aerobics class, so I didn't mind that there was no gym on the property, especially given all the stair climbing I was doing while out exploring the island. There is a spa on site with massages, facials and body treatments ranging from €50 to €100 ($58 to $116) for 30- to 75-minute treatments. Maybe next time I'll go for the very extra-sounding Golden Line body treatment with "23-karat gold body scrub."
Built into the side of the hill, the main pool was surprisingly large and very refreshing on hot afternoons. If you want to score one of the few poolside lounge chairs you'll need to get there early, since they fill up quickly. Otherwise, each room has balcony chairs just a flight of steps away, so you can visit the pool only when you need the occasional dip to cool off.
As I worked on my tan, the hotel staff never stopped running up and down all those stairs, whether it was carrying heavy luggage over their heads, cleaning up water splashed from those private plunge pools or delivering cocktails and champagne from morning to night – all with genuinely warm smiles.
Out and about
Most people visit Santorini to witness the world-famous sunsets in bustling Oia on the northern tip of the island as the sun sets against the famous blue-domed churches. To get there, you can either take a taxi for around $30 from the hotel or catch the local bus -- both options take just over 30 minutes. Arrive at least 60 minutes before sunset and stake out a vantage point because there will be crowds (even in October) all vying for perfect snapshots. You can book a restaurant with a great view, though most have minimum spending requirements of at least €50 ($58) per person for the privilege.
Thira town doesn't have quite the same views but I recommend an evening perusing the endless inexpensive tavernas, gyro stands and souvenir shops. Quieter Imerovigili, where the hotel is located, has a handful of excellent restaurants, including Rare, which serves delicious steaks, and Avocado with casual Mediterranean fare. The interactive museum Lost Atlantis Experience on the south of the island (an alleged location of the mythological island of Atlantis) features a theme-park style 9D movie among other exhibits. You can also tour the island's various wineries and try those crisp, white Assyrtikos for which Santorini is famous.
Due to its location and the topography of Santorini, On the Rocks is one of the least accessibility-friendly properties I have stayed at. Uneven, cobbled streets lead to the dozens of steps from reception down to the rooms, and then dozens more down to the pool and bar. If you have any issues navigating uneven surfaces, you might want to avoid it.
For my brief stay, On The Rocks got everything right: a comfortable though sparsely furnished room, endless postcard-perfect views, a staff that hustled tirelessly up and down those stairs to make sure every guest was happy and one of the most enjoyable hotel breakfast experiences I've had.
While Santorini won't be for everyone – you sacrifice privacy and accessibility in order for as many guests to experience those gorgeous caldera ocean views as possible – On The Rocks is a near-ideal destination for a honeymoon or a special occasion in a romantic setting. Although it was pleasant enough for my solo trip, I will definitely bring my partner along next time so that we can experience it together.