They say the joy of travel is in the journey, not the destination. At Thalatta Hotel, it’s both. They want your holiday to start before you’ve even arrived. And the two-hour drive from Athens certainly allows for that. It’s set in a hitherto little known corner of Greece, Agia Anna on the island of Evia. Which? Quite. And the drive there does as much to add to the sense of discovery as arriving at the destination.
We’d be forgiven for not knowing Evia. Look at a map of Greece. Look closer. See that stretch of land shaped like a seahorse above the Athens peninsula? That looks like part of the mainland? That’s Evia. And, yes, it’s an island. Greece’s second biggest no less, after Crete. So close is it to the mainland, in fact, that at its straights feature an unexplained tidal phenomenon where currents reverse direction every six hours. A phenomena whose key characters in Greek mythology gave the island and its capital their names.
And this is not the Greece you might think. You won’t see English on the road signs in this Greece. You won’t find tavernas called Zorba’s. Or Irish pubs. In this Greece you can buy half litre jars of local honey from hilltop villages, wine grows in small backyard-sized plots and mountain pine forests give way to stunning sea vistas. It’s the sort of Greece where you have to stop for goat herders and their flock. Where tarmac becomes dirt track. And where there still exists five miles of prime beachfront that’s still undeveloped. It’s the sort of Greece where you find the Thalatta Hotel.
This makes it an oddity. You see, among the unspoilt, undeveloped stretch of Greek coastline, where you’d be hard pushed to see a house among the coarse brush and a collection of raffia sun shades on the beach look isolated, it stands so strikingly modern it’s as if Buck Rogers decided to build his holiday home here. Its compact, cubist, Bauhaus-influenced construct might have Prince Charles balking but it sits comfortably in its environment, even embraces it. The Scandi-influenced interiors, all polished concrete and pine, and floor-to-ceiling glass panelling that opens up to reveal a skeletal structure, allow the cool sea air to waft through it as easily as the ambient music I could hear from the poolside. Spaces between building sections act like frames on scenic vistas, the rooms are each individually set into the building at different points giving a sense of uniqueness as well as privacy, and some – like ours – are even accessed over walkways. There’s a sense of adventure here, even playfulness.
That, too, extends to what’s offered for children. It’s the definition of family friendly. A blackboard behind the reception offers suggestions for activities and the ‘magical forest’ at the back of the hotel, where it falls into its natural surroundings, is crammed full of climbing frames, a puppet show stage and even a flight simulator. Nothing is at a disadvantage for little ones; staff are specifically trained in little people management and the chef even lays out a children’s buffet at mealtimes.
But, much as reading this might elicit feelings of fear among solace-seeking adults, they’ve thought of that too. The terrace, at the top of the hotel, with its commanding views of the sea and surrounds, offer a terrific vantage point to witness sunsets and enjoy a quiet, airy dinner a deux. A dinner, incidentally, that you won’t find anywhere else if this chef has anything to do with it. I hadn’t known that grouper could be complimented by a vanilla sauce until I saw it on the menu. And my ignorance has been reaffirmed. Thalatta’s menu is as daring and different as its architecture. Fortunately, it’s not all cod a l’orange; I have to credit the chef, in fact, his buffets are a delight and are done well enough to turn even the most ardent buffetphobe (myself included) into a believer.
But then this daring quality to the hotel isn’t surprising when one considers its provenance. It’s a seven-year institution among holidaying Athenians, built by a young, unassuming and enterprising fellow on a plot of land, like those of most of the residents of Agia Ana, that has been in the family for generations. It was an idea conditional on his gaining a footing in the hotel business and born of years of learning the craft and then knowing what could be done differently, done well, and with zeal.
It’s not all perfect; the beach, alas, is of the muddy variety, and there’s little else here short of a couple of sleepy cafes further up the shore, but Thalatta more than makes up for any limitations with the experiences they provide. A bike trail through the pine forest, an exploratory drive (hire cars are on hand from reception) around the island, even a boat trip on their yacht, moored off the beach – our means of accessing the island from Skiathos, no less – give plenty of opportunity to immerse onself in Greek culture. And they’re as proud of their culture as they are a part of it.
One particularly immersive experience is the cookery school. Invited into a local homestead – itself in the family for generations, naturally – we are met by the present incumbent, Kyra, with a personality as big as her frame, who gets us stuck into stuffed peppers and souvlaki. If the holy grail of travel is to experience the authentic, the feeling of what it must be like to live somewhere, even if for a moment, then there’s something about enjoying our embarrassingly-attempted efforts out on the veranda in the warm island sun, sipping raki and sharing stories, that feels like we’ve arrived.
Thalatta is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and is a recipient of a clutch of awards and accolades, including for ‘innovative experience’ at the 2015 Tourism Awards and TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence 2012-15.
For details of experiences, rates and offers, including their €89 half-board Easter promotion, visit www.thalattahotel.gr.
For more information about Greece, including what to see and do there and planning your trip, visit www.discovergreece.com.