Greece. Endless azure skies. Land a mix of rolling green-white mountains and low scrub punctuated by towering rocks. An archipelago of islands rising from a pellucid sea which is sometimes green, often as blue as the sky above; Homer’s “wine-dark” sea. And miles of coastline, with many beaches, sandy or pebbly, havens for naturism once away from the textile crowds.
Nudity in public is not “officially”legal in Greece, but away from the main cities of Athens or Thessaloniki, rules and regulations are often only a distant idea. In practice, as long as you do not offend the locals by being naked near a church, the Greeks are tolerant of naturism on beaches or in remoter places, and their tourist industry, being one of Greece’s main sources of income, finds a place for everyone including naturists who come to spend their euros in this beautiful and welcoming country.
There are several naturist hotels or resorts in Greece, 3 of which will be the focus of this article as we have stayed at all, sometimes more than once, and found them all excellent though in different ways.
Crete: Vritomatis: large hotel with private beaches, ideal for families, couples or singles.
The Hotel Vritomartis on the south coast of Crete has been open for naturists since the 1980s and is Greece’s oldest naturist holiday spot. Run by a Greek family, the hotel and bungalow complex also employs many eastern European staff; we met waiters etc from Russia, Croatia, Estonia and Poland. Service is courteous and friendly.
The mini resort is located on the southern coast a mile from Hora Sfakion, the village where the famous Samaria Gorge spills out into the sea. Ferries run from the village to other islands of Greece and to the mainland, and small boats can be hired. Many coaches visit each day, picking up tourists who have walked the gorge. It is possible to walk Samaria and the nearby Imbros Gorge from Vritomartis; take some lightweight boots if you are a keen walker, as the rough paths are not really suitable for sandals or even trainers. There are a number of organised excursions run by the hotel.
The Vritomartis complex consists of a main hotel, with double, twin and single rooms, and a number of bungalows, sleeping 2-4, which allow for a more completely naturist holiday as clothes must be worn in the public rooms of the hotel: a large bar, lounge and reception area with 2 outdoor terraces, one of which is used for dinner every evening unless the weather is too windy. There is also an indoor restaurant where breakfast is served each morning. They have a small shop selling essentials, and a café bar serving lunches and drinks and snacks all day. In all of these areas, you must wear at least a sarong (on sale in the shop) but you can walk round the extensive gardens and grounds naked, and even use the paths and roads to the 2 private beaches naked as you rarely meet anyone who isn’t also a naturist. There is a hotel mini bus service several times a day to the main FKK beach, which has a taverna for lunches, snacks or drinks (textile).
Outside the hotel, the gardens have sunbathing lawns meticulously watered each day, plenty of sun beds and shady trees for the middle of the day, and a huge swimming pool as well as a small children’s’ pool, all naturist. There are games areas and a small children’s playground (NB do not expect the same “safety” standards as Britain!)
The 2 beaches are part sand part pebble, and one of them has a great shady cave for cooling off in the heat of the day. If you hire a car, there are several other good beaches a short drive away, Sweetwater Bay being one of the nicest for a skinny dip. If you prefer not to drive, the small bus takes you to Hora Sfakion and back as well as to the beach each day. You can have a morning in the village or catch a boat to other parts of the coast and back.
Vritomartis, whether you rent a room or a bungalow, offers holidays on a half board basis, with an extensive choice at the buffet breakfast in the indoor restaurant, and a 3 course dinner on the terrace: all buffet style with a large choice of salad style starters, a range of meat, fish or vegetarian main dishes with vegetables, and a choice of fruits, ice creams or Greek desserts to follow. Wine, beer or soft drinks can be ordered at the table, and there are no set places; you just turn up and find a table each night. The standard of food is very good and there are some authentic Greek dishes. The snack bar meals are good too, and often cater to more English tastes, but the moussaka is to die for!
We had a great fortnight here. Our daughter loved the huge pool, where every day children from all over Europe played ball in a dozen different languages! Despite the games, the pool was so large that it never felt crowded, and many people loved to sit on the gradual steps going down to the shallow end, soaking up the sun, cooling off when necessary, and talking. We liked the fact that there were people there from all over Europe; there were other British holidaymakers, but it certainly wasn’t “Little Britain”, and we got to practice our French and Greek.
Vritomartis is a long drive from Heraklion or Chania airport; about 2 hours, either by hire car or taxi transfer. The road is scenic, mostly good, but the final descent to Sfakion is quite steep with many bends.
Vassiliki Naturist Club: English run, comfortable; a little paradise on a truly beautiful island.
Vassiliki is run by Mark and Sam and their team, so if you prefer a resort run by British people this is the place for you! It’s not little Britain either, however, with many visitors from Holland, Germany, Italy and France as well as locals from Greece. The resort is very private, consisting of 12 comfortable apartments/studios of different sizes, set in their own extensive gardens with sun terraces and pool, in the little village of Kleismata in the south west of Kefalonia. The apartments are of a high standard for Greek accommodation, which is often very basic; if you’ve always holidayed in France ,Spain or the Canaries, you may find Greek accommodation a bit of a shock at first, but at Vassiliki you’ll be staying in a studio or apartment with all the amenities you’ve come to expect elsewhere. Cooking facilities are better, with proper fridges with icebox, full size cookers and grills/ovens, and a kettle. There are decent dining tables/chairs and comfortable lounge seating, as well as decent sized bedrooms, plenty of wardrobe space and outdoor patios or balconies with tables and chairs for dining or sunbathing. The bathrooms are positively luxurious by Greek standards with walk in showers (the average in Greece is a small room with a shower head which you spray everywhere!), though you still have the problem that you have everywhere in Greece: the country’s plumbing cannot cope with toilet paper, which you have to place in a bin next to the loo. But the cleaning is very good and the apartments are kept spotless. They all have mosquito netting too which makes for a more comfortable stay!
Outside, there are lawns, a beautiful gazebo, plenty of sunbeds for everyone staying, and a lovely, spotlessly clean pool. There is also a bar and shaded seating area serving breakfast, light lunches and a variety of local snacks and meals in the evenings. During the day when the staff have their off duty time there is an honesty bar for drinks, snacks and ice creams. Once a week Mark and Sam light the barbeque and cook meats and fish, served after Greek starters and with vegetables/ salads, and followed by a dessert. Wine is included with this evening, which makes it good value, and the meal is followed by a game of Giant Jenga, which is always uproarious! The loser in each game has his/her name inscribed on the brick that brought the whole edifice toppling down to screams of laughter from all the guests. I can reveal that we have been there 3 times and my name is so far absent from any brick; not so my husband Peter, who has his name there once for every year, and twice for our second visit!
There are other games and magazines to read in the sheltered sitting area near the bar, and a local masseuse visits on certain days of the week to give guests a relaxing naturist massage under the shade of the olive trees. Mark and Sam also organise a “Mezze evening” once a week at a local Taverna: guests usually walk (or occasionally drive) to the restaurant, where the food, all local dishes with a huge variety, keeps coming to the table until everyone is full! Drinks are included, and again this is good value, especially for the sense of camaraderie which develops around the table! It’s worth putting your clothes on for this evening.
In addition to meals, Mark and Sam organise trips out; my daughter went on the “rib” visiting local beaches and raved about it. I took part in a sailing day, which I enjoyed apart from the rather rough wind that blew up as we headed back to the harbour at Argostoli in the afternoon, and snorkelling is always popular. The boat trips are naturist once the boat has left harbour.
Vassilki is very easy to reach even though it’s in the middle of nowhere. It is about 15 minutes from the airport, and 15 minutes from the capital Argostoli, which is a beautiful town with shops, museums, and a waterfront which will have you convinced you’re in the Lake District only with sun! The water sparkles on the lagoon, with fold upon fold of mountains rising behind, culminating in the peak of Mount Aenos (yeah, we joke about that one all week!) which towers above at the summit of Kefalonia. Because the Ionian Islands are greener than Crete, you really could be in the Lakes!
Vassiliki will arrange a taxi transfer from the airport, and then the next morning when you’ve had a night’s sleep, your car will be delivered and you can do the paperwork at the bar. This beats picking up a hire car at an unfamiliar airport terminal any day! You do need a car on Kefalonia because there are no buses to speak of. Supermarkets etc are only 5 minutes’ drive away if you want to cook for yourself, and there are a couple of tavernas within walking distance, with several others within 5-10 minutes’ drive. You can buy almost anything in Argostoli, 15 minutes away, though if you want reading material Mark and Sam have a good selection to borrow, and sell towels, kilts and other souvenirs.
There are several good beaches within easy driving distance of Vassiliki. Paleolinos beach, 10 minutes’ walk from the popular Avithos beach (textile, with 2 good restaurants) is about 15 minutes away by car. You can also walk it from the club, down a little narrow road, but it’s a long haul uphill on the return journey! This is a lovely usually sandy beach with large rocks, which never seems to get crowded. We also loved flat sandy Lourdas, about 20 minutes drive away. Mark and Sam provide a little guide in your apartment to the best beaches, restaurants and other attractions locally, and to the excursions they run. Just writing about this place has made me look forward to going back!
Panorama: peaceful, friendly, family run, authentically Greek
Panorama is the newest of the 3 naturist venues we’ve visited, having reopened as a naturist hotel in 2010; we visited in summer 2011. It’s at the southern tip of the island of Zakynthos (or Zante as some tourists know it), about 45 minutes’ drive from the airport, and about 40 minutes from the capital Zakynthos Town.
Zakynthos is more touristy either than Southern Crete or than Kefalonia, and as green and pretty as the latter island, but has the advantage of more frequent flights from a wider number of airports, and the southern end, which comes to an abrupt rocky halt at Gerakas, is very quiet compared to the rest of the island. Vassilikos, about a mile and a half away, is a small village where the Panorama is situated. Run by a local family, it is ideal for naturists looking for a totally relaxed holiday away from the tourist trail. This year, we were the only British people for our August fortnight, sharing the hotel mainly with Germans and some Swiss, Dutch and Czech naturists. Everyone was friendly, and we had a great time. (We gathered that more Brits go in June or September)
The accommodation here is more typically Greek, therefore basic, than that at the other 2 resorts, but has all you need, in particular comfortable beds, air conditioning (they all do, but it’s included at Vassiliki whereas here there is a charge), and lovely flower-surrounded terraces or balconies for sitting out to eat, drink or relax. Outside there are gardens, with plenty of sunbeds, a pool, and trees for shade as well as sun drenched patio areas. A welcoming bar serves drinks and snacks all day. The main reception area has tables for eating inside if the weather does not permit alfresco dining, but when we were there both breakfast and dinner were eaten on the outside terrace from tables overlooking the pool and gardens. A much larger pool is under construction and should be really good when it’s finished.
The food is an absolute highlight of holidays at Panorama if you like real, authentic and delicious Greek food. It’s half board, and all cooked by the family. Breakfast is the usual buffet of breads, Greek yoghurt and honey, fruit, eggs, cheese and meats, with coffee, tea and fruit juices, and it’s at breakfast that you order your main course for dinner; there are at least 2 and usually 3 choices each day, with veggies catered for. At dinner, you are served at your table, with an array of local salads and little appetisers like taramasalata or tzatziki to begin, then with your main course cooked individually, and finishing off with fruit or real Greek desserts like baklava. Wine, soft drinks or beer are served from the bar at reasonable prices. The main courses are usually straight from the oven and are to die for: our favourites were moussaka, fish in the oven and pork with rosemary. The barbeque night with fish, steak and aromatic souvlaki pork (Greek kebabs) was also superb.
The family are very friendly and Natasha will help you improve your Greek, sharing jokes with you in both languages! Pochi the dog actually thinks she’s the receptionist and greets you on arrival. Members of the family will also take you to beaches further afield if you do not have a car, and arranged both to pick us up and return us to the airport when we arrived during the taxi drivers strike, which we appreciated! If you agree to go to Dafni Beach, which is naturist beyond the first hundred metres or so, be prepared for a most beautiful beach with clear waters where you can swim, snorkel or just stroll for miles, but also be prepared for a hair-raising drive, down a single track road which snakes down the hillside in a million hairpins, which you can see clearly from the plane as you take off for your flight home!
There are 2 beaches within walking distance. Gerakas is a beautiful “turtle beach” and conservation area. It’s just over a mile away, a level and easy walk, and the naturists gather at the far end where the island comes to a rocky point at its southernmost tip. You must avoid sunbathing near the nests, which are cordoned off in places. The beach is sandy, flat, and shallow for a mile out, very good for less confident swimmers, though there was one day when we had big waves as there had been a high wind the day before.
If you want just a 10-minute stroll from the hotel, there’s a small beach at Porto Roma; walk beyond the sunbeds around a small headland, and wade the next rocky outcrop to find a secluded little pebbly beach where no one else comes. It gets the morning sun and we always had it to ourselves. The sea has a sandy bottom with some big rocks and is excellent for swimming or snorkelling. One day we went in the afternoon and were surprised to find a “Greek boat trip” anchored half a mile out to sea. Lots of textiles swam to shore and back, but no one seemed to mind the naturists!
There are a few tavernas serving either lunch or evening meals within walking distance of the hotel, all of them good, and a shop which stocks almost everything including delicious home made bread and cakes. The Panorama also has an extremely well stocked library/book exchange so you’ll not be short of holiday reading.
We liked this hotel very much, finding it more authentically Greek even if simpler than the other 2, and liking the quietness of the area and lack of loud touristy places. To be honest, we love all 3 places. Vassiliki we will go to again and again, as it’s also quiet, comfortable, friendly and relaxing and Kefalonia is truly beautiful. Vritomartis is ideal for walkers, and for families, as so many children go there, so yours will always find someone to play with, though you can still get away from it all in your bungalow, most of which overlook the sea. The drive over the mountains is long and scary in places, but the roads are generally better on Crete and Zakynthos than they are on Kefalonia where you need nerves of steel, especially driving the little Matiz cars they hire out; it was like driving a hairdryer!
New naturist places to stay are opening up in Greece; we hear of Kalokairi in Northern Crete and Fig Leaf in the Peloponese for instance, and will probably try these too. Wherever you choose, Greece is a beautiful, laid back, welcoming country with friendly people and breathtaking scenery. Kalo taxidi!