Our European Travel Expert, Ali Hentley, is just back...
With all the stunning hotel options now available in Greece, you simply can’t beat island hopping; call me greedy, but why head for one, when you can experience three or four in just one visit…
As Travel Expert for Europe, I’m especially mad for all things Grecian and where better to start than Athens, resplendent with its floodlit ancient ruins, of which the Acropolis (literally translated ‘highest city’ in Greek) is infamously king. Gazing at this spectacular site while sipping cocktails on the Roof Top Terrace at the Grande Bretagne Hotel: mmmm, I can think of worse ways to start a trip. Grand by name, this hotel is equally grand by nature with its opulent décor, glamorous design and five star standards; the central location in Constitution (Syntagma) Square is pretty perfect too.
Head off the main square and explore the side streets to find great local restaurants at reasonable prices.
The best thing about Athens is that it’s the gateway to so many Greek Island gems. I have indulged in most, but this time chose Spetses, just a two hour ride by Flying Dolphin from Athens’ Pireus Port. Thirty minutes further on than Hydra, both islands are relatively unspoilt slices of Mediterranean heaven, where transport is by donkey or horse and cart and the beaches are hidden in quaint little coves.
The best place to stay on Spetses is the Poseidonion Grace, which hosted the royal wedding of Prince Nikolaos and Tatiana Blatnik on 25 August 2010. With its elegant neutral interiors and effortless style, this landmark hotel enjoys a prominent position at the end of the harbour and attracts a well heeled, salubrious clientele – well if it’s good enough for royalty and Elton John…
Day excursions are plentiful and the hotel organised a small boat with a skipper by the name of Stamatos to take me around the island before dropping me at Agia Paraskevi beach for lunch. Armed with his mobile number, I could enjoy the crystal clear waters and vistas of luxury yachts before summoning my return ride home at the punch of a button.
Onwards then, to my favourite place possibly in the whole of the Med – Santorini – five hours by ferry from Pireus in Athens. Formed when a volcano sank into the sea in 1500BC, this crescent of spectacular volcanic island, with its traditional villages scattered along the steep rock face, gets me every time. Staying at the cliff-top Santorini Grace hotel, sister to Poseidonian, is no less impressive: magnificent views over the glistening Aegean; warm friendly staff; calm contemporary interiors; only possibly better sunsets, some of the best I’ve ever seen. Most romantic island in the world? I certainly think so.
My final stop – this time – was the larger island of Crete, and the luxurious Blue Palace in Elounda. If you want to max out on Cretan style, charm, great food and a world-class Spa, I couldn’t recommend this hotel more highly. And yet there’s still plenty of exploring within easy reach: taking a private boat to the historic island of Spinalonga (one of Greece’s oldest leper colonies) with its 16th century Venetian fortress is a must for the hit list. If you can tear yourself away from the sunlounger that is.
Mad for more? Click here to email Ali or find out about any of her other Greek Island favourites.