[dropcap size=small]O[/dropcap]n the Greek outlying islands it’s easy to imagine that this cradle of Western civilisation is still a paradise worthy of the gods. This is especially true of Spetses, one of the 227 inhabited Greek islands among the 6000 that are scattered throughout the Aegean Sea. The island is approached by high-speed ferry from Athens, or, if one moves in the right circles, by private helicopter or yacht.
Spetses is unspoilt, with very few of the obvious scars that have been inflicted on the mass tourism centres of southern Europe. This has made Spetses the destination of choice for wealthy Athenians and property prices on the ten square miles of rock and pine forests are among the highest in Europe. The island’s reputation as a retreat for the rich was established more than one hundred years ago when Sotirios Anargyro returned to his birthplace from America, with a tobacco fortune in his pocket and an ambition to revive his hometown.
Anargyro built a mansion at Dapia and soon began to play host to Athenian millionaires who wanted to hunt on the island from August to October, when the migrating turtledoves and quail heading north from Africa alight among Spetses pine trees and create a perfect shooting gallery. Such was the popularity of the sport that Anargyro decided to erect a hotel, the Poseidonion Grand, modelling his structure on the great aristocratic hotels of Nice and Cannes.
The result was a property that, a century later, is still one of the most elegant and graceful places to spend a week enjoying the sun, sea and delicious local seafood. The Poseidonion commands a regal prospect over Dapia, a word that means “fortification” and is the location of Spetses’ second harbour, built in the late 19th century.
The original harbour, where once the masts of tall ships stood as thick as trees in a pine forest, is two kilometres away, on the other side of the island. Close to the Poseidonion is the mansion of Laskarina Bouboulina, whom is described in a small history of the hotel as “A rare person, a female heroine who devoted her huge fortune, her ships and her life to the revolution against the Turks.”
Her descendents still live in part of the house, with the rest devoted to a museum dedicated to Bouboulina’s extraordinary exploits. The Poseidonion is the perfect place to sample all of the island’s deep history – although Spetses is tiny it once had one of Europe’s most powerful and feared naval fleets – but the hotel is much else besides. It has an ethereal, other-worldly air that makes visitors feel like they have stepped back in time. In the marble lobby and public rooms where breakfast is served on brilliant sun lit mornings it’s possible to imagine men in top hats and women in crinolines running after small children who are playing with hoops and tops.
And at dawn, in the beautifully appointed bedrooms, a guest can lie in bed and watch the sky turn from red to gold to blue, as if Zeus himself was painting a landscape to seduce Demeter or Maia. Trust me, you won’t want to leave.