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Greek party islands chill out

Visitors gather for a sunset photo in Oia, a village on the Greek island of Santorini, August 9, 2022. (Photos: NYTimes)
It was around the time that the ferry eased itself into the port of Ios, an island in the Greek Cyclades, that I began to wonder if we had come to the right place. We — my husband and I, elder millennials on the cusp of middle age — were shoulder to shoulder with teenagers, hordes of them, youthful energy bounding off their dewy skin.اضافة اعلان

In the thick of summer, the ferry’s windowless boarding area felt like a furnace. I felt a wave of claustrophobia. These kids had come to party. We had … not. We sought good food and local wine, to somehow come home healthier than when we left, like the people who go to Paris and return like 5kg lighter, “because of all the walking” and the unprocessed bread.

To paraphrase a popular meme: Could the island do both?

The sun sets on Oia, a village in Santorini, Greece, where resort operators invite tourists to put up their feet and lean into a version of wellness that hinges on slowing down, August 9, 2022. 

For sure, there’s plenty of respite to be found within Ios’ Goats still roam the island’s craggy hills and cliffs. It lacks an airport. But, since the 1970s, Ios has been known, primarily, for one thing.

“It’s a place to party,” said Katerina Katopis-Lykiardopulo, a photographer who collaborated with author Chrysanthos Panas on “Greek Islands,” a coffee-table book published in May. “Back in the day, there were hippies, there were drugs, there were people sleeping on the beach. Is it still a party island? Do teenagers still come? Yes, of course. But the island is making an effort to be more than that.”

Aware that not every visitor wants to rage until dawn or cross off points of interest with their fellow cruise ship passengers, intrepid operators on Ios, as well as its world famous Cycladic neighbors to the north and south, Mykonos and Santorini, are inviting tourists to put up their feet and lean into a version of wellness that hinges on slowing down.

The Calilo resort on the Greek island of Ios, where the owners built on 1 percent of the property they bought from 2,137 landowners and left the rest untouched, August 12, 2022. 

Case in point: Calilo, a three-year-old resort on the east coast of Ios, enough hairpin turns over the hills and away from the port to (almost) banish the memory of a billboard advertising a nightclub named Scorpion (“Don’t leave until you get stung”). A Disneyland for the spiritually optimistic, Calilo pushes motivational mantras instead of five-for-one shot specials.

“When we enter this place, we leave everything negative behind,” said Sandy Parisi, a Calilo concierge with a disposition to rival the midafternoon sun, leading us through a breezeway with shapes strategically cut out of its roof: When the light hits right, hearts spray out across the path.

A crowded street in Mykonos, Greece, August 7, 2022. 

“The purpose of this experiment, if I can call it that, is to bring as much positivity, love, and freedom to people as we can,” said Angelos Michalopoulos, who owns and operates Calilo, as well as six other restaurants and hotels on the island, with his wife, Vassiliki Petridou, and four of their five children.

Motivational messaging is part of Calilo’s holistic approach to wellness. An on-site farm grows much of the produce served at the resort’s restaurants, including tomatoes flavorful enough to make you wonder if you had ever really tasted one before. The decor endeavors to surprise and delight. The sunken dining tables by the main pool look like something out of “Alice in Wonderland,” and all over the property, swings sway in the breeze. We swayed while drinking coffee. We swayed while reading books (or scrolling Instagram).

Goats roam freely on the Greek island of Ios, August 12, 2022. 

Over the course of three days, Calilo’s whimsy overtook me to the degree that I almost got over the grammatical idiosyncrasy of the neon mantra blinking above its bar (“Create a life you can fall in love with”). When I found myself fixating on that dangling preposition, I reminded myself of the countless liberties I have taken with grammar, and the fact that I was supposed to throw my cynicism in the pit upon arrival.

“A lot of our guests say that when they come here, they’re entering a fairy tale,” said Petridou. “They can be kids again. Most people come to Greece for the pools, the party, and the nightlife. We want to break that cycle.”

Tourism accounts for approximately one-fifth of Greece’s economy, according to the consulate general of Greece. Unchecked, the compulsion to drive up profits can lead to, for instance, the global phenomenon that is Mykonos: beautiful beaches and legendary sunsets, yes, but also streets jammed with Mercedes Sprinter vans, Starbucks, and day clubs that can charge upward of 150 euros for a sun bed. After Ios, we had planned to continue unwinding in Mykonos for two days. Mykonos had other plans.

The Cali Mykonos resort, which opened in July, on the Greek island of Mykonos, on August 7, 2022. 

“Mykonos is the party island,” said Tasos Pavlidis, a local concierge who attempted to get my husband and me on Mykonian standard time: breakfast at 4pm, lunch at 6:30pm, dinner at 11pm Sleep? “You don’t come to Mykonos to sleep,” said Pavlidis.

“Mykonos is a planet of its own,” said Katopis-Lykiardopulo, the “Greek Islands” photographer. “We used to have people like Jackie O,” whose 1961 arrival on the island thrust it into the global jet-setting scene, “now we have Elon Musk,” she added.

Beach clubs such as Alemagou (which Pavlidis describes as “bohemian,” although it also attracts people who wear Cartier watches and hats that say EBITA) and Scorpios (affiliated with Soho House, a members’ only club) attract swarms of hopefuls jostling for the chance to pay 20 euros for an espresso martini. For those who like to dance, drink, and people-watch after dark, the chora of Mykonos exerts a magnetic pull. Despite this, in July, a new resort opened with the goal of getting guests to chill out: Cali Mykonos, an amalgamation of clean lines and sumptuous curves fueled by solar panels, a rooftop herb garden, and an on-site water-purification plant.

The Calilo resort on the Greek island of Ios, August 12, 2022.

“Last night, we had a couple who went to a local beach club in the afternoon and planned to go into town in the evening and party,” said Eric Mourkakos, Cali Mykonos’ managing partner. “They came back here to shower, got to their room and said, ‘We realized, we have no reason to leave.’ I found them later, sitting by their pool under the pergola, looking up at the sky.”

One need not possess self-control of herculean proportions to avoid the thrum of the dance floor in Santorini: Compared with Mykonos and Ios, there are not a lot of clubs. The madding crowd functions differently on this volcanic island, with vistas so jaw-droppingly picturesque, they are frequently punctuated by social media influencers and soon-to-be brides and grooms, along with their attendant photographers.

In 2017, Greek hospitality company Andronis opened Andronis Wellness Concept Resort, inviting Santorini visitors to stay awhile and sink into some atypical offerings, which include a lantern-lit, hammamlike spa and a health assessment that uses a strand of hair for epigenetic testing. The test claims to offer insights into your habits, “and how you might change them to lead a healthier life,” said Carla Sage, Andronis’ director of wellness. “It’s growing in popularity. We’re doing one or two assessments every few days.”

We decided that the healthiest thing we could possibly do, on our last full day in Greece, was take a wine tour. Healthy for the mind and soul, at least, if not for the corporeal body.

Under the tutelage of Santorini Winetopia’s Marissa Diamanti, an effervescent tour guide with an encyclopedic knowledge of Hellenic wine, we dug our hands into the crumbly soil beneath the vineyard of the family-owned Hatzidakis Winery and marveled at the way the vines had been kept low to the ground and shaped into baskets to protect the grapes from harsh sun and wind.

At Artemis Karamolegos, a winery 10 minutes down the road, we swooned at the way a bite of squid ink and fennel risotto elevated Pyritis, a white wine made from Santorini’s indigenous Assyrtiko grape. We indulged in one of the most holistic forms of wellness: an excellent meal with great company, outdoors, on a summer afternoon.

After lunch, the 76-year-old proprietor of Art Space Winery, an art gallery, history museum and winery across the street from Artemis Karamolegos, unearthed an unlabeled bottle from below his bar and proffered it to us with a question.

“This is my moonshine. You know moonshine? You’ll try moonshine?”

Given my Cycladic understanding of wellness, there was only one right answer.

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