Grand is an apt word when describing Porto Carras Grand Resort located on the Halkidiki peninsula of Sithonia. Covering 4,500 acres with over five miles of pristine Aegean shoreline, Porto Carras is a luxury village. Of course that's exactly what its founder, Greek shipping tycoon Giannis Carras, wanted to create when he discovered the area in the 1960s.
First constructing his own impressive vacation home, Villa Galini, he was soon planning the rest of the enterprise that, according to his master plan, would create a self-sustaining resort. Giannis Carras nearly succeeded. According to senior manager Harry Kazazis raising one's own livestock proved the tipping point, but productive organic farms for nearly all produce needs and the vineyard Domaine Porto Carras were firmly established.
Between the Sithonia and Meliton Hotels, the apartments at the Village Club & Marina and Villa Galini there are over 1,000 spacious rooms, all with private balconies offering expansive water or mountain views. Villa Galini is the most exclusive, reserved for special events and high profile conferences usually resulting in guests arriving at one of the resort's three helipads or private yacht. Mr. Carras entertained his wide circle of friends at Villa Galini, which included heads of state, royalty, international artists and celebrities. Salvador Dali designed one of the bathrooms.
Yet Porto Carras is a family and couples' resort with an emphasis on providing whatever suits the guest in making a memorable vacation. The Sithonia Hotel caters largely to families providing an all-inclusive bed and board arrangement common among Halkidiki resorts. Meals in the Mediterraneo Restaurant are part of the all-inclusive arrangement and cover all tastes from a vast buffet of food stations. A Kids Club will keep children entertained whether the parents want to take the half-hourly water shuttle to the nearby picturesque town of Neos Marmaras, play at the golf and tennis clubs or trek the vast resort by horseback. Of course several pool complexes, all with natural salt water, please everyone.
The Meliton Hotel recently reopened after major renovations to update its already luxurious appointments. Catering to couples, a stay at the Melilton includes breakfast only. The quieter Meliton includes an impressive pool and spa and entertainments such as the White Party where everyone dresses in white and soft jazz plays while enjoying cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
Of course, the major reason for any Aegean vacation is the beaches. Porto Carras Grand Resort has over five miles of private protected beaches Blue Flag certified by the EU.
No resort as comprehensive as Porto Carras would be complete without spas and a casino. The Thalassotherpy and Spa in the Sithonia Hotel includes a warm saltwater hydro massage pool that both relaxes muscles and softens the skin. Followed by a deep tissue massage utilizing techniques of the guest's choosing the spa provides just the touch necessary after a long day of activities and preparation for a long night of revelry. That revelry may include a quiet drink at one of the several lounges, dancing at the disco or trying one's luck at the Casino until dawn.
Yet, says Mrs. Kazazis, wife of senior manager Harry Kazazis, "Olive oil is the reason Greeks live a long life." Therefore at Porto Carras "We want our clients to taste everything we produce." Honoring the founder's wishes, the resort perpetuates farm to table dining that is still the Greek way. The 'dine around' plan, which can substitute for some meals in the all-inclusive, offers an option for all guests at all the hotels of choosing three restaurants among the resorts eight upscale venues.
The White Room in the Sithonia has been recently renovated with a new Asian themed menu whereas the Pergola cafe at the pool offers light Greek and Mediterranean fare. Naftis serves upscale Mediterranean cuisine, Ampelos is a Greek taverna, and Kohi beach bar serves light fare daily and is lively with evening music and dancing. Three themed food nights a week – Greek, seafood and barbeque – on the beach are another popular option, reservations necessary, and can accommodate up to 300 people.
At dinner with the senior manager of Porto Carras Grand Resort, Mr. Harry Kazazis, his wife and Mr. Christos Zikos, member of the Board of Directors, classic Greek dishes and the executive chef's specialties were paired with the excellent wines produced by Domaine Porto Carras. The vineyard scales the foothills of Mount Meliton covering 1,100 acres. Among the grape varieties are limnio of which Aristotle made reference. The microclimates of Halkidiki and eastern Macedonia make the region ideal for vineyards. Domaine Porto Carras is the largest organic winery in Greece.
Magnus, an international award winning label, is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, and was served slightly chilled - ten minutes on ice. It was reminiscent of a light, fruity boujelais with clean berry notes that complimented a balsamic glazed grilled pork fillet with zucchini and potatoes. Domaine Porto Carras wines are available in the USA.
Although founder Giannis Carras enjoyed this paradise for only 20 years before his passing in the late 1980s, his dream of sharing the Greek ideal of hospitality – olives, wine and home – has been honored by Konstantinos Stengos, owner of Technical Olympic Group. That should come as no surprise to those who understand the Greeks. After all they deified the very concept through the Olympian god Dionysus. It's unthinkable to change perfection.
Porto Carras Grand Resort is an easy 110 km (66 mile) highway drive from Thessaloniki's Macedonia International Airport, which is served by frequent flights from Athens and many European hubs.
Disclosure: the author was a guest of Porto Carras Grand Resort and the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.