Winning tip: The Good Life, Syros
Picture a Cycladic island that no one seems to know. It’s easy to get to, easy to explore, with sandy sheltered beaches almost empty in summer. The restaurants have real chefs without Mykonos prices and the locals are genuinely happy to see you. This is Syros, and our hotel is The Good Life in Poseidonia. We found it on an organic farm site, but although it is in a vineyard, with olives and figs, the restored traditional stone cottages are seriously comfortable. The Australian owners live nearby and make sure you experience the best of the island: wines, walks, beaches, the many music festivals. You can cook at home (the kitchens are luxurious) using vegetables from the gardens, or stroll down to the water’s edge for a choice of tavernas.
Casa Vitae, Rethymnon, Crete
A beautifully restored 16th-century Venetian manor house with idyllic courtyard garden, Casa Vitae is a winner. Not only for its location, architecture and breakfasts, but also for the way its staff personify the Greek spirit of hospitality. Manager Maria, formerly a lecturer, was a casualty of the country’s economic downturn and relocated to Crete from Athens. Here, exemplary customer service (finding a late-night optician to repair my specs) and friendliness (inviting us to a restaurant with her family) makes a stay so rewarding.
The Red Castle, Kastellorizo
This little pension on the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo is the Greece of a time gone by: a perfect horseshoe bay lined by pastel-coloured buildings, crystal-clear waters, fishermen fixing their nets, smoking and playing cards. Owners Monika and Damien are welcoming and sincere. This is a place to escape the world, appreciate the beauty in life and let lazy days drift away. They have the cutest little olive garden restaurant for lazy evenings chatting over wine. Ball-ache to get there, but harder to leave.
Alianthos Suite, Crete
We love this small B&B apartment development at Tersanas on the Akrotiri peninsula near Chania. Comfortable rooms open out into a garden filled with fruit trees and flowers, with swimming pool and tennis court and views across the bay. It attracts quiet relaxed visitors, the staff are friendly and the sandy beaches and great traditional restaurants are within walking distance or short drive . Been here four times now over past seven years.
Hotel Santa Anna, l’Estartit, Costa Brava
The location, rooms and restaurant in this hotel are all fabulous, as is the view from the breakfast terrace. It’s on the main street in the old town but you would not know it from the quiet rooms. It’s also close to the old port, diving centre and five miles of beach, with an immaculate, well-maintained pool. It’s family-owned and run.
• Doubles from €82 B&B, hotelsantaanna.com
Casas de Parauta, Andalucía
Casas de Parauta are scattered whitewashed villas in the tiny village of Parauta. The inside is wonderful: more white walls, minimalist designs, wood-burning fireplaces, country-style kitchen for serious cooking and inviting beds. There are rooftop terraces for looking out at the galaxy that can’t be seen just 40 minutes away in the resorts of the Costa del Sol. Once you turn the lights off at night you are in pitch darkness. I had the best sleep ever. The village pool is yours to use and the views across the Sierra de las Nieves are stunning. Walking through the Sierra is so peaceful, aside from the odd eagle. Ana, who speaks great English, can suggest hiking routes. Outside of all but the busiest times villas can be had for little more than €60.
Hotel Bahia Playa, Ibiza
Port des Torrent is a lovely quiet bay just south of San Antonio. This two-star hotel is on a quiet junction 200 metres from the beach and is friendly and clean with an authentically local vibe. The rooms are simple, all have balconies and the hotel will supply a small fridge on request. There is a large reception area with a bar/restaurant, and front courtyard and a terrace next to the pool at the rear. The well-kept pool has ample sunbeds. A decent continental breakfast is optional.
B&B in Ortigia, Siracusa, Sicily
I don’t think I have ever experienced anything like Caroline’s B&B on the tiny island of Ortigia, the historical centre of Siracusa in Sicily. Every detail in her one-bedroom B&B makes the place feel unique – including the art in the bathroom. Caroline is friendly and full of stories – you will want to sit on her roof terrace garden, with views over the sea, chatting all day. She’s out early to the market to get fresh ricotta cheese for breakfast, and to the bakery to get Iris (deep fried ricotta-filled pastries). We ate in her stylish kitchen, with homemade lemon jam and bread and freshly brewed coffee and fresh orange juice.
Hotel Miramare, Liguria
Hotel Miramare, in the walled city of Noli, offers great views over the Ligurian sea from its balconies. Ancient seafaring families run this charming, stone-walled three-star place with just a few rooms, adding to the friendly intimated atmosphere. Try the delicious minestrone di mare on the dinner menu or nibble at freshly made foccacia and olive bread for breakfast as the palm trees sway and the salty sea air whets your appetite.
Hotel Onda Verde, Praiano, Amalfi coast
This charming family-owned hotel clings to the cliffs of the Amalfi coast. From the roadside you take a lift down and emerge in a tunnel bores through the rocks, which leads to the rooms, all sporting picture-perfect sea views. Half-board deals with candlelit dinner on the panoramic terrace are good value.