Despite financial issues, Greece remains a delightful vacation destination with easy travel logistics, acceptance of credit cards and cash, luxury hotels in great shape, fabulous restaurants, and a true love of country and culture. The Greeks are a proud people, eager to welcome you and make sure you enjoy your stay with them. I recently traveled on an 8-night tour of Greece, hosted by Starwood hotels and Eclectic Greece. Starwood Hotels in Greece offer a true commitment to guest service, quality room product, a sense of place, and being the top luxury product in the destination. What is most remarkable is the outstanding kindness, openness, professionalism, and joie de vivre of their employees and hoteliers. Every one we met became true friends who opened their “homes” and hearts to us.
Our touring was arranged by Virtuoso tour operator, Eclectic Greece, a strong company whose execution of our trip was truly flawless. We had excellent guides and authentic local experiences.
What we’ll discuss when planning your trip to Greece
Add Greece to your Europe trip. With easy and short connections to Athens from most capital cities, Greece is a convenient addition to a European itinerary.
Start in the islands. We may suggest beginning your trip in Crete and finishing in Athens to have some nice relax time at the front end after long travel.
Stay away in July and August. Americans should avoid the Cyclades Islands (Mykonos and Santorini) in July and August. It is very hot, very expensive, and too crowded to be enjoyed. The best times are May/June or Sept/October (and fall is better for ocean swimming).
If you want a social scene … Choose Mykonos is for dining out, partying and enjoying beach and poolside scenes; it’s epic if this is what you’re seeking. For balance of music and fun and peacefulness, choose the Santa Marina Resort offering the only private beach, a little space, and a break from blaring music.
If you want romance and great sailing … Choose Santorini for its incredible scenery resulting from its former life as a volcano caldera. Cliff-edge towns are quaint with excellent boutique shopping, fine restaurants, iconic cave-style lodging, and stunning views. Santorini also provides a variety of activities and exploring options with ancient ruins, wineries, dramatic colored beaches, and quaint villages. Getting out on the sea is a must-do on charter boat trips, either for the day or multi-night–the scenery of this dramatic island is most appreciated from the water.
Be forewarned: Santorini requires the ability to negotiate lots of stairs, often in the form of uneven cobblestones, without hand railings, and with sheer drops beyond too-low walls. The hotels on the caldera are not safe for small children or the elderly or anyone with physical limitations. There is one hotel on the caldera with an elevator that we will suggest for clients with mobility issues, and some inland hotels that may be preferred.
How to get from island to island. The ferries are a mostly convenient way to get from island to island. However, travelers are completely on their own to negotiate themselves and their luggage at the dock side and must load the incoming ferry quickly before the platforms are raised and the ferry pulls out. Porters are simply not an option as there is no time for them to get you loaded and then disembark as off-loading, and reloading of passengers generally happens in about 10 minutes!
Passengers enter the ferry via the hold below decks, leave their luggage there, and then find their way up to pre-assigned seats. For our clients, we will recommend the business class seats for the comfort, service, quiet, and removal from the crowds. Some ferries are nicer than others and we’ll help in choosing the right one. The typical ride is 2-3 hours between islands.
Better options for luxury transportation between islands are helicopters, private yacht day charters (for a day trip from one island to another or a couple of nights on the sea between primary islands), and private jets.
Cruising the Greek Islands. Full week or more yacht charters (motor and sailing) are excellent choices, generally starting at 50,000 EUR all-inclusive (fuel, food and beverages) per week for a handsome, crewed boat for 6-8 people. Sailing charters are less expensive than motor yachts, but bareboating is discouraged, even for experienced yachtsmen, due to the high and unpredictable wind patterns. The port of Pireaus is the starting point, about 40 minutes outside Athens.
Don’t forget Crete. This large island is a great destination for a multi-night stay and provides a more authentic Greek life experience and many outdoor activities, including some wonderful hiking and mountain biking, and is easy for self-drive exploring. Visit the Temple of Knossos on arrival or departure day as it is near Heraklion, the ferry/airport location.
And don’t shortchange Athens. This wonderful city should be given two nights and not just used as a place of entry and exit. There is great shopping, many restaurants, museums and historical sights to see. Minimize crowds (and heat) by seeing the Acropolis and its excellent museum from 4-8pm. Early mornings, our usual crowd-beating strategy, are very popular and busy with cruise ship tours.
And don’t miss the Archeological Museum which houses the frescos and mosaics being preserved from the pre-historic Minoan settlement of Akrotiri; then visit the site in Santorini! Its age, advancements, and culture are simply mind-boggling.
My Favorite Hotels
Hotel Grande Bretagne. A big, grand historic hotel experience right in the center of town; easy walking to the popular Plaka district and the Acropolis area. Lovely interior courtyard. Butler floor for a small additional fee is recommended to avoid long check-in lines. Rooms are large and comfortable and can have nice Parliament views and terraces. Rooftop restaurant is superb with excellent views of the Acropolis. Clients can enjoy the spa and indoor pools, sauna, etc. after a long flight, or the rooftop pool. The best rooms are 6th floor Acropolis View rooms.
Hotel King George Athens. Adjacent to the Grande Bretagne. Smaller, quieter, more boutique-style property. Rooms are relaxing in white and monotone colors. Beautiful top floor dining area with outdoor terrace overlooking the Acropolis. Guests can use all facilities at Grande Bretagne except the roof top pool. Very few rooms have separate showers.
Santa Marina Resort & Villas. Private beach. Brand new rooms. Happening Buddha Bar on property. All rooms ocean view but vary in setup and arrangement. We can help make the best choice for you preferences. This is the top resort hotel on island with an awesome beach and ocean swimming; fabulous views!
Belvedere Hotel. A hip, boutique, in-town hotel with tons of style and energy. On-property nightclub and Nobu restaurant and pool party scene.
Vedema Resort. In the local village of Megalochori; off the beaten path and less touristy. More space and privacy. Great suites for families. Best rooms face the vineyard and sea. Fabulous cave wine rooms and restaurant. Beautiful pool. Small spa and fitness center.
Mystique. Top property in Oia (“ee-ah”) with stunning location, views and facilities. Just wonderful in every way. Lots and lots of steps. While beautiful and dramatic, it’s a bit like typical village life–not super private. People will be able to see you in your “private” pool!
Canaves Oia. A great choice in Oia for visitors not able to handle all the stairs at other hotels as they have an elevator. Great views; lovely grounds; top service.
Tsitoiras Collection. Private, very small property, in quiet Firostefani, an incredible art collection and furnishings. Residential style. Just 3 rooms, 2 suites and 1 villa. With its stunningly beautiful decor, this is a great choice for design-savvy clients or art collectors.
Blue Palace Resort and Spa. Sprawling and dramatic waterfront property facing Spinalonga island. Walk to the fishing village of Plaka or drive to nearby Elounda. Pretty rock beach with lots of chairs and thatch umbrellas, boardwalks over the rocks. Full spa with terrific thalassotherapy, excellent service with older facilities and minimal locker rooms, but massages were wonderful! Lots of restaurants and bar areas, good variety for longer stays. Best rooms are on the south wing for quieter surroundings, but not as nice views as from the main hotel. Spacious rooms with plunge pools and lots of suites.