Other countries may offer you discoveries in manners or lore or landscape; Greece offers you…the discovery of yourself. ~ Lawrence Durrell, author
Very near Greece’s Mt. Athos, perhaps the most famous monastic community in the world where no woman is allowed to tread, I had lunch in a remote and secluded sanctuary that would have earned the approval of the monks themselves. In fact, at one point during the afternoon, I could imagine them chanting there. The hideaway is Skites, a guesthouse situated 650 meters next to the border of the monastic community of Mount Athos and 38 kilometers from the summit of the Holy Mountain. Despite its proximity to the town of Ouranopolis—it is within walking distance–Skites is really a world apart, a wonderful world apart. It is a place that promotes self-discovery.
I drove past Skites several times before I found it because there is no sign discernible from the road. After having lunch with my laid-back hosts, I concluded that this was deliberate. They chose not to advertise their presence, I reasoned, and most likely their guests enjoyed the anonymity as well.
Skites is a twenty-five-room guest house whose clientele (mainly repeat guests) appear to be an interesting collection of intellectuals, artists, writers, musicians, film directors and unconventional types who book well in advance to ensure they have their rooms for the next season.
One reviewer called Skites “a laid back Bohemian retreat,” another was smitten by its “understated charm” and wrote with affection about its “fragrant gardens, pine-forested hills and low-slung, camouflaged rooms.” Another reviewer, a frequent guest, summed it up quite well: “Skites is beautiful, tranquil and charming. It provides serenity, peace, stunning scenery, sunsets and a caring staff. It is a great place to ‘get away from it all’ and to recharge.” It is also a wonderful place for introspection. These are lovely descriptions of what Skites is, but I can tell you what it is not. It is not for the bourgeois.
The local lore is that a visionary, a woman named Pola Bohn, discovered the secluded beach area, which is said to be “in the shadow of Mt. Athos in the 1960s. It was not until 1989 that the house opened to its first guests, who traveled a rough, unpaved road well off the so-called beaten path to stay there. It is run today by Mrs. Bohn’s daughter, Karin Bohn, and her companion Dimitri Panagiotidis. The road is still unpaved, and I think, somehow, the ambiance experienced in getting there and staying there would be diminished if it were paved.
Skites is a collection of low-slung cottages surrounded by fragrant gardens; one has to walk across the dirt road to get to the pool and pebble beach. Once you have crossed the road, however, a totally new world is before you; the tranquil sea beckons. Skites also has an exotic personality. Karen grew up in Morocco and eye-catching artifacts from this country are found throughout the main house, with a lovely chandelier as a focal point. The furnishings are an eclectic collection of curtains and linens from local farmhouses; candelabras said to be from a monastery on Mt. Athos; beautiful, hand-made driftwood sculptures and foreign, wood-carved works of art that must be Moroccan. Here are two added attractions: the beach bar is said to be “magical” at sunset and by moonlight, and in summer guests enjoy poetry readings and chamber concerts by the pool. It is most likely the only guest house in all of Greece where the musicians come to you to play their music.
It was in this intriguing, unconventional setting that I relaxed with Karen and Dimitri for a delicious lunch of Greek specialties especially prepared for the three of us the by chef, Giannis Saris, who studied in Greece and in Holland. I am not a food writer, so I will simply list what Chef Saris prepared for us and I apologize if your mouth begins to water.
Spinach Gratin with a hidden garden Mint Aroma
Fried Tomato Balls in a splash of fresh Greek Yoghurt
Polpete of locally fished Octopus
Sea Potato Nest
Sesame Feta folded in Pine Tree Honey
Our Garden Veg Selections, completed in white Layers, “Baksevana”
Spicy Feta in Veg & Herb Aroma Combinations,
Afterward, a Slow Oven Roast
The Skites guest house is not for those who want all the amenities of a five-star resort, but if you like the exotic, reflected in the setting, atmosphere, cuisine, type of guest and personality of the owners, then Skites is definitely for you. It is a place that encourages self reflection and the discovery of yourself. Tranquility awaits you on that long, winding and rather bumpy unpaved road.