Koufonissia is really the playground of the islands;no need for a car, you can walk from one end to the other in 40 minutes easily, and if you take the coastal path, you can stop and swim in a different little beach every 50 metres, and have a drink, a fresh fish or a salad in a little taverna or cute beach shack every 100 metres. So really, I told you a big lie there; it takes all day to get from one end to the other.
My big problem here is that everyone thinks I photoshop the colours. I don’t.That is the colour of the water.
There was a big wedding here last year, with several thousand tonnes of shipowners floatingoff Finikas beach, 50 kilos of lobsters, 20 kilos of sea urchin salad and I have to say if I were to get married again, to a shipowner this time, that is how I would do it too – full moon over Amorgos and the whole island en fete.
The least I could do was test the Lobster Macaroni or astakomakaronada in Leftheris’ taverna, and you know how diligent I am, so I am glad to report that it is excellent. Porri Beach taverna has a cool vibe and full moon parties, while Captain Nikola, Remezzo and Chondros Cavos have excellent fish – they have their own fishing boats so you get the catch of the day.
We can also arrange limousine transport of course.
Koufonissia is a metropolitan hive of activity compared to Schinoussa which lies just a mile away. If you are not a shipowner with your own boat, Captain Prassinos will take you on aday trip across. Schinoussa has a little port, but it consists of a jetty, a sandy beach,two tavernas, and Georgos who drives up with a screech of hot rubber tyres in his minivan to sell ticketsfor the Skopelitis ferry that chugs along between these small islands. The Skopelitis is a little capricious, and arrives and leaves with a certain nonchalance with regard to the published timetable; early in low season, late in high season. To compensate, they are philosophical if you haven’t had time to buy a ticket and have to sprint to leap on board as the bridge is raised for departure.
Three large shipping families have the island quietly and benevolently under control, so there is an excellent taverna in the village up on the hill, and Schinoussa’s pristine nature and sleepy outlook are safe for the time being.
There are very few villas on these islands, so call us in good time if you want a place in the playground.
Or you can marry a shipowner of course. We have an excellent wedding planning service.
My trip to Sifnos was to look at villas that Evi had seen but not me. Well, any excuse really to hire a fire – engine red, open-top jeep, head for the islands in their May magic, and delay returning to London…
Sifnos is a wonderful island that really showcases the best of the Cyclades in a completely genuine way. Sifniots have always been famed as excelling in whatever they do – cooking, ceramics, farming, sailing, fishing, embroidering,the Scots of Greece but with better food, (Sifnos provided most of the chefs to the Sublime Porte and the Pashaliks during the Ottoman occupation),and a much better climate. Funnily enough, the mountainous landscapes cut with blue bays and dotted with white crofters cottages do bring the Highlands to mind – but as I said, with better food and sunshine, and water you can actually swim in without going blue andnumb and shrivelling up and dying. Paved paths lead from mountain-top church to mountain-top church, from beach to beach, and the island attracts visitors who love nature and have a touch of the bohemian about them – One lady makes essential oils from her lavender, another has a small business making organic jams and honey, cottages are all a-tapping with writers working on their novels, Reiki and Shiatsu practitionerscan be surprisingly easy to find, donkeys and shepherds with flocks of sheep still wander along the roads, and I am told there are unique flora and fauna on the island.
First stop wasa village house in Exambella, one of those tiny white-washed villages with pots of flowers, laundry hanging on lines,stout ladies sitting on their doorsteps watching the world go by, and eagle views down to the sea. The house is magical I am glad to say. Ask us about it. Costas, the guardian takes me on a walk around the village – “And here is the old bakery where the villagers used to bring their breadand cooking pots to be cookedin the days before they had no kitchens”
“And here is the church where there was a marriage yesterday.”
“But Costa, it has pink baptismal ribbons wrapped around the doors,” I said.
“Well first they got married and then they baptised the child,”said Costas, “Young people nowadays you know…”
Costas wearing his wedding/baptism badge
The Exambella Church dressed up for baptism/wedding
Two very different houses afterwards on the hillside facing east over a dramatic sky full of huge cumulus clouds towering in the distance.
One is an exquisite house with vintage fabrics and a bohemian vibe – repeat clients here are from the fashion and design world unsurprisingly – owner is half French and tres tres chic.
When it grows up, it would like to be the other house, which has an impressive architectural pedigree, amazing gym, extraordinary pool, asleek, black speedboat with captain,an excellent cook and a cat called Socrates. Both however share the same glorious view.
Thank goodness there is a house I haven’t seen on Koufonissia, which will be my next stop. May in the islands is magic, and one just wants to keep on sailing into the blue.
The real problem with the Amanzoe hotel in the Argolid hills near Porto Heli, the huge elephantin the room, the glaring flaw that no-one wants to mention, is that it renders you completely incapable of dealing with the outside world, unfit for anything that has not been filtered through the prism of Aman sensibility, training andpolishing.
In the Aman world,lofty halls and soaring columns reflect in pools of cool water, artfully placed cypresses wave gently across the sky, the breakfast eggs have been hand-picked byChef Boutsalis from Mr Paschalis’ chicken coop in the farm in nearby Fourni, mountain tea has been spiked with cardamom and herbs from the mountain behind, and lavender, thyme, cystus and white oleanders bloom quietly on all roof tops and path verges. Angels glide around silently, dispensing chilled towels, cold drinks, and smiles, yoga mats in the yoga platformare placed to face the wonderful views.Even the solitary baby that was here during my all too brief stay cried in hushed tones and the tortoise outside my terrace seemed in a positively indecent haste.A young couple who clearly didn’t get it, had bicycled the 7 kilometres down to the beach club. I think that the Aman minivan went to pick the bikes up while they had lunch down there, so that they got back in time for their honey and yogurt facial wrap, session in the Watsu therapy pool, and holistic massages. Though the prospect of staying till dusk down on the beach with its airy pavilion and warm, shallow turquoise waters would be greater enticement for me than the spa.
It is a dangerous state to be in; the sweet young waiter forgot the milk for my coffee one morning and I almost wept in despair, nothing so terrible had ever happened to me before in my life – or at least since I was born on Planet Aman. Goodness knows if the hotel ever manages to get anyone to go on any of the wonderful tours to the historical sites of the Peloponnese, although one of the hotel angels can accompany guests in case of post-Aman panic attacks.
In front of my eyes, one of the hotel staff suggested to a guest that she visit the nearby island of Spetses. ” Oh no,” she exclaimed, a look of horror on her face, “I couldn’t possibly!”
So this year’s Poros Yacht show, which the international yacht brokers hit for three days on their way from the show in Genoa to the Gulet show in Marmaris, happened to fall on Greek Easter. This meant that many of the yachts that usually show here were out on charter or lying at anchor outside some peaceful beach while their owners slept off the after effects of too much Paschal lamb and wine. The silver lining (there is always one in my world,) is that I had time to look at smaller vessels that can be tacked on to villas as day boats or taken by honeymooners, and spend more time on the stars like the schooner Iraklis with its lovely lines and gleaming wood, the slick Duke and the chic Ouranos. Tasting the chef’s mezze, finding out from Captains where their favorite bays and beaches are, hearing why the engineer left, and most importantly gossiping with other brokers – invaluable information gets passed around along with the jugs of mojitos as you steal 10 minutes to sit on a shady deck and test the attentiveness of the stewards…
One of my favorite chefs won the coveted Chef’s competition; his canapes of broad beans in honey, brandy and cinnamon were a fine variant on marrons glaces, and the little shrimp and seaweed mezze was exquisite.
Evenings are spent on board yachts at drink parties, and then, in case that sounds like too much fun, followed by sitting at the computer till 3.00 dealing with the real world such as why a Fiat car rental costs 15 euros per day more than the client was originally quoted, and how to get emergency funds to my daughter who has had not one but two wallets stolen in one day. Very Ying and Yang.
This little Poros girl is going to be a yacht broker when she grows up
One day I will have time to explore Poros which is a totally charming island, neo- classical houses line a lagoon-like bay, church towers peep out from among red tiled roofs and plane trees, while little shops sell this years irresistible Greek island schmattes and chachkes between sleeping puppies, prowling cats, footballing boys and little girls with plastic flowers in their hair. The Hotel Saron is the little waterfront family place where I stay. Alexander, the handsome young son of the owner, who runs it, could give any of the stewards on board any of the superyachts a run for their money when it comes to looking after guests. One of the broker guests arranged for him to have a tour of the Iraklis. This morning he told us how proud it made him feel that Greek craftsmen could still produce a work of art like that. “We can still do things right” he said. He certainly can anyway.
” The mainland of Greece has been overrun by barbarian tribes; the Ionian Islands have been thoroughly Italianised; Greeks in Asia Minor and the islands adjacent to the coast have been swamped by Islamism; yet the Cyclades have remained ore or less as they were, thanks to their insignificance.”
Thus J. Theodore Bent, Philhellene and anthropologist, in “Island Hopping in the Cyclades” in 1885
This is a gem of a book, and kudos to Anagnosis Publications for reprinting these little 19th century masterpieces of travel writing. I have just got back from a brief jaunt in the Cyclades, and have been filled with utter joy thanks to Bent;
Santorini pretty well unchanged ; “A white line of houses perched along the edge of blood red rocks”, “What astounding houses they are! For the most part, only holes chiselled in the soft volcanic rock, and faced with a fronting of stone, in which there is a door, a window above it, and perhaps one on each side. Half the inhabitants of Santorini, in spite of the encouragement given by the government to the building of regular houses, prefer to live like rabbits in the ground”
Those rabbit holes are now worth a fortune of course.
A Five Star Santorini Rabbit Hole
Syros; Health and Safety (see previous blog) a mere twinkle in some crazy person’s eye…
“I asked our muleteer if people frequently lived to be so old at Syra. “Yes” was the reply, an old woman died at one hundred and thirty only a short while ago. In former years people lived so long that they had to be thrown down a mountain cliff.”
Tinos: a visit to the great Church of the Evangelistria
“”Come in and see the charnel-house” said [the nun] cheerily. As we entered by the dim light we saw rows of female skulls, which seemed to glare at us with indignation for disturbing their repose. To our left was hanging what looked in the uncertain light to be spiders webs covered with dust. Our guide said – “Whenever a novice comes, her hair is cut off and hung up here. Let me see,” she said, pausing and shaking a grimy tangled mass, “this is mine, number 1003, when I die, I shall be buried for three years, then dug up again, my skull put up on that shelf, my bones packed in yonder cupboard, and I shall be entered in the deadbook as number 1003″. We were not sorry to bid adieu to this strange monastic village and enter the world again.
Andros, home of the great shipping families whose scions famously marry amongst themselves as far as possible;
“The family pride of the Archons [lords] is by no means extinct.. They are exceedingly strict about marriages, and if the son of an Archon demeans himself by wishing to marry beneath him, the paternal wrath is at once aroused; the young man’s father will say that the girl has used magic to attract her lover, love philtres and potions, such as they have plenty of on Andros.”
Antiparos – to my delight is described thus:
“A lucky island, a place without history. In classical times it was ignored, in mediaeval times it was deemed of no account; all we can say for certain about it is that until lately, it was the hotbed of piracy – and its inhabitants are still anything but creditable members of society – and it has a large cave.”
A modern day Cycladic sea captain....
Mykonos; singled out as a remarkable island even then, a sort of party island, but with a twist….
“Everywhere in the Cyclades we were told that when we came to Mykonos we should hear the best lamentations over the dead that exist in Greece; that barren Mykonos has this one unenviable speciality; nowhere else could the wailing women sing over the dead such stirring, heart-rending dirges as here. So we went to Mykonos with the firm determination of waiting there until someone died, and in the cold changeable days of March we did not anticipate that we should long be delayed.”
I could go on and on, but wont, buy the book yourselves. And next time you wander in a daze along the narrow lanes of a Chora on Serifos or Amorgos, remember that 150 years ago, there were so many pigs pushing and snortling their way around, that the authorities had to restrict each family to owning 3 pigs each…. Remember that even then, “Greek women suffer more audibly from sea-sickness than any other people I am acquainted with”, and when your ferry is delayed or cancelled, think of Bent’s wise words:
“It is not where you want to go, but where you can get to”
You are part of History.
p.s. Mrs Bent also kept a diary - full of gossip about fellow travellers apparently, I have just ordered it.
Our Paros concierge, the beautiful Vangelis of the azure eyes (see previous blogpost) is very glum. He has been forced, at the cost of 70 euros per person, to take his entire office and spend the whole of this glorious Saturday afternoon in a seminar on Health and Safety in the Workplace. Poor Greece, as if it did not have enough woes…
As the Greek island workplace is often the back of a motorbike without a helmet clutching a mobile phone in one hand, a coffee between the knees and a cigarette hanging out of the corner of the mouth while driving the wrong side of the road round a blind corner, I wonder where the seminar speakers will start. Especially if the Troika have laid out the guidelines…. “Please put out your cigarettes, ladies and gentlemen, no, NOT in your coffee, and yes, you have to get off your motorbike…”
Our workplace was impeccably safe - a shady fish taverna with a view of the sparkling sea and the harbour jetty wavering in 30 degrees sunshine, with a large melon juice in front of us, waiting for our fish, and watching the other Parians – possibly on their way to the seminar, hard at work on their motorbikes.
We have been given a very precious new house on the south coast to show to our clients – a real aristocrat among the luxury villas on Paros. Classic Cycladic lines, natural simplicity with sophisticated touches, a beautifully elegant garden of shrubs and trees with a footpath winding through it, and best of all, pole position on a small promontory with the sea on three sides of the garden. Through the 3 elegantly dove-grey painted wooden gates lie small sandy coves, the coastal footpath, and a small harbour with a couple of fishing boats lying at anchor. This really is the Gold Coast of Paros – south facing, sheltered and beautiful. We are organising various things for some guests here – spa and beauty treatments, a visit to a very chic local pottery; Iria, run by a Belgian lady, a guided walk, a boat trip, and sailing lessons for the children.
Like a prisoner let out on compassionate leave for a week, I practically cried with joy when I stepped out of Eleftheriou Venizelou airport and saw the sun, blue sky and a felt a warm breeze on my cheek. (I live in London.) Athens in the spring has a unique smell of orange blossom, wisteria, car fumes, and cigarette smoke – Eau d’Athenes for men, with rich, dark top notes of coffee and motor-bike helmet.
My first visit was to our new partners at Original Senses, who are going to design entertainments, tours, excursions and experiences for our villa and yacht guests. We are working on a terrifically impressive project, (well I am impressed anyway,) for a VIP group from South America which involves opening Delos after hours, organising a spectacular beach afternoon with beach pavilion and barbecue and buffet on the island of Rinia opposite, and an armada of support vessels and logistics that Alexander the Great would have been proud to have arranged.
Coffee at Chanel, where the beautiful and chic Angeliki Kasnakidou wearing a little purple cardigan that made me instantly feel frumpy asked me if I were a Chanel or Dior girl. “Banana Republic” I replied apologetically, adding that I couldn’t wear haute couture as I couldn’t stand uncomfortable shoes, and in loafers one could only wear Banana Republic. “Oh I so agree!” she said kindly and totally unconvincingly, looking down at her elegantly shod foot…. “But you have so cleverly draped your scarf in such a chic way!” And so honour was saved. I am telling you this as we are planning some Chanel based treats for our guests – just please, if you are one of them and get invited to the Chanel shop for a little something, don’t wear Banana Republic. Or comfortable loafers.
Lunch at the astoundingly designed new boutique Hotel just off Syntagma called the New Hotel, with the quiet-talking (this is a big deal in Athens, ) Polis Ioannou who is the sales manager of the Aman chain in South East Europe.
The villas of Amanzoe are amongst the most beautiful I have ever seen, and the timelessly Greek views over spreading hills down to the sea where their beach club is is breath-taking. Aman means peace as all Amanjunkies know. I looked at the pictures of the beach club and asked Polis what he did to preserve the peace if a giant gin palace moored in the bay below and started to offload jet-skis “We have our ways” he said darkly. ” It does not happen.” I feel a familiarisation trip coming upon me. The things I do for you, really.
We feel very proud to have been chosen as the Greek Expert by the first ever Conde Nast Traveller Little Black Book of Experts, delivered to all the clients of Coutts Private Bank – so HM Queen Elizabeth should be getting a copy along with her morning toast…
I was glad to see that Brazilian Beach Houses are on the same page as us, as my niece works for them. Greece in summer, Brazil in winter, what could be better? My sister Marina Gratsos of Carpe Diem Travel makes an appearance on the bottom of the page too, for those strange people who inexplicably do NOT want to go to Greece, so we like to keep it all in the family.
This is really the ultimate bible of small exclusive Travel experts, and I shall probably spend more money booking trips up the Amazon or through the African Savannah with the amazing individuals listed here than we shall make through the publicity!
If you get a lot of “Out of office on a marketing trip” messages from my email autoresponder over the next few months, you will know what that means.
Greek Real Estate received a welcome boost yesterday as 6 of the Echinades islands off Ithaca, in the Ionian sea, were sold to the Emir of Qatar. The ex- husband of a cousin of mine was one of the owners, so congratulations to him, and I was pleased to read the very forthright comments from the mayor of Ithaca in today’s Guardian on the out-dated size restrictions imposed by the planning department on new building. We wish the Emir success in helping the Greek government amend these unhelpful rules.
The Ionian has previously been targeted by Greek shipowners wanting to add to their property portfolio, and build estates in these loveliest of Greek islands, and Russians enamoured the green and lush fertility of the islands, so this is an interesting addition to the club.
The Echinades were the islands where three hundred years ago, the Ithacan families kept their cattle. Back home on the ”mother islands” of Ithaca and Lefkada, there are still some of the most exclusive large seafront estates that one can find, for sale and development, and a few islands as well. Unlike the Aegean, where there are literally hundreds of islands, including famous ones like Mykonos, Santorini and Paros, there are only 7 Ionian islands, and, with the exception of Corfu, they are largely undeveloped. All are blessed with calm weather and plentiful winter rainfall, and for historical reasons, one can still find vast estates and acres of unspoilt land for sale. These are the islands where savvy yacht captains head to in the summer, to explore the myriad coves and bays and escape the winds of the other side, so I am not surprised that this is where the investors with deep pockets are quietly looking.
Rumours of oil in the seabed are gathering momentum, so who knows what is in store for this area that has so much potential!