A while ago, I was in my local bookshop and I was enticed into reading Homer’s Odyssey. And I am so glad I did because it is the reason why my husband and I came to head off to the Ionian and Cyclades islands and the Peloponnese peninsula. In other words, exactly where Homer had all his adventures.
Sun-warmed and sitting on a big flat rock on a beautifully pebbly cove with a view of pristine turquoise waters and white cliffs, it’s a little difficult to feel sorry for poor Odysseus and his ten year journey home. But reading the book while ‘on location’ and visiting the palace of Agamemnon at Mycenae, Nestor’s palaces at Pylos and the Greek theatre at Epidaurus – really flooded my travels with some of the colour and drama of his story.
Odysseus really did go round the houses on his way home, and you’d be up for a long journey if you tried to follow his exact route – and not all of us has a spouse who’d wait a decade while we faff about in the Ionian and Adriatic Seas – so we had to settle on a few islands to hop between.
As one of the travel writers for the Hotel Guru website I have, post trip, compiled my recommendations for the wonderful Greek hotels we stayed in. I’ve also given you some practical details about the transportation and climate at the end of this post.
The 9 Muses is a small, serene resort built over four terraces – all with stunning Aegean views. Its simply, but luxuriously, furnished bungalow suites are named after the Muses and range from cosy doubles to split-level quadruples – all with their own private terraces. The sea is right beneath you, but there’s also a very nice pool, and the opportunity to drink and dine alfresco. Patmos is a wonderful place to stay if you want to escape the Greek island crowds, it’s one of the prettiest, calmest, most traditional islands. Rooms start from around £50 per night.
Lasithi’s Cressa Ghitonia offers a wonderful combination of traditional living and resort comfort in its complex of 18 carefully renovated stone houses clustered around a large plunge pool and a small restaurant. You’re scattered across a hillside, close to the pretty village of Sfaka, and to uncrowded beaches and idyllic country strolling terrain. The cottages come in all shapes and sizes, but have everything you might need from home – including coffee machines, but with stunning views and plenty of peace and quiet, and prices start from around £70 per night.
Thira is the town of cascading Cycladic white sugar cube buildings with the caldera view that probably pops into your head whenever you hear ‘Santorini’. And Aigialos is probably the accommodation you imagine, a collection of sugar cube houses perched on and cut into the cliffs with white washed walls and private balconies. The houses sleep between two and five, and there’s a lovely pool and a Mediterranean restaurant. Prices start from around £250 per night.
Ferry hub of the Cyclades, Paros is a great base to explore the whole island group. But it’s also a great place to stay. The beaches vary from watersports-friendly to pristine and secluded, there’s fascinating history and mythology to discover, and it’s also quite colourful after dark. The Saint Andrea Seaside Resort is a wonderfully relaxed and affordable 54 room property with tasteful decor and a huge, lagoon-style outdoor pool. This is the perfect spot if you fancy a lazy holiday in the sun, with rooms starting from a very reasonable £68 per night.
Backdrop to many of the highlights of Greek mythology, the beauty of the Peloponnese region has not been spoiled by the years. And for many visitors the construction of now ruined Mycenaean palaces, Roman theatres, Venetian fortresses and Byzantine churches has added to the peninsula’s natural beauty. If you want a quiet, historic base to explore the Peloponnese try Pirgos Mavromichali, a beautifully converted tower building in a lovely village above a fishing cove. The rooms are traditional yet chic, with stone walls and parquet floors, there’s an excellent restaurant, and the room rate starts from an affordable £68 per night.
Not every Greek island has its own airport, but Santorini, Crete and Paros do. Lots of people travel to and fro between the islands by ferry, especially now that ferries are like planes – but with loads of room – showing films and offering decent snacks in sometimes quite nice restaurants. The ferries to the larger and more distant islands leave in the evening and you stay overnight in hotel-room-esque cabins. The frequency of departures is heavily dependent on where you’re headed, so study the timetable and book in advance. But if you do that then ferries are an easy way to get around. You can also island hop by air, or by boat – either your own or you can hire a captain with a boat or join a flotilla, which is definitely worth considering if you enjoy meeting people on the road.
This part of Greece has distinct seasons, with minimum winter temperatures averaging at 13°C and maximum summer temperatures averaging at 31°C. Some islands get a lot more rain than others, but again it’s pretty consistent and seasonal, being rainier in winter and pretty dry in summer. If you’re looking for a good slightly-out-of-season deal opt for autumn over spring, September temperatures peak at around 28°C and the nights get cooler. Even October is still warm and sunny, but the days are starting to get shorter.
The Hotel Guru website has expert reviews on hundreds of hotels around the world, from the UK to Kerala. So if having a hot tub is important to you you can search by that, likewise pet-friendly properties or hotels with a great wine list.