European Detour: Greece
Five exclusive destinations for those looking to go against the grain and avoid the crowds
With international travel now a very real possibility in 2021 after a lengthy delay, holidaymakers are already gearing up to take to the European mainland for the post-pandemic trip of a lifetime. But if the glitz and glam of the continent's iconic cities or the chaos of its tourist-thronged beaches is a somewhat off-putting prospect for you, why not explore some of the lesser-known corners of Europe away from the crowds? In our brand-new online-only series European Detour, Tempus explores the most spectacular regions, cities and sights in each of the continent's most popular countries for holidaymakers. Here, we set our sights on the cradle of western civilisation and countless idyllic island of Greece…
From the historic ruins of Athens to the far-flung temple islands that line the Aegean Sea, Greece has long been the go-to destination for sun-kissed beach escapes with a dash of ancient culture. Greece has always been known for its rugged beauty, fantastic food and superb beaches, and in recent years its recovery from a decade-long government-debt crisis has seen tourists heading in droves to spots of natural beauty, like the iconic hills of Santorini.
But the reality of getting that perfect Instagram shot of white stone buildings framed by sapphire seas can, quite frankly, be a pain in the Ares. With its popularity among bloggers and cruise ships alike, you may find yourself spending more of the day queuing for your sunset shot than actually exploring this country’s unmatched culture and history. Instead, these alternative destinations will let you escape the crowds to find a taste of the very best of Greek culture in luxurious style.
Greece’s largest island, Crete is known for its wide variety beautiful beaches, rugged mountains and rolling countryside, interspersed with trendy cities. The myth-steeped island boasts Mali’s Minoan ruins, dating back to 1900BC, coastal Rethymonon’s gorgeous fortresses, the Old Venetian harbour in Chania town and Mount Ida – the mythological birthplace of Zeus.
Away from the tourist hotspots, Plaka is the perfect place to begin an exploration of this richly entertaining island. In Plaka, stay at Crete’s newest eco-conscious design hotel CAYO Exclusive Resort & Spa, opening in April. Near to the charming Elounda Bay, CAYO boasts a private swathe of seafront on Plaka Beach, complete with parasols, sunbeds and Stone Beach House – a laidback lounge serving creative cocktails and Mediterranean fare. In the hotel, suites and villas are complete with their own private plunge pool and spacious terrace, with uninterrupted views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site nominee, Spinalonga Islet.
The hotel also offers a wealth of activities to take guests into the island’s tapestry of beaches, historic treasures and traditional villages – try paddle boarding, hiking, cycling and more – or simply enjoy a taste of local cuisine with Michelin-star chef Lefteris Lazarou’s menu.
For those who want to be close to the famed views of Santorini and the nightlife of Mykonos, but desire a more exclusive, secluded corner of Greece to call their home-from-home, the unspoilt beauty of Ios is the place to be. At just 18km long and with a population of 2,000 people, this hilly island is a breath of fresh air in the Aegean.
The dreamy Calilo hotel is a tranquil coastal retreat offering butler service, dotted with dreamy rock pools and private areas for its 35 suites. While Calilo is designed for relaxation, this colourful destination has a playful vibe that encourages guests to make the most of the nature that surrounds them.
The hotel’s owners, the Michalopoulos family, aim to preserve and protect the island from the fate of its glamorous but over-developed neighbouring islands, so guests will have no fear of over-tourism.
For an adult-only escape, OKU Kos is a village-style beach hideaway inspired by the tradition way of life in Greek island villages. Complete with rejuvenating spa treatments and a unique movement programme – offering fitness classes, yoga and more – and farm-to-fork dining throughout the resort, OKU Kos is a perfect mix of traditional life with modern luxuries.
Kos itself is one of Greece’s Dodecanese islands, known for its sandy beaches and ancient ruins, particularly around Kos Town. Visit surrounding islands and cave complexes with boat trips around the Lipsi Archipelago. Visit the islands of Arkoi and the caves of Makronisi; hike to the remnants of a Byzantine castle or Mount Dikaois, and experience local wine tasting at family-run vineyard Hatzimmanouil.
A tiny island in the heart of the Cyclades, accessed only by local ferry from Paros, Antiparos is a true escape from the bustle of city life. Although it has only 1,200 permanent settlers, it is perfectly placed for some of the islands’ most historically important places: nearby Saliagos island is the most ancient settlement in the Cyclades, while uninhabited Despotiko has great archaeological importance.
Visitors can enjoy the unspoilt beaches, dramatic coastal landscapes, hiking in vast open fields and exploring cliffside caves. New luxury hotel The Rooster is an exclusive escape that emphasises privacy and harmony with nature. Comprising 17 independent houses in traditional village style, each with its own unique character and style, ample space and private gardens, The Rooster says it aims to “support the quest for inner peace in an area blessed with unparalleled natural beauty”.
Inspired by the share passion of artisans within the hospitality sector, The Rooster is environmentally conscious and focused on guests wellness – the ideal retreat.
It might be a surprise to see built-up Halkidiki on our list of off-the-beaten-track escapes, but the coastal charm of this mainland peninsula is still ideal for multi-generational trips and certain to keep the whole family entertained, despite its mainstream popularity. Its first finger, Kassandra, is famous for tourist resorts and nightlife; the middle, Sithonia, is full of hidden coves, mountainous villages, isolated valleys and beaches; and the least developed, Athos, is home to the only monastic state in Europe – it is still forbidden for women to enter the peninsula.
The most exclusive, secluded way to enjoy a Halkidiki escape is to head to the Athos peninsula, where Eagles Palace resort offers 40 hilltop villas away from the bustle just outside of the Athos Monastic border. Eagles Villas each have private pools, views over the unspoilt Ammouliani Island and two separate restaurants, as well as access to all the fun happening at sea-level.
Down by the coast, the resort’s water sports centre has a brilliant range of equipment and private tuition – charter your own motorboat to explore the surrounding coastline and beaches, or opt for a skippered yacht, while the resort's dive centre offers PADI courses and trips out into the waters surrounding Halkidiki. For families, the resort runs the Scott Dunn Explorers kids club for children aged 4 months to 11 years, and Aqua water sports programme from May-September, which offers younger guests paddle boarding, windsurfing, sailing and snorkelling led by fully qualified instructors.