There are accommodations in every price range, offering every level of inclusion or abandon, at nearly every destination around the world. What makes a hotel stay outstanding instead of just good and fine is the level of attention to detail. At a macro level, these standout details are things like over-sized towels, spacious and uncluttered rooms, great wine and food, a multitude of amenities and, of course, an unbeatable location.
On a micro level, these details are all of the behind-the-scenes efforts and strategies that create an overall experience: immaculate attention to detail, personal touches, the highest quality products and a relentless consideration of brand knowledge, awareness and customer care.
All of the hotels outlined below are located in the three arm peninsulas of Halkidiki in northeastern Greece and neighboring Thessaloniki. At any of them you will find superb accommodations, traditional Greek dishes spun into culinary art, wine made from grapes discovered by the gods, a setting sun becoming a pink sky, and at any of these luxury hotels you will find an experience.
Kassandra Peninsula &mdash Blue Bay& Hotel
Unfussy and Discreet Four-Star Boutique Luxury
Blue Bay Hotel was my first stay in Halkidiki. I was exhausted after 20 hours of travel and, although I was eager to start exploring Greece, all I really wanted and needed was a satisfying meal, a shower and a pillow to plunge my face into. I didn't go to sleep until 2 a.m. my first night at Blue Bay—a testament to the warm, welcoming experience offered to me from the moment that I arrived.
I didn't know if it was the natural surroundings, the serene swimming pool, the family-style buffet of orzo, seafood, salads and pastas that won me over; or if it was the local wine from the nearby village of Afitos and easy conversation with friends, other guests, and the hotel staff. Sitting upon the blue sky atop the blue of the sea, it was one indulgently relaxing moment after the next.
What I loved:
- The uncluttered stone-made rooms lined with bamboo floors
- The ivory sheath curtains that danced in the Mediterranean breeze against a balcony opening to the beautiful sea
- The story of the evolution of the hotel illustrated by the owner over a glass of wine. Sharing in the guest experience is as much a part of the marketing plan as any website or promotion—not a rarity in a family-owned operation.
- The location: Blue Bay is approximately 600M (about 3/4 mile) from the village of Afitos where you can shop for artisan crafts at small boutiques, walk the carless streets, explore ruins, or sit on a taverna terrace while watching the sun set. A relaxed atmosphere; quiet, calm, romantic and totally peaceful
Halkidiki — Sani Resort
Sani is one of Halkidiki's leading luxury hoteliers. They've covered absolutely everything and have put extreme care into elevating the experience had by each guest—that's hard to find in a resort that spans 1,000 acres. Sani is run by three companies owned by three different families. Over the years, they have collectively surveyed hotel guests to find out what can be improved upon and woven those adjustments into the fabric of the resort.
They really have addressed the possible needs of everyone who could come there—the famous, the wealthy, the foodies, the families who know that their children will be occupied and well cared for—from Russia, Germany, the UK, the Balkans and everywhere else in the world.
What I loved:
- Value: When you factor in all of the activities and amenities that come with a booking, the cost evens out.
- Dining at New Greek Cuisine 3, the third installment of the annual gourmet food festival hosted by Sani.
- Choices: 17 restaurants, some with live music; 16 bars.
- Kid-less time for the grownups; a restaurant with an age requirement of above 12 years (exciting for young adults too to get past those velvet ropes); 'babe watch' babysitting services and a kids club.
- Activities: paintball, archery, day trips to 'vegetable markets' ("half vegetables, half everything else") or the water park in Thessaloniki.
- Everything for everyone: Yacht-rental, two to six hours or the full day (including gas). Seven kilometers of pristine white sandy beaches just north of the hotel. The Sani wetlands and magnificent pine forests of the Kassandra peninsula.
You will find that when traveling to other luxury hotels in the region, seemingly all of them have a member on staff who learned the trade at Sani. Not only is there everything for everyone, but they're doing something really, very right.
Sithonia Peninsula — Porto Carras Grand Resort
Infinitely Cool With a Capital "C"
The sprawling sundrenched lobby and hectares of wine land that surround the Porto Carras Grand Resort will invite and envelope you immediately. But what truly mesmerized me was the feeling of time of the golden era of travel: the early 1970s. Jackie O and Aristotle Onassis stayed here. Salvador Dali, a special friend of the pioneer and jet-setter John Carras who owned the hotel, designed one of its bathtubs. As a whole, the hotel is grand and opulent and totally retro. If Don Draper went off on holiday, he might come here.
Porto Carras is no secret to Europeans. They have been coming here for 40 years, quietly building a hideaway that Americans are just now learning about.
What I loved:
- The feeling of space: low chairs, sprawling geometric patterned rugs, air space and room between tables. This extends to the pool, to the beach, and across the sea to the horizon.
- The amazing history: It was more popular as a travel destination when built than the island of Mykonos is today and the trend lives on.
- The amazing feeling of history: You can easily picture scenes of fur, jewels, caviar, cigarettes, dinner parties, and casual naughty cavalier.
- The estate winery: growing all organic grapes, 18 varietals, (mostly red), on 450 hectares (about 950 acres). It is the largest vineyard in Greece.
- The entertainment: featuring two 5-star hotels, a world-class villa, casino, spa centers, golf, a marina, beautiful beaches and much more. But it is the history that is really the best part.
Halkidiki — Ekies All Senses Resort
Modern and sophisticated tranquility
It may be the least stressful hotel in Halkidiki. This *Green Key hotel is very conceptual, right down to the airy music selection and hipster design style; it's all about the vibe that eco-philosophy brings to an environment. Ekies All Senses is located on a private beach on Vourvourou Bay where you can explore on foot, car or boat. The hotel was converted from apartment rentals in 2001 by a family who vacationed there in years past.
They didn't have a big business plan, they just put their hearts into it like they did with their other companies: an export brand of local foods that come from their family estate; and 'Coco-Mat,' a popular furniture and mattress company that furnishes the hotel as well as stores throughout Europe and in Manhattan. Their entrepreneurial spirit and various successes is setting the standard for smart business ownership in the region.
What I loved:
- Effortless quirky design style that reminds me very much of the west coast of the Untied States (the Pacific Northwest, specifically). The hotel alters their design style slightly each year to keep the concept fresh and lively—altering style is a part of the philosophy. Color theory plays a leading role throughout, lending to the feeling of tranquility.
- A hammock in the sea in the calm waters of Vourvourou Bay.
- The swimming cove just down the beach.
- Solar power
- On-site yoga
- Koutali restaurant overlooking the bay and the inspired dishes by chef Andreas Voulgaris.
- The good vibe. To me, that is the highest compliment.
Mt. Athos — Eagles Palace
One of the Most Elegant Hotels in Greece
It is actually quite astonishing that a hotel so large in scope and success can be so completely warm and inviting in feel and approach. The Eagles Palace has been built on a sturdy foundation, and with a strongly rooted beginning, you can thrive. It was built by the son of Konstantinos Tornivoukas, a tobacco trader who built the Mediterranean Palace, the first luxury hotel in Thessaloniki. It was completely destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1978, but five years before in 1973, the Eagles Palace was built and would become the "pride of the family."
Since then, Konstantinos Tornivoukas (the grandson of the original founder) and his wife Lena have continued to grow the family business, keeping traditions of ancestors past alive while embarking on new projects. In the meantime, this award-winning hotel continues to prove its status as a "best resort in Greece" with world class service that comes in its finest form from true passion for the brand.
What I loved:
- The staff: They were completely engaged at all times without being intrusive.
- The immaculate environment: The design, atmosphere, location, food, wine, products, services and events were all of five star quality.
- The "temple of touch and aroma," otherwise known as the Eagles Palace Spa. Exotic therapies from around the world in a restorative spa in paradise. Sign me up.
- The rooms: They are simple and elegant and give a feeling as though you are staying in someone's home.
Getting there: The Excelsior and City Hotel is located across the street from each other in downtown Thessaloniki, right in the heart of the financial, business and commercial district. Thessaloniki's airport Macedonia is 15km (10 miles) to the south.
Thessaloniki — City Hotel
Better Business Casual
This is the kind of hotel you wish you knew an equivalent to in every town you visit—great value, a relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff, and an awesome location in the heart of city center. But what I liked most of all about City Hotel was that the staff remembered my name each time I came and went. Call me a sucker for personalized treatment, but being remembered is, as a guest, one of the most important factors of terrific customer service.
Thessaloniki — Excelsior Hotel
Excelsior sits in Thessaloniki center, next to Aristotelous square, right in the heart of vibrant Thessaloniki. Created by the same owners of the Eagles Palace in Ouranoupolis and City Hotel across the street, the Excelsior Hotel has mastered the art of upscale hospitality in an intimate setting.
What I loved:
- Individually designed rooms: Luxury usually means that the touches are in some way one of a kind.
- Garden terrace for breakfast overlooking the city.
- Location, location, location.
- All-day gourmet dining and upscale bar.
- Historic building
Hotel Quick Facts
Hotels in Greece are mainly open during peak season, April through October. Halkidiki leads all of Greece with the number of Green Key Hotels committed to environmentally sound practices. The Green Key is the worldwide symbol of quality environmental education and environmental management (eco-label) of hotel units. The awards are presented annually by the National Jury Project GREEN KEY of the National Operator Greek Society for the Protection of Nature (HSPN).
The Blue Flag award is a voluntary eco-label for beaches and marinas committed to environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management, safety and services. In Halkidiki, there are 35 beaches and two marinas that are awarded with the Blue Flag. If the criteria are not fulfilled during the season or the conditions change, the Blue Flag may be withdrawn. All Blue Flags are awarded for one season at a time and can be found in 48 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean.