With travel restrictions soon to be eased, and that European summer dream ever closer to becoming reality, there is only one destination on our minds: Greece.
With so many islands to choose from – over 6,000 to be precise, deciding on the perfect one for you largely relies on recommendations and endless scrolling through Instagram to find the most picture-perfect of beaches. However, why pick just one when there are so many to explore?
Out of those 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the twinkling Aegean and Ionian seas, only 227 are actually inhabited. The majority of the islands are found in the Aegean, and are divided into seven groups (from North to South): The Northeastern Aegean Islands; The Sporades; Islands of Argosaronic; The Cyclades; The Dodecanese and Crete – the largest Greek island.
Our Greek adventure focuses on The Cyclades and Crete – the largest Greek island, and easily reachable from one another if you don’t mind a) a choppy ferry journey or b) a short domestic plane ride in the summer months. The Cyclades are perhaps the most famed of the Greek islands for their romantic whitewashed buildings, blue domed churches, volcanic landscapes and legendary nightlife – Ios, Mykonos and Santorini leading the charge.
For the perfect ten day to two-week itinerary, we suggest starting in Mykonos, before sailing to Santorini and then onto the stunning island of Crete to finish with culture in abundance. Having visited Santorini many times before, we decided to maximise time on both Mykonos and Crete for a two-part Greek Odyssey that would see us explore two of the most magnificent islands Greece has to offer over the course of a fortnight, spending a week in each.
Mykonos is Greece’s “designer” island. A home-away-from-home for the world’s fashionistas and jet set. Here, behind its quaint appearance lies hedonism at the highest level. Think an excess of everything. It’s as if Dubai, Las Vegas, London, St.Tropez and Marbella have morphed into one tiny paradise island that’s a secret playground for the rich and famous. Although it’s not so secret. Mykonos is busy. Packed to its teeny tiny, narrow streets with tourists, partygoers, honeymooners and in pre-Covid times, cruise ship visitors. It’s an eclectic melting pot where anything goes if you splash enough cash.
Known for its energetic nightlife and world-renowned beach clubs, if you like to be in the thick of it, Mykonos is for you. From the super-sized Paradise Beach to the swankier Scorpios, dress to impress with a cocktail in hand as you watch the most breathtaking sunsets you will have ever seen. It’s true, they really are as good as you’ve heard. A wave of international restaurant chains (Nobu, Nusr Et) sit alongside fabulous tavernas where gorgeous Greek food is in abundance.
A special mention has to be given to Buddha-Bar Beach Mykonos for one of the hottest dining spots on the island that’s not to be missed. The world’s first Buddba-Bar Beach precedes iconic venues in Dubai and Turkey and offers a stunning spot for dining. Located in the luxurious Santa Marina Resort & Villas, its legendary exotic atmosphere makes for a great spot for a romantic dinner a deux, or a livelier evening with friends to the backdrop of some of the world’s top DJs. Perched above Santa Marina’s private beach, its seafront location is nothing short of dreamy, as is the exceptional fusion cuisine – Mediterranean, Greek and Asian, and celebrated cocktails.
The atmosphere evolves as the sun lowers, and is energetic yet sophisticated; it’s an unpretentious place to see and be seen, yet intimate enough to blend into the corners should you wish. Come nightfall, the tempo of the music raises and the vibe becomes much more “Mykonos”. From sushi to dumplings, Rib-Eye Wagyu Beef to Roasted Black Cod, the menu is both extensive and delicious. We feasted on Crispy Duck Ramen with Bok Choy and a Five Spice Broth, and the Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Mayonnaise – both equally mouth-watering. Accompany with a signature Buddha-Bar Mykonos cocktail (the champagne based Bubble Wrap is our favourite) or mocktail and soak up the unique Mykonos atmosphere in an elegant setting where you’re sure to rub shoulders with a few familiar faces.
That said, Mykonos is what you make it. It isn’t all partying ‘til dawn and shopping ‘til you drop if you don’t want it to be. Mykonos is still a beautiful island with lots to savour if only you step away from the crowds for a minute. IT offers unspoilt seashores, cute coves reachable by boat, archaeological sites and local tavernas off the beaten track that serve some of the most delicious traditional fare you’ll ever have eaten, at a fraction of the price of the big-name eateries in Mykonos town.
You’re be no stranger to Little Venice. What the Burj al Arab is to Dubai, Little Venice is to Mykonos. A unique location on the edge of Mykonos town that exudes romance with its Cycladic houses with colourful balconies hanging over the wind-whipped waters edge, and the windmills – Mykonos’ key landmark – that is an unmissable sight especially early evening for the best view of the sun sinking into the sea.
Mykonos Town itself is an Instagrammers dream – a labyrinth of tiny, meandering cobbled streets teased by overhanging, hot pink bougainvillea and a smattering of upscale boutiques laden with designer wares. In Summer, these streets get very, very busy so for the best chance at exploring without elbowing your way through the crowds, head out early – sunrise early, to have the hot spots to yourself for those all-important photos you’ll definitely want to take. After dusk, a plethora of bars and clubs transform these miniscule streets for partying until the early hours. In fact, if you do head out at sunrise expect to see the odd stray reveller returning home after a night out!
Paraportiani Church was one of our favourite places to visit in Mykonos – a unique building on the edge of Mykonos town that is the orthodox church of Panagia Paraportiani. The typical Cycladic, whitewashed façade is actually five different churches and is a beautiful backdrop for you holiday snaps made even more magical with the morning light behind its impressive structure.
As well as the quaint streets and sights of the main town and port, Mykonos is also known for its golden sanded beaches and crystal waters perfect for swimming and watersports. The South coast marks the best, and the family friendly Ornos is a great destination to relax and enjoy the views of anchored super yachts as you gorge on a well-valued souvaki from one of the reasonably-priced restaurants that line the small promenade.
When in Mykonos, where you stay makes all the difference. Accommodation is typically expensive and ranges from five-star luxury at the likes of Santa Maria Mykonos, Bill and Coo and Cavoo Tagoo to more affordable suites and boutique hotels such as Adorno Suites, Bellevue Hotel and Mykonos Blu.
For a perfect base, close but not too-close to the action, the five-star Tharroe of Mykonos is an excellent choice. A ten-minute walk (approx. 900 metres) to Mykonos town, this boutique hotel offers fantastic views of the Mykonian coast, and even better unobstructed views of the sunset – it’s such a great view in fact, that come 6pm the terrace is full of guests who prefer to stay in the hotel itself than venture out.
You can even see the Mykonos Windmills from the hotel, and if you squint, Little Venice less than one mile away, is visible. For views of Mykonos, you’ll be hard pushed to find better than at this hotel.
The terrace/sun deck is sizeable for the island but at full hotel occupancy you’ll be stretched to find a sun lounger around the pool so be sure to book up those beach clubs in advance if you’re there for the sunbathing. However, the terrace does make for a perfect late-afternoon cocktail spot as you recline in one of the hotel’s comfortable chairs and take in the hotel’s pleasant atmosphere. The hotel’s own Barbarossa restaurant that leads out onto the terrace is also exceptionably good serving enormous portions at surprisingly un-Mykonos prices. Expect hearty, authentically Greek dishes with an international twist – the shrimp spaghetti is so wonderful we even had it twice! The octopus on traditional Greek fava with caramelized onions and kapari is also well worthy of a mention. The views are as good as any of the island’s hot spots and the food is arguably better.
The hotel is Cycladic in its style – think whitewashed walls, bohemian interiors and impressive artwork that lines its curves.
There are just 20 rooms at the hotel – seven of which are suites. Lower category rooms are not the largest but are comfortable enough with all the facilities you would need to comfortably base yourself in Mykonos. Rooms come with small balconies, but we suggest upgrading to a suite if possible, for greater outdoor space and fun whirlpool tubs that are perfect after a day spent sightseeing on foot. This is also welcome if the pool area does become full in high season. The Junior Suite Sea View is a favourite among guests celebrating those special occasions with an incredible vista, a small sitting area and all the space, elegance and design you’d expect from a luxury European hotel.
It’s the service however that makes this hotel stand out among others. Tharroe of Mykonos is family-run and it shows. The front-desk staff are personable and go above and beyond to help you with recommendations and reservations for dinner which is very welcome amidst the chaos of the island – there’s so much choice you could spend hours researching. Concierge services are also available should you wish to venture a little further and explore. With such attention to detail, it’s easy to see why this hotel has earned itself a reputation as a Mykonos classic.
A week is a long time in Mykonos, and after the hustle and bustle of the island, you may be ready for some rest and relaxation on your Greek adventure. Hop on a Seajets ferry from Mykonos port (booked in advance of course) and in just five hours, you can be a world away on the beautiful island of Crete. Ferry crossings have never been my favourite due to a tendency to get sea sick, and with Mykonos winds making the crossing between islands a little hairy at times, it’s best to come prepared!
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is breathtakingly beautiful in a completely different way to Mykonos, which makes this the perfect two-part itinerary.
From glorious beaches, impressive mountainous terrain, ancient archaeological sites and some of the best cuisine anywhere in Europe, Crete is captivating. Yes, it’s received a bad reputation over the years for its party lifestyle but that’s largely centred around Heraklion and Malia, and on such a large island you can be as lively or as sedate as you please. And we wanted relaxation.
For the most luxurious of stays, you’ll want to head straight to Elounda – about an hour away from busy Heraklion port. This small town is the epitome of sophistication with luxury five-star resorts and hotels frequented by movie stars, politicians and royalty – it’s private perfection and a world away from the hustle and bustle of Mykonos.
If you want to explore some of the delights that Crete has to offer (and there are many) we suggest hiring a car to get around for Crete is enormous and even with one whole week here, you’ll barely get to touch the sides. The East of the island, especially around the area of lerapetra you’ll find endless golden coastline that makes for lazy days in the sunshine, and the beaches of Elounda are striking, although largely private and rocky.
Elounda is at its heart a pretty fishing village that has been lovingly transformed into a haven for Hollywood. You’ll find no crowds or commercialization here, just crystal-clear water, quaint streets and stunning scenery. It has an authentic Greek feel to it, and a relaxed air of elegance. There’s a small yet picturesque harbour that is laden with traditional fishing boats and small tavernas. This later gives way to some of the town’s more exclusive restaurants that line the bay should you wish to venture out of your hotel.
You simply cannot visit Crete without a stop in Agio Nikolaos, just south of Elounda which is a little livelier. It’s a busy coastal town with shops and restaurants galore and makes for a fun day or evening out. As with most places in Greece, it’s also ridiculously beautiful with colourful buildings, awnings and boats galore.
You’re likely visiting Elounda because of its impressive choice of five-star hotels. One of our favourites has to be Elounda Peninsula All-Suite Hotel, which as the name suggests consists of all-suites each with their own private pool – Europe’s first. It’s one of the most luxurious hotels on the island and it’s not hard to see why this is a firm favourite with honeymooners.
Set on a peninsula and with views of Mirabello Bay and the Aegean Sea, Elounda Peninsula All-Suite Hotel is exclusivity personified and is perfect for those looking to get away from it all and relax in complete and utter privacy.
Accommodation ranges from Junior suites to Presidential Villas and Diamond Residences, each more awe-inspiring than the next. The one-bedroom Peninsula Collection Suites are a firm favourite with guests for their luxurious and spacious double-storey accommodation and direct access to a heated, personal seawater pool complete with overhanging net hammock.
For something even more luxurious, the Presidential Villas are directly on the water and offer access to the hotel’s small private beach. They are also enormous – 80m2 for the one-bedroom villas and a whopping 120m2 of indoor space for the two-bedroom. You get your own sun terrace, seawater pool and an huge bathroom complete with steam shower enclosure and sizeable bathtub. All guests of the Presidential Villas receive the VIP treatment – exclusive check in, champagne, kiddie gift bags, private dining etc. In fact, you may never want to leave your room. We almost didn’t!
But you should.
There are eight restaurants to choose from spread across the three sister hotels – Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel, Porto Elounda and Elounda Mare, easily reachable by chauffeured golf buggy. Aglio e Olio located in Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel was our favourite. Nestled in the most romantic of settings, below tumbling ancient olive trees and amidst twinkling candlelight, its international cuisine is served al fresco with views to the pool and beach. Indulge in homemade pasta and risottos, fresh fish and light salads. The Aubergine risotto with shrimps, tomato and basil is particularly good followed by the Tiramisu with Amaretto & espresso ice cream.
The Yacht Club located in the magnificently beautiful Elounda Mare Hotel is also a firm favourite of guests. Perched on a dramatic edge overlooking the beach and water’s edge, the atmosphere is more refined. Enjoy a Greek full-flavoured menu of local, fresh seafood. It’s a great setting for a romantic meal for two. The marinated swordfish with ginger deserves a special mention here.
For an special experience, visit Koh, Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel’s sushi restaurant that has the most magical of settings on the waterfront, right on top of the lapping waves. Melodic lounge music and a bar quite literally on the rocks makes for an evening to remember as you feast on freshly prepared sushi and sashimi.
As you’d expect from a hotel of this calibre, there are an array of exclusive dining experiences on offer in addition to the restaurants. From wine tastings in the hotel’s very own wine cellar to a private BBQ either on the beach or at your villa/suite complete with your personal chef and butler, it’s a must for special occasions. You can even opt for private dining on the hotels Eliana K sailing boat the dock – a 6-course fine-dining menu for those nights when only something really out of the ordinary will do.
There’s a fabulous Six Senses Spa on site that offers treatments, wellness packages, retreats and more. Treatments on offer at time of booking are subject to Covid restrictions so it is best to check ahead of time. One of the Six Senses Signature Massages should aid in your relaxation journey as it eases muscle tension, releases stress and boosts circulation.
For the slightly more active, you can indulge in a round of golf at the neighbouring Porto Elounda Golf Club. It even offers a Golf Academy with a PGA professional team so you can learn to play golf during your holiday or simply boost your swing technique. The Beach Bar and the Odysseus restaurant on the waterfront are great spots to rejuvenate between holes!
If you can tear yourself away from your luxurious surroundings, a couple of nearby notable places of interest you could visit include catching a boat to the famous Spinalonga island. Since ancient times, this tiny island was site to a fortress that protected the port of Olous from pirates, however, in the 20th century it was used for the exile of patients suffering from leprosy. Despite it’s dark part, today, it is a remarkable site filled with history where you can visit throughout the season. Opposite the island is Plaka, a quaint fishing village that every summer is home to the “Plakiana” a traditional music festival. Plaka’s tavernas are also known for serving the freshest fish on the island!
Keeping a feel for history, if you head up the mountain road past Plaka and Spinalonga, you will discover the most unspoilt region of Eastern Crete, the “Upper Mirabello”. The views of Mirabello bay are breathtaking and you can talk a leisurely walk to the cape of St.John with the beautiful stone-built lighthouse. Upon your return, drive further up to the village of Skinias where you will find the Aretiou monastery.
Crete is simply magnificent all throughout the year, but it’s in the summer months when it truly comes alive with the scent of bourgonvilla and salt water. It’s an island that offers something for everything, however, active or relaxed you wish to be. Honeymooners, families, friends, solo travellers alike will become enchanted with Crete and likely visit time and time again.
Our very own Greek odyssey ends with a flight out of Heraklion airport. After two weeks of sunshine, sand, sea, mountains, relaxation, partying and luxury you’ll feel like you’ve been away for much longer and the memories from your two-part trip will be sure to stay with you forever. Greece and its beautiful islands capture your heart in a way like no other destination. Whether it’s your first time or you’re a regular visitor, one things for sure, it certainly wont be your last time.