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This is part 2 of my travel report. My husband and I recently spent two and a half weeks in Greece so if you’d like to know what it’s been like traveling in Greece when it just reopened, how I booked our tickets and the COVID-19 restrictions, you can read part 1

Here I’ll cover the places and islands we’ve visited, where we stayed and some of my finds and must do things on each island, such as tours, activities and restaurants that we loved in each place. Keep reading for my detailed reviews of Grand Hyatt Athens hotel and Domes Zeen Chania Resort, the two hotels we booked with points. 

Hotels

Over time, we’ve stayed at a mix of chain properties and small local hotels. There aren’t a lot of chain hotels in Greece, and a couple of Marriott properties located on the islands are very pricey, both in cash and points. After spending a lot of time doing research and reading reviews, my homework (almost) paid off  – I was very happy with three out of the four places we booked. 

Grand Hyatt Athens 

Grand Hyatt Athens Lobby

To get to the Grand Hyatt Athens from the airport, you can either take a metro or a cab. The metro from the airport cost 10 euro and you’d still have to grab a cab because it’s too far to walk if you have a suitcase, so we decided to take a cab. They charge a flat rate to and from the airport – 35 euro plus 3 euro toll. 

Because I am a recently minted Globalist, I wanted to stay at the Grand Hyatt Athens. When I researched Athens hotels, I saw that this property had excellent reviews, attractive rooms and was reasonably priced. 

This is a Category 3 property, so it can be booked with 12,000 World of Hyatt points a night. However, at the time (middle of May), the hotel had great cash rates and it didn’t make sense to use points. The cash rate was just over 100 euros so I decided to save my points for a better redemption. I figured that I could always use Chase’s Pay Yourself Back if I wanted to, because I’d get a better value out of my Ultimate Rewards points. And I could use this feature to “reimburse” myself for the non-chain hotel stays. 

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We also stayed there for one night on the way back from Crete to the U.S. At that time, the cash rates were significantly higher, so I used the annual free Category 1-4 night certificate I earned as a Chase World of Hyatt cardholder. As a Globalist, I received free breakfast and a room upgrade both times. 

After staying there, I have mixed feelings about the Grand Hyatt Athens. The hotel itself is great. There are two beautiful outdoor pools: one on the eighth floor with a view of the Acropolis and another on the ground floor. When we were in Athens, only the rooftop pool was open, but they were getting the second pool ready. During a regular tourist season, they open both pools much earlier than they did this year.  

Grand Hyatt Athens

Rooms at Grand Hyatt Athens

The service is excellent – everyone was helpful and accommodating. I booked a basic king bed room knowing that as a Globalist I’d probably get an upgrade to a better room during these low occupancy days. My gamble paid off – we were assigned a beautiful Deluxe Room which is actually a mini suite with a living area and a separate bedroom. The room had everything except a desk, and because we both had to do some work, a desk was a must. 

Grand Hyatt Athens Deluxe Room
Grand Hyatt Athens Deluxe Room 

There were no other upgraded rooms available on the first night, but on our second day we were shown the grand suite and the junior suite. The grand suite was lovely and was the size of a small city apartment. There was a separate living area with a dining table, a big bedroom with a king bed and a huge bathroom. 

However, it faced a noisy street, so we asked to see a different room, less “grand” but not as noisy. They showed us the junior suite which, in spite of its name, is one huge room with a king bed. It faced the inner courtyard and was quiet, so that’s where we stayed for the other two nights. The bathrooms were the same size in the deluxe room and the junior suite. We stayed in the junior suite on our last night in Athens as well. 

Grand Hyatt Athens Junior Suite
Grand Hyatt Athens Junior Suite

We loved the lovely, spacious rooms, comfortable beds and beautiful bathrooms. Everything looks and feels new, from the linens and towels to room fixtures. The sleep quality is excellent! The air conditioning is quiet, especially in the deluxe room, and the blackout curtains blocked all the sunlight. 

The biggest problem is the location. It’s just not convenient to explore the city, and there isn’t much within a walking distance. There’s a bus stop almost in front of the hotel and a subway stop about 15 minutes away. It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the center of Athens where all the action is, and the walk along a busy and noisy street is not particularly pleasant. Athens cabs are really inexpensive though. We never paid more than 5 euro to go from the hotel to anywhere in the city center. 

Food

Breakfast definitely could have been better and I wished they’d mix it up a little and not serve the same stuff every day. There was no made-to-order food, and the hot food in the chafing dishes wasn’t really hot. The choices were a little better during our second stay, but the cooked dishes were still cold. The cold buffet had a great variety of breads, pastries, cereal, yogurt, different kinds of jams, yogurt and honey.   

Breakfast Buffet, Grand Hyatt Athens

The club lounge was closed, but we got a 20 euro per person per day credit to use on food at their restaurant or through the room service. This actually worked out great because we were pressed for time a couple of times and ate lunch at the hotel. The food prices are high, so the 40 euro daily credit was just enough to cover the food, but I still consider it a win. As a Globalist, I get free breakfast anyway, and I’d rather have a regular meal than have access to the drinks and snacks usually served in the club lounge. 

Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Athens

Athens Free City Tour

I am a big fan of free city tours and of course I had to find one in Athens. Athens Free Tour turned out to be a great choice, and our guide was great. We did the evening tour that started at 6 p.m. and the guide brought us to the Presidential Palace just in time for the changing of the guard ceremony. There were only four people on the tour – that tells you how few tourists we encountered on our trip in May!  

Corfu

Corfu, Greece

Corfu is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and is very different from other, more popular Greek islands. There are no whitewashed houses with the blue trim and instead the island has an almost Italian flavor. You also get lush green mountains, beautiful blue water and amazing hospitality. 

I was planning on staying at the Domes Miramare Corfu, A Luxury Collection Resort, a Category 5 Marriott property that you can book for as little as 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, which is an off-peak rate. It’s a seasonal property, basically open only during the summer tourist season, and I’ve never seen it that low.

Surprisingly, I’ve never seen a 40,000-point rate either, even during the peak season. I booked this hotel with the four annual free night 35,000 points certificates that I accumulated over the last couple of years as a Marriott credit card holder.

However, the property didn’t open in time for my trip, so I had to cancel my reservation and find a local, non-chain hotel. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We drove by the Domes Miramare and its location is a bit too far from the most beautiful places on Corfu. And it would’ve been hard to leave the nice beach and the beautiful pool at Miramare in favor of driving around, so we probably wouldn’t have seen as much of the island. 

Instead, we stayed at the Eleals Hotel, a small family-run boutique hotel. This is a fairly new property where, and this is no exaggeration—you are treated like family. This is such a cliche thing to say, but this is a place where they remember how you like your coffee, serve you eggs and jam from the family’s farm and make you feel like the most cherished person to step through their doors. 

Eleals Hotel , Corfu

If you decide to stay there, spend a little bit extra and book a superior room. It’s much bigger and much nicer than their basic rooms. 

Superior room at Eleals Hotel | Photo courtesy of Eleals Hotel

Everything at this hotel was beautiful and brand new. The shower was fantastic. The bed was comfortable, and the air conditioning was quiet. Don’t be deterred by the road that runs in front of the hotel. It’s not busy and with the doors closed and the AC going, you can’t hear any noise. 

There’s a small town of Benitses just a five-minute drive south from the hotel with some great restaurants. We loved the Klimataria Seafood Restaurant and went there twice during our stay. If you are in the area, a meal there is a must! It’s popular with the locals, so a reservation is recommended, especially if you are going to be in the area on the weekend. 

Also make sure to do a private boat tour with Triton Marine Tours. They charge 110 to 130 euros for a two-hour private tour during which they take you to the most beautiful places on Corfu that you can only access by boat. There were swimming breaks, of course, and the captain took us to a couple of spectacular beaches and hidden coves. Corfu is a gorgeous island, but wait till you see it from the water. You’d never want to leave! 

One of the hidden treasures of Corfu, a beach reachable only by boat

And if you feel up for another narrow mountain road drive after your boat tour, the nearby Dolce Cafe has the most stunning views and delectable sweets. It’s also surprisingly affordable considering its winning location. 

View of Corfu from the Dolce Cafe

Santorini      

Oia, Santorini

What can I tell you about Santorini? It needs no introduction. Everybody has seen pictures of the whitewashed houses clinging to the steep volcanic rock, the iconic blue domes of Oia and the magical sunsets. 

And you’re going to pay a lot for the pleasure of visiting one of the most iconic Greek islands. Hotel rates are high, and the food is noticeably more expensive than in other places we visited. 

We spent three nights in Santorini and could’ve easily spent just two nights there. The island is pretty small and is easy to see in a couple of days. You can, of course, spend more time there and go to wineries, visit the ruins of Akrotiri, go to the beach, do a food tour, etc. 

We decided to rent a car for a day, which the rental company brought to our hotel. When we were done for the day, we just dropped it off at one of the parking lots in Fira. My husband wanted to see the beaches of Santorini and it was hard to do with the somewhat unreliable buses. 

We’ve also gone on a sunset catamaran cruise, which in my opinion, was too long and not that interesting and included a pretty poor meal served at 3 p.m. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I wished we’d saved the money we spent on the cruise and went to a nice dinner in Oia to see the same sunset. 

We stayed at Pantelia Suites, a tiny eight-room hotel in the town of Fira. The first room they assigned us felt like a cave and had an air conditioner right above the bed. Could there be a worse place to put the A/C? Who wants to have the cold air blowing on their heads all night? 

The manager was understanding and moved us to a lovely suite which probably is booked solid during the regular tourist season. So, with the stroke of good luck, we had a good stay there after all. The views from our hotel’s terrace were spectacular though. 

Sunset in Fira, Santorini

Crete

The largest Greek island located in the south Aegean Sea is hard to explore in its entirety in one trip. We stayed there for six nights on the western end of Crete near Chania and only had time to visit less than half the island. There are so many beautiful beaches, mountain gorges, small towns and great restaurants to explore that there just isn’t time for everything. By American standards, the distances aren’t that great, but keep in mind that there are almost no highways and you’re constantly going either around or through the mountains. 

My favorite places included Elafonissi and Falasarna beaches (make sure to have dinner at Captain Nicolas taverna near the Falasarna beach) on the west coast of Crete. 

Captain Nicolas taverna, Crete

But our most favorite day trip and one of the most beautiful places on the island was a trip to Glyca Nera (Sweet Water) and Loutro. You can only access these two locations by boat, so we drove to Hora Sfakion and took a boat to Glyca Nera and Loutro. It’s about 15 minutes to each location and the trip between each point costs 4 to 5 euro. 

Glyca Nera Beach, Crete

I’d suggest taking the first boat at 10:15 a.m. to the Glyca Nera beach and spending a couple of hours there. Then you can get on the boat to Loutro, a tiny village on a beautiful bay for lunch and another swim, and then catch the ferry instead of the small boat that brought you there straight to Hora Sfakion. 

And lastly, the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete is an absolutely magical place. It’s located about 30 minutes from Chania, and it’s not one of those botanical gardens where you go to see exotic plants or an orchid display. It’s more like a beautiful and peaceful mountain walk on well-trodden footpaths where you can enjoy stunning mountain vistas. Get there early while it’s still cool and wear comfortable shoes. If you have young kids, don’t bring a stroller. There are some steps and the paths are bumpy. 

Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete

Domes Zeen Chania, A Luxury Collection Resort

I had a good stash of Marriott points that I wanted to use on this trip and the Domes Zeen Chania was a perfect fit for what I was looking for. This is a Category 7 property, and my dates were selling as peak dates at 70,000 Marriott Bonvoy points a night. 

You can find some off-peak or standard rates during the summer months or during the shoulder season, but these weren’t available for our dates. 

All rates, even if you use points, include a fantastic breakfast buffet. Your rate also includes what’s in the minibar at check-in. If you need refills of anything, then there’s a charge. We had three big bottles of water, still and sparkling, some beer and some soft drinks. There’s also a Nespresso machine and you can ask for more coffee capsules any time. 

This is a new, modern, minimalist, some would say stark, resort. There’s lots of concrete and grey tones, but I love modern design, so that was right up my alley. Everyone was so welcoming and warm and always had a smile and a good suggestion for things to see and do in the area. If you are going to stay there, talk to Natalia G. (there are two ladies with the same last name, so make sure to ask for Natalia G) at the front desk to find out the best things to see and do in the area. Her enthusiasm and love for the island are so genuine, and she’s a treasure trove of great information. 

The hotel is located on the side of the hill and you’ll have to climb lots of stairs to go from the lowest level where the beach is to reception. The staff can also take you in a golf cart if you have any mobility issues or are traveling with small kids. 

I’d recommend requesting a room with a higher number (4000 through 6000) to be closer to the beach, pool and the restaurant where they serve breakfast. 

There are various room categories that you can book with points,and some were selling for 350 euro and some for 450 euro, so naturally I booked the most expensive room (Tropical Open Plan Suite). 

There’s an outdoor gym, but no indoor exercising facilities. The resort also offers different workout and yoga classes, but those aren’t included in the room rate. 

Getting There

We took a ferry from Santorini to Heraklion, the biggest port in Crete, which took about 2.5 hours. We booked a rental car with a small local agency and they met us at the port with the car and all the paperwork. The drive from Heraklion to Chania takes about two hours, and you mostly drive along the gorgeous Creatan coastline. 

And here’s a tip to help you find the hotel. There are no signs at all, and it’s easy to miss the turnoff to the tiny street that leads to the hotel. Look out for the SILKoil gas station when you are on the main road, and when you see what looks like a driveway right behind the gas station, turn right. Keep going on this narrow street until you see a turnoff to even more narrow dirt road on the right, turn right, go for about 300 yards and you’ll see the resort at the end of the road. We missed the turn at the gas station when we arrived late at night and it took us a while to locate the resort. 

Ironically, the parking lot of this five-star property is a dirt/grass lot, which is very common in Greece, and it’s free.

We arrived after 11 p.m., so our check-in was quick. They took us to the room in the golf cart and gave us some welcome snacks, such as small sandwiches, olives and some cheese.  

Tropical Suite 

Domes Zeen Chania
Domes Zeen Chania

The resort consists of many small buildings, two to four rooms to a building. We lucked out and our room (4001) was actually a separate, stand-alone building and was private. The room is located at the bottom of the hill, so we only had to climb the stairs when we went to the reception and to get our car. 

Tropical suites come with their own plunge pools and a beautiful patio. 

Tropical Suite Plunge pool at Domes Zeen Chania
Tropical Suite private patio at Domes Zeen Chania

It wasn’t a suite in a true sense of the word, but more like one big room that was huge and immaculately decorated. But, as you can see from the pictures, this room is not suitable for families with small kids as there are lots of sharp corners, low slung furniture and hanging pendant lights.  

We loved our room as it was private and quiet. The bed was extremely comfortable, and the bathroom was fantastic. The blackout curtains did the job, and the air conditioning was quiet. The blower for the A/C was actually located in the bathroom, and with the bathroom door closed you couldn’t hear it all. 

Bathroom at Domes Zeen Chania

Everything from bed linens to towels looked and felt brand new. 

Beach and Pool 

The beach in front of the hotel is pebbly, so it’s a little challenging to go in and out of the water. The sunbeds are the same kind that you’ll find by the pool, and they are extremely comfortable. 

There’s a nice sand beach right next door. While facing the sea, look left and you’ll see a giant boulder. Right behind the boulder, on the left, there’s what looks like a public beach. There are no sunbeds, so you’ll have to bring your own towel if you want to lounge there. 

There’s also a small snack and drinks hut right behind that giant boulder where you can get some ice cream, soft drinks and beer at a fraction of what it’ll cost at the resort. 

The pool is absolutely fantastic. It’s long, so great for swimming and has a shallow end for little kids. When we were there, it never felt crowded and there’s no loud music, just some background music piped through a few in-ground speakers. 

Food

Breakfast Buffet at Domes Zeen Chania

The included breakfast was fantastic. The food was fresh, and there was a good variety of cold and hot dishes. Don’t miss their smoothies, which are different every day and are made with various kinds of non-dairy milk. 

There were lots of fresh fruit, and the hot dishes were slightly different each day. I can’t eat gluten or dairy, and I definitely didn’t go hungry – there were so many choices and all the food was of excellent quality.

Breakfast Buffet at Domes Zeen Chania

We ate lunch once at the hotel, and we weren’t impressed with the lunch options. I thought the food was overpriced and the service was slow. 

There’s a fantastic local restaurant within a two-minute walk from the hotel. It’s located on the hill right outside the reception. To reach Theodosi, just cross the grassy part of the parking lot and climb up the narrow footpath and you’ll see the restaurant in front of you. I know that my directions sound strange, but you’ll love the delicious and reasonably priced food, as well as the great views from the top of the hill.   

Grilled Octopus at Theodosi Restaurant, Crete

Final Thoughts

As you can probably tell, I loved my first trip to Greece and now I want to go back again and again. We really enjoyed the great May weather, affordable prices, the amazing hospitality and, of course, all the beautiful sights. 

Booking hotels with points is great but I would definitely recommend also staying at some local, non-chain hotels for a different experience. Getting on a boat in Greece to see some of the most beautiful coastline in the world is an absolute must. And I don’t need to tell you about the Greek food. Everyone knows how delicious it is! 

Travel well,

Anna  

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