We’ve gathered our own “couples” list, pairing off 16 of our favourite stars of film and music with the places we think reflect them best.
Matthew McConaughey – Crete
Alongside his meatier roles, Matthew McConaughey has taken on his fair share of Hollywood fluff (looking at you, “Failure to Launch”). But while he often exudes the golden glow and dopey grin of a surf-bum (and indeed played one in a film actually called “Surfer, Dude”), with McConaughey the influence of his native Texas – where he lives to this day – is never far from the surface. And if there is one place in Greece that combines a laid-back, free-spirited approach to life with a more hard-edged “live free or die” energy, it’s Crete. Like the Lone Star State, Greece’s Big Island is known for loving guns and hating being told what to do. And this commitment to freedom makes for some interesting contrasts. For decades, beach bums and hippies have communed with nature on Crete’s sandy beaches, nothing standing between them and the stars. Meanwhile, in the mountain villages the locals’ fierce commitment to liberty is undergirded by strict, unspoken codes of honor. We feel that McConaughey would instantly adapt to this world; we can imagine him playing in the surf by day, then in the evening heading to a traditional café in the plane-shaded stone square of a proud mountain village where a glance, a nod and a raised glass of ice-cold raki says all that needs to be said. Alright, alright, alright.
Vacation tip for Matthew: go up to Psiloritis to meet the shepherds who live in mitatos, fascinating rock shelters, where they tend their flocks.
Divine diva on the beach
Unquestionably divas and natural entertainers with open minds, both have managed a meteoric rise to fame. Their energy drink is champagne, their parties are magnificent, and their golden decade was the ’90s. Before she became the “Queen of Pop” who wore corsets and sang about sensual virgins, Madonna was a Catholic girl from Michigan. Before it became a hub for jet-setters, a gay-friendly summer destination and clubber’s playground, Mykonos was a poor Cycladic island of fishermen, farmers and weavers. Today, trends are changing and perhaps their most flamboyant moments are behind them, but Mykonos and Madonna remain real-life myths, who know the magic recipe for fun better than anyone.
Vacation tip for Madonna: go dancing at Super Paradise Beach Club and leave all the 20-somethings speechless.
A-lister on the edge
They are stars. There’s no other word to describe them. Just a mention of their names makes crowds go mad. A sunset in Oia garners the same applause as a Beyonce encore at Coachella. Both are queens, one of pop music, the other of dream vacations. Beyonce and Santorini have worked hard to reach the top. Their popularity may be excessive, but that’s not so much their fault as it is that of a public that thrills in elevating people and places to heights too stratospheric to be healthy. Has either of them ever been in danger due to this adulation? Both of them have: Beyonce has admitted that she’s suffered burnout several times during her career, while Santorini has been pushed to the brink many times by the tourist hordes that sometimes overwhelm it. And yet, every time, they get back up, because the people keep calling out for their goddesses.
Vacation tip for Beyonce: try some Assyrtiko wine and the local cherry tomatoes.
Bong Joon-ho: Milos
A gravedigger in the catacombs
What could a South Korean director who makes social commentary films possibly want on Milos, known as “the island of lovers”? Well, there’s a place here that would enchant him. Once he manages to shake off the couples flooding the island, he should head to Tripiti, to the Catacombs of Milos, an underground cemetery from the early Christian Era, carved into the soft volcanic rock, with halls, corridors, archways, loculi (niches where bodies are entombed) and pit graves. If the director of “Parasite” – a film that explores underground spaces and buried lives – doesn’t find inspiration here, then I don’t know where he will.
Vacation tip for Bong Joon-ho: take a dip in the waters of Sarakiniko, because he’ll never find a beach like this one again.
Anthony Hopkins – Syros
They are both old-school giants. He has won one Oscar, three Baftas, two Emmys and been knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his contribution to the arts. Syros is unquestionably the most aristocratic of the Cycladic islands, the archipelago’s most historically cosmopolitan island, with the jewel of its crown its elegant capital of Ermoupolis (meaning the city of Hermes), which is also the capital of the entire Region of the South Aegean. Without a doubt, Sir Anthony would feel at home on this noble island, walking through its narrow stone-paved lanes lined with neoclassical buildings which are more reminiscent of medieval Italian towns than whitewashed Cycladic architecture. And when evening falls he could don a fine linen suit and head for an evening of classical music at the elegant Apollo Theater, the architecture and decor of which emulates Milan’s La Scala, the Teatro di San Carlo of Naples and the Teatro della Pergola of Florence. And there he would listen with a expert’s ear – after all in 2012 he released Composer, an album of original classical music performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Vacation tip for Anthony Hopkins: Sir Anthony should sample some local San Michali cheese with a glass of wine, and take an excursion to Poseidonia, a neighborhood with old grand country homes.
Saoirse Ronan: Amorgos
A romantic heart in a wild place
The island of Amorgos is untamed, like Jo March, the character that Saoirse Ronan plays in “Little Women”. Both are undecided as well. One can’t make up her mind who she is or who she loves – is Laurie the one for her? The same thing goes for Amorgos; is it mainstream or alternative? Does it want to appeal to all comers, or should it be focused on quality experiences for the few? Should it maintain its old ways or strive to modernize? Jo and Amorgos are both extremely lovable, attractive characters. They’re also storytellers: one sits and writes about her adventures with her sister, while the other tells tales of the future – at Aghios Georgios Valsamitis Monastery, the use of the water oracle was officially abolished in 1967, but who knows what deep wisdom the spring waters still hold.
Vacation tip for Saoirse: enjoy a glass or two of psimeni (literally, “baked”) raki, a strong local spirit laced with honey, cinnamon and cloves.
Adam Driver: Nisyros
Hipster on the rocks
Nisyros is a small island in the Dodecanese, located south of Kos. For decades, it drew only a few alternative and adventurous people who sought solitude on this small, virgin island that’s also an active volcano. Then, all of a sudden, Nisyros caught “hipsteria”, and this 41-square-kilometer island became a destination for countless young creative intellectuals like Charlie Barber of “Marriage Story” and, quite possibly, like Adam Driver himself, judging by the roles he’s chosen. The kind of tourist you’ll encounter on Nisyros will be a cultivated individual with wide-ranging interests, a true representative of a generation that tries at all times to get at the heart of things, and has no time for cheap tricks.
Vacation tip for Adam: take a walk around inside the Stefanos crater, the largest such geological formation on the island.
Mark Ruffalo: Alonnisos
An activist out among the seals
He has spoken out in favor of women’s rights, supported Bernie Sanders and the LGBT community, and fought to defend the Standing Rock Indian Reservation – the sixth-largest Native American reservation in the US – from destruction wrought by the Dakota Access Pipeline. No place in Greece, then, is better suited to him than Alonnisos in the Sporades, an island that sits at the heart of a unique national marine nature reserve famous for its seals, tuna, rock doves and wild goats. For an eco-warrior like him, there’s no better vacation spot than an island at the forefront of the fight to help life flourish in the Mediterranean, and where they could always use the help of another superhero.
Vacation tip for Mark: Go scuba diving, and you may cross paths with a Mediterranean monk seal.
Michelle Williams: Anafi
The anti-star in her element
Michelle Williams is a talented actress who, despite having been part of the show business world from a young age, likes to keep a low profile. She’s also someone who doesn’t let anyone push her around. Before Anafi got into its own version of show business, the Cycladic tourism scene, (which only happened relatively recently) the island was only known to a few eccentric travelers who, in their studious attempts to keep away from the crowds, ended up in the welcoming embrace of Roukounas Beach. Michelle and Anafi are seemingly quite different, yet they share important common ground: they have both proven their worth by keeping their heads down rather than seeking out the spotlight, their occasional head-turning roles notwithstanding. These are two “anti-stars” that never stop shining.
Vacation tip for Michelle: hike up to the Church of Panagia Kalamiotissa (elevation 460m) to enjoy an unforgettable view.
Joaquin Phoenix: Patmos
A seeker in a holy place
There is a cave located at the heart of Patmos. It is said that inside this cave, twenty centuries ago, one of Jesus’ disciples, John of Patmos, was visited with visions that he wrote down as the Book of Revelations. This book is filled with terrifying images of the end of days and of the omens that precede it, including the appearance of the Four Horsemen, figures embodying Pestilence, War, Famine and Death. Who, if not the acclaimed, sometimes brooding, actor who delved into his own darkness to prepare for his roles as the restless Johnny Cash, erratic genius Doc Sportello, and socially excluded Joker, is better placed to find inspiration, understanding and answers in this cave?
Vacation tip for Joaquin: get out of the cave at some point for a pleasant walk through the narrow whitewashed streets of Hora, the island’s capital.
Nicole Kidman: Symi
A luminary on the esplanade
Forget about her interpretations of Satine in Moulin Rouge, or of tragic Virginia Woolf in The Hours, or of secretive Celeste Wright in Big Little Lies, and just look at Nicole Kidman. What do you see? Light itself, a bright, golden beauty, a woman who is at once ethereal, aristocratic and elusive. This is exactly the impression Symi makes on you as you see it for the first time when approaching by boat. Its port makes up half of the island’s main settlement and capital, a neoclassical town modeled on western European aesthetics and constructed towards the end of the 19th century, when Symians were making fortunes in the sponge trade. Sitting by the wrought iron railings of a balcony overlooking the harbor with its elegance that speaks to a timeless sophistication, Kidman would fit right in.
Vacation tip for Nicole: climb up all 500 steps that make up the road known as Kali Strata for a closer look at Symi’s neoclassical mansions.
Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem: Paros
Two together in a playground for grown-ups
Penelope and Javier exude the air of people who know how to get the most out of life – people who enjoy poetry, art and pondering deep questions, but at the same time don’t let that get in the way of revelling in the many pleasures the real world has to offer. Paros is a lot like that – offering all of the cerebral stimulation of the Cyclades at their most poetic, while also not taking itself quite too seriously. On Paros they’ll be able to gaze into the endless blue of the Aegean for hours – and then head to Abela and Santa Maria for delightful deep massages. They can share excellent Thai curry with lemongrass and shrimp in Parikia or gorge on some organic figs at a farm modeled on the concept of permaculture. On Kalogeros Beach, they’ll giggle through a mud therapy treatment outdoors on the shore. Paros offers art through living: it’s a joyful, festive Mediterranean island that’s perfect for people of a similar temperament.
Vacation tip for the happy couple: visit the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, one of the most beautiful churches in the Aegean islands.
Amy Adams: Paxi
Adorable in the Ionian
Both are quiet forces that possess a similar sweetness. A glance at the landscape of Paxi is reminiscent of Amy Adam’s smile, of her gentle beauty, of her understated yet powerful presence. Both have something otherworldly about them – as if their features are too fine to actually exist. And yet they do. And if her terracotta hair and her pool-blue eyes aren’t enough to link her with this gem of an Ionian island, consider that she was born in Italy, home to Paxi’s greatest fans; every year, the island fills with Italian visitors. They enjoy the cobbled beaches, the ice-cold waters, the strolls through the olive groves and the refreshing cocktails in a place so beautiful – at once achingly tidy and yet untamed – that you almost can’t believe it’s real.
Vacation tip for Amy: go for a swim at Marmari Beach, with its large white pebbles and wonderful waters.
Matt Damon: Kefalonia
Family man on vacation
Matt Damon is – or at least, he seems to be – the archetypal good guy of the neighborhood, the one who’ll take your dog for a walk along with his golden retrievers and babysit your children if you ask him to. A committed family man, he’ll be sure to take his kids to a place that’s guaranteed to please, but also brims with culture. Kefalonia fits the bill – a large island where music fills the streets of its towns and wild horses roam near the summit of its impressive mountain. He’ll show his children Myrtos Beach and the incredible subterranean lake of Melissani Cave up close. He’ll make them laugh as he lets them push him into the water, and he’ll teach them that, of all the shades of blue that exist, there is one that they hadn’t heard of before: “Kefalonia blue”.
Vacation tip for Matt: take the family to the monastery of the island’s patron saint, Aghios Gerasimos – it’s considered Kefalonia’s most important religious site.
Jane Fonda: Ios
A hippie at heart
She went from Barbarella to Hanoi Jane and from workout queen to Ted Turner’s soulmate. Today, she’s an 83-year-old activist who regularly gets arrested. Jane Fonda has changed her public personality many times, but despite all these metamorphoses, that outspoken young woman from the ’60s is never far beneath the surface. If Jane Fonda were a Greek island, she would be Ios, the Cyclades’ timeless hippie, the island where to this day nudists wander around golden beaches as if in an age of innocence, and where revelers crash on the sand after a long night of fun, waking up at the first light of day. Yet, like Fonda, to see only the steadfastly free-loving side of the island is to misunderstand it. There is much more here than initially meets the eye – as is evidenced by its hundreds of churches, of which there are said to be one for every day of the year. Like Fonda, the island also has an energy that’s hard to pin down, a light and an appeal that is magnetic. And just as Jane Fonda has famous ancestors – she is distantly related to Henry VIII’s third wife – Ios can trace its first residents to some of the earliest Europeans: those Early Cycladic people who lived in the settlement at Skarkos in the 3rd millennium BC!
Vacation tip for Jane: Visit Mylopotas Beach for a swim, a cocktail, and some serious sunbathing.