Review: Calilo Resort, Ios Island (Greece)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Last July, I enjoyed a terrific holiday on the Greek islands of Santorini, Mykonos, and Ios (Cyclades). You can read my trip reports here:


Today: Review of Calilo, Island of Ios (Greece)

Rising out of, and carved from, the native rock, Calilo is cradled by 1,000 acres of protected land and fringed by a beautiful golden sand beach, lapped by a cerulean sea. In a remote corner of unspoilt Ios, in the heart of the Cyclades, and just a pebble’s throw from party islands Mykonos and Santorini, this 30-suite sanctuary offers an escape from the crowds. Think sun-drenched seclusion surrounded by an ancient olive-pricked landscape – nature and art at its heart. From its architecture and interior design to the striking artworks and installations, Calilo – an acronym for “create a life you can fall in love with” – is the creation the Michalopoulos family whose aim is to preserve, protect and nurture this tantalizing land and to share the island’s mesmerizing magic.

Calilo features in my top 10 lists of the best beach resorts in Europe and the most stunning hotel suites I’ve ever stayed in.

Have you ever stayed at Calilo? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

In this review (more info and photos below my YouTube video):


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • In the heart of the Cyclades, between Santorini and Mykonos, lies Ios, the stunning island that Calilo calls its home. Boasting a majestic landscape, Ios is known for its whitewashed clifftop villages and 32 beautiful beaches. During the day, Ios is the absolute Cycladic paradise. When the sun goes down, the bars and restaurants of Ios’ main town Chora come alive. The fact that there is no airport on Ios explains why the island has avoided mass tourism and maintained its natural beauty. Guests can reach Ios by high-speed ferry from Santorini (45 minutes), Mykonos (2 hours), Crete (2.5 hours) and Athens (3.5 hours). Private boat transfer from Santorini or direct flights by helicopter to the resort’s private helipad can be arranged.
  • Ios has a reputation as a party island popular with young people, but the breathtakingly beautiful area in which Calilo is located is completely untouched, remote and a world apart from the lively island scene. A scenic 30-minute drive through a desolate, mountainous landscape takes guests from the ferry port near the main village Chora to the island’s little discovered southeast side. Here, Calilo enjoys a stunning location in magnificent private bay, where the calm turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea and a yellow crescent of private beach are surrounded by a natural amphitheater of spectacular rocky slopes. The entire site is part of much larger domain of protected land (1,000 acres), which is fringed by 10 km (6 mi) of coastline. 
  • A resort like no other, Calilo is created by the Michalopoulous family whose is led by former Wall Street trader Angelos Michalopoulos. The Michalopoulos family doesn’t just own Calilo, they own about 30% of Ios. In order to preserve the island’s natural beauty and to protect it from the environmental degradation that usually follows mass tourism, the Michalopoulous family made a conscious decision to build on only 1% of the land they own on Ios, leaving 99% to remain as part of nature to help ensure that future generations will also be able to enjoy the wild beauty of Ios and it beaches. Besides Calilo, the family’s company called Luxurios owns a second hotel, the Agalia Luxury Suites, and several bars, restaurants and beach clubs on the island.
  • Every design element at Calilo is created by its owner Angelos Michalopoulos and aimed at stirring emotions among its guests. The result is an aesthetically unique and fairy tale-esque decor that represents a modern, colorful take on traditional Cycladic architecture and the hippy culture that once dominated Ios. The decor is at its most surreal in the lobby, which it accessed via a curving walkway lined by art works and waterfalls. Skylight beaming through pebble holes in the ceiling above disperses as dozens of hearts on a water pond beneath. Decorated with hand-painted army boots, inspirational aphorisms, and wooden swings dressed in flowers, the lobby feels more like an art gallery in London or New York than a hotel in the Greek islands.
  • Calilo features 32 uniquely designed suites, all featuring hand-crafted mosaics, scalloped tiles, driftwood-inspired chairs and waves of marble (most suites also have private pools). During my holiday, I was upgraded to the “Sea of Smiles Suite.” Located on the hill side of Calilo with panoramic views of the resort and beach, this incredible suite was named by Michalopoulos for its focus on water. The signature suite offered three bedrooms, each with palatial en-suite marble bathrooms with deep soaking bathtubs. The suite’s generous outdoor space included a dedicated sitting area, waterfall, natural rock shower, water pond and two swinging beds. To top it all, there was a private swimming pool made from 65,000 pieces of marble.
  • Although most guests prefer to relax by their private pool or on the beach during the day, Calilo also boasts an enormous lagoon-shaped swimming pool for those in need of some more water fun. Surrounded by loungers and a shaded veranda, the 50 m (164 ft) pool is located between Calilo’s main pavilion and the resort’s pristine private beachfront. In line with the hotel’s surreal and Gaudi-alike design theme, the pool features several decorative elements, such as colorful swings hanging over the water, sunken dining areas within the pool, and exuberant modernist sculptures of bodies being flung through the air.
  • Calilo sits on its own private beach, called Papas Beach. Probably the most beautiful beach in Ios, if not Greece, Papas is an idyllic cove, composed of yellow coarse-sand and crystal clear waters, and surrounded by dramatic sandstone cliffs. Several thatched cabanas with thick mattresses and wind-screens are located on the beach and can be used free of charge by guests of the hotel. The beach cove is also home to a jetty, where the resort’s private speed boats dock. Guests wishing to explore the majestic, natural beauty and beaches of Ios can rent one of these private boats and embark on thrilling excursions to hidden coves and secluded beaches reachable only by boat, as well as day trips to any of the nearby Cycladic islands.
  • Located in a secluded area overlooking the sea are three separate venues – called rock pools – built into the natural stone landscape offering an alternative beach experience. Two of the venues, called the Dreamers Heart Rock Pools, take the shape of their namesake with distinct heart-shaped swimming pools, while the third is a round shape. Complete with private bathrooms and kitchen, each rock pool features a sitting area with dining table, dedicated butler for catering and bottle service, access to massage treatments, and various lounge options from swinging double beds to Calilo’s signature swings. Ideal for special events, the rock pools can be booked for marriage proposals, bachelor/ette parties and other milestone moments.
  • Currently, Calilo has one restaurant, where serves delicious food all day (although guests can also have their meals at the rock pool, on the beach or in their room). Located between the lobby and the pool area, the open-sided restaurant is styled in the resort’s signature Gaudi-esque decor and features several hidden nooks & corners (e.g. sunken dining areas within the pool). In the morning, the venue offers a breakfast buffet while during lunchtime and in the evening (until midnight), a la carte dining is offered with a wide variety of Western and Greek dishes. Calilo’s food philosophy is rooted in the Ancient Greeks’ belief that a healthy body supports a healthy mind and the resort’s kitchen strongly advocates the benefits of a Mediterranean diet.
  • The Michalopoulous family and their Calilo project have sustainability in their DNA. Following the principles of environmentally-friendly design, the resort is being built in close collaboration with the local community, thus providing direct economic benefits through responsible tourism development. All the materials used during Calilo’s construction – except for wood, iron, glass and cement – are extracted from the ground of the actual building site (e.g. marble, stone, granite). They are then cut and carved by local craftsmen who lay by hand and construct each one of the hotel’s venues (some of them requiring millions of the crafted stones), employing painstaking but authentic and traditional building techniques.
  • One of the hotel’s conservation project is the plantation of more than 70,000 trees and bushes around Ios island to restore the habitat that had previously been burned repeatedly by wild fires and land deforestation. In addition, some 550 ancient olive trees (most of them more than 300-years-old) which were about to be cut and sold for firewood in Athens, were transported from the mainland, by boat, to Calilo and other sites in Ios. They were destined to become firewood and instead have been given a second life at the resort. Here, with the help of specialists, 97% of them have survived and are now thriving in their new locations.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Calilo is one of the most unique and impressive resorts I’ve ever stayed at. The resort and the hotel concept is still a work in progress though, with room for improvement. It has the potential to become the best beach resort in Europe, one that could even be on the same level as a Soneva, but it is not there yet. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Food at the resort is excellent, but there’s only one restaurant. Although the menu is extensive, one might get a little bit bored food-wise after a few days. Also, the food is delicious but it is not fine dining as it lacks some sophistication, both in taste and presentation. From what I heard, the owners will launch some new dining concepts for the next season, so that would be a welcome addition to the resort. I recommend they also consider hiring a top chef to transform Calilo into a foodie paradise (because that is what most of their potential clientele is used to and will expect).
  • Breakfast at Calilo is a bit disappointing for a resort of this caliber. Although the buffet is nicely presented, it offers a rather small selection of items which pales in comparison to the lavish buffets often seen at other 5-star hotels in Greece and beyond. In addition, service at breakfast is slow: due to COVID, one staff member is present at the buffet to serve all guests (as guests cannot touch anything themselves), often resulting in some waiting time. Finally, besides the buffet, one could order only one egg dish and one type of coffee during breakfast; other egg dishes or coffees were charged for. I advise the owners to upgrade the breakfast experience to a sumptuous buffet displayed in a cold room (with an additional a la carte menu for hot dishes).
  • Calilo is expanding its room inventory upon the hills around the resort. If you’re booked into one of the newer, extravagant suites up the hill, expect to do a lot of walking up and down the hill. Alternatively, one can always contact the lobby after which a car is send to pick you up or drop you off. Perhaps it would be a nice idea to provide guests of these suites with a golf buggy for the duration of their stay, so they have more flexibility getting around the resort.
  • Calilo is a deeply personal project of owner Angelos Michalopoulost, who has designed every part of the hotel himself. The result is a unique and visually overwhelming decor that is all about love and imagination. While some guests will love the quircky design (count me in!), it might not fit the taste of others, although one thing is for sure: it will leave an impression that you will not easily forget.
  • At the moment, wellness facilities at the resort are limited as there’s just one spa room. However, the resort is currently building an extensive spa facility which will open next year.
  • The resort is tucked away in what seems like the middle of nowhere, but that is what makes it so unique – secluded, private, quiet and serene with its own amazing beach and exclusive facilities. Although the isolated location is part of the appeal for most guests, it’s important to emphasize that the resort is removed from almost everything, so you won’t find any restaurants, shops or nightlife within a half hour drive of the resort.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Pool: 9/10
  • Rooms: 10/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: not available
  • Service: 8/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional 9/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Calilo (and/or receive complimentary perks).
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit Ios are the autumn months of September and October: the weather is still great, the tourist crowds have left, the sea temperature is at its warmest, and the hotel rates are within reasonable range. The spring months of April and May, before the summer rush comes, are also a great time to visit, although the sea is cold and you may encounter some cloudy days. Summer is also a great time to visit the resort but it can get windy in the Calilo’s private bay, with the Meltemi blowing for long periods, especially in the afternoons (sometimes gale force like winds).


HOW TO GET THERE

Guests can reach Ios by high-speed ferry from Santorini (45 minutes), Mykonos (2 hours), Crete (2.5 hours) and Athens (3.5 hours). From the ferry port, it’s another 30 minutes by hotel car to the resort. Private boat transfer from Santorini or direct flights by helicopter to the resort’s private helipad can be arranged as well.


PHOTOS

Below is a selection of my photos of Calilo. To view more photos of Calilo (including meals), click here.

RESORT OVERVIEW
RESORT OVERVIEW
HOTEL ENTRANCE
WALKWAY TO LOBBY
WALKWAY TO LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
RESTAURANT
RESTAURANT
MAIN SWIMMING POOL
MAIN SWIMMING POOL
MAIN SWIMMING POOL
MAIN SWIMMING POOL
STAIRCASE TO SEA OF SMILES SUITE
SEA OF SMILES SUITE: OUTDOOR SPACE
SEA OF SMILES SUITE: OUTDOOR SPACE
SEA OF SMILES SUITE: OUTDOOR SPACE
SEA OF SMILES SUITE: BEDROOM 1
SEA OF SMILES SUITE: BEDROOM 1
PAPOS BEACH
PAPOS BEACH
PAPOS BEACH
ROCK POOL

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