News & Reviews Europe Greece Review: The Danai, Greece

Dorsia Rating:

4/5

Not everything can be explained by science: the Big Bang, why yawning is contagious, the origin of life on Earth, the appeal of reality TV, why you’re wasting your time reading this, what Joe Biden said during last week’s debate, and the number of Oscars Ben Affleck has.  It also can’t explain how a property I’d typically go out of my way to avoid could turn out to be a hidden gem.

Getting there

After being collected at Thessaloniki airport and taken on the sixty-minute journey to The Danai, we arrived in an area that made me question whether the driver is taking us on a scenic route or straight to a ransom drop.  Did the driver really greet us by name, or did I reveal it myself?  Would I be ok if I jumped out of a moving vehicle?  Is it justifiable to leave my wife and kids to fend for themselves, considering they would handle the grim scenario better than I would?  I bet the bastard kidnappers don’t even have Toto toilets.   But more importantly, did I leave the oven on at home?  And how did Ben Affleck win so many Oscars?

Fortunately, we soon arrived at a large gate, and beyond it, the scenery transformed into a serene and welcoming environment, reminiscent of a charming retirement village—in a good way.

Setting

The Danai boasts a tranquil setting right beside the Aegean Sea, complete with its own private beach encircled by lush greenery, offering a unique beach experience beneath the shade of large, beautiful pine trees. The beach itself is remarkable by European standards, in that it can legally be called a beach.  While mostly pebbly, if you look closely, you can find patches of soft sand.

The footprint of the property is small, with most of the facilities in a small area near reception.  However, they still offer buggies to drive you around in.  If guests here need buggies, navigating One&Only Kea Island must feel like summoning Mount Everest whilst sellotaped to a stretcher. The offer of buggies almost feels like an insult to laziness—so lazy that even lazy people might find it offensive.  If they could be bothered.

The only thing that could be classified as spread out are the rooms, scattered around in bungalows and apartments that don’t exactly scream luxury. We stayed in a villa, which also had the audacity not to scream luxury. The only screaming, in fact, was me from the number of mosquitos biting me.

Facilities

The first thing that strikes you is the beautifully maintained gardens, thanks to their talented gardener. The second thing is how old school the interior design is, thanks to someone that should be fired. Strangely, this adds to the charm, making it feel like a village forgotten by time—and by designers.

While Porto Zante’s decor seems like a deliberate attempt to be hideous, here, it’s more a case of blissful ignorance. It’s like they took the remaining furniture found in an abandoned fairground haunted house and mixed it with a never-ending ’80s nightmare.  In other words, it’s not quite as awful as Porto Zante, but definitely competing with it.

But that design really depends on where you look.  The spa and gym, brand new for 2024, may not be in the running for design awards and certainly not going to be mistaken for a Guerlain spa, they are clearly a significant upgrade and welcome addition.  They were so new, not everything was working until our final day.  The spa includes a large indoor pool with a glass ceiling, steam room, infrared and traditional saunas, experience shower, two foot baths, and a manicure/pedicure room. The gym features state-of-the-art TechnoGym equipment and two pull-up bars, though inches from ceiling – bravo to whichever genius put that there. Outside the gym is the main pool, which is in a bit of a strange position that it’s in an enclosed area with no real view, when the beach was so close by.

Reception and room designs are old school but improve near the beach, where modernised restaurants, a bar, and cabanas are located. Essentially, they suffer from being owner-led, so they can only refurbish bit by bit, rather than having a state-funded company throw a trillion dollars at them.

The property also features a fashion boutique (weirdly with St. Barths designers), a shop for daily items, a library with a pool table, and a beach area for non-motorised water sports and a seabob.   Despite it’s small footprint, they’ve packed a lot in.  It’s not often you find a chapel and the largest wine cellar in Greece in a boutique hotel. The Noble House offers over 1,700 hand-selected wines across 1,500 square meters. It features a 130m wine cellar that includes a cheese “Living room,” wine sampling room, and a secluded terrace with sea and vineyard views.

Kids Friendly

They offer a kids club, open every day except Sunday. The staff starts their day at breakfast and then move on to kids club duties, creating a familiar and welcoming environment.  Once again: charming.

The kids club itself is fairly average—a turfed lawn shaded by large pine trees with an indoor area that looks like it survived an angry mob. However, the staff makes up for it with their sweet and caring nature, ensuring the kids have a good time despite the club’s lacklustre facilities.

Room

The room amenities were setup to perfection.  They did a wonderful job, even down to the fruit bowl tailored to our tastes. Although, oddly, there was a champagne holder but no champagne. There was only one gift for the kids which led to absolute bedlam.  However, the bar manager overheard our daughter was upset about not getting a turtle welcome gift, so he performed a magic trick and gave her a soft toy.  If you ever want to know what good service recovery is, a magic trick with oranges and a cuddly toy at the end should be in some textbooks.

We stayed in the White Villa, their top accommodation, a four bedroom villa. The villa includes two bedrooms on the upper deck indoors, another connected outdoors, and one more on the lower level.  Upon arriving at the room, the visible air conditioning unit, dated key fob, and worn door don’t exactly hint at extravagance. Fortunately, the inside is somewhat better. Not much better, but better.  You enter into a living area that looks like Beetlejuice’s decorator went wild. The hand chair looks like something a stoner would buy in their teens, and the lounge area appears to have furniture stolen from a Socrates junk yard sale.  There’s no real cohesion behind any of it.  The bathrooms are like a love letter to your abuser.

Fortunately, the villa’s expansive shaded balcony, which must be the largest on earth, along with breathtaking views, makes it irresistible to spend most of your time outdoors. Perched on a cliff edge, the villa offers an incredible vista of endless blue, with ample space, privacy, and comfort. There is a smorgasbord of furniture underneath the shade, before you reach the heated pool.  Down the steps is a jacuzzi, heated to 32C, and more sitting areas to enjoy the view.  Indoors, the experience remains connected to the outdoors; see-through mosquito nets on the doors let you enjoy the evening breeze without the intrusion of bugs.

Ignoring the design, which you come to accept—or, if you’ve stayed at Porto Zante, come to believe is okay—the fundamental issue was the air conditioning. It sounded like a jumbo jet dry humping a leaf blower. Worse, at night it was far too weak, making sleep difficult.

Service

It wasn’t always perfect, but it often came very close.  The Danai is the kind of place where staff have worked for generations, with their children following in their footsteps—like the F&B director whose daughter also works here. There’s a palpable sense of pride among the staff.  They are happy, which translates into wonderful service.

The service was far beyond anything experienced at our previous stops at One&Only Aesthesis and One&Only Kea Island.  From the first meal, they knew all food preferences and we had a good laugh about my Greek salad desiccation, which by the time they’ve removed everything I hate is neither Greek nor salad.

Everyone knew what it meant to offer great service and delivered on it, from people rushing to help during meals, to the wonderful staff playing with our girls during breakfast time.  It was strange that come dinner time some of the communication was lost, but it was still impressive.  I would have preferred to see a butler service or WhatsApp for communication, but really the only hiccup was being billed for welcome amenities without prior notice, which we discovered on the invoice.

Food

Excluding a dodgy first lunch, the food was superb. There’s a decent selection to choose from: Anithos by the beach offers a fusion of authentic Greek food, fresh seafood, and barbecues, set in a stylish, modern open-plan area with cream and white decor complemented by wooden details. For more secluded seating, the lower terrace just meters from the sea is perfect. Andromeda, set on an iconic marble terrace, serves modern Mediterranean cuisine under pine trees or inside an open-plan hall with stunning sea views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Kindly, they have dedicated kids menus at their restaurants.

They have a dedicated bakery, which you have to walk past on the way to breakfast, only to discover an endless buffet of more pastries.  The rest of the buffet is ok, and the a la carte is not that comprehensive as it’s mostly eggs, but I must come back to the pastries just to emphasise how much diabetes is available to you here.  They really care about their desserts, let’s put it that way.  They also bring all the desserts on a tray and present them to you, which I wish everyone did as it would avoid my endlessly bad decision making process in always picking the wrong one, whilst Lucie gets away with the winner.

Lastly, The Squirrel, with only five tables, offers a fine-dining option, which we didn’t try.

The Good

  • The setting is great; and for Europe, a good beach
  • Food

The Bad

  • Feels dated in places

The Luxurious

  • Service

Conclusion

You can definitely tell The Danai is an owner-run property—it has that unmistakable personal touch with stellar service but lacks the budget to shine in other areas. It’s the kind of charming spot that never feels crowded, even when at full occupancy, and where the bar never closes—the kind of place the English love. But, the number of rooms and high-rise apartments look like they belong in a discount motel. It doesn’t attract riffraff—if anything, we were the riffraff for not wearing tuxedos to dinner like most guests seemed to.  My hesitation isn’t about having a good time—we had a blast. But if I sent a guest here and they checked into the villa, there’s a good chance they might fire me and question my sanity.

Thankfully, there’s a silver lining with ongoing investments. Every year they revamp an area—the beach restaurant, bar and spa now look sleek and modern. Once they spruce up the rooms, this could become one of Greece’s top spots.

Recommending The Danai makes me feel like a child wearing knock-off two-stripped Adidas—you’re embarrassed, but perfectly content if you don’t care about others’ opinions.  This was my favourite stop in Greece on this trip, yet paradoxically, the one I’d hesitate to recommend due to its flaws.  I won’t shout it from the rooftops, but for those who can overlook the dated elements, a good time awaits.

Villas start from €4,000 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 9th Jul '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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