Greece is the word... Claire Ridley spent the summer in Santorini and Athens
Santorini is often referred to as the supermodel of the Greek islands and I can see why. Surrounded by the inviting Aegean Sea, it's reached by direct flights from the UK or a short 45-minute flight from Athens Airport. It can also be accessed by boat from Piraeus Port for island-hopping honeymooners wanting to escape to the sun. On arrival, Europe's most glamorous getaway greets visitors with unbeatable views and the famous white-washed landscape dotted with the instantly recognisable blue domes on the many chapels and churches that are perched on the steep Caldera cliffs.
VILLA WITH A VIEW
Hidden down an accessible track off the main road linking the Insta-worthy town of Oia to the capital, Fira, sits Villa Mellow, one of more than 500 luxury vacation rental villas located in a choice of more than 25 dreamy destinations offered by The Greek Villas. Promising privacy, it's perfect for honeymooners wanting to get away from it all. The authentic architectural design is built in the island's signature style with sunny bursts of yellow cheerfully decorating the exterior. The fully furnished interior enjoys a pop-art vibe created through playful splashes of colour in the living room, on the mezzanine level (which provides a great snug area) and in the kitchen. It sleeps up to six people in three spacious bedrooms with the master one (which was my weekend hideout) commanding unrivalled sea views and doors leading to the patio. It's the perfect place if you want to enjoy a family-moon or holiday with friends.
I couldn't wait to take a dip in the heated infinity swimming pool and outdoor hot tub, both perched on the cliff edge, and laze on the comfortable sun loungers perfectly placed to admire the view stretching across to the town of Imerovigli. There's even a spectacular wedding arch above the patio for couples wishing to marry in Greece and enjoy their honeymoon at the villa (civil ceremonies can take place here with up to 70 guests seated around it and music and dancing can be enjoyed into the early hours).
WISH YOU WERE HERE
Eager to explore, I headed straight to the tourist hotspot of Oia to witness one of the world-renowned sunsets I had heard so much about. To grab a great spot at the ruins of the castle of Agios Nikolaos or beside the Glitzy Windmill, be prepared to set off early. Don't forget the essentials - a glass of Ouzo (a Greek aperitif) or a local beer!
The winding narrow marble streets in Oia are home to high-end restaurants, traditional tavernas and designer boutiques and the best time to visit is in May or October when it isn't too crowded. Visitors wanting to hike from here to Fira can follow the 6.5-mile path (stopping for a picnic or lunch at the Avocado restaurant for some tasty Mediterranean cuisine) while those looking for a more laid-back vacation (yes, that's me!) can hire a car or a quad (or even book a one-hour donkey ride) to see this volcanic island.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
I was very impressed by the private 24-hour, hotel-standard service at the villa meaning that I didn't need to lift a finger. My host was Michael who prepared a fresh Greek breakfast every morning that I enjoyed outside on the patio (dinner cooked on-site in the outdoor oven was also an option).
Those wanting to enjoy some fine dining in Oia can do so at the Black Rock Restaurant. Katina Fish Tavern at Ammoudi Beach, as featured in the television show Gordon, Gino and Fred Go Greek is another option but getting there isn't for the faint-hearted with the main access being down more than 270 steps. It's well worth it though to dine on the crystal-clear water's edge surrounded by traditional fishing boats. A highlight for me was the cuttlefish, homemade tzatziki and saganaki.
Party-lovers should head to Fira while those wanting another spectacular sunset from a different angle across Fira and Oia should book a table at the recently opened wine bar and restaurant Madame Sousou located in Pyrgos where they make their own wine (and gin) and serve tasty small tapas plates chosen around the wine varieties. The wine cellar itself is impressive, built into a cave. Also in Pyrgos is the vintage-inspired Agaze bistro and deli offering traditional greek flavours in a cosy atmosphere.
Rates at Villa Mellow start from 14,000 euros per week for the season of 2023.
*Enjoy the full Greek vacation experience – The Greek Villas offer a personalised bespoke package of additional concierge services including VIP transportation, water sports and wellness, tailored treatments including massages and more. Villa hire also includes arrival and departure airport transfers, Wi-Fi and satellite television.
From the moment I arrived in Athens, a three-and-a-half hour flight from London, the energy of this bustling city greeted me. A myriad of vibrant streets crammed with landmarks promised to fill my Insta feed, from the iconic Acropolis of Athens (a UNESCO World Heritage Centre) to the Plaka district, the oldest in Athens that lies beneath the Acropolis where the cobbled streets are filled with eclectic shops and rooftop restaurants. Being a shopper, I loved the boutiques in the fashion district and the markets (especially the flea market, where a romantic mix of old meets new). May is a great time to visit when the weather is warm (the average temperature is 25 degrees) but the intense heat of the summer hasn't yet descended.
A WARM WELCOME
Nestled in the heart of this capital city opposite Old Parliament House sits the five-star hotel xenodocheio Milos. I was excited to visit this boutique property, a food destination which is the first luxury gastronomy hotel of the world-renowned Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos. It boasts 43 stylish rooms and suites including the 501 Milos Terrace Suite which was my home-from-home for the night. The highlight of this wonderful space is the private rooftop terrace complete with a jacuzzi and far-flung views, the ideal spot to soak up summer in the city.
DINE IN STYLE
The Estiatorio Milos restaurant situated on the ground floor of this popular hotel is well-known on the Athens dining scene for its fantastic Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant offers private dining events, an all-day al fresco sidewalk cafe bar located just outside on the terrace and there's soon to be an oyster bar. It has sister properties in New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Los Cabos, Montreal and London where the extensive seafood menu tantalises tastebuds with delicious dishes made using only the freshest and finest ingredients from the Greek islands. Founder and chef Costas Spiliadis has personally chosen the fishermen and farmers to work with. A highlight for me was the sashimi and ceviche followed by the lightly fried zucchini and eggplant before the grilled fish of the day was served. For dessert, I tucked into a mouth-watering bitter chocolate tartrate served with homemade cream washed down with a glass of delicious Cretan Vorinos wine.
After a busy day spent sightseeing, I was booked into the SPA Suite, an oasis of calm in the middle of this bustling mecca offering an extensive treatment menu. With a focus on wellness, I felt rejuvenated after a relaxing full-body massage using Elemis products followed by a steam bath. There's also a 24-hour Gym Suite, where guests can enjoy pilates and rooftop yoga is also offered.