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    Syvota, Greece

    Secret Greece: where to go for your last-minute trip

    5 October 2020

    Greece’s best spots are calmer than ever before– here’s how to beat the crowds in the land of the gods.

    Find Hidden Gems In The Cyclades

    If you close your eyes and think of Greece, chances are you’re picturing the gemstone-blue Aegean waters and blindingly white-washed villages of the Cyclades. As Greece’s most famous and photographed island cluster, the Cyclades are also the most visited. However, though it’s hard to beat the crowds in Mykonos and Santorini, not every Cycladic island attracts the masses—enter Folegandros.

    The tiny, rocky promontory of Folegandros can be found at the southern end of the Cyclades. Featuring dramatic cliffs that plunge into the sea and a rough landscape of wind-whipped shrubs, flat-roofed houses, and donkey tracks, Folegandros is the perfect alternative to over-run Santorini, which is just an hour away by ferry.

    Villa Circle offers panoramic sea views in Folegandros 

    Make like a local and enjoy the peaceful solitude by booking a private villa, such as the sun-splashed Villa Circle by The Greek Villas, the country’s most exclusive rental agency. This mountaintop hideaway has minimalist white-and-blue Cycladic style with all the modern trappings, but it’s the uninterrupted, panoramic sea views that will have you appreciating the blissful seclusion that makes this island so special. Spend your days hiking up to the sugar-white church of Panagia; soaking up the boho vibes in the main town of Chora; or just watching the rosy sunset from your private hilltop haven.

    Unearth The Greece Of The Past In The Peloponnese

    Gylio, South Peloponnese, Greece

    A marvelous jumble of rustic villages, silvery olive groves, and six UNESCO sites, the down-to-earth Peloponnese mainland is often overlooked for the postcard-ready islands of the glittering Aegean—but it shouldn’t be. Rent a car and tour ancient Greece at the historic citadels of Mycenae and Epidaurus to the northeast and well-preserved, authentic Mani in the south. There are no shortages of historic places to rest your head either, with a plethora of family-run guesthouses and bijou boutique hotels to choose from. (See: Mani’s lavender-fringed, 18th-century tower-house Citta dei Nicliani, near travel writer Patrick Lee Fermor’s home, which is also now available for overnight stays, and the Byzantine estate-turned-hotel, Kinsterna, near the medieval castle city of Monemvasia).

    However, the star of the region is undoubtedly the famous Amanzoe—especially their effortlessly elegant residential villas, which evoke a contemporary Acropolis and are available to rent as well as to purchase—should you find it too painful to depart.

    Ranging in scale from one bedroom to nine bedrooms, each villa is a study of harmonious Hellenistic design with bone-white Sinai pearl marble and rolling vistas of hillsides carpeted in low-slung olive trees and ancient agiorgitiko grapevines.

    Sail Under The Radar In The Argolic Gulf

    Find privacy at sea with Spetses Cruising

    Though there is much to see on the mainland, the waters around the Peloponnese shouldn’t be passed over either. The Argolic Gulf off the Peloponnesian east coast is a dreamy sailing spot lined with small fishing villages and secret coves only accessible by boat. Within easy reach of Athens (the main seaside town of Nafplion is only about two hours away), this Aegean inlet is an ideal long weekend destination from Athens, and it also makes a good introduction to the Peloponnese mainland.

    Make the most of the coastline and the handful of islands in and around the gulf via a full-day or half-day bespoke boat charter. For those who are looking for something between a mega-yacht and a traditional wooden kaikia, there’s Spetses Cruising. Run by the hospitable husband-and-wife team, Yannis and Veneta Vasatis, Spetses Cruising has two super-sleek, high-performance boats (the Nireas and the Pytheas) to take you on a bespoke maritime adventure. Cruise the island of Spetses at the entrance of the gulf (called the “Monaco of Greece” for its sun-faded glamour); sail by the dreamlike island of Bourtzi, made up of a crumbling, 15th-century Venetian castle; or just spend the day paddle-boarding or snorkeling in the luminous waters of around Dokos (a small island with a population of one—not counting the donkeys!).

    Take in the endless sea vistas by staying at Villa Tatler, which has direct beach access and a salt-water pool. You can also make the most of your proximity to the ocean by enjoying the seafood via a private chef who will come and cook in your villa.

    For fine dining that will blow any local seafood restaurant out of the water, book Alex Samoilis of Private Chefs. Official Ambassador For Greek Gastronomy and alum of Michelin-gilded hotspots like Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Jason Atherton’s The Pollen Street, Chef Alex transforms local seafood and specialties into divine dishes worthy of the gods (think: red mullet ceviche swimming in a zesty yuzu bath and laureled with pickled figs and edible flowers and succulent black leg pork anointed in local mavrodafni wine).

    Lay Low On The Coast of Epirus

    The colourful port of Kioni on the island of Ithaca

    For a bit of green scenery, head northwest to the pine-forested, mountainous coast of the Ionian Sea. Some of the Ionian Islands are well-known with international visitors (like Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos), but by basing yourself on the mainland Epirus coast, you can dodge the international crowds and still make trips to the smaller, less-popular Ionian Islands where you’ll likely meet more goats than people (e.g. the white-pebbled Paxi islands and the little, forested island of Ithaka, home of the Homeric hero Odysseus).

    With electric blue-green waters straight out of the Caribbean, the coastal town of Syvota is well positioned with easy access to the ferry port town of Igoumenitsa, as well as mainland attractions, like the nearby Monastery of St. Minas at Kokkinolithari, which seems completely passed over by time and the Nekromanteion, an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the oracle of the dead. The pastel-hued town of Parga and laid-back Preveza also make good bases on the Epirus coast. Villa Peso in Syvota makes for a luxurious home-away-from-home (it even has its own helipad), and in 2021, the five-star MarBella Elix will be making its debut near Parga.

    The Details

    With 30 years of experience, Spetses Cruising offers a comprehensive range of private premium charter services in Greece, including around the Argo-Saronic Islands and the eastern Peloponnese. www.spetsescruising.com

    The Greek Villas feature an impressive handpicked line-up of over 350 high-design, premium properties in over 25 regions of Greece, with full-service concierge services and all the luxuries of a hotel. www.thegreekvillas.com

    With a prime hilltop position, Amanzoe Villa Residences bring modern-day sophistication to a timeless Greek landscape and are available for rent or purchase—with two-bedroom lots currently available. www.aman.com

    With over 40 highly trained culinary experts operating all over Greece and Europe, Private Chefs brings a Michelin-starred experience into any private villa, taking care of all the shopping, cooking, serving, and clean up. www.privatechefs.gr