Updated: Jun 19
ATHENS, GREECE—Let's start with hotel stirrings in the places most tourists are going to be making a beeline for starting right about now, Mykonos and Santorini. In both places there's an unfortunate tendency for the newest place in town to dupe the press into thinking it's the best (and most in the press don't think much)...case in point, I've heard of a new opening by Pacha, of Ibiza nightclub fame, and I can confirm they do a decent job on the dance floor but judging by early photos the decor here is looking beige and gosh darnit, any kind of brown color scheme is always a mistake on a Greek island. Shocking how some peeps just don't get it--do they look at the Aegean and see some kind of clay pit instead of the BLUE WATER?
Or could it be that color costs more? Hmm...Anyway, the place to stay in Mykonos is still (1) The Wild by Interni. Great location away from the fray, mini private beach, big Mykonian vibes (it's our header photo). Keywords are Kalafatis and 'tell them Anthony sent you.' Italian design duo Dsquared2 is also up to something new and as I always say if it's Italian, if you don't pay attention now you'll probably be sorry later. Now as for that Italianate-sounding poster-child Greek isle of Santorini, I heard with some alarm there are plans afoot for a new Radisson on the island and that's no cause for breaking out the champagne. Santorini is already overdeveloped and the tourist crush, which is in the process of coming back, is already straining the fragile environment. As just one example, one day while waiting for a ferry in the island's cramped port, the fumes were so bad I'm not sure a gas mask would have even helped. I'm tired of hearing about the hottest new micro-hotel with the killer caldera view and silly computer-generated name: give this tiny parcel of land a freaking break! And stay at (2) Perivolas Hideaway, sensibly situated in Therasia
...so you can gaze out at Santorini without really having to deal with it (take a private boat over for lunch or dinner in Imerovigli then go back to your bolthole like Brad and Angie once did). Sticking with our Italian theme, I must mention Syros which for my money is one of the most captivating pieces of real estate on the planet. I didn't say the most beautiful because it isn't, but if there is a new Romantic period in our future it does seem painfully far off so let us trade in lesser virtues than beauty alone. Not that Syros or its elegant capital Ermoupoli falls short of aesthetics, oh no: in fact its Vaporia section comes off like a mix of revelation and hallucination and don't ask me why because I've already sort of tried to explain, so just contemplate it for yourself inside a new poem in bricks and mortar called the (3) Hotel Aristide.
Small, sophisticated, brilliantly overseen by its resident owner (also a published author)...simply put, tops. Now, too much focus on the Cyclades would be to undercut a major part of Greek history and that's not something you want to be caught doing in this bicentennial year of the Greek Revolution so this brings me back to the island where it all began (for me, anyway, circa 197XXX), Rhodes. She's still an empress among all islands, and the place you want to check into there is the bewitching (4) Kokkini Porta Rossa, set like an exquisitely chiseled gemstone in a 14th-century building holding its ground since the time of the Knights of St. John, and that was inhabited variously by Turkish, Jewish and Greek residents of the island.
It's a great base from which to feel part of the medieval core of old Rhodes and also to explore more of this treasure island. On the other side of the Greek world, who can forget Corfu? Still on this Greek Columnist's must-visit list, but until then all signs still point to the (5) Grecotel Corfu Imperial as your address of choice, because I'm always partial to hotels that occupy their own private peninsulas, and even make them better. Or those with swish private beaches, which applies to a singular rock star of a resort in Zakynthos called (6) Porto Zante. This hideaway-style collection of just nine villas, from one bedroom up to four bedrooms and with fetching views of the Ionian Sea, is run by owner Yiannis Sotirakos with a mix of exactitude and informality that brings back loyal clients, which I can confirm do include pop stars and I'm talking of a higher order than Dua Lipa, each summer.
Flexible gourmet dining options and customizable sea excursions are also big draws at Porto Zante. Look for my world-exclusive interview with Yiannis in the next issue of Departures magazine (the European edition).
But here I go again back to the Cyclades, and because I'm from Southern California and was raised with a lot of crazy and creative people running around I've got to give a shout-out to an eclectic spot on the odd but likable island of Ios, which is also nice because it's easy to spell. So yeah, (7) Calilo you sort of just have to see to believe. Spaceship in the Aegean kind of thing going on there. Further south, there's a bumper crop of new hotels and resorts opening in Crete this summer, but the problem is most of those are on the less beguiling north coast and none of them are (8) Irini Mare, a family-run resort by the shore almost due south of Heraklion. That makes it very convenient for those who don't wish to overcommit to Crete's often daunting roadways, but is also ideal for longer stays. The area is Agia Galini, overlapping with Faistos.
It's a region rich in fascinating, often obscure Minoan history and plenty of natural beauty to boot. But if I were in Athens now I'd hop in my car (for the best deals stick with Kosmos) and drive straight across the Peloponnese until I pulled up to the (9) Dexamenes Seaside Hotel, a design buff's delight as it's set in a totally refurbished former wine factory. Once there, I'd probably plop myself by the fine stretch of beach before repairing to one of the guest rooms where a stark modern aesthetic (this place is not about froufrou) prevails. If I did have to haul myself back to Athens—because though big, messy and traffic-clogged she's still the queen bee—I'd find no better place to hang my hat than at (10) the NEW. You will find newer boutique hotels in Athens but you won't find better. At a world-class spot like this many sparkling travel stories began before this wretched year of disease and loss. With a touch of luck, some of those will start picking up a little steam (powered by the best Greek coffee in town) now.
It's about time.
Top photo courtesy The Wild Hotel by Interni, Mykonos
Bottom photo courtesy Perivolas Hideaway, Enrique Menossi