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Springtime Island-Hopping Luxuries in Greece – Part III

Springtime Island-Hopping Luxuries in Greece – Part III

It might sound too early for a dive into the chilly waters of the Aegean and the Ionian Sea, yet from late March onwards some of the islands start having few daring visitors especially when the temperature rises a bit above seasonal levels meaning above the 20C/68F mark in the daytime. Some prestigious hotels kick off the spring/summer season in mid-April. Our recommendations around that time of the year include either islands that are very close to Athens and the mainland, or those that are so big, organized, and populated that they maintain a tourist cycle almost throughout the year. For island-hopping to be a successful operation such islands have to be near each other. You can reach them via either a boat ride or a maximum 45-minute flight or a combination of a short drive and boat ride. A boat ride among these islands can last from 20 minutes to maximum 5 hours. Always opt for the high-speed ferry if available as an option. For added privacy and fun, you can enjoy island-hopping in the most quintessentially Greek way; sailing. Availability of boat charters and professional skippers/guides runs high in mid-season, and the idea of exploring a small group of islands on a sailing boat with stop-over nights in various island ports proves fascinating in practice. Clear blue skies and blooming Greek nature diffusing herb aromas are usually part of the experience. Although the chapter of island-hopping in Greece is eternally open to additions and revisions, we will try to narrow down to suggestions that feel convenient and luxurious in springtime weather. Pack in your luggage windbreakers, puffers, and trenchcoats because summer can come as late as mid-May. Our third itinerary that connects with ferries & flights to our second one (Downtown Athens – Piraeus Port – Syros – Tinos – Mykonos) goes through the following stops:

Athens Airport or Mykonos – Paros – Naxos – Ios – Santorini

Image: Kapari Resort Santorini

The Cyclades is the second nearest to Athens group of islands (after the Saronic Islands) that includes popular destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini. All-white houses are characteristic of the local architecture as seen in most Greek postcards. Island-hopping is highly recommended there due to short distances between them. Take a boat (speed ferries are highly recommended) from the Port of Piraeus which is a 30-minute drive from downtown Athens and begin your journey. Ferries usually hop from one island in the group to the next, so you are encouraged to stay for 2-5 days on each and ferry your way among them. Tickets are rarely selling out in springtime – except for the Orthodox Easter long weekend – so you can book for the next island on the spot based on your mood. Cycladic islands are known for the Cycladic civilization (3200-1050 BC), with visible ancient ruins in various sites and museums, which means great sightseeing. They are usually dry rocky islands and some of them (Mykonos, Paros) can get windy. Graced with beaches of rare beauty, these relatively small islands are major tourist attractions.

Image: Santa Maria Beach Paros

Paros

A 40-minute flight away from Athens Airport or a 40min to 1h 15min ferry ride from Mykonos will get you to the island of Paros, well-known to windsurfers finding adequate wind in the narrow straight with another Cycladic island called Naxos and the islet of Antiparos where Tom Hanks owns and visits a summer villa. As the main producer of finest quality all-white Parian marble in antiquity, it has a long history seen through ancient Greek masterpieces and the quarries at Marathi producing tiny amounts used only by the state for conservation purposes.

Image: White Dunes Hotel Paros

Accommodation in Paros

Paros is a very touristy island with varied profiles of visitors so you really need to plan ahead and go through the best options. Fortunately, you will be able to find some luxury resorts with a great sea view there including:

Summer Senses. Two free-form swimming pools, 100 rooms & suites (some with private pools), a spa, a gym, a pool bar, a lounge bar, the main restaurant and the gourmet restaurant Galazia Hytra in collaboration with the Michelin-star Hytra restaurant in Athens are all offered by this sizeable resort in the island’s most visited beach Punda.

White Dunes. Minimalists will enjoy their stay in this all-white hotel with a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, and other services by the beautiful beach of Santa Marina.

Yria Hotel. Probably the most stylish and luxurious of all, this eco-friendly boutique hotel by the picturesque bay of Parasporos in the west coast of the island, extends in 5.4 acres /22,000 sq. m of vineyards and gardens as all-white architectural entities inspired by the traditional Cycladic villages. Yria (after Paros’ ancient name) includes roomy suites (option for private pool or residence), a pool bar, a gym, an open-air spa with Jacuzzi, a Greek-designer boutique, and an alfresco Mediterranean cuisine gourmet restaurant, this season in collaboration with multi-awarded seafood chef Lefteris Lazarou (option for private dining).      

Things to Do in Paros

The most beautiful fishermen port on the island is Naoussa with cute coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and a Venetian castle. It is ideal for brunch, lunch, dinner, and drinks. Most of the places are very carefully curated and you are highly encouraged to opt for the freshest of seafood. In the island’s capital Parikia, make sure to check the byzantine church Panagia Ekatontapiliani (translates as a church with 100 doors dedicated to Virgin Mary). Swimmers and fans of water sports will enjoy organized Golden Beach, Santa Maria (main and small) beach with a bar, Parasporos, Monastiri, Punda for kite surfers, and party animals. Beach wise, Paros’ services are not at all at the Mykonos level of luxury and this is why you are recommended to also visit natural sandy beaches without any serious infrastructure such as Logaras, Lageri, and Piperi. Kolymbithres is a geologically interesting beach to check. Don’t skip a day trip to Antiparos to swim in the beaches of Psaraliki (organized), Soros (organized), Glifa, Livadia, and Agios Georgios. The regular ferries take you there in 7 minutes and there is even extra option for a boat ride to the nearby islet of Despotiko. Make sure you have one of your meals at the Anargyros restaurant which is Greek culinary magic and at Pizza Lollo’s that serves Roman pinsa (flat-bread pita-style slim pizza) and the yummiest fresh pasta. If you stay the night at Kastro Hotel or Kouros Village you will be able to stroll around this cute town with pedestrian cobblestone paths, little shops, and bars that stay open until late. In daytime feel free to experience the concept of Beach House Antiparos in the island’s most sheltered from the northern winds beach called Apantima, featuring a restaurant bar, 9 sea view suites, wellness, and concierge services. Also, visit the Antiparos Cave with stalactites and stalagmites; one of the most important and beautiful in Europe.

Restaurants in Paros

Barbarossa. Since 1987 this seafood restaurant which gradually adopts a gourmet approach to Greek kitchen dominates the Venetian port of Naoussa. The latest addition to this culinary spot is their sushi bar.

Sigi Ikthios. In around the same location (Naoussa port) you will also find this nice Mediterranean restaurant with adjacent Salty Bar for post-dinner cocktails.

Les Amis. For a gourmet twist on classic Mediterranean recipes and a focus on great wine pairings in a refined Cycladic culinary spot in the Naoussa area, try this hidden gem.

Emanuel. In a dreamy garden, a well-curated fusion Mediterranean menu is served in eye-catching ways. Yet there is a possibility that it opens this season in June. We’ll keep you posted.

To Balcony tou Aki. Simple ultra-fresh seafood in a dreamy seaside location at a restaurant that has been operating since 1964 and has been awarded by local culinary media over the last two years.

Image: Naxian on the Beach Hotel

Naxos

In 25-45 minutes from Paros, the ferry will get you to Naxos. With the ancient Greek giant door (in Greek ‘Portara’, dating 530 BC) on a path-connected islet at the entrance of its main port, the largest and most fertile Cycladic island is a tourist destination of gastronomic and archaeological interest. Beyond its many crowded and serene beaches, you will have to visit its many mountainous traditional villages that keep the Naxian culture and history alive and vibrant. Just rent a car and drive from place to place, and if you are into sports, do some hiking.

Accommodation in Naxos  

Naxian Utopia. Extremely well-designed in organic minimalist forms, this boutique resort’s hillside private-pool suites and villas with luxury amenities (Jacuzzi, hammam, and/or other extras), plus a spa by internationally acclaimed Greek brand Apivita, is the most stylish summer retreat in the island.

Nissaki Beach Hotel. It is hard to find a 5-star beach hotel like this in Naxos, which means that it is coveted. Near town and Agios Georgios beach, colorful sea-view suites are complemented with hotel amenities such as a swimming pool with hydromassage area, a bar, and a farm-to-table restaurant.

Naxian Collection. Raw-material minimalist suites and villas, an organic vegetable garden, a wine cellar, private or semi-private pools, and a famous farm-to-table restaurant visited by the legendary chef Anthony Bourdain and other great foodies, are the treasures of this boutique hotel. 

Naxian on the Beach. Naxian Collection sister hotel is this seaside complex with the same approach plus a beach club on popular sandy paradise Plaka.

Kavos Naxos. Just above the spectacular sandy beach of Agios Prokopios simply decorated sea view villas and suites, a pool with bar, and a famous local kitchen restaurant equal vacay bliss.

Image: Naxian Collection

Things to Do in Naxos

Hillside villages Melanes, Filoti, and Apeiranthos (last one with marble houses, many small museums) are among the oldest settlements on the island. Check the three ginormous unfinished Naxian marble Kouros statues (7th-6th century BC), one resting in a quarry near village Apollonas and the other outside Melanes. In the picturesque village of Chalki indulge into the local Kitron liqueur tasting experience at the traditional Vallindras Distillery. Enjoy the sunset from the Castle of Naxos, the best-preserved Venetian fortification in Greece. And make an effort to visit the Temple of Demeter or Temple of Sangri (village) from 6th century BC made of finest quality Naxian marble in one of the earliest examples of Ionic order (style). Swim at the bustling long sandy beaches mainly on the west coastline of the island including Agios Georgios (St George), Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna (check Island beach bar also for a night out, and Banana beach bar, and Plaka (check Tortuga beach bar).  For a quiet romantic sunset, Mikri Vigla beaches are highly recommended.

Restaurants in Naxos

Axiotissa. It feels like being in the middle of nowhere in a Greek movie setting with the yummiest food on earth. Naxos is known for finest meats, vegetables, and cheeses ( Arseniko, xinomyzithra, and kopanisti) which are exactly among the things you are able to try in this jaw-dropping traditional eatery, coming directly from their farm next door. Every single dish from the extra-long menu (seafood, vegan, and meat) is executed to perfection based on traditional recipes.

Giannis Tavern. A little outside its initial location at the village Chalki, this restaurant is known for delicious Naxian food with all the classics of this island cuisine. Meat comes from mountainous areas of Naxos while veggies and wine from their own gardens and vineyard. Raki (Greek liquor) is also among its products.

Lefteris. In the marble-made mountain village of Apeiranthos, this is a no-frills culinary gem serving the Naxian essentials such as masterfully grilled finest meats, pitas, cheeses, and Greek desserts.

Giorgis. Clay-pot stews and other local dishes in this ultra-simple popular restaurant outside Melanes village are pure delights.

Image: LuxurIOS.com

Ios

In 1 hour and 45 minutes from Naxos the ferry will arrive at Ios. Built sparsely – mostly on its many hills and around town or ‘chora’ – Aegean Sea’s party mecca for millennials is in fact a rocky island with tens of natural sandy beaches. Only 5 of them are over-organized with mega-beach clubs crammed up with youth vacaying on a budget. Dubbed ‘Nio’ by the locals, with a population of around 2,000 residents, it currently offers only small hints of luxury in the form of few boutique hotels that are gradually opening. Real-estate wise the Greek LuxurIOS group is owning now an important part of the land, committing to not building on it massively just to maintain the island’s original character. That most probably sparks interest by other potential long-term-profit buyers. As a curious island-hopping visitor, if you avoid Chora and its mass nightlife scene, the crowded beaches of Mylopotas, and all the famous sunset spots, you will discover the zero-party tranquil side of the island. The greatest part of the island is almost uninhabited. Your bet for a night or two will be to find a nice hotel and relax there – including for dinners because Ios is surely not a fine-dining destination or a culinary hotspot yet.  

Image: Calilo Resort Ios

Accommodation in Ios

Calilo. It’s one of the very few outstanding luxury hotels on the island. Recently built, the 5-star whimsical sea view resort in the middle of a 1000-acre privately-owned plot of land on the stunning beach of Papas offers extraordinary marble interiors, private pools, an organic garden with a farm-to-table restaurant, a pool bar & lounge, a spa, and a private beach with full service that easily qualify as an earthly paradise.

Agalia. Owned by the same LuxurIOS group but on a simpler note, with a view to the port and Chora, this hillside luxury boutique hotel has an impressively large pool with bar, 16 suites (6 of them with private pools), marble urban-style artsy interiors, Cycladic-inspired exteriors, and other luxury amenities.  

Liostasi. This sea view hillside luxury boutique hotel is equipped with Grandma’s restaurant, honored with a Toques d’ Or award in the category “Modern Cuisine” in 2019, literally the only real fine-dining spot in the island. With multiple pools, an open-air movie theater, a spa, and a beauty salon, it is definitely an upscale accommodation option.

Levantes. 10 minutes away from the Port, this Cycladic-style boutique hotel with a view to the popular beach of Mylopotas, a swimming pool, and a couple of suites with privates pools, it will be a rather comfortable choice.

Ios Palace. 60 Cycladic-style rooms and suites (some with private pools), 3 main pools with a view to Mylopotas beach, a spa, a gym, a beauty salon, the Greek cuisine ‘Tomatini’ restaurant, and other 5-star amenities will help you unwind and enjoy the moments.   

Things to Do in Ios

You can definitely swim in nice deserted sandy beaches such as Kalamos, Psathi, and Theodoti. Some others are quite beautiful but secluded and accessible either by boat or after a long or challenging walk. From the organized ones, you are recommended to swim in Manganari (3 beaches in one) which is organized but not too crowded due to its spaciousness. Make sure you visit the impressive and intricate Skarkos ancient settlement; one of the most important prehistoric archeological sites in the Aegean. And if you want to exercise out in nature, just follow one of the 10 marked hiking trails on the island. In terms of dining outside the hotel, you will more or less find many casual restaurants with the basics of Greek or Mediterranean kitchen such as Polydoros in Koumbara, The Mills, and Lord Byron in Chora, and Octopus Tree at the Port.

Image: Katikies Santorini

Santorini

In 35 minutes from Ios the speedboat will be at Santorini (also a 45-minute flight from Athens) where white-washed houses stand against a colorful-cliff backdrop. This world-famous Southernmost Cycladic island is the largest of an island group that was formed since antiquity after many volcanic eruptions as a collapsed caldera. With more than 15,000 residents and over 2 million visitors per year, this cosmopolitan tourist destination is included on many traveler bucket lists. Partly the victim and the beneficiary of mass tourism, Santorini tries to balance between high-end amenities and traditional infrastructure, in some cases seeming that those aesthetics have stuck to the not-so-stylish 80s. Still, the uniqueness of the natural setting makes up for it, especially these dreamy sunsets in caldera-viewing Oia, Imerovigli, and Firostefani that are hugely adored by Asians and not only. A pre-wedding, wedding, and honeymoon destination, Santorini carries with it the stamp of a must-visit place. We are navigating this reality by suggesting you only the most exclusive places, and the signature ones. If you really want to experience luxury, you are recommended to invest a little extra in a nice hotel and gourmet dining options. You are encouraged to try some luxurious ‘hyposkapha’ which are cave-style rooms created after digging in the abundant pumice with insulating properties. 

Accommodation in Santorini

Grace. Top-choice cliff-edged resort with best swimming pools, and modern Cycladic décor; its caldera-view suites are selling out fast.

Mystique. Carved into the caldera cliffs, 41 Cycladic-style luxe suites and villas are complemented with sea view pools, a spa, a gym, and fab restaurants; one of them at a century-old mansion.

Perivolas. A short walk from sunset-central Oia, in a caldera-view cliff where 300-year-old fishermen caves where restored, 20 unique suites are complemented with a wine-cellar restaurant, a gym, and pools.

Aenaon Villas. Cycladic minimalist caldera-view luxe villas plus an infinity pool offer privacy in an ultra-stylish setting.

Vedema. This Marriott resort in a medieval village – a 400-year-old wine cellar and a 100-year-old mansion houses 59 spacious suites & villas with their own terraces and some with private pools; plus a cave restaurant and a pool one.

Katikies. Enjoy the sunset in Oia from your Cycladic-style suite, the pool, the champagne bar, or one of the sea-view restaurants. Experience the holistic approach spa.

Andronis Concept. At caldera-view Imerovigli, 27 pool suites and villas offer 5-star service including a gourmet restaurant and a spa. Wood and other raw materials are Zen decorative touches.

Rocabella Santorini. Perfect caldera-view location and luxe amenities for 42 rooms and suites.

Cavo Tagoo Santorini. Not as luxurious and fancy as its sister hotel in Mykonos, it nevertheless has elegant suites with private pools, a chic pool bar, a gourmet restaurant, and a spectacular caldera view.

Kapari Natural Resort. Recently restored 300-year-old complex of caves and traditional residences with 5-star elegant amenities & facilities and caldera view.

Cosmopolitan Suites. Modern Cycladic caldera-view 4-star boutique hotel at capital Fira for easy access to nightlife.

Zannos Melanthron. A renovated 19th-century mansion and 18th-century villa have rooms decorated with Renaissance-inspired murals and located at a medieval village; plus distant-sea-view pool & restaurant. 

Tsitouras Collection. Renovated 1780 mansion filled with antiques and works of art collected by wealthy lawyer Dimitris Tsitouras; with a caldera-view pool, and one of the 5 suites designed as an homage to his friend Rudolf Nureyev.  

Things to Do in Santorini

Smaller islands like inhabited Therasia (check Perivolas Hideaway) and uninhabited Nea Kameni (near the dormant active volcano), Palaia Kameni (swim in its volcanic hot springs), and Aspronisi (that translates as White Island), can be the stops in a boat tour to the caldera. 3,600 years ago at the height of Minoan civilization (ancient civilization in Crete), Santorini which was culturally and commercially connected to Crete, became the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history that also caused a tsunami towards Crete. An extraordinary Minoan town called Akrotiri (first excavated in the late 60s) dating back to 3000-1630 BC has been amazingly preserved with its masterful multicolor frescoes under solidified volcanic ash and can now be visited in some of its spaces, as part of your recommended sightseeing along with the Museum of Prehistoric Thera (another name for Santorini).  East coast has no cool view to the caldera and hence it’s less exclusive; its black-sand beaches, such as Perivolos, Perissa, and Kamari, being massively visited and filled with buzzy beach bars and restaurants. Monolithos is the only less crowded black beach. Famous Red Beach is unique but often packed, Eros beach has an amazing bar and sunbeds, and all-natural White Beach is quiet and spectacular. In the busy capital Fira, Odos Ipapantis dubbed as ‘Gold Street’ is known for its jewelry shops; for Greek-inspired fine jewelry visit Poniros and Ilias Lalaounis. Shopping is a great pleasure at the Speira Santorini Concept Store and Atlantis Books international store.

Wine Tasting in Santorini

Volcanic (although arid) land and its mineral-laden soil are an ideal setting for local vineyards that organize excellent wine tasting sessions & tours – try the indigenous grape variety called Assyrtiko (white wine type) and the barrel-aged intensely sweet Vinsanto dessert wine.

Vassaltis Vineyards. The latest addition to the local wine-scene produces among the best Assyrtiko wines.

Volcanic Slopes. Its story as a winery and as a ‘cavana’ (traditional wine-making space) goes back to the 18th century. Try their ‘Pure’ Assyrtiko and labels from other producers.

Venetsanos Winery. Dating back to 1947, it is the first industrial winery on the island. Taste their own Assyrtiko, Rosé, and red wines on their sunset terrace.

Artemis Karamolegos. The 3rd largest winery on the island producing 11 different wines is complemented with a farm-to-table Greek restaurant.

Boutari Santorini. One of the most awarded Greek winemakers organizes food & wine private and semi-private tours, plus tasting at their restaurant.

Estate Argyros. Established in 1903, these 70-year-old (on average) vineyards produce outstanding indigenous varieties and offer you a stylish wine-tasting culinary experience or an exclusive custom tour.

Restaurants & Bars in Santorini

1800-Floga. Best Greek gourmet (molecular-kitchen references) in Santorini at a mansion built in 1845, with a caldera-view roof garden.

Seaside Santorini. Your chance to enjoy Mediterranean seafood gourmet in a stylish beach restaurant, bar, and lounge.  

Kokkino Podilato or Red Bicycle. We agree with many people describing it as a hidden culinary gem in caldera-view Oia.

Ambrosia. World-famous upscale & posh caldera-view Mediterranean gourmet restaurant in Oia.

Taverna Katina. At the picturesque fishermen port of Ammoudi enjoy homemade Greek seafood recipes.

Sunset by Paraskevas. A simple 30-year-old restaurant at the port of Ammoudi with a top-secret recipe for lobster pasta and freshest seafood picked by a former fisherman.

Selene. Inside Katikies Garden Resort, at a historic building formerly housing a Catholic monastery in Fira, it serves inventive Greek gourmet and Greek wine pairings.   

Aktaion. Operating since 1922 under 3 generations of the same family and with current owner filling the cute traditional space with his own artworks, this historic restaurant serves still the same delicious dishes.

Momix Santorini. First on the island for molecular mixology cocktails, as most of the nightlife, is located in Fira.

Marykay’s or Hassapiko bar. Former butcher’s shop in Oia turned into a cute 24-hour spot for drinks inside and on the pedestrian street.

Tango. An established caldera-view cocktail bar at Fira; getting packed after midnight.

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