Honeymoon. I feel like the very word itself should be written in quill with golden ink and looping calligraphy swirls. A word that conjures up images of luxuriously indulgent days, time dripping by like treacle, real-life hustled into the wings as married-life peacocks its way onto centre stage.
But the challenge is this: how to transform that one word into a reality that refuses to disappoint. A reality that will stay with you for ever, that you will re-live with more than a touch of smug contentment knowing that it was one of the most precious times of your life.
Rising to that challenge is the remarkable Travelgems team. Their focus is on Greece, Cyprus and Croatia – and the most important part of it all is you. They took the time to get to know us, they listened carefully to what we wanted and, with their vast experience and expertise, recommended islands, hand-picked hotels, organised exclusive services and created our tailor-made itinerary. Each individual thread was expertly woven together, creating a tapestry of a simply unforgettable honeymoon.
After the emotional whirlwind of ‘I do’ day, and the inevitable pre-wedding stresses (including my husband getting salmonella the week before our big day, but the least said about that…), all we wanted to do was eat, sleep and absorb the Greek ambiance in the lap of guilt-free luxury. After all, if you can’t indulge on your honeymoon, when can you?!
Parilio Hotel on the charming island of Paros is where our indulgence began. So much more than a hotel, Parilio is a retreat, a step into the soul of the Cyclades. Each of its 33 rooms is neutral and nature-inspired - its white-washed arches and angles, its elegant play with light and shade, its architectural fusion of past and present a massage for the mind.
The staff are serene, smiling and charmingly helpful. No detail is missed, and no query dismissed. They are there to greet you with beaming faces at breakfast, to shake up scrumptious pool-side cocktails and to offer refreshing iced water by the stylishly religious cross-shaped pool (which I admired from the comfiest sun-lounger I have ever sunk into). Their time will be time for you, their spa hands will de-stress you and their dinner recommendations will more than satisfy.
Perhaps I am spoiling the mystery of their restaurant, Mr E, by telling you that this is an absolute must. Parilian cuisine at its best. Having spent many a teenage summer defined by homemade souvlaki, rich lamb kleftiko, stifado and dolmades oozing with flavour, I have developed high standards when it comes to Greek cuisine. Mr E truly didn’t disappoint. Fig marmalade, loutza ham, moussaka croquettes, lamb picanha, honey ice cream… Oh, if only I wasn’t already a Mrs…
Despite early mornings being very much off the agenda, the lure of breakfast was too much for even an alarm-averse me to miss out on. Here, you’ll be breaking the fast with an ambrosial pallet of Kandinsky-esque colours and shapes. When your day begins with eating your way through a rainbow, you know it’s going to be a very good day indeed.
Ours were spent poolside, book in hand, relaxing on our private balcony, exploring the rugged beaches and hilltop villages and getting gloriously lost in the side-streets of cheek-squeezingly cute towns.
At Parilio we were able to take a deep breath, right into the pit of our lungs, reconnect with ourselves and newly connect with the Greek way of life.
The Greek poet and Nobel laureate, George Seferis, declared Paros the loveliest of all the Greek islands. After our stay here, who am I to contradict?
From the arms of Paros we sailed our way to Santorini. Reaching the town of Oia (pronounced ‘Ear’) felt like being wrapped in hundreds of motherly hugs. A town of soft curves, of tummy-button caves, the rising bosoms of bakeries and the swell of plump hips home to restaurants and jewellers, art galleries and gelaterias. Pulsing through the town was tourist after tourist – posing, pointing or pondering.
We had of course seen photos of Mystique Hotel before we arrived, but nothing could prepare us for our love-at-first-sight moment. Sculpted from the Caldera cliffs, Mystique takes you by the hand and leads you away from the crowds and along it’s cobbled pathways, zig-zagging between rock the colour of Greek yogurt, each individual cave-like suite and villa spooned from nature’s architecture. Here you will find your own delicious slice of perfection. Our perfection came in the form of the Allure Suite, a cave of softly domed ceiling and dimpled walls, private jacuzzi and a secluded balcony that seemed to melt its way into the expansive view of the Aegean Sea.
There’s an aura of tranquillity here. The staff are calm and quietly, but meticulously, attentive. Yes, there were plenty of other honeymooners, but this is no sickly-sweet destination. It is both refined and incredibly homely. No false airs and graces, no sharp attitudes. Each morning we woke up not wanting our day to end. The views over breakfast were enough to make us order dish after delicious dish, cappuccino after cappuccino, not only because the food was so divine, but because we couldn’t drag our eyes away from the view.
Santorini is synonymous with sunsets. Yes, we joined the crowds celebrating, filming and snapping this most natural of daily beauties, but the real delight came from watching the glow disappear from one of Mystique’s higgledy-piggledy rooftops. We sat, just the two of us, flip-flops, floaty dress and linen shirt, cocktails in hand, the only murmur of movement coming from the drifting boats below and the occasional waiter gliding by preparing for the evening ahead. This was our Santorini sunset, and it was glorious.
Later, we dined on the balcony of Charisma restaurant - a moon-lit, candle-lit, panoramic-view dinner of chickpeas with turmeric and grilled octopus, sea bass with Kalamata olive crust and chocolate soufflé with cayenne ice cream. ASEA sushi restaurant has an equally delectable setting on the undulating terraces above, and for those of you not wanting to wander more than a few metres, it’s not unusual to have late night dressing-gown clad dinners on your own balcony here. ‘The Captain’s Lounge’, found in a traditional Captain’s house, provides casual all-day dining, along with an alternative pool to escape Santorini’s heat, and for those with a penchant for fine vino, there’s a 150-year-old treasure trove of rare wines waiting to be savoured.
I discovered many things during our stay here. I discovered how much I adore sipping mojitos in infinity pools, lunching lazily on sunloungers, and reading from my favourite sun-kissed spot where the characters in my story were the only nearby folk.
Mystique is unquestionably a very, very special place. We ‘yiasas’-ed our way into the taxi with more than a tinge of sadness to be leaving, but so thrilled to depart with such full hearts. Travelgems had shared with us another of its diamonds.
Another smooth boat journey (which, for me, was a celebration in itself – my sea-legs leave something to be desired) - this time, destination Crete. Every local and tourist we spoke to in Paros and Santorini spoke so highly of this largest of the Greek islands, and our expectations grew with each glowing review.
High-fiving our way off the boat (ref sea-sick escape!) we merrily (and somewhat smugly) detoured the crowds of confusion, horns and shouts and hopped into our private chauffeured car, snoozing our way to Minos Beach Art Hotel. Minos is a microcosm of Greek artistic, architectural and culinary talent. It is minimalist design for maximum impact. It is the perfect setting for a honeymoon, and the perfect stage to celebrate creativity and talent.
We weren’t sure what to make of the concept of an art hotel, but Minos quickly announced itself as an open-air gallery. Its suites, bungalows and villas are nestled among striking sculptures, words bent into quotes of spidery iron ink, short films projected onto sugar-cube white walls and the beach-front simulated tones of each of the eight winds of the Mediterranean. This is art based not just on sight, but on sound – a cleansing sorbet for the senses.
Our superior seafront bungalow was right on the water’s edge. What an absolute delight it was to wake up each morning in our gorgeously comfy bed, to yawn back the curtains and be greeted by our own private pool and the glistening Mediterranean Sea, to meander our way to breakfast through herb and flower-speckled gardens and under bougainvillea-boasting arches, paths dipping and diving their way in between suites and contouring Minos’ private beaches.
A word of advice: please don’t be on a diet while you’re here. You would miss out on far too much! The breakfasts at Minos Hotel are known throughout much of Crete as being among the very best. As with all the meals here, only Greek products are used, with emphasis on sustainable sourcing and the farm-to-table approach. The main hotel restaurant is Bacchus, with its vast outside seating area overlooking the gardens. Here you can savour an eclectic buffet-style breakfast and dinner (something which, I admit, I’m usually not a fan of but Minos altered my anti-buffet stance!). Everything is beautifully cooked and full of flavour. For a romantic evening à deux, take a stroll along the seafront and enjoy a pre-dinner vino at the hotel’s stylish La Cave de la Bouillabaisse, followed by dinner at La Bouillabaisse Restaurant itself. The ingredients of our entire evening here were flawlessly thrust together. A cosy sea-view setting, impeccable service and plates adorned with stingray, sea urchin and artichoke; shrimp, tarama fish roe and carob bread; sour tarhana served with mushrooms and tahini; red snapper with local greens, and for dessert kaltsouni ice cream with thyme namelaka and pistachio, and nougat with almonds and Greek coffee ganache. These were very welcome plates indeed.
One of the many hugely positive things I could write (and write and write) about Minos Hotel is, even if you didn’t leave the hotel once during your stay, you would still feel like you have experienced Crete. Here you are surrounded by Cretan beauty - its coastline, its smaller neighbouring islands, its flora and fauna. The staff share their local knowledge, their warmth, their language and their love of Greece, and each mouthful of food is local, seasonal and expertly cooked – indeed, everything that everyone spoke to me so highly about can be found right here.
When we embarked on our honeymoon research, we didn’t know exactly what we were looking for – but Travelgems did. They transformed our question marks and unknowns into our perfect honeymoon. They promised “education, integration and elevation”, experiences that “not only pick you up, but move you forward” – and they delivered.
Now, while you focus on booking your Greek holiday, you’ll find me searching for my quill and golden ink, and practicing my looping calligraphy swirls…
For more information, visit:
Parilio Hotel: https://pariliohotelparos.com
Mystique Hotel: https://mystique.gr
Minos Beach Art Hotel: https://www.minosbeach.com