Normally I spent lots of time researching the best places to stay, but sometimes the best holidays can be the most spontaneous ones and you come across a gem like On the Rocks. I spotted this gorgeous villa on a holiday auction site and put in a bid without even knowing exactly where Ios was. So when I won the first thing I did was get out a map, and the second was invite my parents and sister along with me for a week of late autumn sunshine. On the Rocks was set up by Yannis and Emmanuela, who lived in the UK for years before coming back to Greece and building two luxury villas. They’ve been designed to minimise impact on the environment – water is scarce around here so they recycle rainwater and treat their own waste as well as generating power from solar panels. But there are plenty of luxurious touches too, from the lovely pool to the daily cleaning service, that make it a cut above your normal self-catering holiday villa.
Ios doesn’t have an airport but you can fly to Santorini (which has flights from the UK in summer and from Athens all year) or Athens and then get a ferry. Or if you’re feeling flash there’s a helicopter pad just behind the villa. The journey from Athens’ Piraeus port takes about seven hours on the normal ferry or four on the fast service. Santorini is 35 minutes by ferry, and there are connections to other Cyclades Islands too if you fancy going island-hopping. There are a few different ferry companies though Blue Star are apparently the most reliable (our SeaJets catamaran was two hours late). The villa owners will pick you up and drop you off at the port, a ten-minute drive away. From the villa it’s a five-minute walk down a rocky path to Valmas Beach and 20 minutes’ walk either along the road to the main town of Chora or along the coast path to the port. It’s easy to get around on foot but it’s worth hiring a car to explore more of the island.
The two separate villas sit next to each other with the pool and terrace area in the middle, surrounded by lawns and gardens. Each villa sleeps six people, with two double bedrooms (the top floor room also has a balcony) and one twin. They all have their own en-suite bathrooms, supplied with Greek Apivita toiletries that use essential oils and bee products. You also get the villa’s branded Egyptian cotton bedding and towels which are changed every other day. And the beds have a clever Coco Mat mattress where you can adjust the hardness of the bed. Then downstairs there’s a big lounge area surrounded by patio doors that face out onto the garden (with inbuilt mozzie nets to keep the little biters out). It’s all decorated in cool, muted tones of blues and browns with traditional Greek-style whitewashed walls. I loved the little decorative touches like the beach-hut fabric cushions, driftwood hearts and vintage suitcases too.
The villa has an open-plan kitchen/diner and there’s a dining table outside on the terrace. We arrived to a feast of local treats – like spinach and feta pastries and a fresh Greek salad – and a fridge stocked with beers, water and soft drinks. There was also iced tea made with the villa’s own rooibos and orange blossom tea blend. The kitchen is fully equipped with an oven, hob, fridge-freezer, Nespresso maker and small dishwasher. There’s also a barbecue and wood oven in the garden. If you want to eat out, during the summer the taverna at Valmas Beach serves food and there are lots of places to eat in Chora and by the port, though by the end of the season only a few are still open. If you’re self-catering there are two main supermarkets – a Carrefour down by the port (better for fresh food) and another on Chora’s main road (better for wine and everything else) and the owners can order vegetables or bread from local producers for you.
There are sunlongers by the pool and lots of seating areas outside, both in the sun and the shade. And although the pool’s not heated it was still warm enough to tempt me in in October. The terrace looks across the sea to Santorini in one direction and the neighbouring island of Sikinos in the other, and the semi-circular stone seat by the barbecue is the prime spot to watch sunset. In the basement of the villa there is a utility room with washing machine, ironing board, etc and a children’s area with stacks of toys. The lounge has a TV with DVD player and shelves of books (in English and Greek) that you can borrow too. There’s also what we christened the ‘cocktail library’ a collection of spirits left by previous guests you can help yourself to and just buy a bottle to replace what you drink – perfect for an evening’s amateur mixology!
- Guests are… with the two villas it’s perfect for an extended family or for two families of friends as you can socialise together but have your own space to escape to.
- Staff are… Yannis and Emmanuela were lovely, helpful but not intrusive and even invited us for dinner with them on our last night. Cleaner Alina also came in every day to bring fresh bread and clean up.
- Don’t forget… the villa’s eco water treatment system means you can’t drink the water so stock up on bottled, and remember not to flush toilet paper.
- Useful to know… if you fancy trying Greek wine, the owners organise tastings from local producers.
On the Rocks villas are open from the start of May until the end of September. They cost €300 per day per villa in low season, and €450 per day per villa in high season (1 July until 20 August). The villas are normally rented together and there’s a minimum stay of seven nights. From summer 2016 the owners are also going to be renting out their neighbouring house, a luxurious villa with five bedrooms and its own pool.