It would be an exaggeration to call the islands of the Aegean and Ionian Seas underrated. They’ve been a byword for sublime natural splendor for literally thousands of years — since the days of the Iliad and the Odyssey. But sometimes in the search for the next big thing you run the risk of overlooking a sure thing. And just as you should occasionally revisit the classics of literature, it also often pays to revisit the classics of travel. Here’s why your next island escape should be to the Greek Isles.
How much time have you got? Along with mainland Greece, this is the cradle of Western civilization. The islands are dotted with sites that served as settings for ancient mythology as well as some of the most spectacular fishing villages this side of the Amalfi Coast.
There’s a lot here for citizens to be proud of, and it’s evident in the way they approach hospitality. This is too special a place for them not to share, and they go to great lengths to show it off. Many hotels seem to have ‘provide maximum awe’ listed as their top priority — a feat made more impressive by how well these charming structures also provide an intimate connection to the islands’ modest past (by which we’re referring to the fishing villages, not the Homeric epics).
They’re scattered between mainland Greece and mainland Turkey, and extend as far south into the Mediterranean as Crete, the largest of the islands. Their largely volcanic origin makes for some pretty dramatic landforms, and some of the islands — especially Santorini with its vast submerged crater — have views that are truly jaw-dropping. Traditional dwellings tend to cling to the cliffs or burrow into caves, and many hotels follow suit. Expect, above all, to get comfortable with white stucco and bright blue accents, as the local décor mirrors the landscapes and seascapes.
Though it’s got competition from Spain’s Balearics, Greece is Europe’s favorite island destination — the combination of glamour, drama, convenience, and relative affordability is a tough one to match. And one of its greatest strengths as a destination — the sheer variety — can also be intimidating. We’ll help you make some sense of it all.
Here’s a tour of ten Greek islands, by way of ten extraordinary hotels.
The island of Lefkada, an outlier on the west side of the Greek peninsula, is a subtle one. Less popular than Mykonos, less sublimely alien than Santorini, this is an island of tranquil charms, of mountain views, of forested hillsides, Homeric landscapes, and Ionian seascapes — and this is where you’ll find San Nicolas Resort, a boutique hotel in a light and cosmopolitan contemporary style.
Patmos is a perfect little jewel of an island in the Dodecanese, three-quarters of the way to Bodrum, and Petra Hotel & Suites is a gem of a hotel as well. Its eleven rooms look out over the tranquil waters of Grikos Bay, and while it’s not the easiest island to reach — the closest airport is the next island over — if you’re looking for a proper escape, that distance is key to the appeal.
Talk about remote — Folegandros is a far-flung speck of an island, an hour from Santorini by sea. Once you’ve made the journey you’ll want to settle in for a while, and Anemi makes it easy, as its 44 stylish, minimalist rooms come with full kitchens and plunge pools. It’s an understated sort of luxury, well suited to the slow pace of the island’s life.
Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands, has the expected charms — beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, dramatic views — and adds some unexpectedly good food, thanks to the island’s agricultural tradition. Finikas, at 23 rooms, is just the right size for a low-key escape, and for the most part it’s content to let its idyllic beachside location do the talking.
If you’ve seen The Big Blue by Luc Besson then you’ve seen Amorgos — and if you’ve been to Aegialis, then the phrase “Big Blue” takes on a new significance. The vibe is old-school country villa, as is the hospitality, and the views, from the impossible colors of the shallow bay to the distant seascapes dotted with island peaks, are nothing short of sublime.
Kos is the birthplace of Hippocrates, the spiritual father of modern medicine; more relevant to today’s travelers is the fact that modern design has established a foothold in the Dodecanese. Aqua Blu is finely tuned to its gorgeous setting, its endless balconies and terraces framing exquisite vistas in classic Aegean blue.
Another one for the Ionian side, Kefalonia is a relative newcomer to modern tourism, which means its rugged beauty is still more or less unspoiled. Feast on it at Emelisse, an upscale, understated escape complete with six swimming pools and a small handful of restaurants and bars.
Crete is by some distance the biggest of Greece’s islands, and as such it contains multitudes; as does Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel, which is less a hotel than a small village dedicated to leisure, each of its rooms in fact an airy multi-room suite defined by — are you beginning to detect a recurring theme? — breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea.
Some Mykonos hotels are so centrally located that, for better or worse, the party comes to you. Others are outposts on distant, tranquil stretches of coast where there’s little more than sea and sand. The all-suite De.light Boutique Hotel falls somewhere in between, close enough to the center of town that you can pop in for some shopping and dining, but far enough out that you won’t forget you’re on an arcadian island.
There’s no place like Santorini, and Grace knows when to get out of the way and let you enjoy the view. The hotel cascades down a steep terraced hillside, and don’t tell the beach hotels, but the sea looks better from up here anyway. So distracting is the island’s central caldera that you might have to remind yourself to notice that Grace is a phenomenal hotel.
Check out our entire selection of the Best Boutique Hotels in the Greece Islands.