THE beauty of Greece is so extreme that even hordes of tourists can’t ruin it – in a lesser country, the likes of Mykonos, Corfu, Crete and Santorini would have become touristic hellholes by now. Though they remain gems, there’s no doubt that the Greek islands are crowded.
For anyone seeking that rare thing, a safe but secluded spot in the sun, the Greek mainland should be the first port of call. As someone who hates feeling as though all the naturalness and authenticity of a place has been stolen by foreign crowds, I set out for Sithonia on the northern coast of Greece to find a spot of luxury in a place still relatively unknown to the European crowds. The Danai Beach Resort seemed the ideal choice – tucked away on the bluffs of the Aegean Peninsula, on the second prong of Halkidiki, it provides something other than the typical combination of sun, sand, parched fields and lobster-coloured Brits.
The calm, natural beauty of Danai was exaggerated because I went just outside of season – the very beginning of May – when the air was hot and dry in the day and cool and clear at night. The sea was refreshing and it was possible to avoid sweating while sunbathing; Sithonia is equally lovely in the autumn, right through the middle of October.
The landscape here is a beguiling combination of pine forests, botanical splendour, red rock and yes, the white sand and the requisite crystal clear seas of any self-respecting holiday paradise. Danai is a secluded resort – you’d never find it unless you knew exactly where to turn; it lies through locked white gates off a tiny back road in the pine forests between two villages, about a 50 minute drive from Thessaloniki airport.
Inside, whitewashed complexes and lawns with bright pink flowers await; you’re greeted by a white-clad manager and led to a balcony for a glass of fizz overlooking the gardens and sea while your bags are attended to.
Even the basic double rooms here have marble bathrooms, inlaid marble floors and balconies. At the top end, the Danai Luxury Suite is fit for royalty: an open plan, multi-leveled villa with terraces overlooking the sea, an enormous marble fireplace, Missoni furnishings, an infinity pool and a patio for entertaining – there’s more than enough room here for kids and staff (I was told it’s a favourite with Russians).
Ours was a Pool Suite Villa – the highlight being a mini tiled swimming pool and garden; again, that blissful combination of water and greenery. The room itself was unremarkable, with a faint smell of plumbing (neutralised somewhat by the Bulgari toiletries).
Having taken an early evening swim in our private pool and sat on our loungers while the sun set over the Aegean, we were primed for the hotel’s private beach the next day – and the company of the wealthy Bulgarian and Russian men (red-faced and fat) and women (skimpily clad and attractive) who favour upmarket Greek resorts. This is an immaculate strip of white sand and blue sea, framed by pines and red rock and a deeply chic beachfront bar – all white leather and open air, with a dishy barman to complete the effect.
The other thing one does at a place like Danai is eat. The award-winning Squirrel restaurant, which just has a few tables and aims for a Heston Blumenthal style of cuisine, was closed for our visit because we were too early in the season. To make up for this, we were given dinner inside the resort’s medieval-looking wine cellar, and had a chance to sample plenty of surprisingly delicious Greek wine as well as some heavy-hitting meat. For lunch, go to the beach restaurant, which does mezze, salads, fresh fish and grills quite nicely.
There are a few tempting excursions. A great one is a boat trip along Mount Athos – women aren’t allowed on Athos itself because is inhabited by all-male monasteries, so this is a good way to see it. Athos is on the third peninsula of Halkidiki and is referred to as nothing short of “The Garden of the Mother of God”. Another temptation is the mountain peaks of Meteora, which are an hour and a half’s drive from Danai – its monasteries are where James Bond’s For Your Eyes Only was filmed. Once you’re there, stop at the nearby tombs of Vergina, where King Phillip, father of Alexander the Great, is buried.
Now, why would you want to go to the islands again? The northern peninsula of Greece has sun, sand, history and quietude in one – and the Danai makes a very good vantage point from which to enjoy it all.
Stay 5 nights in a Danai double room, including breakfast, flights from London with British Airways and private transfers from £1295 per person. Valid until 15 October. Call Seasons in Style on 01244202000 or visit www.seasonsinstyle.com.