I call it the Greek Effect.
In Villa Jasmine, on the ancient island of Paros, near the place where the marble that formed the "Venus de Milo" was mined, I’m feeling indolent. Cocooned in a cloud of down and silky linen, surrounded by fluffy pillows with large windows flung open around me and the perfume of the garden below wafting in, I can’t make myself get out of bed. Gold-tipped, rose-hued light envelops me. The faint purr of the Aegean’s waves joins a chorus of birdsong, just as a hint of sunny warmth dapples the white walls at my side. From the kitchen downstairs, the scent of baking bread sneaks beneath my door like a lover’s kiss begging me to wake. In utter bliss, relaxed to the core, deep in my bones, I am immobilized by the sheer joy for life. I stretch, yawn and grin. Then, sink back into the shelter of sheets. Sooner or later, I’ll get out of bed.
Paros, one of Greece’s 6,000 islands, centrally located amid the Aegean Sea and less than an hour’s flight from Athens, belongs to the Cyclades group. For centuries, it served as a hub for sailors, travelers and adventurers. Its location, ideal for refueling, was rarely the final destination. This meant most visitors didn’t linger. Instead, they availed themselves of Parian wine (the isle holds one of Greece’s oldest and most respected wine regions), nourished themselves on its bountiful produce, prayed at the Temple of Apollo (located on the nearby island of Despotiko), among other sacred spots, then moved on to their final destination. That history, a gift as it turns out, kept Paros untrammeled, rendering it timeless and sleepier than revel-thronged neighbors such as Mykonos. Plentiful with pristine beaches, hidden sea caves, crystalline waters and characteristic, stone-paved, whitewashed villages, the island was visited by Lord Byron (who managed to get everywhere in his short life) and Truman Capote, among other literati. During the 1960s, it became a stop on the storied, nomadic hippie’s trail. Later, a coterie of yogis moved in, mesmerized by Paros’ energy and mystical light. Soon, celebrities and fun seekers in search of a less-hyped vacation space discovered its largesse (as well as its sister isle, Antiparos, just a five-minute ferry ride away). Sometimes called the Poor Man’s Mykonos, stylish yet uncomplicated, Paros now attracts wind and kite surfers, slow food lovers and people who yearn to take over a private, secluded beach for romantic reverie. Paros is the sort of place where you’ll find couples playing cards in rowboats on cobalt lagoons, bartenders who’ll grab you and twirl with you in dance steps the length of their bar, sea captains who bring their dog along as first mate and taverna owners who join you for meze plates while whispering their kitchen’s generations-old secrets. And the sunsets? Well, they’re worth the price of your plane ticket.
I’ve organized my stay with White Key Villas, a tony Greek company so congenial, welcoming and concerned with pleasing that the staff members soon feel like confidantes. With scrupulous attention to detail, their tiny team manages more than 200 villas across Greece, from Hydra to Patmos to Mykonos to Crete to Tinos (which Elena Fotiadi, marketing director, prognosticates will be the future’s trendiest island). Their hand-picked portfolio of homes, all privately owned, vary in size and orientation. Each immerses guests into the special mood and culture of its location. Their on-island concierges ensure guests have up-to-the-minute intel on local events as well as VIP access to places not normally opened to the public, such as the archeological dig I visit with a guide on an uninhabited island near Paros or the backroom cellar tasting I enjoy with a generations-old wine making family. White Key Villas provides as much support (think private yoga instruction on the pool deck, helicopter tours, chefs who can whip up Greek dishes or cater to dietary restrictions) or as little as guests desire. And hear this, parents: WKV loves children. They’ve got as many villas ideal for families as romantic getaways or party houses.
Most importantly, the company excels at matching guests to their dream villa. In fact, if WKV were an online dating website, their matchmaking would result in love at first sight and lifelong marriage. In Villa Jasmine, they’ve found my metaphorical dream man. This two-tiered, rambling haven, with five en suite bedrooms, speaks to me.
Eventually, drawn by the sounds of chatter and forks tapping plates, I finally stagger downstairs, still under the influence of the Greek Effect. Stella, the chef, hands me a double espresso. I glimpse the grand table, which anchors the al fresco common area, adjacent to Stella’s well equipped, commercial kitchen. It brims with treats — from spanakopita to mounds of feta, from salmon to golden, farm-fresh scrambled eggs. But food can wait. It’s the vista that hypnotizes me. Across a lavish infinity pool, fringed by olive groves and herb gardens, the horizon bursts in a panoply of berry blues — the arc of rocky beach framing the water like lips caught in a grin. All I can think about, though I yearn for a taste of fresh baked bread and Parian cheese, is that nothing matters but this view. Suddenly, all of my life resolves itself. The puzzles and mazes come to a close. The Greek Effect redefines all that matters.
But Stella’s worried that I’m starving. As I gaze, paralyzed by the view, she approaches behind me. Gently, she touches my arm and smiles. She’s holding a plate filled with all my favorite Greek treats. “You need to eat,” she says — like a mother, like a friend. The Greeks have a word to describe Stella and the White Key Villa experience. It’s filoxenia (or philoxenia) which, literally translated means “friend to the stranger.” It refers to the Greek penchant for hospitality. In Villa Jasmine, filoxenia feeds not just my body, but my soul.
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