Constantinos Varvitsiotis, founder of the summer accessories line A to Z Greek, details his favorite must-visit islands in Greece.
Hydra: The Island of Donkeys and Art
Every time I enter the port of Hydra, I think I’m in a movie set. The colorful houses are built in an amphitheatre set-up overlooking the port, with narrow, and sometimes steep, roads. Yet there are no cars on the island. All transportation is done with donkeys or water taxis. When I visit, I always rent a house closer to the top of the hill. Believe me, the view is worth the climbing! I enjoy taking my morning coffee overlooking the colorful houses with their terra-cotta-tile rooftops, the busy yacht port and the beautiful blue of the Saronic Gulf.
Hydra is a perfect year-round destination. Due to its proximity to Athens, just an hour and a half by boat, the island is vibrant any weekend of the year. My favorite time to visit is early June when days are long, sunsets are gorgeous and the art scene is booming. Every year DESTE Project Space Slaughterhouse hosts a series of exclusively commissioned contemporary art exhibitions and projects, which includes shows from Maurizio Cattelan, Matthew Barney, Doug Aitken and Urs Fischer. These unique shows are not to be missed.
My day usually starts and ends at the best people-watching spot, The Pirates Bar. That’s where I have my breakfast: some Greek yogurt with honey and fruits. I get to see everyone who is on the island and make our plans for the day: shopping at Speak Out, the most eclectic boutique on the island; swimming in the clear waters of Vlihos Beach; lunching right on the water, under the shadow of pine trees at the Four Seasons restaurant (fresh-caught fish and delicious organic Greek salad); sipping cocktails while watching the breathtaking sunset at Hydroneta; enjoying traditional Greek recipes at Christina’s Courtyard, and, finally, dancing back at The Pirates Bar where it all started.
Mykonos: The Go-to-Have-Fun Island
Mykonos needs no introduction. It is known worldwide for its traditional blue and white architecture, its gorgeous beach and crystal-clear waters and, of course, the party scene! In Mykonos, every moment of the day is a chance to have fun and enjoy life. Life begins late on the island. I tend to get out of bed late due to the previous nights partying! I skip breakfast and go straight to the beach.
My all-time favorite beach is Agios Sostis, one of the few not-organized beaches on the island. I love feeling the sand on my body and washing it off with a dive into the refreshing blue water! Agios Sostis is a laid-back beach with no beach bar, so be sure you have some water and snacks with you. After of hours of sunbathing and swimming, it is time to have a late lunch at Spilia, a heavenly seafront restaurant that is carved out of a cave. Try the signature dish, the lobster pasta. It is insane!
From there I go to enjoy the sunset at Alemagou on Ftelia Beach. Alemagou is a chill-out bar/restaurant (although it can get crazy too) right on the water, offering great music, delicious cocktails, beautiful people and a breathtaking sunset. Back from the beaches, the town is becoming alive again: people sipping Aperols, shopping (a visit to Soho-Soho boutique is a must), admiring art at Dio Horia gallery and getting ready for a night out. First stop is Interni, the most beautiful courtyard in Mykonos, then off to Sea Satin for Greek music and people dancing on the tables, and finally a stop at Jackie O for a fun drag show. Around 3 AM, I call it a night!
Sifnos: Where Tradition and Sophistication Meet
Sifnos may not be featured on the glossy tourist guides or attract the jet setters like Mykonos, but it is certainly a jewel in the Aegean. Low key and relaxed, Sifnos combines luxury with tradition and sophistication with authenticity. There are 365 churches on the island, one for every day of the year. The most impressive is the one at Chrysopigi Monastery; it is a little church that “sits” on a big rock surrounded by the sea, almost an island of its own. If you are lucky you will get to see a bride arriving on a boat at sunset. But Sifnos is not only churches — it has beautiful villages like Apollonia, the main town of Sifnos; Castro, where I love getting lost in the little streets, and Artemonas, where the noble society of the island used to live and which has great hikes and delicious food.
My favorite restaurant is Omega 3, a sophisticated and experimental fish restaurant on the beaches of Platys Gialos and Seralia, just below Castro, a place where I’ve had the best just-caught tuna sashimi. In Sifnos have two favorite hotels where I always stay: Kamaroti Suites Hotel in Poulati, where everything is close by and I get to enjoy the vast variety the island offers — the hotel itself is very charming, with a Mediterranean garden and minimal aesthetics — and Elies Resort in Vathi, where I go when I want to have a very luxurious and very restful time. This is where I “check out” completely and forget all kind of worries! The understated luxury in every detail of the hotel, the smiley and helpful staff, the magical views of Vathi Bay and the beautiful beach make Elies Resort my dream destination!
Patmos: Peace and Patmos
Patmos is a holy place since the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse of John) was written on the island. It is said that the voice of God was heard there. Regardless of faith and religion, the island has a very spiritual energy — a transcending one, I would say. You can feel this energy everywhere, lying peacefully on the beaches, getting lost in the streets of Chora (the main town), visiting the holy monastery that “rules” the island. There is a sense of mysticism all over.
When I come to Patmos I feel like a different man, a better man. My favorite activity on the island is to meditate on my house’s roof, overlooking the port, under the instructions of Anastasia. This island guides me to a self-awakening trip. On Patmos I feel more centered and awake, more in touch with my inner purpose. Whether I hike for 30 minutes under the strong sun to Psili Ammos Beach or enjoy the sunset from the top of the hill at the church of Profitis Ilias, I feel the transformation happening inside. And I’m not a religious man. It is the island that brings me in touch with my inner self and asks me to transcend my obstacles in life. Patmos is a source of inspiration. And everyone shares the same experience on their own terms. There are no loud beach bars, no party promoters. Everything is organic, at the spree of the moment.
Whether I have a meal at Kyma restaurant, where I feed the fish right in front of me, or Benetos, the sophisticated restaurant of the island, I’m experiencing a unique reality. And I carry on the same feeling the next day when I go to the Twins Beach (Didimes) and I swim till I reach the small island a few miles away. Following this, I have a late lunch at Mr. Nikos’ kiosk on top of the hill at Didimes Beach. He and his wife serve only five dishes, including Greek salad, fish they caught the same day and vegetables they have cultivated on their farm. The most simple and delicious lunch! For dinner I’m usually at Giagos tavern, where they serve super fresh fish and vegetables — the real Greek cuisine. As the night goes on I find myself wandering to the “piazzetta” where everyone comes together to socialize and have fun. There, all the fashionistas from Dior, Chanel, etc. come together and become a big group of friends, like you have known each other for years! Patmos is not for everyone, but if you get into it, you will be attached for life!