A shipowner from the island of Chios, Yiannis Carras first visited the area of Neos Marmaras in Halkidiki in 1963. Where others saw nothing but mosquito-infested marshes, accessible only by boat or donkey along a dirt path, this visionary businessman saw a site where he could make a dream come true.
According to local lore, the story began when Carras was on a cruise to Mt Athos with other eminent personalities, among them film star Melina Mercouri, on the occasion of the monastic community’s millennium anniversary. A storm on the return journey forced the captain to seek shelter near Neos Marmaras. The landscape apparently enchanted these illustrious visitors. Thus began a new chapter in Sithonia’s history and in Greek tourism in general.
“With its perfect combination of architecture, location and good taste, the villa came to be considered among the most beautiful in the country.”
- A 9k coastline with 25 separate bays
- The biggest organic vineyard in Greece; an 18-hole golf course
- A Blue Flag, 315-vessel marina that is the biggest in northern Greece and a sailing club;
- A horse-riding center
- A nine-court tennis club
- A PADI-certified diving center
- Three helipads
- Two hydroplane landing strips.
Carras bought 1,763 hectares of land, most of it monastery property, on which to realize his vision. Construction began in 1973 with his own private 2,000m² Villa Galini, located on the craggy Galani hill overlooking the Toronean Gulf and named after a bandit who was killed there. With its perfect combination of architecture, location and good taste, the villa came to be considered among the most beautiful in the country.
The process of transforming the land took about three years. The marsh was drained and in its place he planted 45,000 olive trees and a 475-hectare vineyard. The first of the complex’s three hotels, Village Inn, was inaugurated in 1976 and became a favorite with luminaries such as Greek statesman Constantine Karamanlis, who would come to see his good friend Carras and to play golf at what was one of the best courses in Europe at the time. The Porto Carras Meliton hotel opened in 1979 and Porto Carras Sithonia in 1980 – all have been visited by leading celebrities from Greece and abroad.
The marina has seen some of the world’s most famous yachts tie up at its quay, while important personalities have stayed at its hotels and also at Villa Galini: from eminent historian Sir Steven Runciman to Prince Albert of Monaco and from French statesmen Francois Mitterrand and Valery Giscard d’Estaing to folk star Joan Baez and members of the Rockefeller family.
Carras was also a pioneer in the Greek winemaking sector. The Porto Carras Winery was a revolutionary initiative that changed the Greek wine scene in the 1970s, dominated at the time by low-quality product sold in bulk. Carras was the first to introduce French varieties and to reach out to French experts, most notably to the father of modern enology, Emile Peynaud, with whom he went on to produce some stellar labels. The most famous of these was the Grande Reserve Porphyrogenitos, a special batch bottled in 1975 and presented to the public in 1993. One of this wine’s greatest fans was the artist Salvador Dali.
Porto Carras has been the venue of major international conferences, golf tournaments, regattas, horse races and even tuna fishing competitions, though it is probably best known for its wine festivals. Carras died in 1989, but the high standards he set are still being met and his vision retains all of its timeless elegance.
• Sithonia • Tel. (+30) 23750.770.00