‘I refuse to swing!’ I whisper to Mrs Smith, as we walk alongside the immaculate member of staff sent to escort us to Sun Rocks, following an explanation that it’s a 'couples only' hotel. Our chaperone looks a little horrified. Mrs Smith looks strangely disappointed. We're in Greece, staying in Firostefani, on the western edge of Santorini. Our getaway is perched on rocky cliffs 300 metres above the Aegean, overlooking the volcanic cauldron that lends this island its mysterious feel. We're both wondering what to expect.
The first thing we can't help noticing about Sun Rocks is the service. It is perfect. Staff are attentive but relaxed. Knowledgeable, yet reserved. This is clearly a very well-planned operation. The second thing we can't help noticing are the steps. Several hundred link the 17 scattered rooms and the carefully preened facilities. The locals explain that this is great for keeping you trim. We don't care. Once we've been shown to our apartment, we don't want to leave.
Almost all of the comfortable rooms at the hotel are of the traditional whitewashed cave variety demanded by tourists. If you've glanced at any snaps of the area you'll immediately recognise these simple abodes clinging higgledy-piggledy to the sharp coastline. Studios, residences and VIP suites at Sun Rocks come in various shapes and sizes, each of their own design, but sticking to the theme. All have terraces overlooking the sea. We however, have broken with tradition and opted for one of Sun Rocks' two apartments.
Should you dare to be different you'll be rewarded with what at first glance appears to be a New York playboy's pad. It's sleek, it's sexy, it's… ‘Oh. My. God. Look at the view!’ It's the sort of sight your mind takes time adjusting to. Sure, we've already marvelled at the low-slung, black-rock volcano framed by islands. But this is the first time we've had it in our own room, all to ourselves. We quickly work out how to roll back the giant windows to enjoy the spectacle to the full. No other structures clutter our vista, which is extremely unusual in this crag. It all works very well with the champagne we were handed on check-in.
The apartment is an excellent size, generously equipped and perfectly presented. Japanese in flavour, furniture is simple but expensive. Our hosts have thoughtfully left us complimentary nibbles. Alcoves and storage are hidden by fancy sliding screens. The shower cubicle has a frosted glass wall for, ahem, extra light. Our bed is set into the floor. Just a few hurried steps away is a generous, black-slate Jacuzzi; again, sunken, and thankfully lacking in stark-naked Germans asking if this is our first time. Both the bed and bath have front-row seats to that view. It's all very James Bond, which suits us just fine as we've decided to go scuba the sunken volcano.
For those of you who think that squeezing into gaudy coloured wetsuits and strapping heavy equipment onto your back isn't romantic – well, to start with, you'd be right. Waddling into the water and floundering about as you strap on your fins isn't sexy. However, drop gracefully into the crystal-clear inner-space, and you'll be forced to reconsider. It's not the over-excited fish flickering around you or the unique feeling of weightlessness, although these help – it's the buddy system. Your scuba partner’s job is to keep a vigilant eye on your comfort and wellbeing. Anything goes wrong down here and it could be fatal without your guardian angel watching over you. There's nothing more relationship-affirming than having your partner as your buddy.
Although lacking bright coral, the Aegean around Santorini offers up a couple of interesting and relaxing dives that are perfect for beginners. Just offshore you'll see plenty of fish, and a variety of sponges dotted about. You may catch a glimpse of the occasional nudibranch – not fauna to hide one's embarrassment, but small, brightly coloured sea slugs. You might also, as we did, surface among a family of ducks happily bobbing about. Weird. On the way back to our pick-up point we drop in on the wreck of a trawler, mysteriously sunk 70 years ago. The only thing missing is a team of crack frogman on their way to assault an evil mastermind's secret base.
Slightly tired, but smugly content, we make our way back to dry white wine at Sun Rocks' pool bar. It's the centre of attraction at the hotel, with an excellent little restaurant and lounging space about the pristine piscine. This was our first real taste of the couples-only restrictions. Before sunset we had been invited to an intimate wedding. Drinking champagne and eating cake, I was forced to admit the company was delightful. Unsurprisingly a fair few of Sun Rocks' guests are here to tie the knot or propose. You'd be hard pressed to find a better setting.
In keeping with the exclusive feeling of our experience, we decide to sample the Elea ('Olive Tree') fine-dining room. Accommodating just four smart tables, it's exclusive enough to require booking at the same time as your room. Greek cuisine doesn’t usually get me too excited, but the dishes served here are exceptional. An excellent cheese, tomato and toasted-bread mousse get us in the mood. Lobster soup, fresh papardelle, baby veal and pineapple creme brulee excite and satisfy, in equal measure. Everything is washed down with some really excellent Greek wines, shattering yet more of our preconceptions.
As the weekend wears away we meet other guests, who are friendly but value the peace and tranquillity. They enjoy a poolside chat, but still want to disappear into the romance of this place all by themselves. No need for us to have worried. ‘Couples only’ turns out to mean ideal holidaying.