Last summer, Chrysanthos Panas and his good friend Katerina Katopis-Lykiardopoulou organized a multi-day island-hopping adventure to the beautiful Aegean islands. With Flisvos Marina as their starting point, they set sail for a deep blue escape on a classic 1972 sailboat made in Greece. We can enjoy this enchanting journey over the inimitable Greek blue through the text and images in the new luxury publication by Assouline titled “Greek Islands.”
This marks the publisher’s second collaboration with the multifaceted businessman and art collector, following on from the bestselling “Athens Riviera”, which came out two years ago. “Even though I had the initial idea and was the project coordinator of that book, I only penned the prologue,” Panas tells me, referring to the 2020 volume written by Stéphanie Artarit while showing me around his apartment in Kolonaki, a space that is bursting with artworks.
“Beyond art, which moves me greatly – I am very proud of my collection – I am also moved by writing,” says Panas. “This time I was called upon to write the main text, a process that I truly enjoyed. I’ve wanted to do this from a young age; I remember thinking up stories and lyrics as a young boy. In this case, I hoped to convey in words the luxurious simplicity that originates from the rare beauty of the Greek islands. The sea, the sandy beaches, the food, the architecture and the art that goes back aeons – all these compose the incomparable wealth of our islands and an authenticity that is not easy to find anywhere else in the world.
“It is this authenticity that we captured, an authenticity that remains untouched in most places; I did it with my stories and Katerina did it with her photographs. The photographic material included is simply stunning, augmented with historic material that visually complement our narrative, such as shots of Jackie Kennedy on Spetses or Melina Mercouri on Hydra. It’s enchanting to experience Greek civilization by traveling its sea. With Assouline we shared a common vision of a book with a strong experiential element, which is why we decided to undertake the trip ourselves. We didn’t want an approximation of anything, we wanted something genuine.”
Chrysanthos Panas has always viewed the Greek islands as an extension of the Athenian Riviera, a continuation of a journey that encapsulates the essence of Greek beauty. “In a sense, you could say that this book is the sequel to the previous one,” he says. “Taking this trip, I was immediately reminded of Homer’s Odyssey, a poetic journey written millennia ago, yet that one that remains the brightest guide to the present. This is a little what traveling the Greek islands is like; it contains the element of timelessness and a sense of self-knowledge. These fragments of earth, surrounded by the sea, reveal layers of glorious history, and a spirituality that is available to all. Whether rich or poor, everyone experiences traveling the Aegean in similar ways. Its beauty and its intentional simplicity are easily accessible to everyone, without exception.”
From the island of Kea, the second home of Alekos Fasianos, to the island of Naxos, with its medieval monasteries, to Hydra – the beloved island of Leonard Cohen, Sophia Loren and Henry Miller – to the lesser known charms of Keros and Antiparos, and from cosmopolitan Patmos and Mykonos to Chios, Sifnos, Limnos and Kastellorizo – the “Thermopylae” of the eastern Mediterranean – this special coffee table book “explores the enchanting sense of history, tradition and adventure of the Greek islands,” Panas notes. “Each one is a microcosm with its own particularities, as artfully conveyed by Eugenia Chandris in the wonderful prologue she wrote for us. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit all of our islands; it was practically impossible. But we did manage to visit most of them.
“I wrote while at sea. Of course, I conducted extensive research after the fact. I did not want this to be a purely ‘high society’ book. This aspect is included in so far as there are some images of the celebrities who cherish Greece and promote it abroad, such as Diane von Furstenberg or Monica Bellucci, who also wrote a few words about Paros. I was more interested, however, in focusing on the traditions and the culture, from authentic island recipes to ancient ruins or the unique artistic legacies of each place. As I wrote, the words of Nikos Kazantzakis swirled around in my head: “Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean sea.”
If there’s one thing you can say about Chrysanthos Panas, it’s that he is ceaseless in his passion to promote, knowledgeably and elegantly, what we call “Greek hospitality”. With the lovingly restored restaurant Athénée, he helped to revive the city center, while with the seafront club-restaurant Island, he has built something idyllic in the southern suburbs. “I am a lover of Greek openness and outward-looking, and, through my business, I have always worked in that direction,” he tells me. “Once we used to say ‘Paraliaki’ (coastal highway) and something that was in decline would come to mind. Now we say ‘Riviera,’ and we think of something brilliant.
“I’d like to achieve something similar with this book: to highlight the unique nature of our islands, which combine so many advantages. You might even say it’s a friendly reminder to foreigners that their terrestrial paradise can be found right here. But it’s also for Greeks, to encourage them to take advantage of this paradise; not by being the “waiters” of Europe but by taking a more sophisticated approach, one that strays from the beaten path and is based on strategic planning. We must shout about this beauty – our tourism [industry] needs a dynamic business plan rooted in the values of ancient Greek civilization but that also includes the wealth that we find today, with specialized people working towards a common vision. Hospitality has been in our DNA since antiquity; the time has come to approach it from a more intellectual viewpoint.”
The luxury publication “Greek Islands” will be available from Assouline.com as of April, 2022, at a price of €95, exclusive of shipping and handling.
This article was previously published in Greek in the April 2022 issue of Vogue Greece.