Lured by sun-kissed landscapes, world-class cultural sites and lovely islands lapped by limpid turquoise seas, more than 30 million overseas tourists arrived in Greece in 2019 – roughly three times the country’s population.
Greeks, who are well aware of their country’s charms, firmly believe that there’s no better place in the world for a holiday. “Why bother going anywhere else when we have islands as good as in the Caribbean?” you’ll hear one person say to another at the supermarket checkout.
“And our food! It’s the best and healthiest in the world,” the other will inevitably reply.
Unlike the British mania for getting away from it all, however, staycation Ellada style is all about ‘parea’ – the people who keep you company, whether in your own family unit or in the wider context of where you stay. This is why – in the past – Greek hotel rooms were quite Spartan. Spend time on your own? Away from your friends? Not likely!
Although younger Greeks are generally found striking Instagrammable poses round pools and clubs in Mykonos and Santorini, in summer – as the August full moon rises like a ripe watermelon over the Acropolis – most will return sto chorio, ‘their’ village, the place where their family originates from, which is usually some wild mountain hideaway where goats cheese comes direct from the udder; granddad made the (ropey) wine and grandma does the cooking (and no-one, not even that top celebrity chef, cooks quite like grandma).
Extravagant and exuberant, Greek holidays are all about enjoying the simple pleasures: good food and good company in one of the world’s most glorious countries. Here’s how to do the same.
If Mykonos is a magnet for the rich and famous, its fellow Cycladic island Kimolos, sheltering in the lea of big sister Milos, is its antithesis. Favoured by Athenians in high season, this bijou atoll is popular with waterbabes who come here to lounge on pristine beaches which are amongst the best in Greece.
Stay: For a feet-in-the-sand holiday it has to be Thalassa Beach House. Rooms from £140 per night (ariahotels.gr).
With its uncrowded beaches and lovely mountain villages, this verdant island is the Cyclades’ secret. Turning their back on the popular Agios Prokoios, Greeks head further along the coast to the less-crowded sands of Mikra Vigla, or head for the hills to visit a cluster of tiny mountain villages, including Chalki, home to the Vallindras Distillery, where they make local lemon liqueur, kitro.
Stay: For exclusive beach cocooning, choose the gleaming new Ammothines Cycladic Suites. Rooms from £162 per night (ammothinesnaxos.com).
Studded with ancient fortresses and ringed by some of the mainland’s best beaches, this picturesque city in northwestern Greece is generally overlooked by tourists. Greeks come here to wander narrow streets lined with 18th-century mansions, snack on local grilled sardines, or bathe in the hot springs.
Stay: Mirabilia Slow Living is a chic suite complex with sparkling Ionian Sea vistas near Preveza. Rooms From £170 per night (meravigliaslowliving.com).
This wild and picturesque region framed by the Astrakas mountain range is home to some of the country’s best ski resorts, but Greeks flock here all year round to hike the Vikos Gorge, sup on local fasolada (bean soup) and marvel at lake of Drakolimni, home to the Hellenic version of the Loch Ness Monster.
Stay: The Lake Hotel has 40 cosy rooms overlooking the green waters of Pamvoties, one of Europe’s oldest lakes. Rooms from £100 per night (thelakehotel.gr).
Food is a major preoccupation for holidaying Greeks. With a raft of succulent local culinary treats – ranging from spicy San Mihalis cheese to cured pork loutza – combined with a bijou opera house that was inspired by La Scala and oodles of beautifully conserved Venetian architecture in old town Ermoupolis, Syros ticks all the boxes.
Stay: 1901 Hermoupolis Mansion’s stylish seaview rooms along a lane behind the port are perfect for a comfortable stay that won’t break the bank. Rooms from £42 per night (1901-hermoupolis-maison-bed-breakfast.booked.net)
Greeks say that Crete is the friendliest isle of them all. During the summer, most will flee the crowds and inflated prices of western Crete and head east to the low key coastal resorts of Elounda, Mochlos and far-flung Makrigialos, famed for its perfect horseshoe-shaped sandy bay, and its small taverns serving heaped plates of dakos and other Cretan specialities.
Stay: Rustic luxury is guaranteed at White River Cottages, a cluster of traditional stone cottages buried in olive groves near Marki Gialos. Rooms from £72 per night (whiterivercottages.com).
An hour’s boat ride from Skiathos, Alonissos is the sea-washed jewel in Sporades Archipelago’s crown. At the heart of the Northern Sporades’ National Marine Park, this rarely explored island, which is home to Greece’s first underwater museum, is a dazzling kaleidoscope of pristine beaches and secret coves where monk seals frolic.
Stay: Luxury hotels are thin on the ground on this locally loved atoll. Marpunta Resort on the top of a pine-clad hill is the pick of the crop. Rooms from £89 (santikoscollection.com/marpunta).
Cheaper than many other Greek islands because it’s so far off the main tourist radar, bite-sized Kastellorizo – only 30 minutes by ferry from Turkey’s Lycian coast – is an intriguing East-meets-West melting pot, combining the best of Greek hospitality with striking mountainous landscapes, brightly coloured villages and Turkish-influenced food.
Stay: On the edge of Kastellorizo’s boat-studded harbour, Mediterraneo, a complex of renovated village houses provides a peaceful haven. Rooms from £73 (mediterraneo-megisti.com).
When tourists are crowding onto the islands, Greeks will often head for the hills. Metsovo is a hamlet of traditional stone houses with a special place in Greek hearts: it offers some of the country’s best kokoretsi (lamb liver wrapped in intestines and spit-roasted over a charcoal fire), as well as the plant-packed Averoff Gardens and local Katogi Averoff Winery.
Stay: Katogi Averoff Winery also has its own cosy boutique hotel. Rooms from £82 (katogiaveroffhotel.gr)..
Greeks are the first to appreciate the charms of the world’s most-photographed volcanic island, but you won’t generally catch them chilling in a caldera pool on Santorini in high season. Canny locals know that on either side of the summer months, skies are the same dazzling blue as the church domes, Oia’s sunset spots are far less crowded and you won’t need to mortgage your house to pay for a hotel.
Stay: On a mountain slope with spectacular views near the traditional village of Pyrgos, Santorini Sky’s luxurious pool villas provide the perfect refuge after a hard day’s sightseeing. Villas from £130 (santorinisky.com).