Corfu + the Ionians Hotels
4 Capodistriou Street
Corfu Town , Corfu
Tel: 30 266 103 9336
A 17th-century, six-story mansion that was once home to a family of Corfiote nobles, the Cavalieri now has an elegant roof bar where young couples gather on summer evenings for cocktails and sunset-watching. The 49 renovated rooms are, well, boring, with standard-issue wooden furniture, clean but basic bathrooms, and upholstery in uninspiring earth tones. But since the hotel is set right on the Liston promenade in the center of Corfu Town, there's lots of excitement right outside. Book a room with a bay view during the right time of the year (Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday, August 11, or the first Sunday in November), and you'll be able to watch marching bands, schoolchildren, and priests parade beneath your window with the relics of St. Spyridon (who died in A.D. 348, and who supposedly performed miracles). One of the best rooms is No. 53—it has windows that face both the harbor and town—but film buffs will want No. 51, the room William Holden lived in while filming Fedora.
2 Leoforos Dimokratias
Corfu Town , Corfu
Tel: 30 266 103 9485
Maybe it's all the kids playing in the large saltwater swimming pool, or the cheery gardens filled with banana trees, climbing hibiscus vines, and hummingbirds, but it's hard to believe this property was once a cemetery. (No worries—the bones are interred elsewhere these days.) The hotel itself is unlikely to win any design awards; it's one of the least historic around, with a blocky building (half of it dates from 1958, the other half from 1968). The 112 air-conditioned rooms—with utilitarian furniture, flowery-print bedspreads, and matching drapes—are similarly unremarkable, although a refurb is planned this winter. Many of the accommodations have balconies with views of Corfu Town and Neo Frourio, a 16th-century fortress. A few also look over the Bay of Garitsa, which offers the opportunity to play "Guess Whose Yacht?" (When in doubt, guess the Sultan of Brunei, a frequent visitor.) The hotel is set just 500 yards from the town center, but it takes some work to get there, including navigating up stone steps and—Frogger-like—across the street while dodging horse-drawn carriages.
Vathy , Sifnos
Tel: 30 22840 34000
A rarity in the Greek islands, the Elies sits directly on a beach, one that until 1997 was accessible only by boat. The shore curves around Vathi Bay, which is home to little more than the resort and a small fishing community. Built in 2004, the resort differs from other new Cycladian hotels in that its 23 rooms and 10 villas are spread out over so much property, it seems to form its own village (with the town square replaced by the pool patio). Because of the abundant space, the rooms are large—ten of them even include their own private pools. There's a spa, tennis court, and gym, a gourmet restaurant featuring Mediterranean cuisine, and daily olive- and wine-tastings, although the main activity seems to be finding a beach chaise lounge that will allow for optimum viewing of the yachts anchored in the bay.
Closed mid-October through mid-May.
Fiskardo , Cephalonia
Tel: 30 267 404 1200
If ferrying around the Greek islands can sometimes be exhausting, the answer is a resort like the Emelisse, which exists primarily as a place to bask in the Greek sunshine. Cephalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands, so it rarely feels crowded even when tourists are swarming its gorgeous beaches (which you might have seen in the film Captain Corelli's Mandolin). Guests of the Emelisse aren't likely to make it off-property—it's just a short walk to the sea, and the two pools are ideal for lolling (beginner diving classes are held in one). The 63 rooms are spread among 14 yellow stone villas, and their decor is minimalist and vaguely Asian, with wood furniture in clean geometric shapes, neutral fabrics, slate floors, and rice-paper lamps. Enterprising types might choose to swim in the nearby sea caves, play early-morning tennis, or even visit Fiskardo, the only town to survive the earthquake of 1953 (hundreds died, and it was considered an international humanitarian disaster). No cars are allowed on the property: yet another happy reason to stay put.
Closed from the last week of October through March.
Lourdas , Cephalonia
Tel: 30 267 102 3164
Native islander and local jeweler George Garbis built these four villas overlooking Lourdas Bay (on Cephalonia's southern coast) for his children—but instead of occupying them, the kids are using them to lodge guests. Once you stay here, you may find yourself wishing for a piece of the inheritance. The 11 apartments and one suite won't appeal to luxury-seekers; they're spare and simply furnished, with blocky Ikea-style modular furniture, simple landscape prints on the walls, and either tile or marble floors. Still, they're clean and comfortable, and the property surrounding them is a miniature tropical paradise, with lovingly tended gardens surrounding a pool overlooking the sea. The Garbis family members are also superb hosts—as well as treating you to their homemade wine, they'll be happy to educate you all about the island, from the capital of Argostoli (a 15-minute drive) to Mt. Ainos, where a wine festival is held every August.
Closed October through May.
Kommeno , Corfu
Tel: 30 266 108 8400
The site of the European Union Leaders Summit in 1994, this hotel on Kommeno Bay, about seven miles from Corfu Town, has retained its air of slightly haughty exclusivity. The property's secluded coves and gardens make it one of the most private on the island, and they surround—in addition to the 184 rooms in the main building—126 bungalows and villas, ranging from the exclusive (the Waterfront Bungalow Suite has access to a private "Famous Class" beach) to the super-exclusive (the Dream Villas have private splash pools) to the outrageously opulent (the Royal Pavilion sits on its own private cove). All have marble baths and are upholstered in summery pale or flowered fabrics. The rooms and villas have soaring ceilings, while the villas and suites have walk-in wardrobes. This place takes itself a little seriously; for example, men are kindly requested to wear long trousers in the Aristos and Mon Repos restaurants during the evening. But, for commensurate Old World service—a rarity in sometimes too laid-back Greece—sweaty legs are a price many are willing to pay.
Closed mid-October through April.
Pitsinades , Kythera
Tel: 30 273 603 3877
Kythira is farther south than the other islands in this group and is easily overlooked by many travelers—but it shouldn't be. Windswept, dotted with whitewashed houses, and surrounded by stunning views, the island has an unspoiled, slightly desolate feel that has led to rumors of its being haunted. Nowhere is that stark beauty more evident than in the car-free medieval village of Pitsinades, home to this restored 150-year-old house. Its six unique rooms are decorated with vaulted arches, stone mosaics, and blue-and-white pottery; the quiet patio is a perfect place to watch the sun set or have your first cup of coffee (homemade marmalade is served with breakfast every morning). After breakfast, guests often wander among the neighboring villages or take a 20-minute drive to the harbor and pebble beaches of Agia Pelagia.
Closed mid-September through mid-June.
4 Zampeli Street
Corfu Town , Corfu
Tel: 30 266 104 6500
The best value in Corfu Town. This apricot-painted 19th-century mansion, which once housed a consulate, now has 31 rooms. The interiors are charming if slightly fussy; the common areas have pink-and-white marble floors and carved wooden ceilings, and many of the guest rooms have large windows, cast-iron bedsteads, and heavy brocade satin curtains. The hotel's location on a quiet backstreet in town means no water views, but it's just steps away from the Spaniada. The spacious outdoor patio, shaded by a vine-covered trellis in summer, is a lovely place to linger over lunch.
Closed from December 15 through January 15.
Lithakia , Zakynthos
Tel: 30 269 505 1305
Tel: 30 269 505 3491
Zakynthos Town was destroyed in the 1953 earthquake, but it was rebuilt afterward as an appealing waterfront hub with pleasant piazzas and a few surviving churches. The rest of the island—with the exception of some tacky resorts along Laganas Bay—is nearly as pristine as it was when the ruling Venetians branded it the "flower" of the region for its lush green interior. The Leedas compound takes full advantage of the natural surroundings: The five stone villas are set in national parkland, near a beach where loggerhead turtles bury their eggs in the sand each year. The property is also just across from the island of Marathonissi, where the owner, Dionysos Giatras, ferries visitors on his speedboat. He's also known to bring home fish for cookouts around the outdoor barbecue, and will arrange horseback riding or diving excursions. Less-adventurous guests can be found hanging around the pool or helping themselves to fresh produce from Giatras's organic garden. The stone-walled villas are plainly decorated, but all have kitchenettes and outdoor grills, perfect for preparing fruit salad and goat kebabs.
Agios Nikolaos , Zakynthos
Tel: 30 269 502 7632
Tel: 30 269 503 1400
The isolated location—and the fancy service—of this family-run hotel would make a perfect setting for an Agatha Christie novel. The Art Nouveau–style mansion contains four suites, and the classic wood-floor-and-antique aesthetic throughout may be a bit fussy (enough with the dried flower arrangements…). Yet the rooms have lovely views of the sea and the little port of Agios Nikolaos. The property is set far from the island's crowded resorts, and those who prefer linen tablecloths and an extra-attentive staff will find what they want here. The traditional village of Volimes, the Blue Caves, and the much-photographed Shipwreck Beach (where the remains of a 1970s shipwreck are hunkered in the sand) are all nearby. The Nobelos family takes pains to cater to your every need: Boats and bikes are for hire, there's twice-daily maid service, and breakfast is served on the patio overlooking the water.
Closed for Christmas.
Katouna , Levkas
Tel: 30 264 507 1782
Attached to the mainland by a causeway, Lefkada is a popular destination for Greek tourists who drive over to enjoy the renowned beaches (especially Porto Katsiki, considered by many to be the best beach in the Mediterranean). But the traditional mountain villages, set among forests and olive groves, are just as lovely as—and much quieter than—the shore. The Pavezzo Country Retreat, set on a hillside in the small town of Katouna, occupies just such a place. Each of the seven 19th-century stone villas has a unique layout and feel; the options range from the cozy, beam-ceilinged Ligaria Cottage (which the proprietors compare to "the house of Snow White") to the posh, spacious Villa Honeymoon, with its privately gated entry and its own olive-shaded swimming pool. Two purpose-built villas (Agioklima and Agrabelia) were added in June 2007. Decor throughout is traditional, with whitewashed walls, simple wooden furniture, and breezy nets suspended above the beds, but the air-conditioning and DVD players will remind you that you're in the current century. The 2007 renovations also added the Rahma spa with a hammam, Jacuzzi, and gym, as well as the Nove Cento restaurant, which serves upmarket Greek cuisine.
Closed November through March.
Makratika , Paxos
Tel: 30 210 342 0531 (Oct.April)
Tel: 30 266 203 2450 (MaySept.)
The best way to experience Paxos would be to rent a tiny villa nestled among some of the island's 300,000 olive trees (for info about villa rentals, contact Ileana Von Hirsch at the London-based Five Star Greece rental agency: 44-20-8422-4885; firstname.lastname@example.org; fivestargreece.com). But booking one of the 27 apartments at this family-owned hotel (one of only two on the island) is the second-best option. The no-nonsense units are equipped with the standard comforts (A/C, TV), and all have kitchens and balconies or verandas. Three of the units overlook the central pool where visiting celebs (including Jude Law) have frolicked. The pool complex also has a hot tub, kiddie pool, and small playground—but the showstopper of the property is the dining room, housed in the original 1893-built home where the owners' ancestors lived.
Closed October through May.
821 Odyssea Androutsou Street
Vathy , Ithaca
Tel: 30 26740 33496
There are scores of "Vathy"s in the islands (it means "deep"), but this one is Ithaca's port and capital. Here you'll find a pale-blue traditional building designed by the German architect Ernst Schiller in 1811—it's the area's newest and most unusual hotel. Not to be confused with the German-based ArtHotel chain, Tsimaras is a three-hotel, family-owned operation with a great deal of style (its properties include the Emelisse Art Hotel on Cephalonia). The open-sided entrance terrace is made from village stone, downlights add to the atmosphere. Inside, there's a stark white Marrakech-meets–Clockwork Orange lounge, and 19 charming rooms and suites with white walls and furniture, pleasantly patterned bedspreads, drapes, and lampshades; it's all a few cuts above the narrow pine bed and whitewashed poured concrete that's standard in the islands. There's room service till midnight, which you might not need, seeing as you're in the port with its alternative dining options.
Skinari , Zakynthos
Tel: 30 269 503 1241
Tel: 30 697 205 5711
Cape Skinari, the northernmost tip of Zakynthos, is the setting for this rustic, inspired property. The three Potamitis brothers—Adonis, Dionisios, and Nikolaos—started out the new millennium by converting two former flour windmills into suites for guests. The circular stone-walled structures, each two stories high, sit on a cliff top with lavish views of the cobalt sea below. Stairs set in the cliff lead right down the rocks and into the water. A traditional stone building with four spartan double rooms was added in 2003, but hold out for one of the windmills. It's amazingly quiet—except in August, when the brothers lead vacationing Europeans on nonstop motorboat trips to the Blue Caves (whose grottoes are spacious enough to swim in) and nearby Shipwreck Beach, perhaps the most photographed beach in all of Greece.
Sami , Cephalonia
Tel: 30 26740 22824
Family-run is often a virtually meaningless epithet roughly translatable as "not Marriott," but at this adorable 49-room place on the less touristy part of Kefalonia, near the Drogarati and Melissani Caves (and the ghost village of Dichalia where much of Captain Corelli's Mandolin was shot in 1999), it is apt. You can become acquainted with the brothers Dorizas on their Web site; then, if you stay here, they'll leave a handwritten welcome letter with a bottle of wine in your room. By the time you leave, they'll have become your friends. Simple whitewashed rooms have A/C, satellite TVs mounted on the wall, Greek-key-design bedcovers, and either balconies (get a seaview one if you can) or direct garden access. The grounds are lovingly tended, including the pool, children's area and tennis court; there's also a sand-and-pebble beach. A breakfast buffet is included in the rate, and a pool bar open till midnight serves light meals. But it's not about the facilities so much as the ambiencemasses of repeat guests bear out that the Dorizas family is getting things just right.
36 Stefanou Padova Street
Corfu Town , Corfu
Tel: 30 266 103 6300
Finally, a boutique hotel for Corfu. And it's a serene little beauty, too. On a quiet side street just a few steps off City Hall Square in Corfu Town, the Siorra Vittoria (named for the daughter of the original owner) is two rooms in a separate building and seven more in a three-story mansion dating back to 1823. A sense of a bygone era has been retained in all the rooms, but the one of greatest appealfor those willing to navigate the narrow, circular staircase to the top flooris the Junior Suite Vittoria, with its exposed-beam ceiling and view of the "new" fortress, completed in 1645. Further adding to the Siorra Vittoria's sense of sanctuary is a hidden garden where one can linger over an aperitif while only blocks away people are bargaining for T-shirts that proclaim "Aristotle is my bitch."