With a number of beautiful new hotels set to swell the ranks of an already impressive roster of desirable places to stay and confidence being broadcast by its tourism officials, Greece could hit some high notes again this year, with operators already reporting a positive glow.
From Kalesma Mykonos, claimed to be opening as the most high-end offering on the island, to a wellness escape on the sleepy sister Cycladean island of Antiparos in the form of The Rooster, luxury travellers and agents certainly won’t be short of ideas among the land of 6,000 islands this season.
All this is paired with positive statements from Greek’s tourism chiefs that from 14 May, they will be ready and willing to welcome travellers with negative PCR test in hand, or proof of vaccination, once Brits get a green light for international travel.
Greece’s minister for tourism Harry Theoharis has said priority is already being given to the vaccination of people involved in the tourism industry, while a campaign is also planned around the new slogan of “All you want is Greece”.
It seems he could be right, with several luxury operators saying the country is already performing very well versus European neighbours, and all off the back of one of the strongest seasons of any regional destination last summer.
Operators report Greece is making up anywhere from a quarter to a half of their Europe business this summer, and among specialists with large portfolios there, Sunvil has positive hopes for the destination this year too.
“Greece did amazingly well last year, and was the only country really to stay open until the end of the season,” says Chris Wright, managing director of Sunvil. “Guests felt safe and loved the experience there, and we are expecting the same this year, only better. Even when none of our other destinations are getting bookings, Greece still has them coming through, predominantly for later in the year, but we’re even getting them for May.”
Wright goes so far as to say Greece will be “at the top of the list” when it comes to the proposed “traffic light system” of countries Brits can head to once travel is allowed to resume. A host of new routes from Aegean running May to October could also prove very useful. “Aegean’s business class is, in my opinion, the best short haul out there and should appeal to the luxury market,” adds Wright.
And among the newcomers on the hotel front, Sunvil has added the 34-room Electra Hotel and Spa in Kefalonia, overlooking the Ionian Sea and 150m from Ammes beach.
Liz Goodwin, Carrier’s product manager for Europe and Ski, also sees Greece as a bright spot.
“Greece is certainly one of our top destinations for 2021. It has consistently been our top Europe summer destination over the last few years so that in itself is no surprise, but for 2021 it accounts for around 50% of Europe bookings so is even more dominant than normal; by the end of last year, Greece accounted for around 45% of summer Europe bookings,” she says, adding average revenue per room night is up by almost 30% compared to 2019 for Greece.
Crete and Halkidiki share around 60% of the operator’s bookings, with August the most popular month at the moment, accounting for almost 40% of bookings.
Goodwin adds there is more demand for private villas; clients upgrading to higher accommodation categories such as suites, residences and villas to ensure more private space; and more people wishing to travel by private jet.
“We have access to a wide and growing range of private villas throughout Greece as well as increasing resort villa options. For example, Santa Marina in Mykonos has a new presidential villa available to book with five bedrooms,” she says, and on the hotel front, she highlights The Rooster, due to open 1 June. “It definitely looks like a hidden gem, on the under-the-radar island of Antiparos,” Goodwin says.
Inspiring Travel Company has also made sure to bolster its Greece portfolio by adding Lesante Blu in Zante and taking on the contemporary-style Abaton resort in Corfu for the first time, as well as The Olivar Suites, which opens in the south-east of the island this year.
Created around an 18th-century olive mill, it will feature 120 suites of which 100 will have private pools, and it will also be making an appearance in Carrier’s and Elegant Resorts’ programmes too.
Greece is proving very popular with Elegant Resorts’ clients generally at the moment, making up 45% of Europe bookings for 2021.
“Last year, Greece counted for 24% of our European departures. It did really well as a lot of European destinations came off the travel corridor list, but Greece managed to stay on until quite late in the season with no pre-testing or quarantine required,” says Sophie Hart, assistant product manager, Elegant Resorts.
Crete is a firm favourite, and Chania has now been added to the programme there, featuring resorts such as Domes Zeen and Domes Noruz.
“Chania is perfect for those who have been to the island before but want to discover something different. It is also perfect as a twin centre with the popular eastern coast,” Hart says.
High-end product making its debut with Olympic Holidays this year includes Domes of Corfu, as well as MarBella Elix in the lesser known area of Parga on mainland Greece.
Previously named LTI Grand, Corfu, Domes of Corfu has 214 rooms on Glyfada Beach and has undergone a full renovation for 2021, with its new offering likely to be a hit for families and couples alike, according to Olympic Holidays.
The Luxury Travel Book meanwhile – which works with agents and features private homes and villas worldwide, including more than 200 in Greece – offers plenty of options for those whose priority is utter privacy away from the crowds.
Mykonos continues to be a popular choice, and new villas for this season include Nammos Beach Villa, which sleeps up to 10 people. Some incredible options also include Melissonia Estate in Corfu, which could pass as a James Bond-esque lair, sleeping up to 14 guests, and cascading down the side of a hill (available from £48,600 per week).
“We have seen a huge surge in bookings and enquiries for Greece since the country’s tourism minister announced the plan to welcome tourists from mid-May,” says Jamie Marquis, director, The Luxury Travel Book.
“The fact that Greece seems well prepared to welcome tourists again this summer, and that the properties there tend to be very private, means it will definitely prove a firm favourite,” he adds. “We are also focusing on increasing villas on the more off-the-beaten-track islands, to cater to those after a more secluded escape. Another trend we are seeing is guests looking at longer term three-four week reservations, with around 20-25% of our bookings for Greek villas this summer like that.”
The Luxury Travel Book says UK clients are looking for properties on smaller islands such as Hydra, Paxos, Syros, Sifnos, Naxos and Kea, which are away from the crowds. It recommends the Cyclades, including islands such as Naxos, Sifnos and Kea, for those looking for a secluded Grecian idyll this summer, with the iconic white ‘sugar-cube’ houses, blue-domed churches and narrow streets draped with bougainvillea piling on the charm.
Options include Koundouros, a minimalist villa on the island of Kea that sits right on the water’s edge and sleeps up to eight guests, and Vathi on Sifnos, near to the beach and the picturesque village at Vathi, which sleeps up to 18 guests.
There’s never a dull moment in Mykonos when it comes to many things – including the range of stylish hotels on the island. New from 20 May is Kalesma Mykonos opening as the “most high end offering” on the island, with 25 pool suites in whitewashed houses designed to evoke a rustic village on the island.
Also vying for the luxury crown, Nomad Mykonos is opening from June with its promise of a bohemian paradise for those in its 13 suites – if anyone can drag themselves away from their private pool, outdoor showers and hammocks, the beach of Kalo Livadi is 200 meters away.
And Destino Pacha Mykonos (pictured) is the first hotel outside Spain for Pacha Group – known for its legendary clubs in Ibiza and beyond. The 34-room hotel opens 1 June, alongside Lio Mykonos, the brand’s cabaret dining experience, with burlesque, circus performance and gastronomy combined.
The Rooster is a new Bohemian escape with just 17 suites on under-the-radar Antiparos. The focus at the hotel created by owner Athanasia Comninos is on slow living, sustainability, organic food, wellness, learning and fun; opening 1 June.
MarBella Elix is the latest from this brand, venturing off its home patch of Corfu for the first time onto the Parga area of mainland Greece. Opening for the first time this season, the family-friendly escape is above sandy beaches and the closest airport is Preveza (BA, Jet2 easyJet fly there).
OMMA Santorini (pictured) is part of the new Epoque Collection in Greece and gets its big opening this May after a soft launch in 2019. Combining 360-degree sea views of the island’s famed Caldera and the Aegean Sea, OMMA has 25 rooms and suites, double level infinity pool, OMMA restaurant, and OMMA Spa with Elemis treatments.
Contessina Suites & Spa (previously exclusive to Thomas Cook) is ready for a new season in Zante as an adults-only property with minimalist interiors in its 64 earthy toned suites and a unique cave-like Kamara Spa, all 100 meters from the beach of Tsilivi.
Asterion Suites and Spa is part of the Elegant Collection by Louis Hotels and opens in June in western Crete with 67 renovated suites. Options now include rooms with private pools or swim-up rooms, and one of the restaurants offers authentic Cretan cuisine; the cosmopolitan beach town of Platanias is 3km away.
Cayo Exclusive Resort & Spa is back is back for its first full season in Crete from 14 May after a soft opening in 2020: expect contemporary hillside pool villas, views over to Spinalonga and beach restaurant Stone Beach House just a short walk away in the quaint village of Plaka. The resort is now offering a Covid-19 Fit to Fly option too, including a free return test for when it’s time to come home. The hotel will supply and administer a complimentary rapid test and complete all the necessary documentation; PCR tests will also be available at €40pp.
Asomaton Hotel is an arty new option for anyone looking for an authentic Athens stop, with this three-year conversion of a century-old building that has been rescued from abandonment in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Culture; the 19-room hotel is close to the Acropolis.
Costa Navarino is launching the first Mouratoglou Tennis Center in Europe for this season. The resort now has 16 courts ready for the programme, which is developed by Patrick Mouratoglou, long-time coach of Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.
Also on the mainland, Sani Resort on the Kasandra peninsula in Halkidiki has added a Bear Grylls Survival Academy so children and families can get immersed in outdoor adventure, and learn some of Grylls’ extreme survival techniques. Launching 1 June, activities include fire making, building a raft to try catch wild food, guided trails through the woods and camp building around the 1,000-acre ecological reserve.