Light blue water, white-washed buildings, bronzed bodies, golden beaches. The Mediterranean is more than the glittering basin between southern Europe and North Africa; it's an aesthetic trigger. So harmonious is the sun-bleached colour palette to the eye, that mere memories switch the brain to holiday mode, suspending the sense in a glorious state where the full spectrum of the human experience pares back to in-the-moment bliss.
Ah, the Med, it's been a while. But, while Australia had our walls up, the operators in this sunseeker's paradise have upped the ante on their luxury tourism offering. Old properties were renovated, new terroirs were claimed by prestigious hotel brands, and modern-day themes of sustainability and wellness have rippled through the coastline. All the while, we hung framed pictures of umbrella-lined beach bars on our walls, cooked the region's cuisines and longingly tracked their Covid vaccine rollout. Now that we're ready to go, it's time to catch up on what we've missed.
Soho Roc House, Mykonos, Greece
Between the thumping beach clubs of Paraga and Paradise beach, the members-only group's first foray into Greece is the antidote to overtourism – if you can get in. One of the few good things to come out of 2020, the exclusive British brand took over San Giorgio hotel and legendary Scorpios beach club, just a short barefoot stroll up the beach, where Soho House and Soho Friends members staying at the hotel can skip the queue. Back at the 44-bedroom hotel, the look fuses Cycladic white plaster exteriors with bohemian-chic rattan and reed and Soho-certified comforts (Shoreditch Grind espresso pods and Cowshed toiletries). The pool is lined with sun lounges, but the best dipping is directly into the Aegean via the private jetty.
Bookings require a Soho House membership ($2630 annually) or Soho Friends membership (around $180 annually) which prioritises people in creative industries. From $326 per night (Soho House) and $435 per night (Soho Friends).
Six Senses Ibiza, Spain
A waft of incense from the shamanic smoke cleansing ceremony that greets guests on arrival confirms it: altruism is the new hedonism on this Balearic island. Opening to guests in July 2021, the newly minted Six Senses outpost is embedded into the cliffs of Cala Xarraca Bay, at the quiet northern tip of Ibiza. A temple of wellness and sustainability, the resort is dotted with massage catacombs, yoga pavilions and organic gardens, which service both the spa and four in-house restaurants. The 116 guest accommodations include townhouses, pool suites and beachfront caves. All this is proclaimed in the hotel literature to provide "a meaningful setting for deep spiritual experiences rooted in the local culture". We know this is also a soothing place to nurse an Ibiza-grade hangover.
From $865 per night.
One&Only Portonovi, Montenegro
With a 238-berth superyacht marina and helipad, Portonovi has been making a play as "the new Riviera". One&Only's arrival in May 2021 cements this status as a playground for the haves and have yachts. Built from scratch along 1.2 kilometres of the Adriatic Sea, the portfolio's first European property, also marks a new era of luxury on the untapped white beaches of the former Yugoslavia. The Balkan beauty hits all the hallmarks of modern luxury: a spa and wellness program by Chenot, Michelin-starred chefs, and architecture that puts a chic new twist on the region's old Venetian palaces.
From $770 per night.
Kalesma, Mykonos, Greece
For all the international chains colonising the coast, hot new hotel Kalesma is elevating the Mykonos luxury scene, Greek style. Opened in May 2021, this Cycladic paradise above Ornos Bay is founded on the local concept of authentic "philoxenia", which literally means "love of the foreign" but is deeply rooted in Greek culture to express open-armed hospitality. With just two villas and 25 suites, each with its own infinity-edge pool, the hyper-local property was built on generations-old family land to include a sunset lounge and one of Greece's most hotly anticipated restaurants, Pere Ubu.
From $2022 per night.
The Experimental, Menorca, Spain
When this next-gen luxury retreat opened in 2019 it was a hot contender on every design obsessive's bucket list – just before everything paused. Now it's back and buzzier than ever. Built on 30 hectares in the footprint of a 19th century finca, the 43-room hotel taps into the global agrotourism trend to serve up horse riding, pottery classes and food sourced from the hotel's own garden. And still the setting is Instagram-ready. Interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon has created a fun luxury haven in fresh pastel hues and clean, curved lines.
From $291 per night.
Domes of Corfu, Autograph Collection, Corfu, Greece
New to Glyfada beach on Corfu's west coast, Domes of Corfu is a bohemian 233-room resort, which holds the secret to a successful family holiday: it has places to be together and apart. There are four new restaurants, a spa, an adults-only pool, two more pools, Montessori-inspired crèche and kids' clubs and teen zone. Previously known as the Louis Grand Hotel, the five-star hotel was privy to a large-scale sustainable refurb through the slowdown to reopen under Marriott's luxe banner in September 2021.
From $234 per night.
Villa Igiea, Gulf of Palermo, Italy
An old hotel made new, this Sicilian glamazonian nabbed the best spot on the coast in the 19th century when it was built as a private home. After a pandemic-era renovation, the palazzo reopened in June 2021 under the hotelier Rocco Forte banner. On the food and beverage front, the Florio Restaurant offers refined Sicilian fare while the Terrazza Bar Igiea and the Alicetta Pool Bar are more relaxed.
From $621 per night.
Concepció by Nobis, Palma, Spain
Fusing Scandi design with deep Spanish roots, this boutique hotel in a mid-16th century former soap factory is pure eye candy, designed by Swedish architects Wingårdhs. More about local flavour than beach, the 31-room boutique hotel is situated at the junction between the Old Town and hipster hood, Santa Catalina. The in-house restaurant, bar and lounge weave together locals and tourists while the guest-only pool is the place to soak up the atmosphere.
From $321 per night.
Vora, Santorini, Greece
Vora is a "micro hotel" of three cave-like villas carved into the cliffs over the Aegean. Architects K Studio didn't dare compete with the volcanic views over the caldera at sunset. Instead, muted colours and natural textures harmonise with nature. The serenity extends to the hospitality approach, which is intimate and individual and includes access to private chefs, chauffeurs, in-suite massage services and yachts for charter. The tiny haven isn't new, it's been operating since 2018, but 2022 will see a fourth villa complete the vision.
From $1290 per night.
White Pebble Suites, Milos, Greece
The topographically blessed island of Milos has a new haven of cool for travellers seeking a sophisticated barefoot scene. Opened by Greek-Australian trio Lefka Georgantis, Helen Logas and Aphrodite Lambrou, White Pebble Suites on the waterfront of Pollonia, is the culmination of a dream. The trio engaged Athens-based KKMK Architects to pair their Antipodean expectations with a local spirit. They responded with sculptural Cycladic minimalism featuring curved cement and built-in furniture across 12 rooms.
From $358 per night.
The Rooster, Antiparos, Greece
The antithesis of neighbouring party palaces, Antiparos is a short ferry from Paros but too far for most fly-and-flop party seekers. Therein lies its charm. At the heart of the non-action is The Rooster on Livadia Beach, which is all about slow living. The wellness resort is centred around yoga, healing rooms and farm-to-table dining with 17 individual houses, each with a private pool and Aegean views for days.
From $680 per night.