For the average holidaymaker, the meaning of ‘wellness’ remains a bit murky – ranging from crystals and chakra healing to intensive workouts that leave you drenched in sweat.
The wellness offering at Santo Maris Oia – which has its own dedicated package – makes things clear, providing a soft introduction to the concept, for the ‘secondary wellness traveller’, as revered expert Suzanne Duckett puts it. She’s helped curate the wellness itinerary and so her input and reputation warrants the pricing.
Those who check into a wellness suite, situated in a manmade cave-like structure to give the impression of being out in nature, are greeted with a journal to write in over their stay, an essential oil and diffuser to bring the spa into the bedroom, hand-picked face and body products, and invites to morning outdoor yoga plus an excursion off-site deep in rural derelict land.
The idea is to immerse yourself in nature.
As the days of my stay go on, it becomes clear the wellness package at the hotel is for someone who wants to reap a few mental benefits without committing to a strict retreat – while still gorging on Greek-inspired food and laying back on a resort sun lounger by a pool.
Personally, I wanted wellness activities that went deeper – but most travellers will come to Santorini for a sun-soaked Greek island holiday over a spiritual awakening, so Santo Maris Oia probably gets it right for most people.
I had two massages here – the gentle and relaxing Summer Meadows, which was a full body and left me half asleep.
The following day I had the Ancient Greek full body, which was much more intensive and worked out the kinks in my calf muscles, putting them through some much needed manipulation.
My physiotherapist was Panayiotis Lelos on both occasions, and he listened to my preferences for the massages, making them a delightful experience.
However, as for the rest of the spa facilities, they were quite disappointing.
The ‘thermal’ pool was lukewarm at best and the ice machine masquerading as ‘cryotherapy’ (which means ‘cold therapy’) seemed a real stretch and just an opportunity to use a fancy word.
The sauna and steam room were fine, but they’re hard things to get wrong.
There rooms here were lovely. First I was put up in a wellness suite with its own private pool.
As the day would go on, the pool water warmed, making it ideal for a calm pre-dinner dip, with a view of the sea off in the distance.
Suzanne Duckett is big on ‘blue mind’, the scientifically-backed concept that when you’re surrounded by the colour blue, you relax and soften.
Having a room that looked onto a pool, onto the sea, onto the sky, gave me my blue mind fix. It’s hard to not feel calm with your own private spot in which to swim.
One night walking back to my room, the neighboring hotel was going hard with party music and I lamented, ‘great, I’m not going to sleep for hours’.
But, as soon as I shut the glass door, everything fell silent. Bliss.
Halfway through my stay I was moved to the main hotel to experience a junior suite, this one with a private hot tub that was also a joy to use – I mean, how can it not be?
This room looked onto a smaller infinity pool which was also brilliant for a swim – especially as often no one else was there.
No matter where you stay, the main pool (where morning yoga is hosted) is within easy reach and the hotel staff will often allow you to hop on the back of their carts if needed.
Food and drink
Breakfast was my favourite meal here – though buffet style, the options were sophisticated and changed daily.
From cheese to meat to sweet pastries, there was something for everyone.
At lunch and dinner the menus are a little small, but trying the six-course tasting menu one night is worth doing as you’ll get to sample a lot without feeling uncomfortably full after.
Meals here were delicious, as were the unique cocktails.
I had one that made use of herbs grown on site, giving a fresh taste and aroma.
Another one had a jasmine flower inside taken from the hotel grounds, which was so fragrant it was a delight.
Sustainability is important to the hotel I was told, and the evidence I saw of this was the elimination of plastic bags and bottles and the use of locally grown ingredients where possible.
Things to do off-site in Santorini
A more active traveller (like me) will get bored on site, but those that like their holidays to involve minimal movement will benefit from the lack of activities.
However, there’s plenty to see outside the hotel gates for a curious mind prone to ennui.
First head to Oia, where there’s plenty of markets, stray cats, and views of the glorious white buildings Santorini is so known for.
It’s a good place to pick up a keepsake.
While the on-site restaurant does serve up delicious food, it gets repetitive eating here day in day out as the menu is on the small side.
Take a cab or walk down a long hill to Ammoudi, a local fish restaurant in the shape of a sailing boat.
Dishes are pricey, so be prepared to spend and see this as a treat meal. The ceviche was a particular stand out, so I’d recommend you add that to your order.
Tip: try to get a table on the top floor for the best view out to the sea.
Volcanic Slopes Vineyards Winery
This was a trip highlight.
Located about halfway down the island, it was a half hour drive to get to Volcanic Slopes.
Once I arrived, I was shown the vineyards and taught about how the grapes grow to ensure they aren’t burnt in the sun.
Then in a cool cave-like building, I sampled the same local Santorini white wine over five different years, hearing about why the flavours were so different year on year.
Our expert was so knowledgeable and fascinating to speak to, you can’t possibly leave here without understanding more about wine.
Most of the beaches near Oia are pebbly, so if you want sand you’ll need to go south of the island.
However, this rocky beach near the hotel (about a 10 minute cab journey away) was stunning and quiet.
It would be wrong to go to Santorini and not dip your feet into the sea.
Santorini is no doubt a beautiful destination – and it’s no wonder its popularity is booming this year.
Couples looking for a romantic yet uncomplicated spot will enjoy the hotel and its pretty rooms with private pools and hot tubs, as well as the simplicity of the on-site offerings.
It’s also a sweet idea to take the wellness practices and elements home with you – the essential oil, journal, and beauty products are yours to keep. If journaling was new and fruitful experience, for example, this trip could be the building blocks to creating a regular mindfulness ritual.
However, while Santo Maris makes for a good base on the island, as for the wellness package in its entirety, a seasoned wellness traveller will find the options a little sparse (I personally did).
I’m told in the coming weeks and months this will be fine-tuned with Suzanne’s further input, as due to the pandemic she hadn’t been able to visit and ‘test’ the execution of the programme until the same week I was staying.
It’s worth keeping in mind though, I’ve experienced all kinds of wellness as part of my job and for my own personal interests – including wild water swimming, sound healing, reiki, breath work, and cryotherapy.
But what about the wellness newbie? Why, this is an uncomplicated way to dip your toe into that blue mind pool.
Santo Maris’ Wellness Suites and package start from €518 per night with a minimum four night stay.
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