29 Nov Introducing Gundari
We are delighted to be working with this gem of a property on Folegandros from November 2023. Read about Theresa’s recent visit to this undiscovered Cyclades island here.
The enchanting island of Folegandros just 32 square kilometres in size with a population of approximately 700 people, over 200 churches and 18 beaches.
There is a direct ferry from Mykonos (4 hours) but easier access from Santorini (50 minutes by public boat) and Athens (3.5 hours)
For those who haven’t been, please add it to your bucket list now! You know I am not easily impressed but this destination is exquisite from the unique rock formations to the square of Chora, the people and the vibe. It is Greece at its authentic best and what a perfect combination with one of the other Cyclades islands like Milos which is very close and Santorini for those clients who haven’t yet ticked that one off.
Arriving at the cute little port of Karavostasis, I was met by Ricardo Larriera, the owner of Highlife’s newest client Gundari Resort, a charismatic Australian who visited the island six years ago, fell in love with it and is now building a spectacular 27 suite & villa resort on a cliff edge in a nature reserve on the south coast. The resort, which opens on May 17th 2024, has been constructed sympathetically, blending in with the rugged coastline, each suite made from local rock. In the words of Ricardo it is “Raw luxury” What struck me most about the gregarious Australian who has never undertaken a hotel project before was his passion for the charm of Folegandros and the uniqueness of what he is creating in Gundari. The locals who are key to this development have embraced him and the mutual respect was apparent.
There’s more than a nod to sustainability. As a member of the Earth Check Programme. Ricardo is serious about maintaining the surrounding habitat. Suites and villas are built with bioclimatic materials, energy will be renewable and there’s a target for zero waste. Ricardo’s commitment to make a positive impact in Petousis and the island includes the regeneration of bird life in this 80 acre reserve.
I was excited to experience the enchanting village of Chora, the main square of the island with it’s pretty boutiques and plethora of bars and restaurants.This was far from other Greek towns I have visited – it is unspoilt and authentic and part of me would like to keep this a true hidden gem but without an airport and no place to build one, it is unlikely it will become a mass tourist destination.
Some will be deterred by the extra hop from nearby Santorini (50 minutes by Gundari speedboat or 10 minutes by helicopter) or Athens (3.5 hours by ferry or 50 minutes by helicopter) but like all special places one has to put in a bit more work. As Francis Drake once wrote “Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination”
There’s such an array of restaurants it was useful to be with Ricardo who knows each and every one of them and their owners. Prices and service were surprisingly good. There’s a pride amongst the locals with many of the eateries and shops being family run and passed through the generations.
At dawn the following morning, I jumped out of bed to research the island and prepare for our day’s itinerary.
First stop was the most gorgeous organic Pounta café filled with books and ecclectic furniture, run by mother and son where I savoured homemade porridge with dark chocolate and a heap of fresh fruits. I’m not sure it will taste the same in Hertfordshire but I will endeavour to recreate it.We then ventured up to the Gundari site which is just a 10 minute drive from Chora and guests will avail of a complimentary shuttle once the resort is open.
I was smitten from the start as we drove down a dirt track (which will be resurfaced) to see wild horses and the odd chilled out donkey into the expansive estate of Gundari and the breathtaking cliff top vistas. The hard hat tour began (minus the hard hat!) and I was able to view the footprint of the three different suite categories each with private pool and ocean view. The interior design looked impressive with appropriate nude hues and natural materials.
There will be a number of experiences available to guests. My favourite was the wine tasting in a converted original farmer’s cottage which is just as it was left decades ago. The sense of place is ubiquitous.
Ricardo recommends a trip to nearby Sifnos to experience the ultimate sunset or explore one of the many beaches with Gundari’s Axopar boat. Evidently lunch at Cantina is a must as is neighbouring island of Polyiagos (island of goats), 50 minutes away by boat. The limited tourism to date means that simply hiring a car and exploring the island is a treat in itself.
Our next stop was one to be cherished. We took a speedboat from the port stopping at caves en route where one can enjoy the best snorkelling but after approximately 35 minutes arrived at Papalagi Folegandras where we were greeted warmly by owner Paris and his son Hercules who knowledgeably talked us through the best fresh fish offerings for that day. It has been a long time since breakfast so we went with their suggestion of squid salad and Octopus bruschettas to start followed by a seabream which melted in the mouth. Paris and his family opened this hidden gem over 40 years ago, arriving from Athens and he goes out fishing himself to this day. If there’s only one beach restaurant you try during your stay, make it this one and a number one choice for clients. Paris’s explanation of the name adds to the charm because even after 43 years on the island, he still feels he is a papalagi (foreigner) How wonderful to meet such characters on our travels.
Another inspirational character, renowned Michelin Starred Chef Lefteris Lazarou, is at the helm of Gundari’s restaurant Orizon where seasonal produce of the Cyclades is on the menu. Lazarou is the first Greek chef to have received a Michelin Star and is considered one of the most influential in his country, especially due to his expertise in fish and sea food based dishes.
Some of you may have seen the iconic picture of Folegandros’ Panagia, the largest church on the island dedicated to the Virgin Mary so I finished the day with a walk up to the Church to join those couples mesmerised by the stunning sunset view from there.
Having enjoyed a few cocktails in the square which was still buzzing in mid September thanks to the temperate climate, I retired feeling confident that I had got to grips with the main attractions of this secret corner of the earth and who would go there.
It’s perfect for Grecophiles looking for a more authentic experience, walkers and nature lovers (there are several trails and serious hikes) romantics and those seeking some respite from our busy lifestyle.
The following website is helpful www.folegandros.com
To make an enquiry about Gundari or to find out more, please contact Theresa Feeney.
T: +44 7932 751 427