The Joy of Quiet

Happy New Year everyone.

Are you looking for a fresh start to 2012? Want a resolution that just feels right and ahead of the game? The top article in the New York Times yesterday is onto something that we Greek Islanders have known for ages, namely that a week with no telecommunications is one of life’s great luxuries and the secret to a quiet soul. Check out this article, and then call us to book a luxury villa on Koufonissia in the Lesser Cyclades, or Naxos, or Serifos……. how nice in these times of austerity  to be able to offer you the latest in lifestyle luxuries absolutely free of charge

 For the moment that is.

We in the maketing department are no slouches, let me tell you, and might soon be offering  Premium-rated  “Internet-free, blackberry-free Villa Weeks”,  that can be booked by the doctors, spouses and PA’s of over-worked, hyper-linked  executives.  Perhaps we can even do a deal with a private health insurance company – spend a week on a Greek island with lousy mobile reception and stuttering internet, with a pwer-failure thrown in, and get a reduction in your premium……we are open to ideas!

The Joy of Quiet

The beach below is not on Google, facebook, can’t be tweeted, but can be strolled down to via  the wooden gate at the bottom of the garden of our villa Serifos 3Z.

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Surfing in Greece?

The last post of the year is rather an unusual one and the article below came as news to me… Once you have  got tired of Hawaii and California, bored of Australia’s Gold Coast, and sick of South Africa, where can a poor,  jaded surfer go to get his mojo back?

 The New York Times has the answer –  click to read the article.

I can certainly believe the refreshing lack of surfing infrastructure and inspiring sense of going off the beaten wave, so to speak. Ripped young surf gods on the beaches of the Ionian, and bleached blonde surfer chicks on the shores of the Cyclades can only be a good thing, and very much to be encouraged. 

The latest additions to the pantheon of Greek gods....

 Five Star Greece looks forward to this very welcome addition to the Greek tourist scene in 2012, and wishes you all a very merry Christmas,  kala Christouyenna, and a Happy New Year.

Chronia Polla!

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Zorba the Bureaucrat

I am reading John Lucas book “92 Acharnon Street – A Year in Athens”, written about a year that the author spent in Athens in the 1980’s. While he responds sensitively to the Greek landscape, smells, sounds and tastes, and writes beautifully, he suffers from the “Zorba Disease” – Outbreaks of this were first noticed in the South of France, where the chief bacteria-spreader was Peter Mayle – who set off a virulent strain called “A Year in Provence”.

Symptoms are:
Over-straining to perceive the big-hearted nobility of the Greek Soul.
Inability to distinguish reality from imagination.
Delusion that in every Greek there lurks a poet, humorist, artist and philosopher.

Acute cases, like John Lucas’, see a Zorba in every Greek below a certain income level, and a wonderful humanity and freshness in every bad-tempered Athens traffic snarl-up. When this delusion extends to cast the Zorba glow over even the bureaucrats sitting in the offices of the electricity and telephone companies, I would say that it is terminal.

He includes some lovely poems though, and the book is worth getting for the  lyrical evocation of Greece, even if that of the Greeks is as irritating as hell.

Still, I suppose that while such a rosy view is irritating to Greeks like me who are unable to find even a hint of a single Zorba trait in any bureaucrat that I have ever had the misfortune to need anything from, any good press is welcome!

Just make sure you use a disinfectant handwash after you put the book down, to avoid passing on the virus. On second thoughts, perhaps what we all  actually need is a  good case of clinical Zorbitis. I take it all back, please buy the book!

Officials from the Electricity and Telephone companies expressing their Joy of Life.

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Hydra and the Deste Foundation

Quirky, classy, impossibly picturesque, Hydra is one of Greece’s truly magical spots. A great barren mass of mountain with steep sides, a hint of whitewashed church on the summit, and the spectacular bay in which the car-free town nestles like a little Portofino. Transport is by donkey or by foot, and the people who live in the highest-lying houses have enviably toned and trim figures…

How to get around on Hydra

Hydra has always attracted artists, interntional laureates, bohemians, writers, Athenian nobility,  and oddballs – Leonard Cohen moved here in the 1960’s, and fitted right in with the off-beat and laid-back glamour of the island. Brice Marden is now a permanent fixture.

 The island has in the last few years made a name for itself on the sharp edge of the art world. Uber-collector Dakis Joannou founded the  Deste Foundation, which  takes over an old slaughterhouse and transforms it every year into a showcase for a major new artist.  Three years ago he inaugurated it with an epic performance collaboration between Matthew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton. The next year it was followed  by “We”, a sculptural installation by Maurizio Cattelan.

This June, Deste hosted more than 300 international guests for Doug Aitken’s video-enhanced stage show set on a repurposed freight ship, Black Mirror, starring Chloe Sevigny. This was an atmospheric meditation on contemporary life that combined video installations and live theatre performances starring Chloë Sevigny, gospel singers, strippers and musicians. The LA-based band No Age set the mood, aided by a group of Greek percussionists and  the balmy Greek island night.

Chloe Sevigny in "Black Mirror"Chloe Sevigny and Doug Aitkins

 I am copying the New York Times article for you  by Kevin McGarry, as it gives a lovely picture of Hydra’s very special atmosphere:
“It was amid scores of stray kittens, luggage-hauling donkeys and posters of Sevigny languishing in the 100-degree July heat that I arrived in Hydra for an altogether more intimate art tradition: the opening of the British patron Pauline Karpidas’s waterfront gallery, the Hydra Workshops. For 13 consecutive years, the London gallery owner Sadie Coles has curated a summer exhibition here with Karpidas, showcasing young talents like Urs Fischer, Wilhelm Sasnal and, last year, Sergej Jensen.

 This year’s edition, mounted with the support of Karpidas’s son Panos, features work by three American artists: Frank Benson and Matt Johnson, each of whom contributed Hellenic-inspired figurative sculptures, and Mark Grotjahn, whose swirling wall works offered the toga-clad figures something mesmeric to gaze upon. Johnson’s two pieces are made of bronze and cast in the likenesses of the goddesses Artemis and Athena, made to look ancient through artificial corrosion and bored holes, as if extracted from a sea wreck. Benson’s is a lifelike modern woman wearing a designer dress and sunglasses, whose stance and silhouette nevertheless hark back to Classical times. The sculpture’s body, dress and shades were digitally fabricated from different artisanal stones and metals, the finished surfaces of which uncannily mimic qualities of flesh, cloth and glass. The piece weighs in at half a ton, and the evening before its delivery the artist promised a spectacular show of donkey might, anticipating how the thing would even make it from the boat to the gallery without a forklift.

Frank Benson's Human Statue

A couple dozen mostly British and Texan collectors, curators and friends ― a refined yet suitably rambunctious regional pairing ― gathered for the opening festivities, punctuated by New Yorkers like Clarissa Dalrymple and Nate Lowman, a Hydra Workshops alum, whose ever floppier hairdo befitted the breezy, panoramic sunsets. After the exhibition opened, I discovered we were not alone on the island. Diving into the water at a cliffside bar around midnight, I surfaced within range of Victoria Bartlett, who had just arrived on the hyrdofoil with a new crew including Maria Cornejo and Mark Borthwick. Camps merged the following evening, my last, for a squeaky musical performance by Borthwick at the outdoor movie theater in town. Given such a small world drawn together on such a small island, I think the big question left on some minds was: Where do they keep Leonard Cohen?

Where does one stay on Hydra? The Grand old Lady of the island is the Bratsera, where guests have elegant breakfasts around the pool in its colonnaded courtyard. A converted sponge factory, the hotel offers Hydriot history, charm and location although not the last word in luxury. This is the place to see and be seen though. Those in the know, and those wanting to stay a week, should rather flee the town and retreat to a villa on a little beach in a nearby bay, reachable by water-taxi or mule, and come and go in style as the mood takes them. 

As June is also the great annual festival of the Miaoulia,  (watch out for a future blogpost about this,) you do need to plan ahead if you want to visit the Deste Workshop event.

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Newsflash – for Greece.

Trying to keep up to date on what is happening in Greece and how it might affect travel? We love US based deTraci Regula’s website which is a valuable resource for travellers. The accommodation links and ads are not for you if you are a Five Star Greece client, but she presents the relevant political and tourist-related  information clearly and objectively, and has good tips.

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ANDROS for insiders.

Despina, who is normally  the merriest and sweetest of souls, was giving me the death stare over linguini at Joe’s Cafe in Sloane St. “Promote Andros? Encourage tourists?? May I ask why on earth you would want to do something like that???”

I felt like a 12 year old called in to see the headmistress in her study right this minute please and pull up those socks and straighten your tie on the way..

“I would only bring the right kind of tourists,” I said rather defensively, “No riff-raff obviously…”
The death stare flickered for a moment…
“People who would want to go to the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art and  look at the Matisses and Picassos, browse in the Kairis Library,  and visit the Kydoniefs Institute,” I persevered,  “People who would appreciate the refined cooking and the picture- postcard stone villages, people who would not litter the powdery golden sand beaches, people who would light a candle at the 13th Century monastery of Saint Panteleimon, people who would wear nice clothes, people who you could invite to drinks and would know how to behave on a yacht, people who would not get paralytic or sunburned, people you might even know…”

Despina sighed. “I am off to Athens to go to the opening of Ioanna’s Andros Heritage exhibition and book launch, and you can call me when I get back next week.”

“Well, will you at least write about the book launch for our blog” I asked, hopefully. “No.” she said, and called for the bill.

Despina is a lynch-pin of old Andriot society, a sophisticated and cosmopolitan London Greek, and a very old friend. We are even related – on the non-Android* side. If I can’t swing her round, I might as well give up.

Andros is rather like Port Hyannis. It is the preserve of the best-looking and most civilised of the great old shipping families. It has more foundations, institutes, art collections and museums housed in its spotless and perfectly preserved mansions than any other island. If you aren’t called Goulandris, Embiricos, or Kairis, the old joke is that you are unlikely to be allowed into Chora, the spotless and perfectly preserved capital crouching on its spit of land, crowned by a ruined Venetian castle and bashed by the meltemi waves, while gleaming yachts lie at anchor, and the geese on the beach strut their stuff along with the pretty girls. It is just a joke though, and it goes without saying that, even if you are not a Founding Family, you will be allowed in,  have a lovely time, and be very welcome too, but there is nowhere to stay in Chora unless you have friends, or have rented  a villa or one of the neo-classical town houses a stone’s throw from the waterfront,  with courtyard and terrace, from semi-insiders like us.

On May 10, 1821, Theophilos Kairis, one of the leading intellectuals of the Greek Revolution, whose descendants are today some of the most impossibly elegant Andriots that ornament London and Athens, marked the War of Independence by raising the Greek flag at the picturesque cliff-side church of St George: his famous speech, or “ritoras” inspired shipowners and merchants to donate funds to build a Greek Navy to fight the Ottoman overlords. And those same families have been amongst Greece’s foremost philanthropists ever since.

                                          Pictures from the Royal Visit to Andros in the 1950’s

The book to whose launch Despina and all the great and good of Andros are going, is a collection of photographs by our very own Ioanna Nicolareizi, who takes all our villa photographs, and has made a valuable documentation of the fabulous neo-classical mansions and neo-classical families of the island. If you are in Athens on the 3rd of November, do  drop into the Benaki –  brush your hair and dress nicely please, and it would be best to murmur “Goulandris” if anyone asks what your name is, before gliding off.

Ioanna's book.

Joking aside,  apart from car-free Chora and its Venetian/Byzantine/neo-classical maze of mansions and whitewashed steps, you can explore the  lovely countryside of the mountainous interior of Andros, where well-tended orchards and vegetable gardens testify to the fertility of the island and industrious nature of the Android farmer and his wife. Mountain streams rush down between the hills, and create long oases of green valleys with cataracts,  and white-washed dovecotes,  churches and monasteries nestle inside their cypress groves. If you haven’t brought your yacht, a rental car will do fine, as there are many lovely beaches you can drive to. Achla is one of the loveliest, with its terrapin-filled lagoon , waterfall just behind the crescent of perfect sand and pale blue sea, all elegantly framed by a little white church.

Almost within champagne cork-popping distance from Chora , we have a beautiful, peaceful country house with organic produce and pool,  as well as an ultra-modern, 9 bedroom luxury pad with its own beach, and a James Bond style elevator down to its own private beach bar.

Wherever you stay, in one of our villas on Andros or not, Despina did soften enough to kindly open her Andros address book and give me the name of Ta Skalakia, which is the best restaurant in Chora,  so there we are;  the thin edge of the wedge. You can consider yourself already there, unless of course you are riff-raff,  in which case….

*The correct English adjective is Andriot, but everyone, espcially non-Andriots, say Android. Don’t try it on your first visit though.

Photographs of Old Andros courtesy of 

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Spinalonga – Crete’s tragic leper island, and more of Joanna Lumley!

I don’t know who was doing the research for Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey, but in spite of the sometimes baffling choice of things for her to be amazed at/cry over/laugh at/drink or eat, there were some pure gold nuggets on Thursday.

The island of Spinalonga lies off the North-Eastern coast of Crete, just along from the Gulf of Elounda and all the smart hotels, and couldn’t offer a more poignant contrast to their bubble of international, modern luxury. The island served as a leper colony through the 18th and 19th century, and even into the 20th century, the last leper leaving in 1957. Now, small boats sail from the pretty little port of Plaka with its beach tavernas and gaily painted fishing boats, and make the crossing that was once so fateful, over to the forbidding island with its Venetian ramparts and desolate, abandoned ruins. It has the sublime beauty of ruins in a place of natural magnificence, with the added shiver of a feeling of whispering ghosts among the palm fronds, the faded aura of despair baked into the sun-blasted stones and rocks, and the blue, blue sea stretching to the horizon, at which so many hopeless eyes must have gazed yearningly. One of the sights of Greece that made the strongest impression on me.

Victoria Hislop’s book “The Island” is an atmospheric and moving novel based on a true story from Spinalonga.

Had Joanna headed up into the mountains behind, she would have found quiet and backward villages where ladies still wear the black headscarf, and men the navy blue breeches with their white shirts and black headbands,  and  peaceful monasteries nestle in their dark cypress groves. Below stretches the great panorama of the Bay of Mirabello.

Ask us about where to stay to experience this very special part of the world.

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