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Paradise Found

08.04.21

Any island can become a victim of its own success, says Greek-born Vassiliki Petridou-Michalopoulos who juggles family life with LuxurIos, a company with hospitality and conservation at its heart.

Spending nine summers sailing around the Greek islands on a yacht with small children wondering where to settle, sounds a magical start to a new life chapter and for hotelier entrepreneur, Vassiliki Petridou-Michalopoulos, it truly was. “I really couldn’t believe our good fortune when, in 2003, we found Ios with its pristine golden beaches, with only three of them developed.  It was love at first sight,” she recalls.

Determined to save Ios from the fate of its glamorous but over-developed neighbours, the family acquired a large part of the island, mostly coastal but swathes of countryside, too. “It was the only way we could ensure that we could protect it from over-development,” she adds. To many people’s surprise, they did absolutely nothing with the land for 10 years while, as predicted, the neighbouring islands, Santorini and Mykonos, became victims of their own success. “Now, of course, people who come from those two holiday haunts can’t believe that our beaches, thought to be some of the best in the Mediterranean, are so utterly deserted,” she reflects.

However, within the last couple of years, Vassiliki and her husband have been scattering like stardust a small number of stunning high-end, low-density hospitality businesses across this 70 square mile island. “What’s so lovely is that all the family absolutely share our values about caring for the environment and for nature, while also placing importance on having fun and being creative.”  Every one of Vassiliki’s properties are lined with striking art installations by her artist husband, each piece using colour, texture and language to inspire the mind, as well as the eye.

“Family is all-important to me,” she reflects. “The silver lining of this dreadful pandemic has been that for the first time in many years, we have been living together as a family under the same roof. Until now our children have been dispersed across the globe, with daughters in both Bath and Brighton, and our son in the US.  The future of Ios revolves around the next generation and now that our grown up kids have clambered on board they, too, are playing their part, whether choosing to spend all their free time on the island, working their magic on social media or managing one of the fine hotels. “

Vasso, as she is known, has a heart of gold, and animal welfare, whether rescuing stray cats, dogs or neglected donkeys, is something of a personal mission. From her private donkey sanctuary, 15 donkeys, with one newly born, live in great comfort, looking out through vast stone arches on to the wild Aegean below. “Most of our donkeys have had a really tough life, and it’s the least we can do to love and care for them,” she adds. Sport is another passion, both for herself and when it comes to giving back to the island. While Vasso has notched up no less than 13 marathons, including the New York Marathon last year, the highlight of her year is when she organises the annual school kids’ football championships. She is also particularly proud to have brought back to Ios, after a gap of 13 13 years, the Beach Volleyball World Tour Championships.

Ios, which was known as a hippy haven in the ‘70s, has been attracting a far more discerning market having upped its game from Vasso’s seriously beautiful new hotels, glitzy beach clubs and fabulous waterside restaurants.  Her latest baby is Calilo, a low-rise, thousand-acre 5-star hotel with just 30 suites on remote Papas beach.  The name comes from her desire to help their guests Create A Life you can fall in love with. “After our soft opening in 2019, Calilo came into its own earlier this year. The suites are wonderfully spacious, many coming with private swimming pools or plunge pools, so you might say that they were made for social distancing, if that’s what you want. With so many weddings being postponed this year, we have just finished building an adorable chapel surrounded by Love and water at Calilo, so that couples can at last say or renew their vows to one another, in a heavenly setting.”

For Vasso, with her deep love of nature, The Electra Olive Tree Project is one that she is most proud of, having rescued over 600 ancient olive trees in the Peloponnese from being felled and used as fire wood. She adds: “The ongoing Project, which was named in honour of my mother-in-law, involves carefully digging up each of these 500-year old trees, bringing them by boat to Ios, and re-planting them so that we can breathe new life into them.”

How can that make economic sense, one wonders?  “It really doesn’t,” says Vasso, “but Angelos and I are determined to leave behind a sustainable tourism venture, that was borne out of love, which we can be proud of. One that works for the whole island, and not just for the next generation, but for many generations to come.“

A suite at Calilo, calilo.com, ranges in price per night from €349 - €2,499 depending upon size, number of bedrooms and location. In 2021 Calilo will be open from 1 June – 30 September.

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