Called ‘the Hamptons of Greece,’ the affluent hideout of Porto Heli in the Peloponnese attracts privacy-seeking royals, mega-rich tycoons and international A-listers.
The gossip starts as soon as you arrive: Locals are quick to point out the palatial sun-bleached villa belonging to the King of the Netherlands and will proudly tell you that Constantine II, the former King of Greece, also lives nearby. Rumors of Hollywood stars and distinguished dignitaries are not far behind. Names like Sean Connery, Roman Abramovic, and even President Putin get bandied about with claims that they too own property in the area. Soon, you’ll start to suspect that the list of big-name residents is actually much longer—but no one can say for sure because Porto Heli is nothing if not ultra-private.
Dangling off the easternmost finger of the Peloponnese on the Argolis Peninsula, the seaside town of Porto Heli and the surrounding area was a one-time tax haven that first began to attract attention in the 70s. A local taxi driver born and bred in the Porto Heli area put it this way: “First, there was one rich person who came here, then they brought with them another rich person, and then that rich person brought another, and so on.” Villas began to adorn the wild landscape like costly baubles and silvery superyachts started to cluster the malachite green-blue waters of the Argolic Gulf. Soon an international reputation was forged: Porto Heli was the place to summer and thanks to its accessibility—the scenic two-and-half hour drive from the Greek capital (or zippy 20-minute helicopter ride) places it right at the well-manicured fingertips of affluent Athenian weekenders and international jet-setters alike—Porto Heli came to be known as “the Hamptons of Greece.”
However, despite its penchant for attracting UHNWI, travelers shouldn’t think of Porto Heli as another glitzed-out party hub à la Mykonos. The true ostentations of wealth are mostly found down long gated drives and behind the guarded closed doors of super-villas, but it’s easy to get in on the action—and to fall in love with the staggeringly beautiful natural scenery in the meantime.
The area of Porto Heli is a largely bucolic ideal of rural, pine-carpeted hillsides and pebbled beach coves. Dusty corniche dirt roads carve through fans of prickly pears and gnarled olive groves filled with buzzing orchestras of cicadas and pomegranates hang heavy on the trees like Christmas ornaments. There’s a feeling of scale and wide-openness here. Theatrically soaring up above beach cliffs, the sky—sun-blinded and vast—blows high and billowy like a sheet in the wind on this part of the coast. Towns are few and far between. The actual town center of Porto Heli is largely charmless, but the nearby car-free islands of old-world Spetses and Hydra with its laid-back, artsy sexiness have more than enough charm to make up for it. On long afternoons, these favorite isles are overtaken by bronzed billionaires and boho sea nymphs bobbing off their boats to browse boutiques and sip iced frappes at rickety waterfront tavernas before shushing off into the rosy sunset and retiring to seafront abodes just in time for private dinners of grilled octopus and psari ala Spetsiota and digestifs of icy masticha. Even if you’re not invited, you still know you’re somewhere special.
Where To Stay In Porto Heli:
Though there are two five-star resorts in and around Porto Heli (the utterly divine, modern-day Mount Olympus of glowing marble that is Amanzoe and the beach-party-chic Nikki Beach), it’s all about the private villas here—that’s where the real exclusivity comes in. Porto Heli’s waterfront villas are stately and lavish—some done-up like multi-story, modernized farmhouses with clay roofs and stone edifices, others are modernist mansions in sleek single-story stretches of sugar white. Bespoke villa rental outfit The Greek Villas have luxury properties for rent in over 25 destinations across Greece, but their Porto Heli offering is always in demand and their villas have the reputation for being some of the area’s best.
The Minimal Masterpiece:
Perched on its own rocky promontory jutting out into the Argolic Gulf, the contemporary white-on-white Villa Tatler severs up the kind of extravagant seascape vistas that you travel to Greece for. With room for 14 (in the main villa and two separate guesthouses), space is not an issue nor is privacy. A massive pool and direct beach access to a sunny cove provide further retreat, and overflowing gardens of frilly white hibiscus and heady pink oleander perfume the fresh, salt-washed air. Sunsets over the coastal panoramas of the jagged island of Psili and the swells of blue hills beyond are simply unmatched.
The Rustic Retreat:
For a more traditional feel, opt for Villa Dwell, a monastic stone estate dripping in tendrils of fuchsia bougainvillea and cosseted by blooming lemon and orange trees (plus, there’s a herb garden and chicken coop for sourcing fresh eggs). Villa Dwell is right by the town of Kosta, where ferries and water taxis zip to and fro to the island of Spetses, less than five minutes away.
If you’re after a truly over-the-top villa, the choice has to be Amanzoe’s massive 9-bedroom, 6-level Villa 20. Designed by ground-breaking architect Ed Tuttle and in collaboration with Dolphin Capital Investors, Amanzoe’s Villa 20 is the villa that just keeps on giving with a private spa; six Guatamala Verde marble pools (including one at 130 feet); a dedicated beach cabana; and even its own private traditional taverna set under the olive trees. Amanzoe also has smaller villas available for rent or for purchase, and though Villa 20 is already spoken for, there are new two-bedroom villas currently available.
What To Eat In Porto Heli:
The area of Porto Heli is lacking in fine dining establishments and though the islands of Spetses and Hydra have their share of charming spots (Tarsanas and Nero Tis Agapis in Spetses and Omilos and Téchnē in Hydra), one of the most popular things to do is hire a private chef.
If your aim is to impress, the choice has be Private Chefs, a full-service private chef company by the endlessly talented Chef Alex Samoilis. With a constellation’s worth of Michelin-starred restaurant experience under his belt (Heston Blumenthal’s three-starred Fat Duck; two-starred Spondi Athens; and one-starred Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social, to name a few), Chef Samoilis is the owner of the restaurant Taverna – A Piece of Greece in Saudi Arabia and was recently recognized as the 2020 Ambassador of Taste of Global Gastronomy, the highest honor granted by Greek Taste Beyond Borders, an organization dedicated to bringing only the best Greek products and services to a global audience.
Chef Samoilis and his team of over 40 private chefs are each highly specialized in different cuisines and diets, and something magical happens when you hand over full control of the menu to the chef. Expect to be blown away with dishes like beluga-beset shrimp tartar laced with sun-sweetened passion fruit and studded with chips of sharp green apple and nectarine; red mullet ceviche cured in tongue-tingling yuzu with pickled fresh figs; and almond-encrusted pork belly so tender a knife is rendered useless. A master of combining textures and fusing seemingly opposing flavors, plus an exquisite artist in terms of presentation, Chef Samoilis delivers the kind of plates that not only speak to the superiority of Greece’s rich natural larder but show you what happens when you throw out the rule book. Expect a full-service experience when booking with Chef Samoilis’ Private Chef company: The menu planning, shopping, serving, wine pairing and clean-up will be all take care of for you.
What To Do In Porto Heli:
Island Hopping and Boat Excursions:
As Porto Heli is surrounded by a stunning Grecian coastline and the islands of Spetses and Hydra are not to be missed, a boat trip is practically mandatory on any jaunt to Porto Heli. Premiere charter company Spetses Cruising is the choice for discerning travelers with a taste for high-spec boats, sterling service and—most important of all—local knowledge. Husband-and-wife founders, Yannis and Veneta Vasatis, first came to Spetses 18 years ago on vacation with friends and fell in love with the landscape, the historical architecture and the “uncomplicated lifestyle of graceful simplicity.”
They knew they had found somewhere special. “Even though the superyacht owners and famous residents could go anywhere for their summer holidays, they choose this area for its natural beauty, high quality services and respect for privacy,” says Yannis and Veneta.
For the past 30 years, Yannis and Veneta have been playing the role as host and hostess. Now, they’re the ones inviting their friends to the area to give them an insider’s view of this charmed destination. In 2017, they made the whole operation official by launching Spetses Cruising. With two luxe vessels, the 2020 Nireas Nimbus T11 and the 2018 Pytheas BSK Skipper Desire 120s, Spetses Cruising provides private all-inclusive full day (8 hours) and half day (4 hours) trips around Porto Heli—including the Saronic islands and Western Cyclades. From the isolated jade-green waters lapping the shores of the largely uninhabited island of Dakos and quaint fishing villages around Ierakas Laconia to crumbling medieval castle towns like Monemvasia and the famed historical sights of the Eastern Peloponnese, there’s no shortage of places to discover with Spetses Cruising. In addition to full- and half-day excursions, Spetses Cruising also offers a water limousine service and can operate as a tender service for superyachts and villas, where the luxury vessel and fully trained crew remain on standby to support larger yachts and/or are stationed within reach of private villas.
Archaeological and Historical Sites:
Within easy reach of Porto Heli, you’ll find the UNESCO sites of Epidaurus, with its well-preserved amphitheater, and the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae, kingdom of the legendary Greek hero Agamemnon (don’t miss the view from the top of the hill). The picturesque seventeenth-century Avgo Monastery with sweeping pastoral views is also nearby, as are the caves of Didima, massive craters once used as shelters. Guided and self-guided tours are possible at any of these locations.
How To Get To Porto Heli:
By Car: Athens Premier Transfers has a fleet of Mercedes Benz cars and vans and Audi sedans that make for a comfortable and quick transfer from Athens in under three hours. (Their fleet is also available for tours.) Though a rental car may be useful for getting around the Porto Heli area, it’s not strictly required and a local taxi service is available (Makis +30 694459 1357).
By Boat: The marina at Porto Heli can be reach via ferry from Piraeus Port in Athens. Porto Heli also offers access via ferry with Hydra and Spetses. Private water transfers from Athens, Hydra and Spetses can be arranged through Spetses Cruising.
By Helicopter: Amanzoe can be reached by helicopter via the on-site heliport, and The Greek Villa’s massive Villa Esquire also has a heliport for direct helicopter access.