In May, Markos Chaidemenos was still busily directing the dozens of workmen who were laying stones, adding wiring and planting a garden of lavender, bougainvillea and hibiscus. The frantic summer season was around the corner and the first guests at the new villa at Canaves Epitome were set to arrive in June.
“It was a dream to make a larger estate, because there is such a high demand,” said Chaidemenos, 36, the managing director and second-generation hotelier behind the island’s 40-year-old institution, Canaves brand and its eponymous boutique hotels. “People want to travel with family, or with groups of friends.”
Set in Oia, on the island’s northwest tip, the new roughly $7,660-a-night villa offers sunset views, minus the crowds that throng the caldera rim. Tricked out with a 1,000-square-foot infinity pool, a 200-square-foot gym, and a spa room with two massage beds, the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom villa has 5,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor living space. It features a carefully landscaped 3,500 square-foot terrace, and—very rare for Santorini—an elevator that goes from the ground to second floor.
Chaidemenos admits that he’s chasing a trend.
Unlike nearby Mykonos, where the topography nearly guarantees properties will have sea views, the real estate landscape in Santorini is trickier. Luxury hotels typically offer the best vistas on the island rather than private villas. Moreover, private staff on the cramped isle is currently in short supply. That’s created a nice niche in the Santorini market for hotel operated villas, where staffing, views and amenities are guaranteed.
“When we have a very demanding client who asks for something crazy or last minute, we feel more comfortable booking them with one of our hotel villas, because we are assured that there will definitely be enough staff,” says Christos Gkekas, founder and owner of Blue Villas Hotels, which markets a collection of 80 villas on Santorini, as well as nearly 400 others spread among nine other Greek islands.
That all-the-luxury-none-of-the-headaches approach means that the villa shares the same cancellation policy as Epitome’s regular hotel rooms. It also means that guests (if they so choose) can dine in the hotel’s restaurants, take advantage of the hotel’s children’s programming, sail on the fleet of catamarans run by Sailing Oia, Canaves’ boat rental company, and easily arrange butler and private chef services.
Other hotels are also eagerly biting off a piece of the villa market here. Auberge Collection’s Grace Hotel offers a two-bedroom, 1.615 square-foot villa “fit for Zeus himself.” That means heated-pool, a fully stocked kitchen and most importantly, dedicated staff.
Just a kilometer away from Canaves Epitome, the Adronis Arcadia hotel added its own large villa—this one with six bedrooms—in 2019. At more than 6,000 square feet, and with two private pools, a gym and a spa room, the Eden Villa starts at roughly $10,500 a night.
As well-heeled Americans flock to the island, Chaidemenos notes that his beloved Oia has changed mightily. Chaidemenos, whose father served as mayor of the village from 1990 to 1993, remembers his childhood spent playing there, before the tourism boom began in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Obviously it’s busier than it used to be, but it attracts a lot of sophisticated travelers,” he says. “There has been a lot of building, but thank goodness the architecture was preserved. The villas and views were well-respected by locals and investors.”
As for the famous Santorini sunset, his insider tip is to stay still.
“I don’t recommend our guests head to the caldera,” he says. “They can just stay in their villa, with drinks, exclusivity and music and have a perfect sunset moment.”