The CDC announcement that vaccinated people can travel is causing a stir, and this is great news. I’m hearing from all my friends in travel (agents, tour operators, hotels, cruises) there’s big activity push happening, and requests are coming in fairly quickly. It feels like many people are starting to plan vacations to all sorts of destinations, near and far. My family and I have been very careful over the past year. For the most part, we’ve been home, with next to no socializing. This CDC announcement is exciting and we’re being cautiously optimistic that it’ll stick.
As you know, Greece is my favorite place on the planet, and I’ve been lucky to have seen a lot of this world. Greece recently announced it will open May 14 to vaccinated travelers (or those who at least show a negative covid test no more than 3 days old prior to arrival). From what I’m reading and hearing, other popular destinations like Spain, Italy, and France will likely remain shut to American travelers through most of the summer. Of course, this might change, but I doubt it. Either way, Greece is poised to do well. Because of this news, my Greek hotelier, tour operator and cruise line friends are telling me it’s “all systems go” but their optimism, you can tell, is guarded.
Given all this new information, I’ve been asked by quite a few people, about my thoughts on travel to Greece. I tell everyone the same thing; I hope to get there myself this summer but traveling anywhere is a personal decision. That said, I have some definite points of view on where to go in Greece, where to stay, and what to do. Sure, I customize my advice depending on who is traveling, when they’re traveling, plus their ages, and likes and dislikes. In general though, here are some thoughts.
Every Greek island, of which there are roughly 6,000 (with only 227 inhabited ones), has its own personality; fun, busy, traditional, quiet. It might have black or red sand beaches, rocky beaches, or spectacular views. Likely, it is a combination of these. Either way, to visit Greece “properly” keep a few things in mind.
Expertise: In general, tell anyone you’re going to Greece and they’ll have an opinion on which islands you should visit. This is either because they’ve been there, because they know someone who is Greek, or because they’ve watched Mama Mia a dozen times. They might have been there 20 years ago, but they’re at the ready with words of “wisdom.” So smile, say thank you, and ignore everything they just told you. This holds true as well if the person with whom you just spoke IS Greek. Maybe even more so. You see, as Greeks, we are partial to the villages and islands from which our families came. Again, say “Efharisto” (thank you) and toss the suggestion you should visit their village on the Island of _____ (enter any Greek island here.) The truth is most of Greece is phenomenally beautiful. It just is. The views are spectacular, the food is fantastic, the people are friendly, and it is a very reasonably priced. But there are clearly ways to visit Greece in the right way.
First, select the right island(s). Look, I know when you look at a map, they’re just centimeters apart, but that doesn’t mean two-night stays in a myriad of islands is the way to go. Quite the opposite. Forget the idea of island hopping. Not all islands have airports. Some require ferries or hydrofoils to visit, and this could take hours from one port to another. The absolute minimum time you should spend on any one island is 4 nights. Yes, four, dare I say a week. Greece is about relaxing and taking it all in, including afternoon siestas. It’s about walking through town, sipping a frappe (chilled frothy coffee), spending time at the beach and well, just being chill. It’s about watching the sunset and then eating an “early” dinner (at 10pm). So, relax. The number one mistake people make is ignoring this advice, then over-scheduling and regretting it the day they get there.
The other mistake they make is listening to uninformed people about which islands to visit. Sure, Mykonos is known as a party island, but that doesn’t mean that’s how you have to experience it. I go there almost every year and while I *may* have enjoyed a few late-night libations and parties in the past, I now go with my wife and kids and we have a different experience; we hit the beaches during the day, have early dinners in town and head back to the hotel for the evening. And sure, people say Santorini gets crowded, but this normally comes from people on over-packed cruise ships who ARE the crowds two days a week. For me, Santorini’s view is priceless. People gather on the cliffs and literally clap when the sun sets. But, there are places to stay where you avoid the crowds on the island, which makes it a wonderful experience.
And I love smaller islands as well. Kalymnos is a favorite. It is VERY traditional and reminds me of the Greece I knew when I was a child. It has a myriad of beaches and wonderful, traditional tavernas and cafes where islanders spend their time.
There’s also Antiparos, known for being the home of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. Quiet, quaint, picturesque – it’s beautiful.
If you’d like, I’m happy to recommend some islands based on your travel style. As for where you should stay, I’ve certainly seen an increase in the amount of requests for private villas. Clearly, this is the way to go. It isn’t cheap though, but here’s the thing; if you go with another family and you get a private villa with 6 or more bedrooms, it’s more reasonable than doing it alone. I’m happy to connect you with my friends at one of the best villa rental companies in Greece. Just email me. To be clear, I’m not a travel agent and I sold my Greek tour and cruise company a long time ago, but I love for people to experience Greece the way it should be experienced. So, what I’m happy to do is connect you with my friends who ARE travel agents, tour operators, hoteliers and private villa rental managers. I simply love Greece.
Here are some of my favorite villas in Greece (all of which offer luxury accommodations, daily housekeeping service (with a change of linen twice a week), and Concierge service. Some even offer the option of hiring a private chef to cook meals.
A 6-bedroom property (12-14 guests) located on the slope separating Soros and Saint George, with great views towards Despotikon island and the sea, offering privacy and proximity to some of the most lively spots on the island. This villa runs about 18,000 Euros per week during high season. Link to full listing ANT-B6BAAG
A 6-bedroom historical residence for 10-12 guests, comfortably accommodating a larger group in search of privacy and autonomy. The elevated position and access to the nearby beach via a private path, ensure seclusion and relaxation. This villa will run you about 12,000 Euros per week during high season. Link to full listing HYD-B6MAMO
A 6-bedroom modern property for 12-14 guests, providing comfortable, hotel-style accommodation to large groups with cleverly designed independent volumes, complemented by a tennis and basketball court, a gym and a children playground. The villa runs about 19,000 Euros per week during high season. Link to full listing KEA-B6SEKA
Coming in at a whopping 35,000 Euros per week in high seasons, this fully renovated 8-bedroom property in elegant Agios Lazaros with alluring modern edge and an eco-friendly soul, ideal for larger parties and events. Link to full listing MYK-B7NAAG
A sophisticated 7-bedroom villa (for 14-16 guests) located just above sandy Agios Sostis beach, featuring an elegant modern styling with a traditional flair and offering privacy in four independent volumes as well as wonderful outdoor areas. This villa will run you about 28,000 Euros per week in high season. Link to full listing MYK-B7RYAG
A modern style 6-bedroom (12-14 guests) family villa in Faragas, with a fantastic location right above of a beautiful sandy beach, offering amazing sunset views, extremely spacious indoors and outdoors and a large infinity swimming pool. About 27,000 Euros per week in high season. Link to full listing PAR-B6ADFA
For 32,000 Euros per week during high season, you can rent this 6-bedroom large Cycladic villa close to Santa Maria and cosmopolitan Naousa with wonderful stylish living spaces and a stunning outdoor patio with exotic garden and swimming pool. Link to full listing PAR-B6MESA
Villa Themedia in Paros is a new, very elegant 6-bedroom villa (12 guests) in Ampelas, perfect for 8-14 guests, impressing with its lavish design and sea-view setting. This amazing villa will set you back 31,000 Euros for a week during high high season, but it is well worth it. Link to full listing PAR-B6TAAM
If you’d rather stay at an island resort with typical hotel amenities, here are some of my favorites.
Mykonos: The Myconian Collection of Hotels and Resorts are, by far, the best on Mykonos. They have ten different properties, each with their own personality and style. I like the Myconian Imperial because of its location, accommodations, dining selection, private beach and other offerings. This place is fantastic. But all the Myconian Collection hotels are great. I’ve stayed at almost all of their ten properties. The service is second-to-none on the island. Some of their properties are affiliated with Leading Hotels of the World, Preferred Hotels, Relais & Chateaux and Small Luxury Hotels. You cannot be part of these networks without meeting their stringent requirements, and it shows. I cannot say enough about these properties. The following is a mix of hotel pics and my personal pictures.
Crete: The Elounda Beach Resort is known as one of the finest in Greece. I was married there nearly 30 years ago, but it has been completely renovated since then. I was there a few years back and it was spectacular. It’s one of the Leading Hotels of the World and is known throughout Europe as one of the finest properties in which you can stay. They have main building rooms, but their selection of waterfront and seaside bungalows is unparalleled. Again, following are some hotel pics along with some of my personal images.
Kalymnos: Elena Village If you’re looking for traditional Greece, look no further than the Elena Village (photo below) on Kalymnos. Quiet, clean, traditionally simple, delicious food and wonderful service. This is now my home away from home. As I mentioned, Kalymnos reminds me of the Greece of decades past, but this hotel is quaint, and I just love it.
So, I hope you enjoyed this post. You know me, I’m not short on opinions. If you can’t get to Greece this year, get there as soon as you can. It’ll be a wonderful, life-changing experience. Finally, if we’re not connected on LinkedIn or you’re not following my blog, let’s fix that right now. Talk soon! – John