You probably think you know Santorini: tumbling whitewashed villages and azure-domed churches tucked among winding cobbled lanes that lead to world-famous views of blood-red sunsets over the submerged volcano crater (caldera) – and you’d be right. But there’s a lot more to the island than that. After a few nights of the more conventional Santorini island experience at a clifftop hotel, we were ready for a change and checked in to Bellonias Villas in the beachside village of Kamari on Santorini’s east coast.

The town couldn’t be much more different to the other side of the island: whereas the hilltop villages are postcard-perfect but often packed and pricey, beachside Kamari has a much more laid-back feel. Bellonias Villas is the best place to base yourself for a few days of total chill out.

The hotel was completely refurbished a few years ago and everything still feels gleaming new. The 26 suites are arranged among various white villas assembled around a central courtyard filled with olive trees and climbing jasmine. In front, just metres from the beach, is a stunning pool surrounded by towering trees (and the essential poolside bar, which promises to serve up top-notch cocktails at any time of day or night).

Bellonias Villas is the best place to base yourself for a few days of total chill out.

Rooms are contemporary and understated, with white plastered walls, cement floors, built-in beds and minimalist-but-modern furniture. Ours had a small terrace overlooking the sea, shaded by a rambling rubber tree. I opened the door after dinner one night and was stopped in my tracks by the moon casting a shimmering, silvery path across sea – a lunar-laid road across the Aegean to the horizon and beyond. It was a view as beautiful and beguiling as any clifftop sunset shot. 

The service during our visit was wonderful, and staff took extra precautions to make visitors feel comfortable during the Covid pandemic, with rooms sealed between guests to show that they have been fully disinfected. Better safe than sorry appears to be the policy – and quite right too.

Our mornings were mostly spent unwinding over long lazy breakfasts on the hotel’s beach terrace, with the rapidly-rising sun making the sea glimmer almost entirely white beyond the understated wicker parasols on the black beach. Fresh fruit and juices, eggs and Greek yoghurt helped us fuel up for a strenuous day, erm, lying on the beach and swimming in the crystal-clear waters. 

We did venture out for a sunset boat ride around the seas of Santorini’s caldera, which featured spectacular views, fresh seafood and perfect swimming spots. History buffs, meanwhile, can make the hike (or car ride) up the rugged headland overlooking Kamari to visit Ancient Thera, the ruins of a hilltop city built by the ancient Minoan civilisation in the 9th century BC. The exposed hilltop site is best avoided in the heat of the day but well worth a morning or early evening visit. There are also several nearby wineries to visit.

Bellonias Villas is located at one end of a pedestrianised beachfront road that runs for more than a kilometre along the black sands of Kamari beach and is packed on both sides with seafood restaurants, traditional tavernas, laid-back beach bars and boutiques. We wandered along each evening to check out a different taverna, the scent of grilled fish enticing us in and the sounds of soul and jazz drifting over from neighbouring bars failing to silence the lapping of the waves. 

Families and glamorous young couples strolled arm in arm before choosing a spot to tuck into fresh fish, grilled prawn and octopus, crispy calamari or traditional Greek souvlaki. Wherever you choose to pull up a seat is guaranteed to offer the musical accompaniment of the sea metres away and a warm night breeze drifting in off the Aegean.

The sunsets here are not what you see in the photos: no sun-drenched villages, bolt-blue church roofs or sweeping vistas. But after days of those more familiar views, we loved watching the sky darken over the Kamari sands, the sea turning from azure to black, matching the beach, and later, the lights of fishing boats appear bobbing on the horizon. This is, quite literally, a different side to Santorini, and one you don’t want to miss. 

Also worth a visit…

Santorini’s picture-perfect clifftop villages may be packed full of luxury hotels – and people – but they are still a must-visit. While many people pick one of the many hotels located right in the heart of the villages, with their accompanying array of swanky boutiques and upmarket restaurants, so do thousands of others. For an option further away from the scrums of cruise ship passengers but still only a 10-15 minute drive from the villages of Oia and Imerovigli, check into the San Antonio Hotel.

Slung next to a main road on a scraggy hilltop, the place is nothing to look at on arrival – so much so that we thought our satnav had got the wrong place. But step through the door and down the long entrance hall drilled through the cliff to reveal…wow. The passage opens onto spectacular views of the caldera behind a glistening infinity pool, framed by the hotel’s brilliant white buildings tumbling down the cliff and striking pink bougainvillea flowers contrasting with the deep blue sea hundreds of metres below. The staff are wonderfully friendly, the ambience luxurious but relaxed and the breakfast alone well worth returning for. Our room had its own outdoor hot tub, a bathroom that could easily have slept a whole family by itself, and a big balcony perfect for reading or napping in the afternoon heat. Everything is luxurious but laid-back, designed to foster a sense of perfect peace.

Nightly rates at Bellonias Villas start from 220 Euros including breakfast, based on two people sharing a Studio Suite 

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