NICHOLAS CHRISOSTOMOU experiences an authentic slice of Hellenic history, artistically updated to create a rare hospitality experience on the shores of the Greek island of Serifos.
Luxury in terms of travelling experiences comes in many different guises. There is the obvious opulence of a lavish hotel suite, lined in silks rich woods and marble, littered with antique furniture and adorned with pricey artworks. Then there is the gastronomic luxury of consuming multiple courses of decadent foods paired with expensive wines. Personal time and space are often a luxury, especially for busy high-flying executives.
Bathing in the sun for an hour or two is considered a luxury by many, not least city folk who reside in bustling metropolises. And then there is the luxury of beholding a spectacular vista, feeling like it belongs solely to you, waking-up to the same view every morning and going to sleep at night after having watched the sun set in the horizon.
Until staying at COCO-MAT Eco Residences, on the beautiful unspoilt western Cycladic island of Serifos in the Aegean Sea, I must admit that I hadn’t ever really fully appreciated the latter. But I soon discovered that fanciful décor and all the bells and whistles in the hospitality world rather quickly paled into insignificance when confronted by such intense natural beauty, the like of which I experienced on Serifos, from my incredible vantage point above Vagia Bay, gazing down towards the calm azure waters below.
I realised soon after disembarking the Seajet ferry which whisked me there in two hours from Piraeus, as the minivan in which we were travelling to our lodgings passed fish tavernas, pastry shops and cafés lining Livadi harbour, that there was something intensely innocent and unpretentious about Serifos. I flash-backed to childhood family holidays in Cyprus, when times were carefree and young Nicholas bobbed up and down in a rubber ring on the Mediterranean. Arriving in Serifos, on a clear blue-skied June day, felt a little like stepping back into the seventies, and I knew there and then that I was in for a genuine Grecian treat.
As we traversed the winding roads, the scenery which unfolded before our eyes was quite literally breath-taking. Turning every corner gave way to another picture postcard bay or sweeping sea vista, and the island appeared to exude a calmness and reassurance that rapidly connected directly with my senses. Areas of arid terrain and wild countryside, punctuated by intense deep blue swathes of the Aegean, made me ache to get down to one of the beaches immediately, which I knew were below but couldn’t quite see.
Serifos is an island laden with history, and its mines and the people who worked them are a significant part of its past. Rich in iron ore and precious minerals, Serifos was once home to a mining industry that thrived for eighty years, giving prosperity to the island and growing the population. The exploitation of Serifos’ mineral resources by Emilios Gromman and his family began in 1885 and continued until 1962 when the mines closed as reserves depleted, production costs increased and metal prices were in decline around the world. The rusty remains of mining machinery, tools and carts dot some of the island’s lush green hills like poetic reminders of Serifos’ industrial past. In some places it feels like the workers literally downed their tools, stopped the wagons and walked away forever. COCO-MAT Eco Residences has been fashioned in such a way as to respect the everyday lives of the hardworking miners of the island’s bygone era and, in some way, keep their memory alive.
Set on wide, sandy and un-commercialised Vagia beach, free of tavernas and forming part of one of the most picture-perfect bays on the island, a hillside cluster of one-time grey-stone miners’ quarters built a century earlier, have been reimagined to create a rare hospitality experience incorporating an authentic slice of Greek history. Well-known architect, George Zafiriou, in conjunction with coveted contemporary Hellenic hospitality and sleep products brand, COCO-MAT, reworked the site into just over a dozen spacious two-storey residence-styled hotel suites, that skilfully merge the traditional elements of local architecture with an expansive industrial feel, to create hospitable spaces oozing natural light, in complete harmony with their surroundings. COCO-MAT’s involvement in this project is evident throughout what is essentially an über-relaxed boutique resort, catering to the needs of discerning travellers looking for a unique and tranquil spot for a hassle-free and peaceful break. Even the smallest details, such as room keys and slippers, are thoughtfully connected to the hotel’s warm and eco-friendly concept.
COCO-MAT Eco Residences is essentially a place to decompress, switch-off and, well, sit back with a drink in hand and simply admire the extraordinary scene in front of you. Because this resort is all about the somewhat implausible views, which draw the eye from every room, terrace and window. Within minutes of unpacking, shortly after dusk and quite unplanned, I fell into a sleep which lasted for almost twenty hours straight, waking only to eat, rehydrate and then drift back into a super contented slumber.
Obviously the further up the hillside you go the more spectacular the panorama beneath you. We were lucky enough to be staying in one of the highest two-bedroomed residences, which boasted a sprawling sun-trap-of-a-terrace off a spacious lounge cum dining room laid with brushed-concrete floors, cute trompe l’oeil tiles and simple handmade rugs. Both the rustic chic al fresco breakfast area – fashioned out of old timber planks and weighty remnants of oxidised mining equipment – and the more formal circular dining table inside could comfortably seat eight. Meanwhile deep custom-made built-in sofas, upholstered in restful shades of pale blue and grey, just screamed to be laid on. In fact there was not a part of the residence which didn’t feel snug, inviting or gently calming. Talented interior designers Ioanna Founti and Zili Karahaliou have deftly crafted warm and well-lit spaces, rich in earth tones, with an aesthetic made up of just the right combination of selected Serifos finds and restrained decorative items from Athens, complete with subtle nods to colonial style.
The only time I needed footwear during our four-night stay was to ride our rented quad bike around the island. Other than that I had pretty much no use for my Rivieras at all. Breakfasts of warm spanakopita, fresh fruits and melon, just-squeezed juices and the most divine Masticha Chai with honey were usually served to our room, even on days when I woke closer to lunchtime. And whilst there were countless places to go, hidden beaches to explore and must-see island sites to visit, quite honestly it was really just too tempting to do absolutely nothing but laze in the sun or have another lie down. The enormous all-natural daybeds on our terrace were for more than just sun-worshipping and siestas – more than once I seriously considered sleeping under the stars.
In so expertly unifying nature, simplicity and elegance in one exclusive yet unstuffy beachfront location, COCO-MAT Eco Residences not only offers a place to dispense with the cares and worries of our hectic 21st century lives, but also unwind, rest and rejuvenate ready to face the world again. The resort’s authentic Cycladic design merged with unadorned industrial order and casual eco-friendly ethos was the perfect setting for my barefoot Greek island break from reality. I can honestly say that parting from the spectacular views of Vagia Bay, to which I had woken on four splendid mornings, was not an easy or pleasurable task.
Nicholas made the two-hour crossing from Piraeus (Athens) direct to Serifos on a Seajet catamaran www.seajets.gr/en