Wow, I’ve really fallen behind on my trip reports. At least this one will be out before the hotel re-opens next season, which runs from April 15, 2013 – October 31, 2013. The hotel is closed during the off-season each year, similar to SPG’s Hotel Cala di Volpe, Costa Smeralda, which I visited in October (that report is coming soon as well).
So yes, after almost ten years of intensive travel all over the globe, I really do think Mystique is one of my favorite hotels. Now, before we get into why I loved this hotel so much, a little information about just how restrictive it is for us points travelers. The hotel had NO participation in the SPG program until 2011 and even now has very limited participation. The room is an SPG category 7 property and all rooms are considered suites and therefore you cannot book any award nights at the normal rate online. The cheapest rooms are available during the off-season (which includes May, select dates in June and September, and October) for 60,000 points per night, during high season they can go up to 140,000 Starpoints per night. To make matters worse, the cheapest cash rates usually start at around 380 Euro per night and go up from there. All cash rooms are pre-paid and nonrefundable, no matter how far in advance you book them! Yes, a room booked today for next summer is still nonrefundable. The award rooms are a little more flexible and can be cancelled up to 30 days prior to arrival. I asked the SPG Platinum desk how the award rates are determined and here is the response I received – “Good question, the rates are determined by how popular and how full the hotel is booked on average. This is evaluated usually every February/March of each year.” A solid recommendation from the Platinum desk is to make your summer bookings prior to February, as all dates are still considered off-peak since the peak dates have not yet been defined or loaded in the system. I just tested this (Nov. 20, 2012) and the 60,000 Starpoints per night rate is available for any night May – October, including July and August. Hah, what a savings!
Well, with those restrictions it was lucky that we had no intention of booking early and this was going to be more of a last minute trip. So, how did I possibly swing this at such ridiculous redemption rates? SHARING! I was working in Dublin with two colleagues and we decided that we wanted to head to Santorini for an extended three-day holiday weekend, flying out Friday afternoon and returning very late Monday night. We were able to get a great rate on an Aer Lingus roundtrip flight from Dublin to Athens, with a tight 45 minute connection on Adria Airways. The Adria flights from Athens – Santorini were also nicely priced at 110E roundtrip with tax. We decided that the only way to make our (or my) dream of staying at the Mystique a reality would be to share a room and each redeem our points for one night. In my head, three nights for 60k was a lot more palatable and I was more than happy to share the king or queen bed with my two female work colleagues or settle for the pull-out couch (HR was all the way back in NY). So it was decided, we were off to Santorini for the long weekend, a short 4 1/2 hour flight from DUB to ATH, followed by a 45 minute flight from ATH to JTR. Yes, it would all be worth it for the Mystique!
After just barely making our connection in Athens and running from the international to the domestic terminal (UK/Ireland flights are not considered Schengen zone), we were ready to begin relaxing. The Mystique offers free car service from the airport to the hotel (remember to email or call the hotel in advance to book this), which is about 12 miles and takes around 30 minutes. The driver was waiting at baggage claim with a sign with our names and brought us outside to the waiting van. The van had the A/C pumping and we were each offered a chilled sparkling or still water while the driver returned inside for one additional guest. On the trip to the hotel, you’ll pass through several small towns and villages including Thira, Fira, and Oia. That additional guest ended up being a Starwood brand manager for the Southern European region who was there to check on the hotel and spend a night. She got us pumped as we drove north along the Aegean Sea, telling us we were about to experience one of the most special SPG properties in the world!
Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted by two bellmen, who carried our luggage for us as we descended down about 15-20 stone steps towards reception. Inside we were greeted by Eleni, Krishna, and Konstantina who had three glasses of sparkling wine waiting for us. The three of us were invited to take a seat as they updated us on the history of the property, events for the coming weekend, breakfast, and even the weather forecast. They then took us on a tour of the entire resort, including our suite where our luggage was already waiting for us (there are lots of steps so let them handle your bags). Besides the fact that the award rate was for 2 people and we had 3, the staff were extremely concerned with our well being and wanted to make sure we would be able to get a good night’s sleep. They immediately pulled out the couch and made up an additional bed, never questioning us about the additional person. My co-worker is still convinced that this is because they thought she was our daughter (she’s small), but I think they were just that accommodating!
Our award room was booked as the Vibrant suite (a junior suite with a queen bed) and we were given a one class upgrade to the Allure suite. All rooms have sea and volcano views, private balconies with sun beds, and free wifi, but the vibrant suite lacks a jacuzzi (overlooking the sea) and a private terrace. The rooms could be called caves and are built right into the side of the volcanic rock. As such, we were happy with our upgrade but we just couldn’t stay in the room. We were busy looking out our front door at the moon reflecting off the sea, the infinity pool, and the amazing number of stars. As Platinum members we selected a bottle of Greek wine as our welcome gift, but were also presented with a bottle of ouzo (which would be put to good use later). After a very long day of traveling (and working), we opened up the bottle of wine and enjoyed our private terrace. The best part was waking up the next morning and seeing this from our room (even from the bathroom):
The only thing better than the view, was our private breakfast table waiting for us. After two weeks of working in chilly 60 degree Dublin August weather, it was great to have an outdoor homemade Greek breakfast while overlooking the sea. Our breakfast was made to order but the staff immediately brought out fresh yogurt, honey, sliced fruit, and a tomato feta cheese salad for each of us. I then ordered an egg white omelette, also with tomato and feta. Both sparking and spring water were brought to the table and fresh fruit and vegetable juices were also offered. Now, I love an over the top Asian hotel breakfast, but this might have topped it (not in variety but certainly with the view). The food itself was delicious (and complimentary for all guests), the fruits and vegetables were locally grown and fresh, and the yogurt and honey were also both locally produced. Everything was fantastic. Our first day was all about relaxing and after breakfast we headed over to the the lounge chairs. As there are only 19 rooms at the property (yes 19), we had no problem securing three chairs next to each other.
Besides the view, the staff is truly what makes Mystique incredible. As we were relaxing they brought over water, smoothies, and sparkling wine. They even placed a towel next to the pool for me as I swam (it was over 90 degrees, so I didn’t bother bringing one over). I can’t say enough about the staff, they are attentive and provided the best service I’ve ever had. They greet you by name and immediately make you feel like you are part of the family.
The property is truly spectacular, however if you are expecting a world-class island resort you may be disappointed. The pool is quite small (remember only 19 rooms), you cannot access the sea from the property, and while the cave rooms are comfortable, I wouldn’t call them luxurious. There is a flat-screen television, but otherwise the room is minimalistic. The natural stone functions as seating areas throughout the room and the floors are white concrete. The bathroom has a great shower and a jacuzzi overlooking the sea, but you won’t find any special amenities besides shampoo and soap (my colleague had them bring conditioner and lotion which have to be specially requested). Yes, the steps are steep, but remember you are staying in a hotel carved into the side of a volcanic mountain and your bags are carried up and down for you! None of these things bothered us. We spent almost no time in the room except for when we were sleeping, even at night we used the terrace. Though the pool was small, we were the only people swimming at most times as the other guests seemed to take quick dips. While you can’t access the sea, the view is spectacular and you should get out and explore the island and its beaches anyway. Speaking of exploring, go and check out local restaurants for dinner. They are much cheaper and you are walkable into town. Alternatively, take a taxi and explore the rest of the island and eat on the beach. The money you save by not having dinner at the hotel more than offsets the taxi rides. I recommend the octopus which was awesome everywhere we ate on the island. One caveat, most of the other rooms are occupied by honeymoon couples or couples celebrating an anniversary, so it’s not necessarily a friend trip (we were just there to have a good time so this didn’t bother us). OK, now on to the rest of the pictures as my words don’t do justice.
So, was it worth my 20k a night? Definitely! Would it be worth 60k – 140k per night? Besides the point that I would have a very hard time parting with that many SPG points, the value proposition just isn’t there. To put things in perspective, three nights at 60k per night could become 225,000 miles on several airlines with SPG’s transfer bonus. That’s significantly more than enough for a first class flight anywhere in the world (a mileage heavy N. America – Australia redemption in First prices between 145-160,000 miles depending on the airline)! Even if these rooms were going for 1,000E per night, a first class flight to Australia could easily top $15,000 and you would still have miles left over. Moral of this story, Mystique is an awesome hotel for SHARING your room with SPG friends or spending some free cash.