A place where thousands of islands rise from azure seas, olive groves cling to the hillside and the scent of lemon trees lingers in the air; Greece is an evocative Mediterranean gem. Remnants of ancient Greek civilisation can still be glimpsed at archaeological sites, but modern Greece is just as enticing thanks to abundant gourmet cuisine, warm hospitality and luxury hotels that make the most of their beautiful, heritage-rich setting. They range from intimate, quirky boltholes to palatial properties with multiple infinity pools and sublime spas, plus that signature Greek service that makes you feel completely at home.
Mainland Greece cradles the country’s capital, Athens, a port city and one of the most historically important in the world. Meanwhile, up in the far north-east is Thessaloniki and the Halkidiki region, whose three-pronged peninsula looks like Poseidon’s trident jutting into the sea. In-between these two major cities are mountains and archaeological ruins aplenty, with the Peloponnese Peninsula to the west of Athens snagging the lion’s share of ancient sites.
However, it’s the islands – around 6,000 of them – that are most prized when it comes to luxury beach holidays in Greece. There’s such a great variety of landscapes, cultures and hotels across the Greek Islands, with each possessing its own unique identity. West of the mainland lie the lush islands of the Ionian Sea, like Kefalonia and Corfu, whereas the Aegean Sea to the east is where to find Cycladic buildings – that iconic, whitewash style that has become symbolic of traditional Greek architecture. Santorini lays claim to some of these dreamy all-white towns, an ultimate honeymoon destination with pretty blue-domed churches and sunsets over the caldera; while further north there’s Mykonos, the party island with sleek beach bars and cool boutique hotels.
Greece’s largest and southernmost island is Crete, characterised by crumbling Minoan ruins, Venetian towns, unspoilt beaches and a verdant, mountainous interior. As well as beautiful architecture in places like Hania and Rethymnon, the tiny islet of Spinalonga is a fascinating place to discover, having served as a Venetian fortress and later a leper colony, inspiring Victoria Heslop’s novel, The Island. Crete is also a haven for foodies, with unique local recipes that make the most of the land’s natural resources; though no matter where you go in Greece, you won’t be too far from lip-smacking dishes infused with lemon and olive oil.
Easy to reach and hard to leave, Greece isn’t the sort of place you only visit once – there’s always another island to discover, and the luxury hotels keep you coming back for more.