Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso
Incredible views near Athens
Admittedly, the Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso has a certain conference hotel feel on first impression, but inside it has everything you need to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Just under an hour’s drive from the city center, its award-winning restaurant serves fresh seafood dishes to feast on while overlooking views of the Athenian Riviera. There are two pools that are bathed in sunlight for most of the day, meaning you can spend nearly 12 hours sipping cocktails from the poolside bar while lounging on a cushioned sun lounger. The All Sea View Suites are divided into two areas, each with a balcony overlooking the coast, perfect for watching the sun set or rise.
Stella loves: The massive spa and thalassotherapy center is the largest in Europe and consists of multiple pools, treatment rooms, a huge gym, and even a hairdresser.
On road: The hotel’s private Apollon Beach across the street (you can also access it via a secret underground passage directly from the hotel) is so enchanting that you don’t need to go much further. The white sand and straw parasols are kept immaculate by a friendly team of staff who will be happy to mix you up a strong fruit cocktail or pour you a nice glass of crisp Greek white wine. A short stroll along the shore leads to a small number of local restaurants serving typical Greek dishes using fish from the nearby waters. Garbi Restaurant is always packed with locals and tourists alike enjoying dishes like zucchini fritters, fresh octopus and whole grilled barbouni (red mullet) while tiny island cats patiently await leftovers.
How it goes: Rooms at Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso (divaniapollonhotel.com) from £220 per night in low season.
By Helen Gibson
Castle of Vicarello
Secluded romance in Tuscany
This former noble family home perched on a hilltop overlooking the sweeping Tuscan countryside is a veritable list of Italian idylls. Cobbled courtyards, olive groves, vegetable and herb gardens, two swimming pools and nine beautifully designed suites, as well as amazing hillside views make for a dolce vita experience. The Castello is run by the family who owned it for decades before opening the hotel. The limited number of rooms ensures the pool is never crowded, while food and wine are locally sourced and explained in fascinating detail. Attention, these Super Tuscans have it all. Dinner is a very special affair and is served on the Castello’s grassy rooftop. The moon is the only accompaniment you need with the digestifs.
Stella loves: The homey feel amidst the splendor and the informal wine education as you sip.
On road: Feeling full of energy? You can hike, bike or horseback ride through the rolling hills of the Maremma, take lessons from a local chef, truffle hunter or leatherworker (he’s been featured in the New York Times no less), or make a living helping out with the grape and olive harvest.
How it goes: Stays at the Castello di Vicarello (www.castellodivicarello.com) from £880 per night, including breakfast, during high season.
By Jessica Doyle