From his worldwide travels, sailing the high seas, and building resorts and properties allowing people to recharge and rejuvenate in one of the world’s most idyllic natural settings, it’s clear to see that Spyros Kokotos has lived life to the full: but he’s not done yet. Compare Retreat catches up with Spyros, founder of Porto Elounda Golf and Spa Resort in Crete as he shares his insights, inspirations, and how he created an all-year retreat.
You are an architect by trade. Could you discuss your visions for the design of the resort? I wrote a book about this, titled “Elounda, the Chronicles of a Legend”. The title only says that Elounda has become legendary as a luxury destination resort, apart from the island of Crete; it has its own independent strong brand.
And has your original vision changed or evolved? Since I produced the masterplan of Elounda more than 50 years ago, by request of the Greek government, I haven’t stopped re-designing my original vision. Five decades ago, I envisioned a golf course where there were abandoned salt fields and eventually managed to create the island’s first golf facility in 1993, having traversed a bureaucratic labyrinth. Back in the ’60s, I envisioned a health facility that would take advantage of the region’s main products—olive oil, carobs, salt and stone, but only built it in the 21st century.
The Six Senses Spa won the World’s Best Spa by the Sunday Times Travel Magazine. What did this mean to you? We were immensely proud. This prestigious award came on our very first year of operation. You know, the spa consumed my design time for three years, even on holiday, even in my sleep. I travelled the world with my wife, Eliana, in search of spa operators and interior designers that we would have liked to cooperate with. This award was the result of a five-year effort.
What makes Crete the perfect location for a wellness retreat? Undoubtedly, Crete has the most pleasing climate in Europe, if not the world, and Elounda has the best climate in Crete: the summers are breezy and not too hot, autumns are heavenly, the winters are mild and perfect for outdoor life, while spring is vibrant and radiant like no other place I’ve been to (and, trust me, I have been to more than a hundred destinations). We operated our resort for 14 years non-stop, building the Six Senses Spa during normal hotel operation. I can’t think of many places in the world where there really is no “low-season” for spa experiences. Crete offers avid spa-goers a true paradise 12 months of the year.
What does wellness mean to you? Wellness is, almost by definition, a holistic concept. It encompasses both the body and the spirit. It isn’t just skin-deep and goes much further than deep-tissue. Wellness is a state of mind. Our Six Senses Spa was designed as a wholesome healing destination.
One of the programmes on offer is the Body Elixir Rejuvenating Programme. How would you describe the ‘rejuvenation’ process? I am a great fan of our rejuvenation programmes, as I have needed some rehabilitation myself, having recently undergone minor back surgery. I am well into the ninth decade of my life and the spa has greatly helped me with continuing to work daily, both as an architect as well as an entrepreneur, so I would say that this is exactly what rejuvenation means for me: allowing you to continue with a productive life.
Who are your role models in life? My university architecture professors D. Pikionis and A. Orlandos, whose lessons I have yearned to integrate into my work throughout my career; Pikionis taught me to build around nature and not into nature, while Orlandos taught me the utmost respect for tradition and form. My father-in-law and good friend, Ilias Sotirchos, was my inspiration for hotels.
What type of person would benefit most from a stay at the Porto Elounda Resort? Porto Elounda is a place for families. I love small children, babies and toddlers: when I’m sat at poolside sipping my Greek coffee, children come up to play with my dog, I meet their parents and they then meet my grandchildren. Every year I meet hundreds of guests and, I like to think, they take something extra out of their visit by getting to know our family.
Describe your ideal retreat experience. I am the kind of traveller who seeks to immerse into the local culture wherever I go. I like going out all the time and discovering the sights. I do understand the need to get away from it all for a while, however, and I do that with my sailing boat—that’s my ideal retreat.
What sets Porto Elounda retreat experiences apart from the rest? When we started operating Porto Elounda as a retreat, we were the only hotel to remain open throughout the year in a locale where the low-season is perfectly suited to wellness experiences, with Crete’s stunning combination of views and weather. The retreat experience is not about being in a perfectly clear sky every day, but enjoying change and colours, calm and cuisine, and the courtesy and true character of the place.