Once upon a time in Therasia
Getting off the boat in Therasia is like stepping back in time and seeing the Cyclades as they were 50 years ago. This beautiful tiny volcanic island—Therasia is just 9 km2 in size—is like a miniature Santorini. Its villages, small white cubes of houses hanging onto abrupt slopes, extraordinary geology and breathtaking views of the caldera make it a dream destination. The island is quiet and somehow evocative of Mexico—could it be the blazing hot sun, the narrow, empty streets or perhaps the brightly painted churches? Like the other islands in the Santorini archipelago, Therasia is the result of a gigantic volcanic explosion that took place some 3,500 years ago. Its history is also similar to that of many of the Cyclades—at one time the Venetians held sway here, followed by the Ottomans. It was originally populated mainly by sailors and miners and pozzolan from the island was even used to build the Suez Canal! Although its population reached almost a thousand inhabitants in the 19th century, it started to decline at the beginning of the 20th century. The earthquake in 1956 was the final straw and some villages were abandoned entirely, such as the troglodyte village of Agrilia. Today, this sleeping beauty that barely counts 300 inhabitants draws walkers and people who want to discover the real Greece, an unspoilt destination just a stone’s throw from the crowds of Santorini.
Although the island has little to offer in the way of accommodation, it does have the Perivolas Hideaway, one of the most exclusive villas in the world and, since last summer, Santa Irini Retreat. This charming little gem of a holiday villa owes its name to the chapel facing it, although legend has it that the opposite is true. Dimitris Kriezis inherited the chapel and adjoining land from his great aunt, a very popular woman who helped a lot of people in Therasia to rebuild their homes after the terrible earthquake in 1956. She also owned one of the most beautiful captain’s houses on Santorini. Dimitris Kriezis and his partner Pâris Savvidis wanted to create a guesthouse with a timeless feel that would blend into the landscape. Their architect Giorgos Xydis found inspiration in the typical houses of the Cyclades, their harmonious interior volumes and numerous outdoor spaces perfectly adapted to an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. He designed a U-shaped house that would offer protection from the wind and provide shade all day long. Working with Arcset, who designed the interior and the swimming pool, he went for a modern rustic style with whitewashed stone walls, antique furniture found in the nearby chapel or Athens flea market and beautiful textiles that give the house character and soul. Comprising 3 independent suites and 2 troglodyte rooms, several terraces and large common areas, Santa Irini Retreat fosters a spirit of conviviality. The outdoor living room and dining room surrounded by vines are the very heart of the house, a place to share Mediterranean-inspired dishes and plan the next day’s activities: hiking, horse rides, boat trips or a romantic dinner for two in Oia. On the other side of the house, the black stone swimming pool resonates with the volcanic landscape and turns the water a magnificent deep blue. Discreet and bewitching Therasia certainly has nothing to envy the glitter of Santorini.