Tried-and-tested Athens, Corfu and Santorini are great options for a break in Greece, but the country, composed of a lush mainland and 6,000 islands spanning from the Ionian Sea in the west to the Aegean in the east, has so much more to offer. Beyond the well-traversed destinations that we know and love, lie hidden beaches, tailor-made retreats and a flourishing gastronomy scene. Rising from the ashes of its economic crisis, Greece is as rich as ever – and here are 10 lesser-known experiences and destinations that prove it.
1. Boutique sailing
If you want to make the most of your Grecian adventure, consider chartering a yacht. Entre Cielos – the award-winning boutique hotel in Mendoza, Argentina – has chosen Greece as the spot to launch its first boutique yachting experience, crafting entirely personalised one- and two-week itineraries that’ll allow you to pick and choose exactly where you’d like to go. Injecting its understated style into cabins that accommodate up to 12 guests, Entre Cielos transposes all the comforts of a five-star stay into its hotel-on-water, including VIP suites and top-class gourmet food. The boats set sail from Athens and guests can take part in snorkelling, windsurfing, canoeing, water skiing and wake boarding along the way. All aboard.
A two-hour ferry journey from Attica's Rafina port, Andros is known as the island on which most of the country's shipping magnates reside. A wealthy, cosmopolitan spot in the south Aegean, Andros outshines its neighbouring Cycladean islands of Tinos and Siros with its refined elegance and smart, neoclassical architecture.
Stay at Melisses to experience the best of Andros. These boutique apartments blend perfectly into a rugged outcrop that hugs the electric blue surf, and are tastefully decorated with repurposed marble and traditional wooden furniture. Breakfast is a bounteous affair served in the main kitchen, which overlooks an infinity pool extending out over the Aegean sea. Freshly baked cakes, home-made jams, local cheeses, and fresh milk, eggs and fruit are laid out beautifully along a long banqueting table – with barely an inch of space to spare for your own plate.
Then it's on to a workshop: fabric dyeing with local dyes that you forage for yourself, a flower arranging class with wild flowers that you pick on a hike, travel photography lessons and cooking classes with locals, all led by Allegra Pomilio (who is at the helm of the Melisses) and her team of experts.
Boasting turquoise waters and a serene backdrop dotted with architecture left behind by the Venetians, this island offers an escape from its cosmopolitan neighbour, Corfu. Stay at Torri E Merli, a five-star boutique hotel nestled among the olive groves in Lakka, in the northern part of Paxos (this is the less frenetic side, as boatloads of tourists from Corfu are dropped off for day trips at Paxos's south-eastern port, Gaios). Formerly a 17th-century manor house, the hotel blends seamlessly into the natural landscape, with its stone facade and olive-lined garden. Be sure to pay the "healing kiosk" a visit for a massage.
Tinos's dramatic boulder-strewn landscape may be enough to draw you to the island, but it's also the place to visit if you're a foodie. The south Aegean was this year named the European Region of Gastronomy, and Tinos stands as a prime example of the exceptional produce and high food standards offered in the Cyclades.
Stay at Cross Roads Inn, hidden in the labyrinthine village of Tripotamos, for renovated Venetian apartments with high ceilings and views over the sea to the island of Delphi. Then hit the road and visit To Thalassaki, a seafood restaurant with sea views on the southwest coast of the island, for an upscale taste of the south Aegean. Make sure to try the marinated anchovies, as well as the smoked herring dip, and definitely ask for the mastika ice cream and loukoumi for dessert.
People live longer in Ikaria. The island has been labelled a “blue zone” – an area in which people live to ages that far surpass average life expectancy. This can no doubt be credited to the island’s laid-back way of life. When you head to the bakery in the morning, don’t expect to find the baker there to sell you your bread. Instead, locals select their loaves themselves and then leave their change on the counter.
In Greek mythology, Icarus, son of Daedalus, was said to have fallen into the sea just off the coast of Ikaria when he tried to fly too close to the sun. The moral of the story: do not get ahead of yourself, and Ikarians certainly seem to have adopted this ethos. The pace of the island is extremely slow, so visit if you are looking to relax.
Stay at Villa Artemis for the sounds of the Aegean in your room at night and resplendent views over the sea. The island is also blessed with year-round surf, so if you’re itching to catch some waves, this is the place in Greece to do it.
In the summer months, most travellers are in such a hurry to get to the islands that they skip Greece’s lush mainland entirely, in favour of the beach. But Pelion, a mountain in the south-east of Thessaly, offers a stunning combination of verdant natural landscapes and white pebble bays.
Drive up Mount Pelion to the mountain village of Makrinitsa, which feels alpine with its slate-topped structures, and experience an entirely new side of Greece – its ski resorts. To Stefani tis Makrinas offers luxury accommodation close to the slopes. In the winter, after your skiing session is done, you can be at Damouchari beach (the setting of the Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried-starring Mamma Mia!) within twenty minutes.
In recent years, the Cycladic island of Mykonos has become world-renown for its party scene. But while beach clubs like Scorpios may attract celebrity revellers, the most interesting thing about this island is actually its arts scene. The old town of Mykonos is dotted with exceptional galleries that are open throughout the summer. Dio Horia, one of Greece's most successful contemporary galleries, stands at the heart of Chora. As well as displaying works by international talent, it boasts a rooftop bar with panoramic views over the whitewashed architecture and centuries-old windmills that line the coast. Stay at Kivotos Mykonos, an "art hotel" that hosts exhibitions every year, and is packed with sculptures and paintings that take art out of the gallery and into your room.
Just under two hours from the port of Piraeus in Athens, the island of Spetses lies just south of Porto Heli in the ice-blue waters of Greece’s Saronic Gulf. A favourite of European aristocracy both past and present, the island has preserved much of its former majesty, swapping cars for horses and carts, and retaining the old-world charm of its grand naval mansions.
It was here that Europe’s elite escaped for a Mediterranean getaway punctuated by society balls and extravagant dinners in the 1900s, and the island’s well-preserved neoclassical homes stand testament to its former glory. Well-heeled Greeks (many of them Athenian) still form the majority of Spetses’s visitors, often mooring their luxury yachts in the summer months and strolling through the pretty harbour’s cobbled walkways in silk kaftans and Jackie O shades.
Nonetheless, Spetses feels laid-back in spite of its illustrious history. This may have something to do with its many natural attractions. Aromatic pine trees line coastal roads that meander up hills, with views of emerald swimming spots down below. Hot-pink bougainvillaea trees dance across the cosmopolitan centre of Dapia, and the beaches of Ligoneri and Zogeria Bay are among the most peaceful in Greece. Stay at Five Star Villas’s selection of luxury properties, which are hidden among the island’s pines and offer breathtaking ocean views.
You may have heard of the Ionian islands of Corfu and Kefalonia, but Ithaca, the setting of Homer's The Odyssey, is worth exploring for its rural feel and pristine beaches. It's the second smallest Ionian island, making it the perfect getaway if you're in search of some solitude. This also happens to make it an ideal spot for a yoga retreat.
Book into Itha108 – a self-dubbed “yoga retreat and creative resort” – for relaxing morning vinyasa flow sessions followed by stand-up paddle boarding, treks through the olive groves and secret swims in secluded coves.
Yoga teacher Helena Wilton will run a retreat here between June 22 and 29, working on mastering new poses in two daily classes. Dynamic yang will energise you for a day of island exploration, while yin yoga in the evening is just the ticket to help you get a good night’s sleep among Ithaca’s olive groves. Accommodation options at the retreat include a luxury yurt, a restored, cave-like stone studio or a traditional Ionian house – all are fitted with coco-mat mattresses and wood-panelled ceilings, and offer expansive views across the Ionian Sea towards Kefalonia.
It may be the most populous of the Greek islands, but Crete still has some secret spots to explore. Daios Cove, which will reopen this summer, will offer an ultra-luxurious experience on the country's largest island. The resort is built into the rocky outcrop of Daios, with its own beach and views over the pretty bay. If you are looking for a Greek holiday that centres around soaking up the sun, Daios Cove is the place. There's also yoga, Pilates, scuba diving, two tennis courts and a resident astrologer, Susan Miller.