Aegialis Hotel and Spa on Amorgos Island – A Love Affair in Hospitality

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By Nicholas Kontis

The story of Amorgos Island is a tale of beauty. Folklore has it that adjacent islands in the Cyclades told a tale of a neighboring island where only beautiful women resided. This tale of “omorfos” in Greek, or beauty, was folklore about the less traveled Amorgos Island.

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The Main Port of Amorgos – From The Aegialis Hotel & Spa

Amorgos is one of the most alluring Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, yet unfortunately remains undiscovered by most travelers to the Greek Islands. This is a shame, as this island sanctuary leaves much to be desired. Located viewing distance from Naxos, Santorini, and Ios, on the southern side of the Cyclades, this breathtaking island stuns visitors with a natural beauty, a slow paced life, traditional architecture, which sends you back 100 years, and is filled with fabulous beaches. Its virgin beauty inspired the filmmaker Luc Besson to shoot scenes from the movie The Big Blue on the beach of Agia Anna. The most famous sight of Amorgos Island is the impressive Monastery of Hozoviotissa, constructed on the slopes of a rock with breathtaking view to the sea. A walk in Chora and the other villages of Amorgos in Greece is a trip back in time. The island is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts who have the possibility of hiking short distances or spending days exploring its diverse paths and abandoned villages.

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High Above the Aegean Sea the Spectacular Byzantine Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa

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The Island is Filled With Hiking Trails For All Skill Levels

Perhaps, the island’s matriarch and its most powerful ambassador is Irene Giannakopoulos, owner of the family run, Aegialis Hotel & Spa. The charismatic Giannakopoulos is a skilled hospitality expert since her early childhood, when she helped her parents run the family business, a small hotel in the village of Lakki. Having learned English by the age of 10, the first lady of Amorgos was the island’s pioneer in tourism to the island.

Mrs. Giannakopoulos’s life story would make for an enchanting Hollywood love story. When Irene met Nikitas, her husband to be, at age 14, ten years her senior, little did she know that the handsome Adonis would be the love of her life. Soon after her husband left for America seeking out fortunes in the new world, where many Greeks found success.

Nikitas left for America when young Irene was a teenager. After a year of long distance correspondence, the young beau wrote to her parents and arranged to come to Greece for the wedding, when she finished high school. It was at the church in Athens where Nikitas met his bride’s parents for the first time. “Arranged marriages were quite common back in those days” says Giannakopoulos. And so the story begins with this powerful and gregarious grand dame of Amorgos Island.

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Matriarch – Irene Giannakopoulos with Daughter Kalliovi – Who Runs The Spa

Soon moving to America with her new husband, the couple would settle down in New Jersey. Having learned the English language at a young age, the transition to the new world would be painless and swift. Like many Greek immigrants at the time, Irene and her husband arrived in the States with very little. After 20 years of hard work, first as furniture store owners, later owning a delicatessen, the couple purchased a pizzeria next door. Although doing quite well in the new world, the couple decided to return to Amorgos to build a house and spend summers on the island, helping to run the family business, a small hotel, in Lakki Village. Soon, it became apparent, Giannakopoulos would become the vanguard of Amorgos tourism.

Spending summers on Amorgos, the genesis of Aegialis Hotel & Spa was a bit of fortitude and luck. One day, the determined couple found a piece of land overlooking the port of Aegialis and the port town of Ormos. The prophetic couple followed their dream of buying the land after receiving a loan with a skyrocketing 36 percent interest! Says Giannakopoulos “everyone said at the time that this was not a realistic dream and that we would lose this land.” Perseverance paid off, and from a barren hillside with a breathtaking view, a luxury boutique hotel & spa was created.

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Spacious Rooms with Breathtaking Views at Aegialis Hotel & Spa

The property was purchased in 1989, and completed in 1992. The final finished product was not completed, but because of press releases from the media, travelers were lining up to stay at the new resort hotel with a breathtaking view.

“The construction was not easy,” continues Giannakopoulos, “Workers had to be brought in from all over Greece to complete the property.” Two years later, the infrastructure for the hotel was in place. The Greek bureaucracy made the project difficult, but hard work paid off, and the infrastructure was completed. It was the power couple combination of Irene in Athens working on red tape and paper work, and Nikitas staying on Amorgos and keeping up with the daily construction project.

“At the time there was not even electricity on the island,” says Giannakopoulos. She continues with her philosophy as a hospitality icon, “We always believed in the guest coming first. Small touches such as serving coffee in the guests’ rooms were an innovative idea at the time.” Hospitality being instilled at an early age, Irene would travel to the port to greet guests coming off the ferries from Piraeus. Lessons well learned were used to train the team at Aegialis Hotel & Spa.

Giannakopoulos adds, “The island was completely unknown when we started to build.” Being a visionary, Irene reminds me stating, “Armorgos was not on the travelers’ path the way Santorini or Mykonos were.” Giannakopoulos continues, “Before the hotel could be marketed, Amorgos would need to be promoted as a viable tourist island.”

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The Island Boasts Stunning Sunsets

The forward thinking Giannakopoulos was one of the first hoteliers to invite Greek journalists to come to Amorgos Island for a stay at Aegialis. Involving the local ferry companies was a win-win situation, as the success of Amorgos would also be a victory for the shipping companies. Soon, the press and tourist industry took notice. Amorgos was discovered and Aegialis Hotel & Spa was the place to be, the crown jewel of Amorgos. The two were synonymous, Amorgos Island and Aegialis Hotel & Spa. To further market the property, Giannakopoulos began marketing at travel shows. Believing that marketing and mingling with other hospitality experts would further put the hotel on the map.

To get a pulse on why everything seems so seamless at the Aegialis property, I meet with one of Irene’s team leaders, sales manager, Semeli Drymonitis.

Ms. Drymonitis is a passionate young lady who can talk for hours about the island and hotel. “When I am on this island, I feel no need to think how things are outside of this world.” She’s a true ambassador to Amorgos Island.

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Semeli Drymonitis –  Sales Manager and Hotel Ambassador

Oddly, not possessing a full background in tourism studies, an architect by trade and later with a degree in geography and with a teaching degree, Semeli made a choice to live in Amorgos. A keen traveler, she lived in Spain for three years, Australia for three years, and half a year in Egypt. As a student, she worked in a restaurant, and later in a dive center. She brings a world of travel experience to Aegialis.

As I probe further, Drymonitis continues speaking like a true ambassador, “When I came to the hotel, I happened to know the family. They were so gracious to give me a chance without a hospitality background. I believe that my life experiences abroad, have made me a better person, and more employable. We are hands on, we truly care about the guests. Here on our small island, we really have the chance to make a difference. Irene is on the municipality board of Amorgos.”

“We are constantly looking to improve the guest experience and work on broader projects, like promoting hiking and yoga on the island. We do more than just give keys to people. We provide a local experience. We care about the guests.”

“I am in the sales department and work very closely with Irene, and although I have only worked here since April, I use my travel experiences to help the guests have the best possible experience.” She handles promotions, sales, guest relations, event coordination, and more. She continues to do more, especially in low season, as it is important to double on many tasks.

I take away from my interview with hospitable Drymonitis that some things are better learned by being a traveler and cannot be taught in school. Semeli reminds me, as she so eloquently phrases it “We need to travel more to become better people.” And so goes the mantra of Aegialis Hotel & Spa.

 

Hotel Facts:

The hotel boasts 55 newly renovated rooms, and includes wheelchair accessibility. The hotel contains an outdoor salt water pool and even a pizza oven.

Wondering where your delicious meals come from? A sustainable organic garden includes: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, pumpkin, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, and assorted Greek herbs, all grown on the property.

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Take The Plunge – At The Outdoor “Sea Water” Pool

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Get rejuvenated at the Indoor Sea Water Pool at Lalon Idor Spa

Lalon Idor Spa:

Perhaps Giannakopoulos’s greatest feat is the stunning Lalon Idor Spa. Irene reminds me, “The spa that exists today came to fruition only seven years ago.” The project was daunting, Giannakopoulos continues, “There was no comparison to what we were trying to accomplish in the neighboring Cylades.” Adding, “They used to call a spa a Jacuzzi, at the time,” says Giannakopoulos. With stunning views, Lalon Idor Spa, translated to “talking water,” was inspired by the ancient water oracle. The spa includes a pool with water from the sea, and is complete with a sauna, hamam, and a gym.

There are all kinds of therapies including aromatherapy massages made with essential oils such as rosemary, citron, geranium, and olive oils.

What’s Next?

“So, what’s in the future?” I ask Irene. “For one, Yoga groups.”

The growing number of Yoga enthusiasts has prompted the forward thinking Giannakopoulos to create two rooms, the Namaste and the Ananda, specifically for yoga.

“For 20 years, the Hotel & Spa has been home to many weddings,” says Giannakopoulos. Again, the visionary Irene saw that destination weddings were coming to fruition.

So where are these travelers coming from? “Mostly, they are Americans, Australians, English, French, Italian and Scandinavians, among others,” Giannakopoulos informs me. As travelers have become food conscious, other activities include wine tasting and cooking demonstrations along with a professional chef preparing authentic meals.

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The Hike Back to Aegialis Hotel & Spa

Catering To Eco-Tourists:

Resident Greek hiking expert, Fivos Tsaravopoulos, manager at Paths of Greece says, “The hiking is nothing short of breathtaking. The island is impressive. The heights climb up to 800 meters, 2624 feet straight from the sea.” Fivos continues, “The originality of the trails leads you to places where you cannot explore by car. Strolling through the villages is like traveling back in time. A meeting with the diversity of elements, the earth, the sea, sheer cliffs, the wind, and the changing of the weather is perhaps best viewed from Amorgos Island, from the highest point to the lowland beaches.”

Getting There:

The island is connected with Athens, port of Piraeus on the mainland and has ferry connections with the islands of, Naxos, Syros, Paros, Koufonissi, Schinoussa, Donoussa and Astypalea. The two ports on Amorgos where the ferries come in are Katapola and Aegiali (changes on even and odd days). The journey from port of Piraeus to one of these ports will last 7.5 hours and costs around 30 euros (economy class, one way) or 43 euros (business class, recommended!) – look for a comfortable place!
Please note: you will arrive at 02:00 am and have to leave at 06:00 am. Make sure your hotel pick-up or taxi service is arranged! This is due to Amorgos being the last stop on a multiple Cyclades ferry journey, and the first boat out of Amorgos in the morning, making stops as it heads to Piraeus, the port of Athens.

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Friendly Natives Throughout The Island

Amorgos is stunning. Twist my arm, and I just might have to return next year for another round of hiking, and water activities. The next time, I vow to scuba diving, ending the day with a soak at the Lalon Idor Spa, and of course, with all that Greek hospitality, I’ll be prepared to pack on a few pounds, as nobody goes hungry with the scrumptious meals at the Aegialis Hotel & Spa.

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