For a lot of people, the small Greek island of Santorini is a dream destination.
Indeed, it is exceedingly beautiful! From the moment you step off the boat and take the long, zigzag road up the mountain, you will see a picture-perfect scene with clear blue skies, ancient doorways, white-painted walls, and pastel-colored roofs.
You will never get a bad shot when you take photographs in Santorini. The whole place itself is straight out of a storybook.
And when you go visit during spring when there are not so many people, the villages of Oia and Fira are a study of serenity.
There are no hordes of tourists taking turns making a jump shot. It’s just you and the occasional wanderers walking around Oia and Fira’s sharp corners and meandering alleys. It was the perfect place for me to take a rest on my 7th week of solo backpacking in Europe.
With all its beauty, Santorini can be very pricey especially during the summer season. If you would like to wake up with a view of the caldera, for example, you can stay in one of the numerous traditional houses by the cliff and pay 80 euros per night onwards for the privilege.
As a backpacker, I was definitely on the lookout for cheaper accommodations. I didn’t know if it was possible in Santorini, despite it being off season. After all, beauty doesn’t come cheap!
I was very glad then to have found Caveland Hostel; not only did I meet my budget of 15 euros/night, I also got to stay in the best hostel I’ve ever known.
Located in the small village of Karterados, a 20-minute walk from Fira town, Caveland has beauty and history perfectly combined. All the pictures online didn’t prepare me for the reality of Caveland.
Aptly named because of the cave-like accommodations that used to be a winery back in the 1700s, everything in it fits the light and airy atmosphere of Santorini, with its light-colored walls and artistic bric-a-brac decorating the place.
The small touches — from the wall mosaic made of discarded red tiles to the chandelier made of grape vines — give Caveland a unique and very personal touch. Each decor has its own story to tell, and there is nobody more willing to share it than their creator, Caveland co-owner Kostas Sakavaras.
“People throw away a lot of things in Santorini that I can still use,” Kostas says, over a plateful of spicy vegetarian spaghetti that his brother and business partner Giannis Sakavaras hurriedly fixed after a long day’s work. “I pick them up from the streets, or people give them to me, and I make my wall decors.”
Among the hundred and one things he had rescued from the dump is an old part of a wooden church altar which the pastor had decided to replace with something more modern. The piece of wood had several layers of paint, and at the bottom was signs of gold inlay, giving a clue to the altar’s real age.
There are many more such treasures lying around in Caveland. From the tiles and stonework, to wooden cuts and pieces of marble, Kostas has an unerring eye in identifying beauty in every scrap of material, bringing them to life in Caveland.
Kostas and his brother Giannis were responsible for making Caveland one hostel to remember. Both were travelers and Couchsurfers themselves, and they wanted a place that they would like themselves as backpackers.
Together with Kostas’ fiancee, Veronika, they took over the operation of Caveland from a friend who used to run it as a luxury hotel in the 1990s. Kostas is the artist and carpenter, and Giannis — who was taking care of the booking and administration when I arrived in the absence of Veronika — usually does carpentry, electrical work, and a number of maintenance activities.
Each of them puts in long hours everyday starting at 6am, rushing to make the place how they want it to be, especially before the tourists arrive. Caveland is less than a year old, but its reputation seems to be well-established already. Last March, reservations for September were already coming in.
“It’s crazy,” Giannis said. “I don’t even know where I’ll be in September, and they’re already booking their stay here.” I, as a guest, don’t wonder though. With something as beautiful as Caveland, you would definitely want to make sure you’ll have a room there when you arrive in Santorini.
I sat chatting with Kostas and Giannis over their plate of spaghetti, sitting in the kitchen that used to be where the grapes were extracted. While they were taking their turn in telling me the history of Caveland, I could clearly hear the pride in their voice.
Indeed, they should be proud! Caveland IS beautiful. Each room is different, and rather than fill them up with beds — they could easily accommodate 60 guests at a time rather than the 47 that they have now — they prioritize making each unit a comfortable homey living area.
Even my own 6-bed dorm room is cozy and spacious. It’s painted in pastel colors and has been left mainly untouched since the 1700s except for the installation of modern conveniences.
My roommate, a young German guy named Felix, was very personable as he shared his stories of traveling and how, like me, he found Caveland so unlike the other hostels we’ve ever been in.
“We get a lot of guests who extend their stay,” Kostas says, and of course, I’m not surprised. If I didn’t have a limited time in Europe, I would have stayed longer too. I’ve stayed in hostels during my travels, and there was nothing more comfortable and full of history than Caveland.
I went to Santorini to have a chance to reflect and rejuvenate. I didn’t expect to get that as well in my hostel. Needless to stay, if there are a few places that made my Eurotrip more memorable, Caveland was definitely one of them.
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!