Author: ELIZABETH RENKERT
Photography: BENJAMIN DADDY
The vacant old house perched atop a cliff in the quiet town of Oia on Santorini had more than once caught the eye of visiting American Tony Mosiman during his frequent holidays on the iconic Greek island. The epitome of the glamorous beach destination - narrow cobbled streets, white-washed walls, curvy blue-domed churches and the dramatic caldera (volcanic crater) - Santorini has long attracted a faithful crowd of visitors and Mosiman was equally smitten.
"I have travelled extensively, but I kept coming back to Santorini as the island has a charm that can hypnotise even the most jaded traveller with just a split-second gaze over the caldera filled like a mirror with the Mediterranean," says Mosiman.
"I was living in London and Dublin, without the sun. Great cities, but without even a hint of summer. I needed the sun."
So Mosiman packed in his old life as an IT consultant and made
the sea change to Santorini, where he set up two restaurants -
Ambrosia and Ambrosia & Nectar. But he never forgot the siren
call of that neglected old house on the cliff.
A few years later, serendipity stepped in.
"In Oia, properties change hands by word of mouth and my lawyer friend alerted me to a place I might want to rent. It was that same house. And after one visit, I was convinced I had to own it," Mosiman says.
"The original owner/builder was a sea captain who had travelled to Italy, and this influenced the architecture of the exterior and the high cross-vaulted ceilings of the rooms."
Such a property was very unusual for Santorini, where most dwellings are built into volcanic rock and rooms are often small and cave-like. So Mosiman followed his heart and today he is indeed the owner of the sea captain's house, along with partner Panayiotis Vassilopoulos, a local.
In 2004, just prior to the Olympic Games, the partners opened the property as 1864 The Sea Captain's House, a characterful small hotel whose discreet charm in the equally understated town of Oia is as unique as the island's iconic vistas; maybe the most charming of the slew of boutique hotels that have appeared on the island in the past decade or so.
Fira town, 20 minutes north, is where it's at for dancing the night away, but Oia, with its archetypal Greek village feel (no cars; this is donkey territory) is the fitting home for this boutique hotel.
Mosiman and Vassilopoulos have achieved a laid-back feel in the guest house, which features timber floors fitted in the late 19th century by the local carpenters who built the island's sailing ships. Scattered throughout the property are hand-blown lamps from Crete, 60s furniture from London and paintings by artists who live, or have lived, in this village which is renowned for its artistry.
Each guest room, and there are only five, is uniquely decorated.
Our favourite is the Sailing Sea Suite, with its gorgeous terrace,
views of that caldera, a lounge area,
four-poster canopy bed and deep spa bath.
The Sea Captain's House is the perfect complement to the restaurants Mosiman originally established. Ambrosia and Ambrosia & Nectar are both just a few minutes' walk from the property, but for those who can't tear themselves away from the tranquillity, orders can be placed and meals delivered to one of the hotel's terraces.
Ambrosia sits on the edge of the caldera and its food is among the most adventurous on the island. Warm feta with honey and figs; pork medallions in Santorini vin santo, and a seafood risotto are just some of the highlights.
Ambrosia & Nectar, a more casual alternative to Ambrosia, sits back from the cliff on one of the village's cobbled streets. Try the excellent moussaka, which is made with white eggplant that's grown on the island.
"I like throwing a party, creating a soft atmosphere and introducing people to new tastes and wines," says Mosiman. "I thought I could bring in some food ideas from my travels."
A recent addition to The Sea Captain's House is the Caldera
Massages Studio, a cave-style house next door. A 'secret' passage
from The Sea Captain's House's former wine cellar leads to the
massage rooms, which feature a sunken Roman tub for treatments. Hot
volcanic stone treatments and a honey-yoghurt body scrub are on the
menu and a new line of aromatherapy oils and natural beauty
products by resident masseur Antonio, called Caldera by Antonio,
will go on sale soon.
"Visitors to Santorini come for the dramatic scenery for sure, but also for a little break from reality TV, seven-to-eleven work, 24-hour news and an anonymity that I think everyone wants to break out of," Mosiman says.
"Oia is a small village and guests usually adjust to the slowness and quickly become friends with the locals over a shared table at a taverna.
"Santorini's unique beauty calms and invigorates the spirit. In creating The Sea Captain's House, I wanted to pay a compliment to the beauty of Oia."
The Fine Print
Gulf Air flies daily from Sydney to Athens (1300 366 337, www.gulfair.com) and Olympic Airlines (www.olympicairlines.com) and Aegean Airlines (www.aegeanair.com) fly from Athens to Santorini.
1864 The Sea Captain's House
In the centre of Oia.
+30 22860 71983, www.santorini-gr.com. Suites from about $650 in high season.
Near Oia's main church in the town square. +30 22860 71413, www.santorini-gr.com/ambrosia.htm.
Ambrosia & Nectar Restaurant
Near the castle ruins.
+30 22860 71504, www.santorini-gr.com/nectar.htm.
A beautiful pâtisserie with an equally beautiful view.
+30 22860 71569.
A cool hang. It used to be an antique shop and you can buy the lamps and vases that adorn it.
+30 22860 71015.
Neptune Restaurant and Petros Restaurant
Both are traditional Greek tavernas with loads of atmosphere and local dishes. Neptune, +30 22860 71294 and Petros, +30 22860 71263.
Fine gold jewellery. +30 22860 28061, www.orogold.gr.
Intricate, delicate pieces.
+30 22860 71498.
For bronze and silver leather thongs for around $50, +30 22860 71951. Or try Anatoli, +30 22860 71782.
The last shop in the village, near the windmills, they stock wind chimes, pottery and jewellery.
+30 22860 71944.
This brilliant international bookshop is well worth a visit. +30 22860 72346, www.atlantisbooks.org.
Most of Santorini closes down for winter (late November to March), but the party culture kicks off in summer. For beaches and nightlife, try Perissa Beach (about a 40-minute drive). Closer to home is the vibrant town of Fira, which is just a 20-minute, $20 taxi ride away.