Among people with passports, there hasn’t been such a yearning for Greece since Jackie Kennedy married shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, on Skorpios, his private island, on October 20, 1968. Several years later, it was paparazzi shots of the former First Lady skinny-dipping in the sparkling azure waters of the Ionian Sea that delivered the message that Greece’s guiding ethos was to deliver the primal, sensual, beautiful, and restorative. “Of all the peoples, the Greeks have dreamt the dream of life the best,” said Goethe.
Nearly 50 years later, a tired and traumatized world, just tentatively emerging from a devastating epidemic, needs the same cure that revived Jackie O.
Just Book It Already!
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life,” said Socrates, and this unbidden insight rattled many lives during 2020. Now the Greek government has announced that the country will reopen to tourists on May 14, 2021, which makes it the ideal destination for some contemplative downtime before we go back to things the way they were, or decide, perhaps, to change them.
According to Harry Theoharis, the country’s tourism minister, visitors are welcome, provided that they’ve been vaccinated or produce results of a negative test within 72 hours before arrival. Additionally, visitors will be subjected to random testing and required to abide by mandatory mask-wearing in public places and while traveling.
Just in time for a stampede of tourists, a spate of new hotels are opening for the summer season. The most appealing options tend to be small, quieter properties that prioritize space and serenity.
Where to Stay and Why …
So far, Kalesma, a small, 25-room hotel situated two miles outside of Mykonos Town, has generated the most buzz. Opening on May 20, its whitewashed, minimally designed structures occupy a remote hillside overlooking Ornos Bay.
It was conceived for those who want to visit this frisky island but keep its party scene at arm’s length, and so the rooms were thoughtfully designed by London’s K-studio to incorporate locally sourced materials and prioritize views of the waters. Listen to the cicadas as you drift into a nap after lunch, or wake in the morning to the smell of fresh bread baking in the hotel’s brick oven. For fans of Rick Owens, there are some beautiful furnishings by the American fashion designer in the lobby.
On Antiparos, the laid-back island favored by the Italian bourgeoisie and a few Hollywood types such as Tom and Rita Hanks, the rustic Rooster opens on June 1. Also set on a hillside, its 17 stand-alone houses are accompanied by plunge pools, outdoor showers, and views of the sea or gardens, which supply the organic produce used by the kitchen. Complimentary yoga and meditation classes, cooking instruction, and farm tours are also offered, but it will also be a blissful spot to do absolutely nothing whatsoever.
Santorini has long been synonymous with spectacular views and sunsets, but as its name indicates, the 12-suite Istoria Santorini tells a different story. (The Greek word istoria is the origin of the English word “history.”) Located on a black sand beach in the island’s isolated southeastern corner, it was the home of Greek socialite Christina Tassou, whose unbridled bohemian life would make for a great Jackie Collins novel.
The hotel was created by converting Tassou’s six stables—she was a passionate equestrian—into suites and then building another six from volcanic stone. Incorporating buffed cement floors, plaster work, and ash-gray linens, the Athens-based interior-design firm Laboratorium emphasized the primeval atmosphere of the hideaway Tassou loved so much.
Mr. E, the hotel’s restaurant, is helmed by Greek chef Alexandros Tsiotinis, who did a stint at Noma, in Copenhagen, and it’s become a destination on the island for dishes like tomato, strawberry, and elderflower gazpacho and grilled calamari with smoked-white-eggplant salad and lemon marmalade.
The visual drama of this mesmerizing place comes from its beautiful slate-lined seaside swimming pool, said to be the largest on the island, and the craggy slopes of the Mesa Vouno mountain range, which rise directly behind the hotel.
Not everyone wants isolation, which is why the new nine-room Aristide—set in a magnificently restored mansion in the charming and casually stylish port town of Hermoúpolis, on Syros—is a perfect choice for those who’d rather take a day trip to the beach and enjoy lively cafés, art galleries, and the best food scene in the Aegean. No tourist town, Hermoúpolis was the shipping capital of Greece during the 19th century, which explains its beautiful architecture and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
In short, it’s hard to go wrong, especially after most of us have spent the past year traveling only as far as the grocery store.
Alexander Lobrano is a writer and restaurant critic. His latest book, the gastronomic coming-of-age story My Place at the Table, will be published in June