News & Reviews Europe Greece Review: One&Only Kea Island, Greece

Dorsia Rating:

3/5

There are varying degrees of mistakes.  There’s “Whoops, I forgot the wedding rings” at the altar, and then there’s “Whoops, I forgot to mention I’m already married – you remember my sister, Cassandra?” Kea Island, optimistically thinking it would be ready by May 1st, was more like, “Shall we have our wedding in that rusting, dubious submersible lurking near the remains of the Titanic?”.

Oh, imagine the pictures we’ll have to show our family.

Let’s embark on an ancient exploration of Kea Island’s history.  In the distant era of August 2023, One&Only announced they were opening.  Suddenly, they shifted to April 2024 before settling on May.  I, being of no sound mind and flesh-like body, booked for the end of May.  Sensible?  No.  Take my advice: avoid new hotel openings.  But it was the only time I could manage, so I booked.  Job done.

Then, the website suddenly listed June 1st as the opening date.  When I reached out, they assured me everything was fine.  Nothing to see here.  Everything great.  A few weeks later, while in St. Barths, I got a call confession: they wouldn’t be ready in time.  That’s when the offer came: stay for free or come after 1st June and pay.  I would miss my own funeral if someone offered me a free colonoscopy.  Free wins every time.  Free it was.  One&Only kindly renamed it to a “pre-opening”, and it became a…

Free for all

Yes, everyone on the island was on a freebie.

How free, you may ask?  Transfers, accommodation, food, spa treatments, everything the light touches—all complimentary.  I, and everyone else here before the 1st June, paid nothing.  Every guest was so happy it was hard to tell if they were all coked up—perhaps even the cocaine was free—or if this is just what it feels like to not care about money.  Let this be a lesson: if you plan to stay at a new hotel, book the most expensive room possible, invite all your friends and family, and pray it doesn’t open on time.

As costly mistakes go, this one certainly surpasses the time I accidentally drank some Pepsi before promptly spitting the piss-stained substance out and washing my mouth out with something more nutritious: bleach.  Whoever insisted it would definitely open in May is probably buried in cement under one of the towering structures on the island.  But kudos to One&Only for sucking it up and splashing the cash – it makes for a better guest experience and is certainly more environmentally friendly as they don’t need to print any invoices.

It also saved the unnecessary hassle of guests arguing about it later on.  I’ll put it this way: were I not on a free stay, I would have been on a free stay.  I would not have tolerated all the issues.  I could write an entire review on all the things that were wrong, not open, and not working.  But these things stay online for a while, so you might be reading this in 2099 and wondering what the hell I’m talking about.

Instead, let me describe it.

It’s like going to see a movie before the CGI team has gotten their hands on it.  The menacing villain is a sock puppet, and the hero is standing in front of a green screen, pouring her heart out to a tennis ball.  And the director hasn’t a clue what he’s doing.  It’s hard to take it seriously.  You wouldn’t buy a car whilst they’re sussing out how to make the brakes work.

So many things were unfinished.  Construction teams were—well, I’d like to say everywhere, but that’s the problem.  They were around, but certainly not everywhere, making it clear they were absolutely not going to be ready for June 1st.  How they considered opening reservations last year is an insult to logic.  Not even Brexit voters are this delusional.

Greek art – as a Brit I think I’m legally allowed to take this.

Service

You might expect service to be dreadful for a new property, but you would be wrong.  It’s actually worse.  

The service issues were so prominent that writing about them is as futile as fighting your shadow.  They were as visible and annoying as Ron Jeremy dangling his bits in your face whilst you’re peacefully trying to savour the last mouthfuls of your pan-seared duck a l’Orange.  The service was like a science experiment where mice, endowed with every gene associated with ADHD, were injected with ecstasy, fed a diet of Cheetos and Red Bull, and tasked with solving the New York Times crossword puzzle.  Whilst they were on fire.  It was like Frankenstein’s monster before the electrical shock.  Like if incompetence was molested by ineptitude and gave birth in a haunted sewer.

Yes, they were practising, but it was like watching five-year-olds trying to make the NFL against a 300-pound linebacker armed with a chainsaw and a hatred of little people.  They were in survival mode, not guest experience mode.  At the best of times, I feel like Greek people understand me about 80%—hopefully, I’ll never need to visit a doctor; I might end up with my foot sewn onto my face after complaining about a bad cough.  Here, let’s generously say it’s more like 15%.

There would be no point in writing about this were it a normal opening, but in the case of a free pre-opening, they may be granted my forgiveness.  At the very least, they paid for my silence.

Congrats to this tree for winning employee of the month

Getting here

From Athens airport, it’s a 30-minute drive to the dock, where you can choose a scheduled ferry or a private speedboat.  We arrived from their sister property, One&Only Aesthesis, which took around an hour’s drive.  Just before we embarked on the 30-minute journey, the skipper assured us the boat was “unsinkable,” a claim that has never gone wrong before and filled everyone with the eternal feels.  Alternatively, you can take a helicopter from Athens airport, which gets you there in about 15 minutes.

Greek tragedy?

I immediately understood why the locals were so upset with this development; it is brutally stark—just stone and rock.  It’s like Katie Price—you can’t help but stare, even though it’s deeply unpleasant.  The architecture is both impressive and harsh.  There’s something remarkable about it, in the same way that dissecting a cow’s scrotum is equally fascinating and makes you wonder if this is the best use of your Friday night.

With all the property built into the cliff, it has a very similar feel to Four Seasons Tamarindo – that of a concrete jungle.  I cannot help but be impressed with it but, at the same time, struggle to see why.  It felt like picking a scab off your toe – a great achievement, but one you don’t want to share with anyone.  To paraphrase the greatest movie of all time:  your architects were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

It’s impressive to see, yet, you sometimes have to ask if it’s the right thing to do.  Still, this isn’t an ethics blog; it’s about luxury travel, so let’s focus on the aesthetics, which seem to prioritise privacy about as much as a paparazzo trying to peek up Jennifer Lawrence’s skirt.  You can stroll around the property, gawking at people lounging in their pools from above or below.  With the barren landscape showing little sign of life, it seems unlikely they can ever fix this.

But there is still something majestic about it.  Like a car crashing into Katie Price’s…no, used that analogy already.  The privacy issues annoyed me, but the stark landscape has a certain allure, even if it isn’t traditionally beautiful.  They try to win you over with panoramic ocean views, the distant land flickering on the horizon, gently reminding you there’s an escape.  No, seriously, it’s really not that bad.  It’s different, let’s stick with that.  Would I, and they, like to see a lot more plant life?  Sure, and they’ve planted plenty, but let’s cut them some slack—they did give me a free stay and have only had seven years to build this place.

Apparently, it’s not easy being green.

Facilities

Once off the boat, you’re whisked to The Lobby on a golf buggy (apparently, a mandatory accessory at One&Only resorts) and presented with a magnificent piece of architecture.  This central hub houses the reception, the Kosmos Lobby Bar with its full-length indoor/outdoor seating, and at the centre is a massive, stunning open skylight feature that resembles a James Turrell art installation, which floods the area with natural light, illuminating an indoor garden below.  It’s truly a sight to behold.

To reach the garden, you descend a rectangular staircase that spirals down to an enclosed oasis.  The seemingly random placement of windows brings in ample light and character, enhancing the space’s charm.  Outside, there’s plenty of seating, with huge glass doors blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors.  The lounging areas, perfect for watching sunsets or enjoying breakfast, are very impressive with their gigantic glass frames, as is the hidden bar accessed via a concealed staircase.  Less impressive are the random gaps on the staircase – big enough to allow a child to slip through, so we were always on alert.  The nearby library is also a bit underwhelming, but at least it exists.

The beach club, improbably located by the beach, is easily found by following the relentless thumping of the DJ’s bass.  However, there are signs of life in the tree department, providing much-needed shade in some areas.  It is an ideal place to spend much of the day and relax—assuming the DJ messiah decides you are worthy of relaxation.  Nay, you’re subjected to his rhythmic ear assault, pollinating your lobes with his endless cries of “I’m here.  Somebody love me.”.

In terms of design, the beach club is perhaps the only area that doesn’t exude luxury.  I was happy to spend time there, but it felt somewhat incomplete as if they haven’t quite gotten around to finishing it—which is entirely possible.  The sand resembles the dark, grainy type you find on the Amalfi coast and most of Greece.  It’s about as happy as we Europeans can expect to be at a nearby beach.

There’s also no pool at the beach club; instead, you have the impressive indoor/outdoor pool at the nearby spa, or you can trek back to the Lobby, which boasts a gigantic 30-meter pool, a separate children’s pool, and another pool with a waterfall feature.

For the children, there’s an excellent, nearly-finished kids’ club inspired by the shipwrecks around the island.  Although still under construction in parts, our children had a blast spending time there and the staff were wonderful.  Next to it is Club One, featuring a versatile tennis court with AstroTurf that can also be used for football.  There’s also a padel court, a small basketball court for shooting practice, and a shaded area with table football and table tennis.  They also offer e-bikes.

The spa is the largest of any One&Only property.  Perched on a cliff near the beach club, it includes a large yoga pavilion with glass walls, a Technogym-equipped gym with outdoor gear and spinning bikes, a relaxation area with ocean views, its own mini-indoor garden similar to The Lobby, and a beautiful jacuzzi, Watsu pool, and impressive indoor/outdoor pool.  There’s also a beauty salon and barbershop.  Lucie had a lovely treatment, but the facilities are yet finished to deliver the full experience.

Room

Clearly, they paid as much attention to the guest list as I did in GCSE French.  We now share the same talent: shrugging, pretending to understand, and then ignoring it.  Nothing was done, so we received the default welcome—a disastrously messy chocolate amenity.  If they were testing whether this was a good idea, I can conclusively say it is—if their goal is to make the room look like a mud pit.

All the rooms are referred to as villas, but I refuse to call them that—it’s an insult to you, your family, your beliefs, and most importantly, your good looks.  A room that’s 75 sqm doesn’t deserve the title of a villa.  That said, for Europe these days, it’s a sizeable suite.  The entry-level room is the same as the top-tier one-bedroom room, differing only in view and location.  There are some two-bedroom options and residences with up to six bedrooms will come online later this year.

The entrance features a sunken courtyard with ample seating, an open fireplace, and stone walls that provide a sense of privacy—though not total privacy.  From there, you enter the living area, which follows the traditional Gathy-esque design: an open-plan layout featuring epic floor-to-ceiling windows, towering ceilings, and full-length sliding doors that separate the bedroom, bathroom, and living area.  The tall ceilings try their best to create a spacious feel throughout, but the size of the room doesn’t lend itself to this style of design – it’s too cramped to feel truly top-end.  Or at least to be called a villa.

Imagine plenty of light marble and glass, with skylights in every area, flooding the room with natural light.  Outside, there’s an 8-meter-long pool (which can, supposedly, be heated to 30C), basking in sunlight—unfortunately, there’s little shade to provide relief from the heat.

Where they fail is in the poor blackout curtains, which let in so much light around the corners and edges that you might as well not bother closing them.  Our first night was spent with huge amounts of light coming in because maintenance couldn’t fix the broken blind on the skylight.  I also couldn’t understand why they had USB-A sockets instead of USB-C by the bed, nor why they made the bathroom without blinds everywhere.  The bathroom door was annoying too, as you need to close it at night to block the light, but opening or closing it makes a lot of noise.  The air conditioning was phenomenally loud in the bathroom, and while they have Japanese toilets, they bizarrely don’t have the electronics to use them.

Aside from the marble, I found the overall aesthetic quite plain, with nothing in the interior design that particularly stood out.  I didn’t hate it, nor feel it was cheap in any way, but it felt somewhat muted.  It’s too plain for my liking aesthetically, but the tall ceilings, abundant use of glass and light, at least make it pleasant.

Activities

With the property so expansive that calling for a buggy is essential for most guests, we decided to make everyone feel guilty about their laziness by walking everywhere with our two children in strollers.  Your options are either patience, as the one time we asked for a buggy it took over 20 minutes to arrive, or fortitude, as you trek back to your room.  According to my Apple Watch, I burned 1,500 calories in one day just from walking.  It took 11 minutes to walk from the beach club to The Lobby, but the steep incline meant that as each buggy passed us, everyone looked horrified, as if we were insane.  Which is quite accurate.  I felt like I’d won a marathon each time I reached the top.

The activity list is actually quite good, including scuba diving and boat trips.  Lucie ventured into the “town”, while I firmly believe that leaving the resort is a crime.

Food

I’m not going to mention how long it sometimes took, nor how sometimes things would never show up.  I won’t even discuss how you couldn’t order in-room dining.  No, I’m better than that.

Instead, let me focus on how utterly, unbelievably good the food is.  Seriously.  Like the Lord Saviour of Cuisine himself blessed the food and then shat directly into my mouth.  I cannot give enough praise for the food, which quite literally stunk of brilliance.  You have two options: Bond Beach Club, serving food from lunch until sunset, and Atria, open for breakfast and dinner.  I don’t even know which one I prefer.  It’s like choosing which of my favourite piles of cash in unmarked bills I prefer the most.  Just epic.  One of the best resorts I’ve eaten at in a long time.

I would gladly strangle everyone reading this if it meant I could eat that food for the rest of my life and not put on any weight.  Now douse me in Ozempic and line up for your mandatory strangling.

The Good

  • Spa
  • Gym
  • Kids Club
  • Activities
  • Room
  • Setting.  Maybe?  I still can’t decide.

The Bad

  • Like Mad Max designed the landscape
  • Privacy

The Luxurious

  • Food

Rating

Good

Conclusion

Let’s set aside the service for a moment—actually, no, let’s bring it back because I have to mention a few things.  The teapot in our room had a used teabag and cold water from the previous guests.  And the toiletries had been either completely pilfered.  Our previous tenant must have been a budget thief from Now You See Me.

Still, amongst the madness, they did manage to only employ two rude people working here.  Kudos, I guess.   The rest, including the GM, were at least trying, and some were particularly good with the children.  I was recognised by multiple staff who had previously worked in Amanzoe or Mandarin Oriental Costa Navarino.  I must have a very recognisable, punchable face.  The GM was always around, has a lot of experience and gave me faith they will get it right – unless, of course, he was the one who suggested 1st May opening date.  In which case, RIP, I guess. As crazy as they were to set that date, I can understand the enthusiasm they have for the world to see it.  Ultimately, it was chaotic, but no one died and I think we can all consider that the real metric by which we should judge luxury hotels.

You may think I’m now going to conclude with a big, hairy, maggot-infested, scream-inducing rage dump on One&Only Kea Island, but it grew on me.  I had to look past the service, as, at times, I’m not even sure it existed.  You don’t spend your days worrying about Dracula or a Werewolf, do you?  Exactly the same thing.

The food is exceptional, the views are stunning, the kids’ club is fantastic, and the gym and spa are truly epic, far surpassing what’s available at their biggest rival, Amanzoe. I just wish, like Amanzoe, it wasn’t such a pain to get to. With their past history of originally being an Aman and sharing the same owners as Amanzoe, it is not surprising to see some heavy inspiration from Amanzoe here.  I bet if we played “Which picture is Amanzoe?” most of you would lose.

Privacy is something you will need to consider—in your rooms, you’re okay, but out by the pool, you may as well set up a live stream to save your neighbours the hassle of getting off the sofa to stare at you.

For all the shit I can give them during a new launch, I would actually return here.  Or at least consider returning.  We were initially told our speedboat was cancelled due to poor weather, only for them to later say it was fine.  “Fine” is a relative term; you could say that Hurricane Katrina was fine if you lived 5,000 miles away.  They suggested a helicopter due to the high winds, but I’m sceptical about trusting the same team that couldn’t even clean a teapot.  The departure was predictably chaotic, but we luckily still made our flight with about ten minutes spare.

It both horrified me – seeing what we’ve done to this planet – and impressed me.  But do you know what would have impressed me more?  If it had been an Aman.

Rooms start from €2,200 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 1st Jun '24

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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