It was time for us to return for a European Summer, a Said family ritual that has taken us across the hemispheres so often in the past. Croatia and Turkey were the enticing new up and comers, and we couldn’t resist revisiting our old favourites, Italy and Greece. Sheira and I had already succumbed to the magic of the iconic, famous Santorini hillside views and discovered our own hidden gem, Folegandros where we joined in the local village life. We wanted to show our teenage son Noah and young daughter Zoe the flavours of Greece, eating yoghurt drizzled with honey in a taverna by the Aegean sea, but in a new setting (Our eldest, Josh was not on this trip as he is now a young adult paving his own way through Europe and the Middle East).
I knew that you can’t fly from Sicily, our previous destination, to a Greek island without connecting through Rome and Athens, so I planned to stay in the Greek capital overnight to give the kids a taste of the Parthenon and quaint old quarter, Plaka before visiting the islands. Initially there was a very real possibility of recreating our time at somewhere on our “gold” list, the enchanting boutique hotel Perivolis in Santorini, to share one of the most beautiful spots in the world and one of our favourite hotels. But although their welcome mat is always out for us, they do not take under 8-yr-olds; the atmosphere there is grown up, serene and chic.
(Read about Perivolas Traditional Houses in our Santorini destination).
The owner had come back to us with a really considerate suggestion: the Perivolis suite, a top notch option that is elevated and secluded from the main pool and other suites. We would be unable to share most of the public space but would have our own private pool. My gut told me that this would compromise both the true Perivolis experience and Zoe’s sense of freedom. I didn’t want to clip her wings, especially in such a passionately family culture as Greece. Our kids know how five star hotels work, but I still wanted her to be able to run around, laugh, and do her Zoe thing.
Given the hotel’s child policy this was still a very kind offer. The hotel doesn’t just have a guest list; they embrace you as part of the Perivolis family; guests return time and again. Even though you can never tire of its beauty, in the end, I didn’t want to repeat the experience of the islands we knew. Sometimes there is a sense of defeat in not pushing yourself out of the comfortable, failsafe choice. Dad was still looking for his hit too!
Research showed me that the same sources that had led us to local secrets like Panarea in Sicily had written warmly about the island of Hydra. The Perivolas staff backed this choice up as well, pointing out that the beauty of the island is their no - cars - allowed philosophy. The only motor transport is street donkeys and water taxis, a fantastic point of difference that I hoped balanced out the only negative to me, such close proximity to Athens. I was worried that the potentially high volume of inevitable day-trippers would have left its (commercial) mark.
I was intrigued by another suggestion in my Greece research and planning, Symi which is only five miles from the Turkish Coast. Because this island is so difficult to get to, the ‘hidden’ factor was bound to make it interesting. But complicated journeys just don’t work when traveling with a 7 year-old; and if you miss a ferry you are finding 2 rooms and who knows when the next ferry service is ? I’ll shelve this one for Sheira and I later. Maybe you’ll beat us to it and spill the beans to me about it on the YOU...SAID page!
Coming across a small guest house that had been converted from a sponge factory really hammered the Hydra option home. It looked intimate, in a great location and a bit different - three features I always look for. Although I’m allergic to cats, I knew I could handle all the local cats that run around the island with my ‘shoo-ing’ arm. And the high speed hydrofoil would cut the journey to just over an hour - in peak summer season there are over 12 runs daily. Although convenience makes me nervous (because it means crowds) it really worked for us this time. And the end, I was just in love with their old school travel policy of boats and donkeys! So I did what any traveler going somewhere new does to some extent: I rolled the dice.
I booked early and got the best room available - and another room for Noah, scheduling us in for four full days and nights. Calling a hotel in advance is like a sneak preview of what the atmosphere will be like; it sets the tone for me. If I call a hotel and find someone unhelpful, rude or even not that passionate about the upcoming experience it is such a buzzkill that, more than likely, I will cancel it. If there is no alternative accommodation that looks as good in that location then so be it, I’ll cancel the whole destination and keep looking. It may sound over the top, but life - and you better believe holidays - are just too short for compromise.
Part of my process is kicking off with an informal chat. I’ll call and say, I have done a lot a research and picked your hotel. I would like a good rate, can you help me select the best room and work through it? It’s very seldom that a person isn’t enthusiastic to engage with you and win you over after that.
We took off early from Athens’s port, Piraeus. So far the kids are loving the Greek outdoor eating and jovial personality of the people, we’re all excited about getting out of the dusty city and traffic jams to go out to the island.
HELLENIC SEAWAYS run two HYDROFOILS, the DOLPHIN and the plusher FLYING CAT that we took. Smaller and sleeker than the ferries, they make the journey a mere easy hour. But it’s not really my kind of ride. The private, first class lounge area is closed off and sunken way down low, with curtains and tinted windows. I would rather be outdoors in the fresh air, hearing the tooting horns, feeling the sea spray and seeing the waterways as we pull away.