Discover a lesser-known Greek landscape of dramatic mountains, fragrant forests, and wild beaches
While the Greek islands tend to enjoy the most popularity, there is much to be said for a holiday on the mainland. Far from the crowds of Mykonos and Santorini, you’ll find quieter coves hugging the mainland, which make for an equally relaxing beach escape. Up the tempo by paying a visit to one of the many bustling cities, from the awe-inspiring archaeological sites of Athens to history-steeped Thessaloniki. Or slow things down in the olive groves of the Mani Peninsula where the charms of rural life meet mountainous scenery and ruggedly beautiful beaches.
Classical architecture and contemporary culture. A thriving arts and crafts scene brimming with bold murals, pottery workshops, and antique markets. Athens is Europe’s original cultural capital, where you can walk in the footsteps of Aristotle and Plato, the cradle of Western civilisation is coming into full swing thanks to a new wave of creatives. Tick off some of the world’s ancient wonders – the two-and-a-half thousand year-old Acropolis a must-see – before browsing the village-style medley of cobblestone streets, listed mansions, and traditional tavernas in the pretty Plaka neighbourhood.
For secret street-food spots and must-visit museums, read our ultimate Athens city guide here.
Where to stay: A77 Suites by Andronis is a recently restored 19th century listed neoclassical building with spectacular Acropolis views, subtly blending Hellenic charm and modern minimalism. Book the Iconic Suite for your own private outdoor terrace, Jacuzzi and wraparound views – all just moments from the cosmopolitan buzz of Plaka and its historical treasures.
2. The Mani Peninsula
Few tourists venture beyond the Mani’s photogenic Diros caves, but further south lies a secret coastline of sleepy fishing villages and fortified hilltop towns which claim descent from the ancient Spartans. Here you will stumble across tiny coves and shingle beaches which only the locals know about, while Itilo Bay is defined by its famously turquoise waters and livelier atmosphere. The Mani’s arid and mountainous landscape – and its ancestral olive groves – produce world-class olive oil, wine and Kalamata olives, so come hungry for deliciously simple dishes like moussaka and grilled octopus drizzled in the golden good stuff.
Where to stay: A place of transformation and a gateway to self-discovery, Euphoria Retreat is a holistic spa destination quite unlike any other. Tucked away in Greece’s mythical Peloponnese wrapped in 90-acres of private pine forest near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mystras, this wellness-focused retreat is grounded in the healing powers of Hippocratic medicine blended with Chinese rituals. The retreat runs a number of research-backed programmes which delve into physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, whether you are staying for a long weekend or weeks on end.
This land of philosophers and fishermen, green olives and white sands shows that there’s far more to Greek holidays than island hopping. The three jutting peninsulas of Halkidiki – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – give way to swoon-worthy seafronts, postcard-perfect beaches and soaring mountainscapes, making this one of the most popular destinations in northern Greece – and for good reason. Highlight beaches include the secluded shores of Ammouliani island and Kryaritsi in Sithonia, a peaceful beach with views across to Mount Athos, while Stagira draws a cultured crowd as the birthplace of Aristotle.
Where to stay: Set on a verdant hillside overlooking the Aegean Sea, Eagles Villas is a collection of contemporary beachfront residences with wraparound views and private plunge pools which have been designed to bring the outside in. Alternate your dips between the three main pools, luxuriate in the soothing spa, or spend the day with your toes in the sand at the beach.
Stone houses topped with red tiles, mountains soaring up to the sky, morning mist drifting through deep pine forest. Metsovo is one of northern Greece’s best kept secrets. As well as a launchpad for exploring the Pindos region, it’s a destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers in its own right. The landscape here takes a turn for the wild – follow trails through towering trees past plunging gorges and vast lakes on foot, on horseback or by bike. The historic village of Metsovo itself is brimming with tradition and has long been rooted in livestock farming, artisan crafts and trade, more recently becoming known for its wine and smoked cheese with a number of bakeries that still run on wood-fired ovens.
Where to stay: Peaceful mornings at Grand Forest Metsovo are broken only by the sound of birdsong ringing across the peaks, an eco-conscious retreat perched on the slopes of the Pindus Mountain range in the foothills of the Pindus National Park – considered one of the most important protected areas for the maintenance of alpine biodiversity. This Considerate Collection hotel makes the most of its sublime setting, with a jaw-dropping outdoor pool, farm-fresh dishes in the high-altitude restaurant, and locally-run activities from truffle hunting to horse riding.
A fascinating blend of old and new where East meets West, Thessaloniki is a cultural hub and haven for creatives. Shaped by its history as an important trading port throughout the Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, there are ancient sites at every turn. Once you’ve gazed at legendary Mount Olympus from the top of the Ottoman White Tower, wander down to the evocative Church of Agios Dimitrios – an underground crypt on a Roman bath site. On a warm day, visit the Kastra, or castle – a neighbourhood speckled with Byzantine churches, where you can peer over the old city walls.
Where to stay: An elegant Art Deco building with vibrant cafes and the seafront all within walking distance, The Excelsior is a haven of peace and calm. You’ll be perfectly placed to explore the picturesque Aristotelous Square and the boutiques in Tsimiski Street.