Greece - a late Love in my Life
I have to admit that I discovered Greece at a relatively late stage in my life. I always had a preference for Roman countries, Italy and Spain in particular. This has also to do with the fact that I speak those languages (and I am struggling with Greek!). I am grateful that I decided to go to Greece for the first time in 2012 for business reasons. Nine more trips followed until 2019 – a good reason to compile a list of my favourite destinations in Greece. And I hope that many more will follow since I have only seen a tiny part of this stunning country. One of the things that makes Greece so unique is its islands – a total of 6,000 (YES!), scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Only 227 of them are inhabited. This is a truly unique phenomenon for the European continent, apart from those islands' incredible beauty with all kinds of beaches – sandy, pebble, steep rocks, and dark coloured sand of volcanic soil.
1) Best for a City Break: ATHENS
Let's start with the capital city of Greece, one of my favourite city destinations. With its long history, Athens may be the historical capital of Europe. In 1834, it became the capital of the modern Greek state. Since then, it has become a beautiful metropolis with an unrivaled location between mountains and the sea. Athens is full of historical monuments and sites. Still, at the same time, the city offers excellent cuisine, authentic modern art and design, and, of course, legendary Greek hospitality. Even in times of economic crisis, you will find bars, cafés, and restaurants full of people. Top attractions include, of course, the sacred rock of the Acropolis with the famous Parthenon temple – one of the best views (if not the best) you can enjoy in Athens. The close-by Acropolis Museum, an impressive building made of steel, glass, and concrete, houses 4,000 finds from the Acropolis monuments.
At the Eastern side of the Acropolis, you find the Plaka neighbourhood, a historic center with narrow streets, ancient monuments, churches, mosques, and Byzantine art and architecture masterpieces. Sip a coffee in the numerous picturesque cafés and buy traditional Greek products in one of the countless boutiques. Tip: Greek designers belong to the best in the world!
Other sites include the temple of Olympian Zeus, the Hadrian's Arch, the ancient Theatre of Dionysos, and the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center – just to name a few. Don't miss to enjoy a walk along the seaside in the Southern suburbs with many cafés, restaurants, and clubs (in summer).
This is, of course, just a little glimpse of what Athens has to offer. Click here for more information about the city.
Where to stay in Athens
If you are looking for outstanding comfort and a hotel right downtown, the Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, is the place to go. For me, this is the best hotel in Athens. This landmark opened in 1874, is within walking distance to exclusive shopping areas, museums, and the Acropolis. I love to have an espresso in style at the elegant Winter Garden before exploring Athens.
Highlight: The view from the Roof Garden Restaurant is breathtaking! The rooftop pool is a perfect place for people watching.
Contemporary style and hospitality in a historic building, located in the central Kolanaki neighbourhood. This boutique hotel consists of only 38 luxury rooms of different sizes, each with its own character and designed to fit individual needs. Hotel guests praise the outstanding service.
Highlight: The minimalist design and collaborations with local talent, from DJ-curated playlists to handmade ceramics such as custom espresso cups and furniture items made by Athen´s best designers.
2) Best for City and Beach: VOULIAGMENI
Athens has a few beach resorts on the Athenian Riviera. Vouliagmeni (a 30-minute drive from downtown) is one of them. If you want to explore the city but at the same time enjoy beaches and tranquility, that's the place to go. Vouliagmeni has a few cafés and restaurants, small beaches, and an exciting lake with undersea caves, blue water, and healing properties for many ailments. The lake (full of all kinds of minerals) is continuously replenished by hot springs beneath it.
The lake is fine for swimming and snorkeling for therapy as well as for pleasure. It is pretty busy in the summer months, but if you travel in the off or shoulder season as I did, you will not have any problem enjoying this natural wonder.
Where to stay in Vouliagmeni
A lovely boutique hotel (part of the SMALL LUXURY HOTELS) within walking distance from two small beaches. The Malabar restaurant has won a few awards, that says it all. On Sundays, you can enjoy a Greek brunch and, if you are lucky, spot a few Greek celebrities.
Highlight: The illuminated pool at night.
3) Best for History: Monemvasia
No cars can enter Monemvasia's ancient village, which is sitting on a giant rock in the sea on the Southern Peloponnese. You will find old cobblestones, little alleys with authentic boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. Make sure to wear comfy sneakers since you will be going up and down. Vistas over the Aegean Sea are second to none. Monemvasia still is a hidden gem. Mass tourism, Starbucks, McDonald's? I have never heard of that. Here you will find authenticity in a very charming and peaceful environment. Remember that this place was first inhabited in 583 and could not be conquered for a long time. And if you need some more exercise and the Greek sun is not too strong, go up to the Citadel on the top of the rock (194 m) – a marvelous view will make up for the effort.
The scenic drive from Athens will take a bit more than 3.5 hours. The new part of Monemvasia has a lovely pebble beach with crystal clear water and rock vista.
Where to stay in Monemvasia
Get pampered at the Kinsterna Hotel, one of my all-time favourites not only in Greece! A historic Byzantine mansion that was turned in a luxury boutique hotel with excellent service and the best Greek cuisine. Learn how to make bread and help with the olive and wine harvest. Enjoy the breathtaking vista from the pool with vineyards and the Aegean Sea in the background. Heaven on earth!
Highlight: A perfect combination of old and new that I have never seen before.
4) Best for Honeymooners and Instagrammers: Santorini
I am sure you have already seen images of this incredible island, a real heaven for Instagrammers. Yes, it's very crowded in the summer months. Visit Santorini in late September or October and enjoythe breathtaking beauty of this island, which was blown out of a volcanic explosion 3,500 years ago. With its black sand, Santorini is not really a beach destination. Visitors instead gaze at the mesmerizing views dangling on the edge of a caldera, the flooded volcanic crater. Santorini is one of five destinations in the world that is supposed to be the legendary Atlantis. After a walk through the picturesque alleys of Oia, the island's capital city, enjoy a dinner in one of the many restaurants with views that are second to none.
Where to stay in Santorini
6 designer-chic luxury properties with an all-white minimalistic concept which reflects the meaning of luxury accommodations in Santorini. The spa, transformed from a 17th-century wine cave, offers a holistic approach, with indoor and outdoor activities. Canaves Oia Santorini is the winner of the "2020 World's best awards" by Travel & Leisure/UK. Perfect for dreamlike holidays!
Highlight: The breathtaking view while swimming in the pool
5) Best for party people and lovers of fine boutique hotels: Mykonos
Mykonos stands for bohemian allure; the island had gay clubs and sunrise parties long before rave culture was invented. It is a preferred place for celebrities from all over the world with the hippest spots to watch people (and be seen). "Live and let live" – that's the motto of locals. You discover the incredible architecture only at second sight, nice understatement and nothing exaggerated. Obviously, this impressed the famous French architect Le Corbusier who came to Mykonos a long time ago, followed by international designers, models, actors. Fortunately, there are no big hotels on Mykonos; you will instead find charming little boutique hotels. All the buildings are white, which is a nice contrast to the island's colours. Not to miss: the windmills Mykonos is so famous for. The view over the city and the Aegean Sea at sunset is simply stunning!
Where to stay in Mykonos
Kivotos Mykonos is located on the waterfront and was the first boutique hotel on the island to have a private beach. There are 40 suites to choose from with garden or sea views, one or two bedrooms, some with their own private pools or even with its own private glass pool. Mindfulness is a key ingredient to a stay at Kivotos Hotels & Villas- from daily yoga and Pilates sessions to detox and rejuvenation programmes, tai-chi and meditation areas. Kivotos has two gourmet restaurants with the best private dining options and a cool swim up bar.
Highlight: The own private beach which offers privacy to its guests.
6) Best for mystique and hassle-free vacations: Patmos
Lots of history. Right here, apostle John the Baptist had his vision of a revelation in a cave. Today you can visit this religious site. During the time of the Romans, Patmos was a place for banishment. These days, the island is a paradise for tourists looking for quiet vacations. Patmos is of volcanic origin with sandy and pebble beaches. Buildings may only have two stories (so nice!). I love the little village of Ora with its monastery, built in 1088. Wear comfy shoes for a walk up and down the hills. From the monastery hill, you have a superb view over the Aegean Sea and the neighboring islands. Have dinner in the beautiful tavern Tzivaeri in the picturesque village of Skala. Time to enjoy real Greek food, which is tasty and (mostly) healthy at the same time.
Where to stay in Patmos
Located on a sandy beach, the five-star hotel "Patmos Aktis Suites & Spa" is an all-white group of small buildings with gardens and swimming pools in the Grikos bay. Choose between suites with swimming-pool, two-story maisonettes with a private garden and swimming pool, or luxurious rooms.
Highlight: creative Greek cuisine at the award-winning "Apocalypsis" restaurant right on the seaside.
7) Best for Greek Authenticity: Spetses
This little island is a hidden gem in the Gulf of Athens. Spetses is mostly known among locals; not too many international travellers have discovered this charming tiny island. So, please keep this to yourself :-)! You can reach Spetses on a 90-minute boat ride from Piraeus. When approaching the island, you will see its landmark, the stunning Poseidonion Grand Hotel (see also "Where to stay"). Spetses Town is authentically Greek, with hardly any tourist traps or cheap stuff. You will find high-end boutiques and excellent bars and restaurants. My favourite beach is Kaiki, a 15-minute walk from the Poseidonion Grand Hotel. Pebbles and crystal clear water, almost no people in October when it still is pleasantly warm.
Highly recommendable: a tour of the island by squad to see untouched landscapes and breathtaking views from the mountains. Those who are into history should visit the charming little Bouboulina museum, which informs about one of Greek's most famous female heroes.
Where to stay in Spetses
A beautiful landmark in the style of the "belle époque". The Poseidonion Grand Hotel is a perfect mix of a building from 1914 with all modern amenities – and full of art. Cool parlors invite you to relax while reading one of the many books and magazines. The restaurant menus include the best food Greece has to offer – and that's quite a lot. Many ingredients come from the own organic farm "Bostani" located in the mountains, a fantastic sea view.
Highlight: An excellent Greek breakfast on the verandah with sea view - priceless!
8) Best for beaches, ancient history, and nightlife: Kos
Kos Town is full of buildings of various centuries which makes up its charm. The island's capital city enthuses with Greek atmosphere, ancient history, and one of the best nightlife in all of Greece. Admire a 2,000-year-old tree. A legend says that it was even planted by Hippocrates, the islands' most famous son, who taught under this tree.
The "father of medicine" was born in Kos in 460 BC and believed in his patients' self-healing powers. Visit the Asklipion, one of the ancient world's largest health resorts, with its impressive columns, remaining parts of the temples, and a magnificent view. Once you are done with culture, enjoy the many beaches such as Fokas or Lambi (with a beautiful view of the Turkish coast). And don't miss to drive up to Zia, a lovely mountain village with many picturesque restaurants and the islands' best sunset view! A bit touristy but still worth going to. And Manolis Smalios, a local photographer on Kos Island, recommends to ake a long walk at sunset on the beach of Agios Stefanos in Kefalos village opposite the small island of Kastri.
Where to stay in Kos
A new luxury design hotel (adults only) with only 55 rooms and suites, next to Lambi Beach (sandy with pebbles here and there). I loved the vast pool with comfy sunbeds and the Greek gastronomy at the KOAN restaurant. Ideal for those looking for a quiet vacation in an ultramodern atmosphere.
Highlight: The stylish and puristic design
Greek destinations on my bucket list
Sure, I intend to go back to those places I have already mentioned. And I am tempted to visit these ones, too (mostly less known):
Close to Athens, this little island seems to be a perfect place to disconnect and slow down. Would be great to combine it with another city break in Athens.
I am impressed by the images with cliff-backed beaches and sea caves! Seems to be a fantastic place for hiking and water sports.
Two rather unknown islands
Elena Papanicolaou, Elena Papanicolaou, founder of the travel designer company FLY ME TO THE MOON TRAVEL in Athens, has two more recommendations. "I like more the unexplored and authentic places, so I suggest the island of Astypalaia, which belongs to the cluster of the Dodecanese islands. It has great beaches and many desert islands around to explore by boat and has kept a low key, hospitable style. I also like a lot the island of Paxos, in the Ionian Sea - a tiny stylish paradise with emerald waters, sea caves, a vivid Venetian influence and nice crowds."
Hmm - where to go first?
Take a long walk at sunset on the beach of Agios Stefanos in Kefalos village opposite the small island of Kastri.
So – what are your recommendations for more travel adventures, stylish hotels and relaxation in Greece? Drop me a line.