By Stephen Brewer
Amid all the talk about Greece’s uncertain future, the Greeks like to say there is one thing they can count on—tomorrow the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. Travelers, too, can be certain of the age-old appeal of sunny skies, pristine beaches, beautiful landscapes, and filoxenia, or a genuine and warm welcome.
In fact, now may be a better time than ever to visit Greece. Prices are low, especially with the weakened euro, sights and attractions are not crowded, and hotel keepers and taverna owners seem to be going out of their way to show travelers a good time. Some of our favorite places to stay this summer are in the Peloponnese (as the southern mainland is known) and the island of Crete. You can reach these far-flung regions easily while minimizing your risk of being derailed by a strike or other disruptions, and nestled within the stunning, sun-drenched landscapes are some especially distinctive and affordable hotels.
With the opening of a new highway connecting Athens and the south this summer, two of Greece’s most enchanting spots—Monemvassia, a walled city that clings to the side of a huge rock rising out of the Aegean, and the sea-girt Mani peninsula—are now only three hours from the capital. Pick up a rental car at the airport and zoom south.
The Kinsterna, just outside medieval Monemvassia, brings new life to a 13th-century Ottoman estate, where domes, stone walls, and arches compliment comfortably stylish furnishings in the 27 rooms and suites. Enchanting touches, like a spring that gurgles through the outdoor dining room into a river-like infinity pool below, pop up everywhere; a sumptuous spa and hamman pay homage to the Turkish overlords who once lived here; and the Aegean glistens just beyond orange and olive groves. Rates start at 139 Euros ($172) for doubles with breakfast for midweek stays.
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The stunning Kyrimai is a cluster of restored houses and warehouses that seem to rise right out of the sea at the edge of the little fishing village of Gerolimenis. The 22 beamed and stone-walled guest rooms and suites and handsome lounges ooze style and atmosphere, but the sparkling waters steal the show—on the pool terrace and in the outdoor dining room you’ll feel you’ve left land behind and slipped out to sea on a private yacht. Summer rates begin at 110 Euros ($136) for a double, delicious breakfast included, with a two-night minimum stay.
A family famous for its heroic exploits in Greece’s 19th-century revolt against Turkish rule has converted their seaside stronghold into the charming Pirgos Mavromichali. Four of the 13 character-filled accommodations are two level suites, and all the cozy accommodations surround terraces perched above the sea. The present-day Mavromichalis are on hand to offer a glass of wine under the stars, and among their many other touches are sumptuous beds that invite you drift off to sleep with the sound of waves lapping beneath your window. Double rooms start at 100 Euros ($124) with breakfast.
Greece’s largest and southernmost island, Crete, was the birthplace of Zeus, and it’s easy to see why the soaring mountaintops, verdant valleys, and warm seas inspire legends. The island is well served by direct flights from many European capitals, as well as, of course, from Athens.
A courtyard shaded by fruit trees and filled with pots bursting with herbs and flowers is the setting for the noted Avli restaurant, and tucked into several Venetian houses on a maze of surrounding narrow lanes are seven large suites, lavishly done with textiles, antiques, and contemporary pieces. The Avli has just added five slightly more modest but no less stylish accommodations in the so-called La Strada-Candy Suites, offering the hotel’s comforts and amenities—including a rooftop terrace and Jacuzzi and a lavish breakfast —for as low as 85 Euros ($105) for two a night.
The three charming 19th century houses that comprise the Kalimera Archanes surround a walled garden in one of Crete’s prettiest villages. Each has been lovingly restored and filled with antiques, sleeps three to six, and has a lovely upper-floor terrace overlooking the rugged mountains. While the houses are geared to self-catering, accommodation comes with a hearty Cretan breakfast, and tours of the surrounding vineyards and other personalized services on request. Houses rent for 150 Euros ($186) a night, with special rates for weekly and longer stays.
A 16th-century olive oil mill and a surrounding cluster of stone houses have been beautifully transformed into the countryside Kapsaliana, where stylish suites open to large terraces and a lovely pool is tucked away in the garden. Historic Arkadi monastery is just up the road, and the Venetian-Turkish city of Rethymnon, with its minarets, fountains, and long, sandy beaches, is only 15 minutes away by car—but guests often choose simply to stay put at this lovely getaway, where suites with breakfast for two begin at 150 Euros ($186) a night.
Insider Tip: Yades Greek Historic Hotels offers bookings and information for many of these hotels and other exceptional properties throughout Greece, and also provides personalized itineraries for independent travelers.
Photo Credits: Peloponnese: Monenvassia (GrÃ¨ce) by Attribution-ShareAlike License; Kinsterna: Courtesy of Kinsterna Hotel; Kyrimai: Courtesy of Kyrimai Hotel; Mavromichali: Roxana Averdung / Pirgos Mavromichali; Crete: Matala Beach via Shutterstock.com; Avli: Courtesy of Avli; Kalimera Archanes: Courtesy of YADES Heritage & Hospitality; Kapsaliana: Courtesy of Kapsaliana