Myth and daily life are so intertwined in Greek life you can’t help but lose yourself in time and space. Each place you visit has thousands of years of documented civilization to go with a collection of legends about ancient gods, goddesses and heroes who were timeless even to the people who lived all those years ago. In several areas, the people were said to be born from the very earth itself, having come from there and nowhere else. Wherever you go in Greece, the people are very into being Greek and into their traditions.
Athens, the capital and main transportation hub, along with the Cycladic islands of Mykonos and Santorini have been extremely popular with travelers, and with good reason. The birthplace of democracy and ancient temples make Athens one of the most storied cities in the Western canon. The beaches and party atmosphere of Mykonos have earned an international reputation for good times. An ancient volcanic explosion left Santorini sitting on the rim above a caldera that the Aegean Sea has rushed into, creating some of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see.
But there’s much more to Greece. For starters, there are more than 100 inhabited islands to choose from. And the mainland gets short shrift as well.
There’s Crete, 100 miles south of the mainland and one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean. It gave birth to the Bronze Age Minoan Civilization, which spawned its own myths thanks to the elaborate palace at Knossos, purported home of the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Today, Crete is an outdoor playground, with beach enclaves in the east and a giant gorge in the middle, as well as the cave Zeus was born in.
Closer to the coast of what is now Turkey lie Rhodes, full of medieval castles and former home to the Colossus, one of the wonders of the ancient world; Kos, which was name-dropped in the Iliad and has been accumulating layers of history and archaeology since; Patmos, brought from the sea bottom to the surface by the Greek gods and where the Christian St. John envisioned the Book of Revelation.
In the north of the mainland you’ll find Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city and an economic hub since the Roman period. The surrounding region contains the ruins of the ancient Macedonian capital and, believe it or not, ski resorts. In the south, the Peloponnese holds the ruins of Greece’s ancient second city, Sparta, and Olympia, complete with the ruins of the original Olympic stadium and the Temple of Zeus, another wonder of the ancient world. Kalamata is a prominent port city surrounded by olive groves and sea breezes.
While it doesn’t have as many islands as the famed Aegean, the Ionian Sea to the west of the mainland is where you’ll find Corfu, Zakynthos and Ithaca. It took Odysseus 20 years to get back to Ithaca, but you can get there in just a few hours from Athens on your own legendary journey.
COVID entry protocols: All people traveling to Greece from foreign countries will be required to have a negative molecular test result (PCR) for COVID-19, performed up to 72 hours before their entry to Greece. This includes air and land arrivals to Greece. The Greek government is formulating plans to allow vaccinated travelers and those with COVID antibodies to enter the country without testing by summer.
Where to stay:
Hotel Grande Bretagne
Located within walking distance of the Acropolis, Hotel Grande Bretagne indulges guests with deluxe guest rooms and suites, two distinctive restaurants, two swimming pools, and the multiple-award-winning GB Spa. Guest rooms feature sumptuous fabrics, original artworks, and restored antiques from Christie's and Sotheby's. Suite guests enjoy complimentary butler service to help fulfill every request with impeccable discretion. The GB Spa offers exclusive ESPA & Valmont products, and signature body and facial treatments. Alexander’s Cigar Lounge provides a relaxed setting to enjoy fine cognacs and premium cigars.
The Romanos, a Luxury Collection resort
Set amid lush olive groves and overlooking the storied waters of the Ionian Sea, The Romanos resort offers a distinctive and inspiring environment of genuine luxury and heartfelt hospitality. Choose from 321 beautifully appointed guest rooms, suites, and villas – be sure to book one of the 128 that have their own infinity-edge pool. Dine on local and international culinary flavors in numerous unique venues. Activities such as philosophy walks and olive harvesting are sure to pique your interest, and set aside time to indulge at Anazoe Spa, with special therapies based on ancient Greek practices and unique oleotherapy® treatments.
Porto Zante Villas & Spa
Set along a private beach on a secluded bay just minutes from Zakynthos city, the ridiculously beautiful Porto Zante oozes exclusivity. Expect every extravagance in the nine sublime villas; ranging from one to four bedrooms, they boast private pools, furnishings from Armani Casa and Gervasoni, Bang & Olufsen entertainment centers, and iMac desktops. Get active with tennis, beachfront yoga, horseback riding, and plentiful water sports; the waterfront spa offers lavish treatments using Bulgari products. Dine on fine Greek and Mediterranean or Asian fusion that takes advantage of the Ionians’ bounty.
Named for the near-constant sunshine the resort experiences, Parilio is a testament to the Cyclades Islands’ unspoiled natural beauty. The 33 suites are defined by a soothing color palette and distinctive Greek architecture, and each features spectacular island views. Take a dip in the cross-shaped pool, then taste the island’s famed gastronomic legacy at chef Alexander Tsiotinis’ Mr. E, serving fresh, seasonal Greek and Mediterranean cuisine inspired by the surrounding natural bounty.
I do not think you can go wrong with wherever you choose to go in Greece, and for my own trip in September I had the extremely hard choice of narrowing down my travels to Crete, Santorini, Milos and Athens. I could not be more thrilled!