Gems of Gorgeous Greece
With gorgeous islands, superb cuisine and a stunning sea,
Greece has always been at the top of the list for those seeking great getaways under the Mediterranean sun. Athens offers remarkable antiquities at the Acropolis Museum and excellent eateries, many on the newly revived waterfront. This vibrant city has become quite a foodie destination with star chefs turning out innovative cuisine. Those who are lucky enough to get a reservation flock to Varoulko where Michelin-starred chef Lefteris Lazarou serves up the freshest, tastiest seafood at a scenic harbor setting in Piraeus. The cosmopolitan capital boasts an array of standout hotels such as the 5-star Hotel Grande Bretagne – part of The Luxury Collection. This historic landmark in the heart of town features an award-winning Spa and a roof-top restaurant with amazing views. www.marriott.com
A short flight or scenic ferry ride make island hopping easy. Each offers its own unique treasures. Whereas many favor Mykonos and Santorini, here are highlights of some of Greece’s other gems.
The largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos boasts great food, a diverse landscape and some of the best beaches in Greece. Mt. Zeus, the Cyclades’ highest peak is the central focus of the island’s mountainous interior where you’ll find charming villages – each with its own specialty dishes, grown from crops in family gardens.
When Anthony Bourdain came to Greece to film an episode of his CNN show Parts Unknown, his original plan was to travel to several islands within the Cyclades. But when he got to Naxos, he canceled his other plans and devoted the entire episode to this island alone. Once you have a few meals here, it’s easy to understand why. The ingredients are exceptional, the result of longstanding agricultural traditions, artisan production of cheese, olive oil and other products and the custom of passing recipes down through generations. Contrasted with the beaches, the island is also quite mountainous and tucked away in those steep hills are villa tavernas of extraordinary quality. Platia in the village of Galini is surrounded by orchards of fruit trees and olive trees as well as fields yielding the vegetables present in many of their dishes. Zucchini stuffed with tomatoes and cheese, onions stuffed with beef, and rooster in tomato sauce, are just a few of the dishes not to miss. No wonder Bourdain couldn’t bear to leave.
Every meal I had was exceptional. A standout was Faros, fronting the sea, where owner Niko, a fisherman, serves 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.
In addition to its spectacular cuisine Naxos offers splendid beaches like Plaka and St. Prokopios as well as remarkable ruins. You’re bound to see monuments from the classical Greek and Byzantium period when Naxos was a cultural center. Stroll the medieval old town with its cobbled alleys, archways and ancient houses, in and around the Venetian Castle. Marvel at The Temple of Apollo and Archaeological Site of Grotta, both located in the main city of Hora. Park yourself at one of the cafes along the lively waterfront and enjoy the scenic views.
The luxurious 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 resort has a strong culinary focus as well – Anthony Bourdain dined here. Breakfasts include scrumptious homemade spinach and cheese pie and delectable local specialties are available for lunch and dinner. Cooking lessons are offered for those who want to take the cuisine home.
Their sister property, Naxian on the Beach is just steps from pretty, sugary white Plaka Beach. This luxurious all-suite grown-ups only boutique hotel designed with traditional Cycladic architecture and stylish accents features indoor/outdoor Jacuzzis on your private balcony – a great spot for breakfast. Afterwards relax on seaside sun loungers reserved just for you. Guests enjoy light meals, cocktails, glorious sunsets and breathtaking blue Aegean views.
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, pearly white beaches and amazing cuisine, Naxos is an island worth visiting.
Cobbled streets, horse drawn carriages, beautiful beaches, lush greenery, very few cars and a lovely marina make Spetses utterly charming. The Poseidonion Grand Hotel is a favorite haunt of creative types, high society, royalty, and the fashionable well heeled set. It’s easy to see why.
This glamorous landmark on the main street, replete with 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. Aptly named, Paradise Beach is an idyllic retreat and I also loved passing the perfectly manicured gardens on the way to Kaiki Beach with thatch umbrellas and delightful water to swim in.
After a relaxing morning at the beach, a delicious lunch on the scenic verandah features tasty dishes with fresh ingredients from the Bostani Organic Farm, along with seafront views. For dinner, guests savor creative Greek dishes inspired by local gastronomic traditions under the starry night sky.
For even more pampering, IDOLO Spa offers a wide array of holistic treatments highlighting wellness and balance of mind, body and spirit. Be forewarned: it’s hard to leave Paradise.