Maria Boyle goes Greek island hopping
This is the largest and southernmost island in Greece. We were based on the eastern part of the island, near Agios Nikolas, at the five star St Nicholas Bay Resort Hotel & Villas.
The 119-room hotel has two main pools, a private beach and sun decks, with views of Mirabello Bay, two bars and a spa.
Food is a superb. Breakfast is buffet style and also features a la carte options. Lunch can be served pool, beachside or at the hotel’s Blue Bay Restaurant with choices including sushi, Greek and super food salads, pastas and seafood.
For dinner, there are five restaurants to choose from. Particularly favourites were The Minotaure which offered a mix of Asian and international cuisine. We also loved The Greek Kafenion, which is one of the area’s top restaurants, serving local Cretan dishes and fresh seafood sourced directly from the Bay.
To explore the coastline, we took a private boat tour to Spinalonga. The historic island was a stronghold of the Venetians. They built a massive fortress in 1579 to protect the bays of Elounda and Mirabello. Spinalonga then became a leper colony in 1903 with 1,000 Greeks being quarantined on the island over a 50-year time span.
From the Cretan port of Heraklion we took the ferry to Santorini. The island is the most famous of the Cyclades, known for its plunging cliffs, its whitewashed houses, blue dome churches, winding paths and its incredible sunsets.
We stayed in Oia, the most northerly part of the island, in Andronis Arcadia on the fringes of the village. The five star hotel has a contemporary design, its 119 suites and villas each have earthy interiors (85 per cent of the furniture is hand made locally) and chic luxury touches, outdoor seating and your own private pool.
Activity wise, visitors to the island can do a spot of wine-tasting, or head to the historic site of Akrotiri, ‘the Pompeii of the Aegean’, now excavated from its ashen tomb, or explore the capital Fira.
We visited Museum Megaro Gyzi, built in 1700s in a house that belonged to a Venezian family. One of the few that survived the earthquake of 1956, it provides a fascinating insight in to the history of Santorini, a chance to see old documents charting life on the island and photos and newspaper cutting detailing the volcanic eruptions on the island.
Santorini’s food offering is also excellent and the highlight of our stay on the island was dinner at Lycabettus Restaurant — surely one of the best cliff top locations in the world.
Naxos is the largest of the Cycladic islands, known for its stunning Venetian castle, captivating history, traditional mountain villages, immaculate sandy beaches and great food.
We headed for Villa Flo, 30 minutes from Naxos Town. Managed by the highly efficient Maria, she welcomed us to the island and helped us discover some of the gems of Naxos.
Chora, the capital, was our first stop. We headed to the Old Market, packed with restaurants and boutiques tucked under archways, in tunnels, and stacked over multiple levels. We dined al fresco at Kastro located just under the town’s historic monastery — traditional Greek fare and seafood with a contemporary twist.
One of the buzziest spots was a café and wine bar called Avaton located in the old Ursuline Monastery dating back to 1739. It served an excellent selection of creative cocktails on its rooftop in the evenings and, in the day, the building houses the Archaeological Museum of Naxos.
Naxos is known for its beaches and one of the best, just 10 minutes from the villa, is called Plaka Beach. We had lunch at Tortuga beach bar and club serves an excellent lunch of fresh seafood, Naxian potatoes, guacamole with watermelon salad.
On our final evening, private chef Babis Tsamadias from No Reservations No Recipes came to cook for us and prepared a seasonal menu which included local salads, tuna tataki, squid carbonara (his original creation made with the freshest squid cut in to thin ribbons, replacing the pasta), a mushroom dish which was ‘the best ever vegan dish I’ve tasted’ according to my daughter, followed by desserts.
A short 45-minute ferry trip took us to Mykonos. Harmony Hotel, our base, is a 22-room boutique hotel by the old port and a two-minute walk in to Mykonos Town.
The island has a reputation as the Ibiza of the Aegean yet it’s also incredibly laid back.
Retaining its historic charm, the stone windmills of Mykonos Town are a must-see as is Little Venice, and it’s fun to get lost in the narrow alleyways lined with shops, pavement cafes and bars.
Food is a big deal on the island given its international jet set reputation. We had dinner at Kalita located in a pretty courtyard in the heart of the old town, and enjoyed modern Greek dishes that were Michelin standard. As soon as we left the restaurant we were recommending it to friends who were visiting in a few weeks’ time. It’s a must.
To enjoy the island vibe, we booked lunch at Zuma Mykonos As well as two large restaurant spaces, Zuma has a cool bar and huge infinity pool. Guests can feast on excellent dishes such as freshly seared wagyu sirloin tataki with truffle ponzu or jumbo tiger prawn with yuzu kosho and lounge on the Louis Vuitton branded sunbeds, overlooking the Aegean Sea while the resident DJ played tunes that appealed to all family members - quite a mean feat!
Another day we caught a bus to Ornos beach and went on a taxi boat (€20 return, stops at multiple beaches). The wooden motorised boat service is run by a co-op of local fisherman’s family. We stopped at a number of the island’s beaches before getting off at Platis Gialos to spend the afternoon there and enjoy its crystal clear water, beach bars and cafes.
For our last evening, we visited Bill & Coo Beef Bar located on Agios Ioannis Beach under the mulberry trees. The spacious restaurant has an excellent menu (Beef Bar fans will be familiar) with added Greek inspired dishes including Tarana Tuna with yuzu, grilled fish and jumbo prawns, and the only Kobe beef gyros in the world. As we reminisced about our epic Greek odyssey over cocktails, fireworks lit up the sky. We had enjoyed four mini holidays in one and loved every island. We just need to return to explore the other 223 inhabited islands — perhaps next year’s holiday is already sorted?
There are many ferry booking platforms, but the best one is Ferryscanner https://www.ferryscanner.com/en/ferry as you can see all the different options of ferry companies, ferry routes, times, prices available versus booking with one single ferry company.
WHERE TO STAY:
Crete: St Nicholas Bay, rooms from £220 https://www.stnicholasbay.gr
Santorini: Andronis Arcadia, suites from £560 https://www.andronis.com/hotels/andronis-arcadia/
Mykonos: Harmony Hotel, rooms from 150 Euros https://www.harmonyhotel.gr
Naxos: Villa Flo by Anamnesia Collection (travelstaytion.com) from £385 per night
Smile Rent a Car: portside pick up [email protected]