by Travlin Gal Maxine Albert
If you like stunning islands, superb cuisine and the most gorgeous water on the planet, Greece calls. Don’t let the headlines deter you - not only is September the perfect month to go, the islands are thriving. Recent visitors Brad and Angelina, Robert De Niro, John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Tom Hanks agree. You’ll find pristine beaches, magnificent terrain and warm, friendly people.
First, see remarkable antiquities at Athens’ New Acropolis Museum followed by lunch at esteemed Chef Christoforos Peskias’ trendy eatery, P Box. Then head out to the islands. Each offers its own unique treasures. A short flight or scenic ferry ride make island hopping easy. Here are some highlights.
How To Go:
Turkish Airlines to Athens,
with stopovers in Istanbul
Naxos, largest of the Cyclades islands, near Santorini, boasts great food, a diverse landscape and some of the best beaches in Greece. Each village has its own specialty dishes, grown from crops in family gardens passed down through generations. Here I discovered the amazing variety of Greek cuisine.
Every meal I had was exceptional. A standout was Faros, fronting the sea, where owner Niko, a fisherman, served superlative tuna sashimi, local fish and grilled vegetables. Foodies go to Matina, in Koronos, for delectable lamb, tastiest zucchini pie, the freshest greens, cheese and bread, local wine and an array of delicious edibles. Visit the charming mountain village of Apiranthos where you’ll glimpse women crocheting, and men sitting about drinking citron, Naxos’ famous green liqueur. Sample vissino, the traditional sour cherry dessert at Leftheris.
The luxurious 4 star Naxian Collection is the place to stay, with spacious villas and suites, stylish white marble interiors, jacuzzis, private pools and expansive terraces overlooking the sea. The owner’s wife, Maria, a cooking teacher, offers culinary classes in a mountain setting for those who want to take the regional gastronomy home.
Take a boat excursion to Schinoussa, the small island frequented by wealthy ship owners, to swim, lunch and loll with the fabulous. With a lively waterfront dotted with cafes and tavernas, an ancient town with a duke’s palace and castle, the Temple of Apollo, pearly white beaches like Plaka and St. Prokopios, - Naxos is an island worth visiting.
Famed for exquisite sunsets, dramatic cliffs and stunning views of the blue Aegean and a volcanic caldera, Santorini, with its white washed houses, may be the most romantic place in the world. It’s a veritable paradise for honeymooners, couples and those who love gorgeous surroundings with glamorous habitués. The caldera’s steep cliffs tower more than a thousand feet above sea level, to spectacular effect. Choice hotels, ideally situated atop rocky promontories, offer panoramic vistas.
Enjoy a languid sail around the island with Captain Ted of Santorini sailing. Check out the red and black beaches and the ancient Minoan ruins at Akrotiri. Like most, you’ll probably spend your days luxuriating in your hotel pool against the backdrop of nature’s splendor. The stylish Grace Hotel, high on a cliff in the town of Imerovigli, is a perfect love nest replete with luxurious décor and suites with private terraces and plunge pools. Known for its prime vantage point for best views of the famed sunsets, the hotel also boasts an excellent restaurant where I dined under the stars on sublime sea bass moussaka.
The northernmost part of the caldera, the town of Oia, feels like living in the sky. Perched impossibly high up, with chic cave-like suites splashed with lilac and fuchsia fabrics, Perivolas Hotel oozes understated luxury. With expansive terraces, a superb restaurant and an infinity pool with breathtaking views, it’s pretty close to heaven. For the ultimate exclusive experience a five minute boat ride takes you to The Hideaway, a four bedroom luxury villa on your own island with secluded beach and all the amenities of a 5 star hotel.
After dark the action is in the chic bars and restaurants along the moonlit caldera where the glitterati pass the night. Savor a divine dinner of Mediterranean fare on Ambrosia’s balcony for the best view on the island. Relish the moment; you’re on top of the world.
The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort at Costa Navarino in Messina, southwest Peloponnese, is set amidst a lush landscape of olive groves and indigenous trees, with views of the Ionian Sea. This five star hotel has luxurious beachfront suites, a huge swimming pool and an array of first rate restaurants, offering diverse leisure activities and guaranteeing guests a sensational stay. Its beautifully furnished accommodations and spacious terraces with infinity pools are ideal for relaxing and viewing the magenta sunset – followed by a dip in the sea.
Facilities include Anazone Spa, using oleotherapy, and Greece’s first signature golf course, the Dunes Course designed by Bernhard Langer. You may prefer wine making or cooking lessons in Messinian homes. Explore medieval castles and the remarkable Palace of Nestor, from Homer’s Iliad. Outdoor activities include hiking, biking, yachting, diving and my favorite – snorkeling the clear blue waters of Proti island above a sunken ship. The Westin Costa Navarino, geared to the family experience, shares facilities with The Romanos.
Gastronomic delights include fantastic local fish at Eleon’s, mouth watering steak at Flame, and otherworldly octopus, calamari, and lobster with hilopites pasta at Barbouni. A ‘Tears of Chios’ sunset cocktail serenaded by a bluesy sax on Anax terrace was picture perfect. The best pizza and pasta at Da Luigi’s al fresco eatery accompanied by a star studded Chris Botti concert on screen at the outdoor cinema were unforgettable.
Cobbled streets, horse drawn carriages, beautiful beaches, lush greenery, very few cars and a lovely marina make Spetses utterly charming. The glamorous landmark Poseidonion Grand Hotel on the main street, replete with Asian Spa and pool, is a true gem. Luxurious rooms and suites, exquisitely styled, offer balconies opening to the Saronic Gulf with views of yachts and water taxis passing. Renowned chef Chris Peskia’s culinary creations on the hotel’s legendary veranda are pure artistry. The Japanese restaurant, Freud Oriental, is outstanding and not to be missed. Take a motorbike past perfectly manicured gardens to Kaiki Beach with thatch umbrellas and delightful water to swim in. The Poseidonion is a favorite haunt of creative types, high society, royalty, and the fashionable well heeled set.
Poseidonion Grand Hotel
After my fabulous excursion to Greece, I decided to take advantage of Turkish Airline’s stopover in Istanbul, as many travelers do, before I headed home. First I visited Topkapi Palace and ogled the famed jewels, then headed to the former home of the Ottoman Sultans, the opulent 5 star Ciragan Palace Kempinski, right on the Bosphorus. It’s the epitome of grandeur and elegance, with lavish palace suites and exquisite rooms fronting the water. It’s not surprising that Madonna, Oprah and Bono have stayed here. After a dip in their lovely pool and a superb dinner of classic Turkish cuisine at their signature restaurant Tugra, I knew this was one glorious trip.
Ciragan Palace Kempinski