It’s the middle of January here in northwest England and storm Isha is blowing a hooley outside. This past week temps dipped below zero and with heating bills triple last year’s rates, I found myself wearing gloves to work in our lounge.
It’s not surprising that dreams of our recent retreat in Greece kept floating across my mind. Last October, thirteen women accompanied me to Crete and Santorini for ten glorious days and nights. What we wouldn’t give to be there now.
A serendipitous meetup in August 2022 with Irini Tzortzoglou, the 2019 MasterChef Champion, resulted in our first Wayfinding Women trip to Greece. Believe us, there will be more.
Our journey began in Koutoulafari, Crete…
Koutoulafari is a village of approximately 600 residents about 30 minutes from Irini’s home village. Villa Iokasti, our respite for 7 days and nights, is owned and operated by the femme-nomenal mother-daughter team of Katerina Petropoulou and Eleni Vasilaki. Set out like its own contained Greek village, Iokasti offers an extraordinary and authentic Cretan holiday, with world-class service and wholehearted attention to the smallest of details.
Not only are the suites/apartments charming and spacious, they are filled with every comfort imaginable. It is evident that Kate thoughtfully considered every aspect of the customer journey when designing the villa. Iokasti’s signature restaurant, serving the freshest Mediterranean-Modern Greek cuisine, was by far the best food we ate in Greece. Everything was delivered by a generous and attentive team of staff. While I felt an immediate sisterhood with Katerina, I am pretty certain all her guests would claim such a connection with her.
Beyond Iokasti, while in Crete we dined at the Alchemist, an open-walled, terraced restaurant in Koutouloufari. Known for their ribs and steak, the portions were huge and every bite divine. The thing we found fascinating was the relationship witnessed between the staff and the local cats who sauntered in, looking for nibbles fallen from the tables. Being animal aficionados, we enjoyed the entertainment and were moved by the mutual respect demonstrated by server and feline as both went about their business that evening.
It wasn’t only cats that took our fancy. We were besotted by the sleek geometric style necklaces, bracelets and rings found in Crete. Making countless visits to small shops such as the “Idolio Gallery” in Hersonissos, we encountered two huge rooms filled with novel pieces of jewelry and original art. My favorite was a workshop that appears nowhere on the Koutouloufari map. The designer is called Moisis and his shop is a hidden treasure behind red-painted metal doors, a workshop not obvious from the street — with no name even — but discovered when led to it by Irini.
The #bestday according to the women, was when we visited a biodynamic farm way up in the mountains. Here we met their esteemed animals, watched cheese being made in the courtyard, lamb being cooked over a huge spit, and filled ourselves with all the delectables from their land. The singing, laughter and clinking of wine glasses could be heard for miles, I’m certain.
50 shades of blue, one shade of white…
We could have stayed in Crete indefinitely had I not booked time in Santorini. The group was eager to be surrounded by the pristine white buildings with blue dome roofs, the Aegean sea the backdrop. These colors were initially chosen for practical reasons, to cool the interiors and reflect heat, not to mention blue was the cheapest paint color available to fishermen and sailors. What we learned was that in 1967, these two colors became mandatory when buildings were to be painted or repainted. The Junta, a right-wing military dictatorship, believed this measure would inspire patriotism and reflect nationalism. In us, it inspired collective sighs and photos that filled our Instagram accounts.
Santorini is filled with luxury resorts and the crowds to go with them. After researching Santorini, I knew it would not be a place to visit in the height of summer. The beginning of October was perfect as the temps were still warm, we weren’t body surfing with the masses around Oia and most establishments were just preparing to close their doors. I also decided to focus our time away from the most popular spots. We stayed at Santo Miramare located on the black sandy beach of Perivolos. The rooms were spacious and comfortable and multiple pools, as well as the beach, were just steps away. While we visited Oia for a few hours (because when in Santorini, you can’t not) we sought out places quieter yet equally as stunning, such as The Wine Bar in Imerovigli. Here we sipped cocktails of the gods while watching the sun set over the Caldera and then dined in their 400-year-old natural cave made of lava.
Most likely, the unrivaled experience here was the professional photo shoot arranged with Tasos Aggelou. We met one of his team in the quaint village of Megalochori, a settlement that dates back to the 17th century. Its archways, narrow streets and the stairs to breathtaking sea views were simply surreal. The women were treated like top fashion models, offered gentle guidance for capturing the goddess within.
Surprise and glee were caught on our faces when we found ourselves in the midst of a real Big Fat Greek Wedding parading through the streets, bride, band and donkeys in tow during the shoot.
The Symposion Cultural Center for music, art and mythology and a private sunset cruise on our final evening beautifully rounded out our visit. On a hilltop in Megalochori, at the Symposion, we were treated to a private concert by owner and musical director, Yannis Pantazis. He then handed each of us an authentic Greek instrument and guided us through an immersive, magical symphonic experience.
Piling into a bus with Baikas Tours, we were whisked away to our private catamaran for an exquisite evening sailing around the volcanic islands. We swam, sang, danced. We were served traditional Greek dishes and delicious prawns the size of small chickens, barbecued before our eyes.
That evening as the sun slipped away and the stars appeared, you could hear the shouts of “OPA!” as we recalled and toasted each magical moment here.
Next time: Follow MasterChef Irini on a Magic Carpet Ride Around Morocco!
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After life unexpectedly changed, ANNIE DICKINSON moved abroad, living 3 years in Ireland before settling in the English Lake District with husband, David. From here, she operates WayfindingWomen.com, designing, organizing & leading bespoke retreats to magical destinations worldwide.
Her intention for women joining her retreats is to find joy in moments big & small, establish genuine connections with like-hearted women that last long beyond the trip… and offer the space & time for women wishing to find it, the empowerment to transform their world.
Wayfinding Women, LTD has recently expanded our tours to include ALL OF US retreats for women who wish to share this experience with their partner, significant other, playmate, BFF or companion…