Top of the Pelops Wendy Coumantaros savours the history and the high life of the Peloponnese
Top of the Pelops
Wendy Coumantaros savours the history and the high life of the Peloponnese
PORTO HELI IS the Cap Ferrat of Greece, if the density of super-rich with summer houses and island ownership is your guide. The village is nothing, but the new Aman resort sits on a hill above it, in a paradise of ancient olive orchards and carob trees, another place altogether.
The Peloponnese, separated from mainland Greece by the Gulf of Corinth and two and a half hours from Athens by car (or 25 minutes by helicopter), is widely considered the heartland of Greece, and today it has both the ski slopes of the Arcadian mountains and the World Heritage site of the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus.
If your ambition is to escape the company of billionaires, this is not the place to go. Dotting the skyline are islands populated by the Niarchos, the Livanos and a dozen more notable families, all the way back to King Pelops, founder of the Olympic Games 3,000 years ago and the islands’ eponym.
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The Amanzo’e, the new Aman resort here, has a sky-wide view of money floating on bright blue water. The only ordinary people around are the staff of 190, or five per pavilion. I found they woke me up, put me to sleep and did everything else that Greek hospitality can think of in-between.
The Amanzo’e is a model of the ancient Athenian Acropolis, with 552 columns beside a vast reflection pool. Gazing on it remotely are 38 guest pavilions with snapshot views of the sea.
My marble pavilion with unexpectedly high coffered ceilings overcame the danger that classical style can be boring by making three walls of the main room glass, looking on to an old stone courtyard and an enchanting garden planted with rosemary, lavender, jasmine, cypress trees and lemon trees. Slide a wall away and in the evening you admit an intoxicating aroma. Every pavilion has its own swimming pool, and below it lies a secluded golden sandy beach exclusive to the hotel — the Aegean gleams on the horizon of every view. And there was not a bust of Aristotle or Homer to be seen.
The Amanzo’e’s 50 metre-long infinity pool
Did it have character? What Amanzo’e most obviously had was luxury: tennis, gym, spa, an ample library and a private room for movies. For those who can’t escape the office, there is a Gallerie des Glaces conference room with vivid apricot marble — you can walk a long way to find that.
Water is everywhere, most of all in an infinity pool. Those who find 50 metres too long a length to swim can head to the beach club, situated in a secluded sandy bay where large boats are dammed. For the deeply healthy, several small islands are within swimming range. For the deeply indolent, there are beige and white chaises longues. Bronze silhouettes by the sculptor Alekos Fassianos on cloakroom doors were definitely unusual, but a lovely artistic touch.
I looked hard for faults, but they are hard to find. The food was Greek of the first rank, local artisan fare, but not frightening to foreigners. The dishes which stay in one’s memory are the daily catches of gentle Aegean fish and the Greek lamb on a spit. Just as rewarding, however, were the honey and the figs at breakfast with creamiest of yoghurts untasted in London and New York.
The sunset view at Amanzo’e
IT IS HARD to leave, but if you must, Hydra and Spetses are ten minutes away by ferry from Porto Heli. A beehives and honey museum is fifteen minutes by car down the road. Not all is for sniffing: much is for sale.
Some readers will be driven to buy or rent, rather than pass through for a salubrious holiday. For them Amanzo’e has customised villas with much more surrounding land, shrewdly planted olive trees and panoramic sea views. The architect of the entire resort is Ed Tuttle, whom Adrian Zecha has engaged on numerous previous Aman resort projects, and both embrace the idea of the resort as a private abode while integrating with the local geography.
It seemed to me a blessed place. I am not alone: an Orthodox priest gave his blessing to Amanzo’e on its opening day.
The Campana Brothers designed the New Hotel’s restaurant
The New Hotel, Athens
A welcome addition to the faintly gloomy Athens hotel scene is the New Hotel, untypically full of arts and crafts and unusual interiors. Small, bright bedrooms with ladder chairs for hanging your clothes are worlds apart from the yawning high-ceilinged bedrooms in Athens’s typically Edwardian hotels.
The 79-roomed hip establishment, 200 yards from Constitution Square, the Acropolis and the beautiful national gardens, is designed by Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana. Local art students have been let loose on the bedrooms, making designer furniture, cladding the walls with leather and Ugandan bark cloth and installing creative sculptures.
A bedroom in the New Hotel, Athens
The food was beyond delicious — calamari cooked to perfection, tender and succulent steak. Thank an English chef for this, Stephen Frost. By the time I had to say goodbye to the glorious city, I felt rejuvenated.
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