Even before Greece announced on April 19 that it would be the first European country to welcome Americans—including unvaccinated ones—demand for summer trips to the Aegean was soaring.
It started in March. That month, Emirates announced that it would introduce new routes between Newark, N.J., and Athens; soon after, a handful of cruise lines said they’d start sailing the Greek Isles in June. It was a harbinger of good news to come—inspiring enough confidence to send airfare and hotel searches from the U.S. to Greece through the roof. As a result, airfare booking site Hopper tracked a 75% spike in round-trip searches, and luxury agency Virtuoso tallied a 225% jump in new hotel reservations across the mainland and Greek isles.
That momentum has only grown. “Greece is everyone’s Plan A,” says Paul Tumpowsky of the tech-driven agency Skylark. “There’s no doubt that by being open first, they’re going to capture the business on the front end of summer, because flights are unreliable everywhere else,” he explains. “If you’re hoping to put together a trip to France in August, you can expect schedule changes and disruptions until the opening policies are much clearer. Meanwhile, every major carrier is flying into Athens now—and you can bet that more airlines are going to be rerouting their wide-body jets there as soon as they can.”
Not only is airfare plentiful, it’s also more affordable than usual, with Hopper reporting an average of 25% savings on round-trip fares from the U.S., compared with 2019 prices. Expect to pay around $800 if you book soon, the company says, rather than the typical $1,080 price tags that might have been common before the pandemic.
There’s also optimism around Greece’s vaccination campaign. The government has so far prioritized anyone working in the tourism sector and expects that all adults will be vaccinated by the end of June, even though just 15% of adults were accounted for by early May.
None of this means it’s easy to plan a trip. Travelers frequently get boxed into the same well-known destinations, regardless of whether they’re looking to party or relax as a family. “You always feel like you haven’t scratched the surface,” says David Prior, whose high-end travel club Prior has just opened an office in Greece to help travelers unlock some of the country’s lesser-visited gems—such as laid-back, car-free Spetses for families or the a spiritual reset amid the precipitous churches of Meteora. “The wheels are starting to move,” Prior says. “I think it’s going to be a great summer this summer.”
Here’s a primer to what’s new and notable in Greece this summer. And if you want to explore by sea, be sure to check out our guide on sailing the region—as well as our dream itinerary through the Saronic Gulf islands.
The Hotels to Book
Glamorous new hotels can ordinarily be expected in Mykonos and Santorini, markets that command high prices and equally high demand. This year, that’s still true, but there are notable openings in surprising places, from boutique hotel-deficient Athens to lesser-visited islands such as Antiparos.
Brown Hotel Acropol, Athens: As part of a push to open 24 hotels around Greece, Israel-based design hotel brand Brown has planted its first flag in Athens, where it has one of the city’s largest rooftop sundecks. Its 165 mod rooms near Omonia Square and the Acropolis feature locally quarried marble finishes, trolley bar carts, and vinyl record players.
Kalesma Mykonos: On five acres in prime Mykonos, Kalesma has built a thoroughly modern version of the traditional sugar cube village. Its 25 suites have private, heated plunge pools with sea views and terraces large enough for private meals or spa treatments.
Calilo Hotel, Ios: The local owners of this quirky new hotel scooped up 1,000 acres of land on this beloved, party-forward island with the intention of preserving almost all of it. They planted nearly 70,000 trees, started an organic garden, and foraged for some of the materials to build the 15 eco-friendly suites and villas, some set right into rock formations with natural tide pools and their own swim-up bars.
Blue Palace Resort, Crete: The most iconic luxury getaway on Crete—a family-friendly island considered a Covid green zone for its low case counts and large health-care system—has recently introduced a hotel within the hotel. Called the Haven Collection, it comprises jasmine-shrouded villas and suites with access to a private beach and a helipad. There’s also a retrofitted, traditional fishing boat that can be used for barbecues at sea, and an open-air cinema on the shore.
The Rooster, Antiparos: Opening in June, the Rooster is the antidote to thumping nights in Mykonos, with 17 villas and suites fringing the Livadia Beach on the quiet, undeveloped western shore of Antiparos. Chefs will mine the organic on-site farm to pack beach picnics or serve dinner under the string-lit “Secret Garden,” and adventurers will focus on the island’s natural draws, with spelunking tours and visits to ancient ruins.
Oku, Kos: This island in the Dodecanese has it all: solid nightlife, preserved ruins, ample choice of soft-sand beaches, and a claim to fame as the birthplace of Hippocrates. What it lacks is a large range of five-star accommodations. The adults-only Oku is poised to be the island’s top choice when it opens this month, with its bohemian, bungalow-like suites (many with private pools and their own rooftop decks) and herb- and olive oil-infused scrubs at the spa.
Villas and More
White Key Villas has long cornered the market on luxury villa rentals throughout the Greek isles. For 2021, it’s introducing five new projects, some in destinations that fly under the radar, such as the Cycladic capital of Syros and the ritzy northern coastal town of Halkidiki. Villa Fanya in Syros is the brainchild of a Greek architect who designed the five-bedroom home to blend in with the moonlike coastline just outside its walls; in buzzy Paros, the six-bedroom Villa Santhia is practically designed to capture the bright rays that give neighboring Golden Beach its name and fame.
But White Key is getting new competition. One Fine Stay, best known as a collection of upscale urban rentals—all vetted for their impeccable design—is expanding into Greece with 39 luxury homes that can be booked by the night, rather t
han weekly (as is more common). They’re largely in Mykonos and Santorini, but with prices that start at around $650 per night and space for eight or more guests, they offer a relative value while hitting the brand’s high standards of style.
And don’t overlook some of the smaller players. This year, Santorini Sky has earned buzz for its just-opened collection of five villas high above the island’s renowned blue domes. And the three traditionally designed homes that newly comprise Kastelli Blu Residences, on the sleepy sponge-farming island of Kalymnos, share access to a top-tier culinary school, as well as world-class rock-climbing routes.
Who to Call
Despite Greece’s popularity and complexity, there are few travel advisers with a masterful, comprehensive knowledge of all it has to offer. Among the exceptions are Jacline Vinke of Truffle Pig, who has written the book on Greece’s best hotels, and Mina Agnos, whose travel agency Travelive has a niche focus on the Aegean. There’s also Elena Papanicolaou, the Dodecanese-based founder of Fly Me to the Moon, which has long served as an on-the-ground counterpart for international travel planners booking clients to Greece.