In search of the Greek magic of The Ma­gus

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

I’ve al­ways thought the “ho­tel week­end” an odd idea – the no­tion that you would choose a hol­i­day pri­mar­ily be­cause of the ho­tel rather than the lo­ca­tion. But I’d heard so much about the Po­sei­do­nion Grand Ho­tel in Spet­ses that last bank hol­i­day I headed there with my wife and two close friends. Spet­ses is the Greek is­land that in­spired John Fowles’s bril­liant (and in­fu­ri­at­ing) novel, I won­dered if any of its magic and mys­ti­cism re­mained.

The ho­tel was al­most the first build­ing we saw as we ar­rived on the Sea­cat from Athens. It sits in a com­mand­ing po­si­tion next to the har­bour and it is truly gor­geous. Opened in 1914 by Sotirios Anar­gy­ros, a phi­lan­thropist, it re­sem­bles a minia­ture French chateau.

When you en­ter the re­cep­tion area with its wide stair­case and lovely mar­ble floor, you don’t feel you’re in a ho­tel at all. It’s more like the home of a very wealthy friend. The re­cep­tion desk is just a ta­ble tucked away in a cor­ner with an an­tique switch­board close by. Some of the art was a touch gar­ish for my taste, but as you wan­der through the li­brary, the pi­ano room and the bars, every­thing else feels un­der­stated and el­e­gant.

Our room looked out over the sea, with the Greek main­land just a short dis­tance away. The ho­tel has a lovely ter­race run­ning along­side a wide es­planade with palm trees and a statue of Bouboulina, the first fe­male ad­mi­ral and a lo­cal hero. You could sit here all day, watch­ing life go by. Food and drink prices at the ho­tel are ex­pen­sive, eye-wa­ter­ingly so for Greece, but the ser­vice is ex­em­plary, and you’re pay­ing for a stan­dard of lux­ury you won’t find any­where else in the coun­try. A first-class break­fast was in­cluded in the price.

It was quite hard to tear our­selves away, but the town of Spet­ses was right next door. It’s charm­ing, un­like any­where I’ve vis­ited in Greece, start­ing at ground level with mo­saics fash­ioned out of coloured peb­bles. There’s a dis­tinctly Côte d’Azur vibe about the place, which, per­haps be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Athens, has al­ways been some­thing of a mil­lion­aires’ play­ground. In fact, it was slightly spoiled by some of the su­per-yachts moored os­ten­ta­tiously along the quay.

There are also some fan­tas­ti­cally hand­some man­sions built above and into the fortress walls – again, they’re said to be the most ex­pen­sive in Greece. The shops are gen­er­ally up­mar­ket with much less of the tat I’ve found on other is­lands. I loved the old gen­eral store, which looked as if it had al­ways been there and was crammed with thou­sands of use­ful things, a re­minder that Spet­ses isn’t just about tourism. In fact, the tourist sea­son is fairly short. Spet­ses has two har­bours, one old, one new, and you can take a horse and car­riage be­tween them for just €10 (£8.80), or walk around to the light­house with the pines and cedars part­ing to pro­vide gor­geous views. Even in May the wa­ter was eas­ily warm enough for swim­ming, and if you hire a bike or a mo­tor scooter there are plenty of de­cent beaches within easy reach.

There are dozens of restau­rants but gen­er­ally we found the cheaper, more or­di­nary ones more to our lik­ing, with bet­ter food and at­mos­phere. I’d

His­toric: the Po­sei­do­nion Grand Ho­tel

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