The Mamma Mia effect

With whitewashed chapels and island-hopping opportunities, Greece is the perfect choice for couples looking to combine a wedding and honeymoon, says Jessica Alexander

I offer again, almost pleading this time, to help with the bags and am refused just as quickly. The porter then tosses the luggage effortlessly over his shoulder and dips down a steep cobbled alley, leaving Oia’s pedestrian-only strip behind and winding down what feels like the edge of the world.

The narrow stairwell zigzags towards the sea, passing layers upon layers of cave dwellings all etched into the rock.

We arrive at a whitewashed façade framed by striking fuchsia bougainvillea and take in the dramatic view before entering the Cave Villa, one of 50 offered by The Luxury Travel Book. Being almost 150 metres above sea level and surrounded by the caldera, the mostly submerged volcanic crater, the vistas are majestic.

Greece Santorini
Santorini gem, Olympic holidays, picture by Rivios

Santorini, one of the Cyclades islands, is one of Greece’s most sought after destinations, especially for honeymoons, but due to its small size, the island can become pretty crowded during the peak summer months. It’s the end of October and whilst there are still daily gatherings to watch the sun sink below the sea, the slight drop in temperature keeps tourists at bay and the normally fully-booked restaurants have plenty of tables for couples seeking sunset dining.

A boat trip to Nea Kameni, the dormant volcanic island, offers a new angle of the multicoloured villages of Oia and Fira that cling to the edge of the rock face, as well as a close-up of the lunar-like volcanic crater. The surrounding orange-tinged sulfuric hot springs are said to have healing qualities that make a dip too hard to resist, despite the threat of stained skin.

Another swimming spot presents itself just off Thirasia, a neighbouring island described by one local as “Santorini 50 years ago”. I’m instantly spooked by the 300-metre depth of the water and decide instead to stick to the safety of my villa plunge pool.

We finish most nights sitting on the private terrace opening cards filled with well-wishes and reminisce on our wedding day in Rhodes the previous week. Remembering walking down the aisle towards the little white chapel, the first dance against a pink-hued sky and the delight on guests’ faces as Zorba the Greek picked up pace, leaving heads dizzy and hearts racing!

Greece is the word

Greece Rhodes
Ktima, Rhodes, picture by Savvas Argirou photography

Greece is a perennial favourite when it comes to weddings and honeymoons due to the island-hopping opportunities, affordability and short flight times.

Honeymoon hotspot Santorini was even voted by Panache Cruises as the number one destination for newlyweds thanks to its spectacular sunsets and romantic atmosphere.

Meanwhile, selling well for Olympic Holidays which last year launched a new ‘Weddings in the Sun’ brochure, are the islands of Rhodes, Santorini and Zante.

“Greece has always been a hugely popular wedding destination for us,” said Rachael Marron, Project Development Executive at Olympic Holidays.

“The country is well known for its natural beauty, stunning clear waters, friendly locals and delicious cuisines. And in terms of cost, the Greek islands also have plenty to offer when it comes to deciding a budget, with accommodation from self-catering to high-end luxury.”

So what’s been selling? “Both Ammos Beach and St Pauls Bay on the island of Rhodes have been extremely popular, Aresti Taverna and Venus Gardens in Zante, along with Santorini Gem and Pyrgos in Santorini for the higher spend weddings.”

Marron also recommends Greece for its island hopping appeal, especially for those looking to combine a wedding and honeymoon. She says: “After the wedding and celebrations have taken place, the couple can hop over to another island to enjoy their honeymoon. There are so many islands to choose from, including relaxed, quieter ones to more lively and commercial resorts.”

Michael Vinales, Managing Director, Olympic Holidays, agrees saying: “My top tip: don’t just limit yourself to one island. Variety is the spice of life and island hopping is taking off. It’s a fantastic way to combine a dream wedding and honeymoon in one fell swoop.”

Alongside the popular islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and Zante, lesser-known gems like Naxos, Sifnos, Milos, Ithaca, Tinos, Patmos and Paxos are generating interest for next year, according to luxury wedding specialist tour operator Planet Weddings.

Greece Crete
Loutro, Crete

Meanwhile, Corfu, Paros and Mykonos are top sellers for The Luxury Travel Book, which offers luxury villas across Europe. Co-Director Jamie Marquis, confirms that bookings were up 50% in 2023, with Greece “consistently proving one of the most popular destinations”.

And for agents looking to elevate a honeymoon booking, The Luxury Travel Book has some special add ons.

“We are seeing a growing number of requests for clients looking to hire private chefs for their luxury stay in Greece,” says Marquis. “As well as an increase in those looking to make the most of the Mediterranean waters by hiring a boat, with a captain.”

Wedding wow factor

Beach Bride: The island of Skiathos is just 12 miles long but boasts over 60 pristine beaches, making it the perfect option for a barefoot wedding. Couples can choose to get married right on the beach or for something more traditional there’s a pretty chapel next to The Princess Resort for orthodox ceremonies. Clients can even charter Planitis, the resort’s wooden sailing yacht, for a wedding on the water.

Going to the chapel: A former luxury villa, Once in Mykonos was previously home to a prominent businessman and has been reimagined as Mykonos’ latest five-star island resort – it even has its own private church for weddings. Further selling points include private cruises around the island and Signature Suites with private pools and sea views.

Romantic Rhodes: Set in the secluded St Pauls Bay is the tiny chapel of St Pauls, surrounded by clear waters and the magnificent acropolis in the background. The bride can arrive by boat to the venue before the ceremony. A perfect reception option is the Lindos Grand, with its roof terrace overlooking Vilcha Bay. The resort offers elegant wedding dining packages.

Vows at the villa: The Luxury Travel Book has a number of private villas in Greece that accommodate up to 26 people – perfect for an intimate ceremony with close friends and family. Ares Estate in Paros is a vast estate which offers two independent private villas with their own swimming pools and separate guesthouses. Ideal for private events, the property has two kitchens, a yoga and pilates room, a massage room and a large swimming pool.

What’s new

Greece Zante
Navagio beach, Zante

Carpe Diem Santorini has launched carbon-neutral The Dunes Wedding Venue, Santorini’s largest wedding venue. With a maximum capacity for up to 150 guests, Carpe Diem Santorini is committed to sustainability, offsetting all carbon emissions, and planting at least 100 trees per wedding.

Planet Weddings has added Greek wedding venues to its portfolio for 2024. These include Addi Mare & Koukla restaurant in Zante and Sirokos Beach Taverna in Crete. The wedding specialist has also launched a mobile friendly website for agents, featuring hotels, beaches, characterful venues, town halls, local churches and yachts.

Where to book it

Olympic Holidays
The Rhodes & Kos 14-night wedding and honeymoon Island Hop package starts from £8,216 per couple. It includes the wedding and seven nights on an AI basis at Princess Andriana Resort & Spa and seven nights at Ikos Aria on an AI basis.