After creating three unique properties in Santorini, each reflecting the spirit of its location, it was only a matter of time before KANAVA Hotels & Resorts explored wider hotel development in Greece. Pauline Brettell speaks to co-owner Kalia Konstantinidou about the group’s island-hopping development plans…
KAVANA Hotels & Resorts is meaningfully making a dent in hotel development pipeline in Greece with its collection of unique hotels, resorts and villas that are all designed and curated by owners Kalia Konstantinidou and her husband, and business partner, Antonis Eliopoulos. For the pair, it is all about creating beautiful spaces as well as memorable experiences, while introducing guests to their beloved Cycladic way of life.
The brand’s hospitality vision first emerged on the whitewashed island of Santorini, where Eliopoulos turned a rustic vineyard on his family estate into the first five-star hotel of the island in 1993, which is now the renowned Vedema, a Luxury Collection Resort.
Since then, the couple’s combined passion for hospitality motivated them to expand in 2007 towards the north of the island, with the opening of Mystique, a boutique jewel carved into the rugged Caldera cliffs. Taking a different approach in 2018, the decision was made to transform an abandoned mansion of a legendary socialite on the famous black-sand beach of Perivolos into the peaceful Istoria, a Member of Design Hotels that offers a unique residential accommodation experience.
After making its mark on Santorini, KANAVA Hotels & Resorts stylishly island hopped to Paros, where it opened the brand’s fourth hotel, Parīlio, a Member of Design Hotels, which is a statement hotel, envisioned as a gateway to the real Cyclades. The following year, the group introduced Acron Villas, a unique collection of 24 villas, all with a minimal Cycladic aesthetic.
The visionary brand is fast establishing its position on the island, and is launching its third property on Paros in 2022, Cosme Hotel, a project that is conceived to be a celebration of the authentic Mediterranean village. The hotel aims to “carry its guests away in time”, and filling them with a sense of serenity.
Before then – and with the aim to establish where the next hotel development hotspot is in Greece – I caught up with Konstantinidou for a coffee in London’s west end. I wanted to get an idea of both the brand in general, as well as the more specific plans for the new project on Paros – and I was told that no question was off limit!
Pauline Brettell: You first opened in Santorini in 1993 with Vedema, which was the first Five Star hotel on the island. Has the vision changed over the years – is luxury in 1993 the same as luxury in 2023?
Kalia Konstantinidou: Luxury has completely changed in the last three decades, in the sense that back in the 1990’s it was solely based on material goods and offerings, while in 2020’s, especially in the post-Covid era, the meaning of ‘high-end’ or ‘jet set’ travel is not defined by the material and lifestyle, rather by the experiential and intellectual.
The world has changed enormously, and as such our vision has been blended with creating unique hotels that define a destination, with the need to connect, to engage with communities, to be mindful and to travel for a purpose. And as travel reminds us of all the things that we share, most notably our humanity and our planet, the new luxury that we embrace is also connected with sustainable travel and a more mindful approach to travel: fewer trips, longer trips, more meaningful trips. While the planet has been incredibly resilient for billions of years, it is uncanny how vulnerable we are on this earth that has a vastly growing population, and one that is so interconnected.
PB: How does KANAVA Hotels & Resorts stand out from the crowd?
KK: The most substantial thing that makes KANAVA Hotels & Resorts unique is that we are looking into the essence of things. We strive to create a better world for tourism, one that listens to its communities better than any other industry in the world. We create projects with the essence of being sustainable, sincere, and purposeful places for us and global travellers to live in, and we insist on creating awareness for a better kind of travel!
PB: Your choice of locations seems quite personal, what made you decide to move from Santorini to Paros?
KK: Santorini is our first and eternal love. It will always have a special place in our heart as it is the island where our journey started and made our passion for hospitality evolve.
After creating three unique properties in Santorini, each with their own distinctive character, yet tied with the common elements that always inspire us, we felt that we have managed to successfully leave our footprint on the island’s hospitality scene, showcasing all angles of it, it just felt natural for us to seek a new challenge for our fourth property, and we found it almost instinctively in Paros. In 2019 we launched Parīlio, while in 2020 we introduced Acron Villas, a unique collection of twenty-four villas.
Wishing to establish our position on the island, we will be launching in May 2022, Cosme, a project that we hope will further enhance the island’s luxury hospitality scene, located right on the waterfront of Naoussa.
PB: Of all the islands in all of Greece, why were you drawn to Paros?
KK: Paros is the island where we used to spend our holidays as teenagers, but also later as a couple, and in the course of time, as a family. It is a relatively unexplored island with compelling potential, exquisite natural beauty, rich culture, and gastronomy. The younger crowds come looking for a laidback holiday among its pristine sandy beaches and lively nightlife. Surfers come for its inviting waves, while families enjoy its many sheltered bays. Visitors love the picturesque villages and bougainvillea-lined alleyways. And nature lovers come to explore the island’s wildlife and stunning geological formations.
PB: And having decided on Paros, what specifically do you look for in a new hotel location?
KK: Having decided on Paros, we were initially looking into a location that would feel welcoming and have a positive energy for us, so that we can multiply this energy through the filter of locale and make it into a magnet that would attract travellers from all around the world, into a mainly unknown location, making them want to explore it, and immerse in it.
PB: Acron villas in particular seems to be embedded in the landscape – is there a theme emerging?
KK: For Acron Villas, we were looking into absorbing the wild landscape that embraces the project and that is strongly dominated by the Mycenean Acropolis which lies just next to it. We used a lot of local stone that comes from the cliff and followed a typical Parian architecture that is characterised by the traditional classic elements of the Cycladic architecture, like the austere landscape, the weather conditions (mainly the winds) and the need for protection from the invaders-conquerors in the old times.
All of the projects in Paros showcase some aspect of local design, from the sunlight, to traditional village dwellings, simpler monastic spaces, or the rough-hewn rocks of the surrounding cliffs.
PB: How is this new project, Cosme Hotel, going to differ from the other properties in Paros?
KK: The new project, coming also in the post pandemic era, is a ‘celebration of life’, a unique hotel design that is a mix of experiences and rituals from all around the Mediterranean, anchoring in Paros and inviting travellers to appreciate the gifts of life, in a Greek summer setup that makes you feel carefree, happy, and full of positive energy.
Located on a sublime seafront stretch, the hotel’s private beach club overlooks the translucent Aegean Sea and in line with KAVANA Hotels & Resorts’ engagement to offer our guests holistic wellness and mindful experiences, it will have a unique outdoor wellness and fitness centre, including a stargazing area. It is a project that is predominantly anthropocentric and that aims for a sense of holistic wellbeing originating from happiness and a conscious connection with both people and also place.
PB: Sustainability is mentioned as part of your vision. How do you translate that into KAVANA Hotels & Resorts across the board – and has working in Paros thrown up any particular issues when it comes to questions of sustainability in the local environment and community?
KK: Sustainability has always been embedded as a core value of our company’s growth and development. We consider that the sole way for our company to grow is through sustainable practices, to ensure not only that the environmental impact of our hotels is minimised, but also that we contribute to the community by supporting organisations and charities with a sustainability focus. As a result, we have planned and implemented a dedicated environmental management plan (EMP) that prioritises green self-efficacy across our operations. We deem that this plan, along with our company’s commitment to protect the environment and contribute to the societal well-being, are our fundamental duties when striving to success. We were thrilled to discover that in Paros, sustainability has been in a more mature stage than in Santorini and have already started working with local and international organisations that support the local environment and community, and we are partnering in several initiatives including water and energy usage.
PB: And finally, for visitors to Paros, what is the one ‘must-do’ thing you would recommend to see/experience?
KK: A difficult question, as Paros is a conclave of unique experiences all of them seeking to elevate the local experience, but if I need to streamline to one, then this would be strolling in the streets of Naoussa right after sunset and heading towards one of the romantic restaurants in the little port, tasting some authentic Greek food that celebrates the Greek summer. This is an experience that certainly makes you feel in place!
> Since you’re here, why not read our latest hotel review from Greece?
Main image credit: KAVANA Hotels & Resorts