Set over seven square miles on the historic Greek peninsula of Sithonia, the Porto Carras Grand Resort has been a vision in the making for 40 years. That's a mere page in the history of Greece. The once productive rocky land owned by a monastery of the one millennium old legendary Monastic State of Mount Athos became the dream property of an equally legendary Greek shipping tycoon.
It's a story worthy of Shakespeare's Tempest. During a stormy night in the 1960s the yacht of Giannis Carras with a few dozen millionaires on board took refuge in an isolated cove behind Turtle Island in Toroneos Gulf and become enchanted. Well versed like all Greeks in the ancient history of this storied land, Giannis was enamored with the landscape and bought it from the monastery. One can imagine the longing for peace and tranquility that celebrities seek.
On the highest point named centuries ago after an executed thief, Giannis Carras commissioned the construction of Villa Galini. It's a stunning mansion evoking the unique construction of Athos monastic engineering – a cliff clinging structure. Building Villa Galini required that the stones for construction be hauled by donkeys and men up cliffs hundreds of feet high and the surrounding landscape be restored with tens of thousands of the goddess Athena's olive trees and Greece's verdant vineyards. Sharing wine, olives and home with friends is the ultimate desire of all Greeks.
Giannis Carras had the innate hospitality to share this bounty. He invited friends from Melina Mercouri, Salvador Dali and Princess Grace to the equally legendary musician Gina Bachauer, whose piano resides in the villa, plus hundreds of others to enjoy his paradise. Yet the entrepreneurial spirit couldn't be submerged. A vision emerged to create a resort village of unprecedented dimensions.
It was not only the scale of his vision but the breadth. Giannis dreamed of a self-sufficient resort that would never have to purchase anything from olives to beef steak. Although time proved that this all encompassing vision was not realistic, Porto Carras Grand Resort has succeeded in growing a large percentage of its produce and herbs. Its organic vineyard, Domaine Porto Carras, has garnered international awards.
By the time of the passing of Giannis Carras and the sale of the resort to Konstantinos Stengos, owner of Technical Olympic Group, Porto Carras Grand Resort contained hotels accommodating several thousand guests – the Sithonia and Meliton Hotels and the Village Club & Marina. Yet Giannis long-range master plan for the resort has been on track with the current owners. "It fits because it's so big and will be constructed in stages," says senior manager Harry Kazazis, over the vast square mileage of the resort.
It'll be an entirely self-contained new town – a combination of villas and apartments. Vacation homes will dominate and the resort has a real estate and leasing arm for both purchases and rentals. Residents will have access to resort facilities, services and discounts at the restaurants. The resort already contains three heliports, a 315 slip marina and approved plans allowing seaplane access.
Facilities for guests and residents include a year-round 18 hole golf and tennis club complete with pro instructors, a diving and water sports center, a horseback riding club, extreme games, soccer fields, climbing wall, hiking trails, beach volleyball, gyms and a kids club. Of course, there are spas and a luxurious casino with roulette, blackjack, slots and its own luxury restaurant. The hotels are certified green and its over five miles of private beaches on the Toroneos Gulf are Blue Flag certified by the EU. It even has its own complimentary Mini Train to transport guests around the vast resort.
The shear size of Porto Carras Grand Resort makes it appealing simply because it's impossible to feel crowded. A guest can dance away to raucous music in a disco or sit in silence at a beach in a secluded cove with an equal sense of security late at night. Giannis Carras must be smiling from heaven, or Mount Olympus, knowing his vision of Greek hospitality will continue for decades to come.
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.
Porto Carras Grand Resort shares wine, olives and home – part two will soon appear on Examiner.com