On the Greek island of Paros, the Paros Land Hotel offers more than the hospitality that makes this country a top tourist destination. Greece has stories to explain everything. The olive tree was Athena's gift to the people providing food, oil and fuel regardless of human whims and history. Spend time talking to the owners of the Paros Land Hotel and their promising young chef and you understand that this symbolic resilience has sustained Greece for millenniums. It's a creative force responsible for this enterprise and it will propel Greece beyond a temporary financial crisis.
Mrs. Tricha Stavroula and her family own several businesses on Paros including Evi Rooms Hotel. Nestled among groves of olive trees within walking distance of the quintessential Greek seaside village of Alyki lay a victim of the financial crisis that has temporarily gripped most of the world's modern economies. The 26-room Paros Land Hotel was shuttered for four years before the entrepreneurial Stavroula family signed a long-term lease on the property in the Autumn of 2013.
After a total renovation of the village-like complex, representing a considerable investment, the Paros Land Hotel reopened in April. Yet it was more than time and cash that has reinvigorated the hotel. Successful Greek enterprises involve the entire multigenerational family calling upon each member's talents. Brothers, sisters, in-laws and grandchildren have all had a hand in the design, rebuilding and the myriad operational details required of a hotel. Their pride was palpable when they sat down each night at a long wooden table in the airy dining room for lengthy multi-course meals.
Sitting with the family for four nights gave this journalist an inside perspective as to how a successful Greek business operates. For the month prior to opening, the hotel and its Ελαιώνας (Olive Grove) Restaurant had been staffed operating for invited guests. Tricha explained that despite the added expense, the training for all involved, including her, was invaluable. The family dinners especially represented more than Greek tradition; they were the time to sample, critique and tweak the menu.
Twenty-three year old chef Michael Margaris ably commands the sleek modern Paros Land Hotel kitchen. Having apprenticed with chefs in Athens since the age of 17 his passion is very local, sourcing most ingredients within a three-mile radius of the hotel – exceptions such as fava beans from neighboring Santorini excluded. He does not believe in deep fat frying and uses the two fryolators to boil pasta. Chef Margaris exemplifies a new generation of Greek chefs reinterpreting their grandmother's recipes and in turn energizing the national cuisine.
Traditional Greek breakfast included crusty breads from Ο ΠΑΡΑΔΟΣΙΑΚΟΣ ΦΟΥΡΝΟΣ της Αγκαιριας (Traditional Oven of Ageria) just down the street that grinds its own wheat, accompanied by in-house made jams, sublime herbal scented honey from bees feasting on the abundance of wild herbs covering the Paros hillsides and freshly prepared juices. Cheeses from ΑΓΡΟΤΙΚΟΣ ΣΥΝΕΤΑΙΡΙΣΜΟΣ ΝΑΡΟΥ (Agricultural Cooperative Naro), yogurt thick enough to eat with a fork or ριζογαλο, a semi-sweet rice pudding may be on the table. Chef Margaris may present as well an omelet seasoned with wild oregano and cracked pepper filled with foraged almyra, a popular succulent that grows between rocks on the seashore, and stamnogothi, a wild mountain green gathered in the Spring along with local xinomizithra, a semi-soft unpasteurized goat and cows milk cheese.
Multi course dinners featured an array of both traditional and unconventional dishes – grandmother's recipes tweaked. Among the traditional were a variety of salads including greens with κritqmo, a seaside herb with tarragon-like taste, and capers dressed with oil pressed from the Stavroula family's own olives. Santorini fava bean puree with capers and preserved caper leaves was a simple and addictive appetizer. Roast lamb was paired with potatoes drizzled with fresh lemon juice. Swivels pasta, a local Paros island pasta tossed with a deep herbed sauce of beef tail was notable among the traditional entrees.
Olive oil marinated fresh anchovies and sardines are ubiquitous in the islands, but the chef positioned his anchovies surrounding a cake of lentils, horn beans, chopped fresh marinated anchovies, capers, caper leaves, black olives and sundried tomatoes creating a modern dish that easily blended flavors. Baked whole sea bass arrived wrapped in parchment on a bed of foraged almyra. Fillet of sea bream with herbed salt topping fresh almyra was accented with a swirl of deep red beet puree. Wines included excellent dry organic varietals from Moraities Winery.
Every well-designed Greek house, apartment or hotel includes a balcony or private terrace and the single floor Paros Land Hotel was no exception. Spacious marble floored rooms opened onto private terraces. Newly planted gardens with local plants well suited to the dry climate of the Cyclades group of islands will within a year create a riot of color. Upscale bathroom fixtures, free wi-fi, a large swimming pool with a cafe and even a children's playground round out the amenities. The hotel has its own Greek Orthodox chapel, not uncommon on the islands, where weddings will be performed and chef Margaris would be pleased to prepare the reception dinner.
Among a minority of island hotels, Paros Land will remain open all year with the Olive Grove restaurant open Thursday through Sunday during the off-season. This is a plus because winters in the Cyclades islands are often mild with a blissful sense of peace. That's the peace defying reality in opposition to news reports of turmoil. Greece has survived and prospered for millenniums, just as Athena's olive trees have provided food, oil and fuel for generations. After a vacation at Paros Land Hotel one will understand why the Greeks still recite the stories of antiquity – they tell the truth.
Paros island is a comfortable 5 hour ferry voyage on modern full-service ships from the Athens port of Piraeus.
Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Municipality of Paros and the Paros Land Hotel