Five years ago a (very) young smiling Yannis Laspas first greeted me in the lobby of the Flegra Palace Hotel. Yannis and his sister Lena were already managing the family owned Flegra Palace that their parents had opened in 1989. In these past five years I’ve had the pleasure of being greeted by Yannis at his hotels (plural) twice more.
Not content with totally renovating the Flegra Palace Hotel, Yannis and his sister Lena have built a select hospitality empire in Pefkoahori on the Halkidiki peninsula of Kassandra – the flagship Flegra Palace Hotel, the waterfront Flegra Beach Hotel, and the new Apanemia Apartment Hotel, which opened in 2017.
Halkidiki’s three peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – have long been sun-kissed summer playgrounds. Easy access to dozens of public beaches, natural hot mineral spas, classic white washed villages climbing hillsides and the incomparable clear water of the Aegean attract tens of thousands of visitors annually. The fishing town of Pefkoahori has become one of Kassandra’s most popular summer tourist destinations.
During the summer season, this family oriented resort town is a marriage of sun, sea and Coney Island. A lengthy beachfront pedestrian walkway becomes a carnival of street food and vendors selling everything one expects from sunglasses to helium balloons. A small amusement park will delight children. Shopaholics will be pleased with the number and diversity of stores. Bar and restaurant hoppers will be sated with dozens of attractive beach venues and music opportunities.
The Flegra Hotels are ideally situated to maximize a beach vacation as well as to explore natural beauty and local antiquities. The Flegra Palace’s rooms surround an opulent pool that is the hotel’s focal point and includes the Soleil Bar with its dramatic glass floor jutting over the water. In the warm Greek evening the entire scene is lit by a computer controlled LED system that cycles through soft colors. The light plays on olive and palm trees, flowering plants as well as fountains and a waterfall. Dozens of candles flicker on the tables of the Soleil bar and the Flegra Palace’s two restaurants – the poolside Ambrosia and the main building’s glass walled Titanes room.
The open air Ambrosia restaurant offers superb a la carte dining for lunch and dinner. Titanes is both a buffet and an al la carte dining room. Guests at the Flagra Palace can opt for a rate that includes the buffet. Classic Greek, Mediterranean and Eastern European dishes are prepared with the freshest local meats, seafood, fish and produce. Executive Chef for the Flegra Palace and Flegra Beach’s Yalla restaurant, Michael Voulgaris, is pushing the envelope for a family oriented tourist destination.
In cooperation with Visit Greece’s promotion of pan-Hellenic regional foods the Flegra Palace offers special rotating themed dinners as part of the buffet as well as regional breakfast dishes. The dinners themed menus range from foods of the Byzantine Empire, ancient Thrace, Asia Minor to Macedonia, Greek fish and Chef Michael Voulgaris own creation, recipes based on the philosophy of Aristotle.
Chef Voulgaris used Aristotle’s five foundations for life – air, fire, water, either and earth.
Air: A cold soup, slight bitter appropriate for ancient times, with wine, wine vinegar and rose petals.
Fire: A seafood dish of barley and vegetables served at room temperature. Nice flavors and raisins sweeten the dish. Olives and raw onion add counterpoint.
Water: Bitter greens steamed in sea and fresh water with apricots and feta cheese. The apricots add that touch of sweetness ancients loved so much to balance bitterness and the feta adds salt. Served at room temperature.
Either: A dessert soup of fruits with honey and molasses in wine served at room temperature. Once more contrasting bitter and sweet since quince is one of the fruits along with berries. One of the more complex of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints.
Earth: It was the most radical of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints. A beautiful cold soup of wine, rose petals and herbs.
It was a risk taking meal, and diners were taking the plunge. Yet for an all-inclusive buffet, even the regular selections are imaginative and well above the average hotel in quality.
To offer the Certified Greek Regional Breakfast a restaurant has to guarantee that 65-75% of the dishes are made from local ingredients and products and prepared using traditional recipes from designated regions of the country. Many of the selections are sweet and savory pastries of differing shapes with fillings including nuts, spinach, fruits and cheeses.
Not content with simply new hotels and three vibrant restaurants, Yannis has embraced the cocktail revolution, which has swept North America the past decade. The new menu and trained mixologist of the Soleil Bar now offer among other drinks a Gin Basil Smash with aromatic fresh basil, simple syrup and lime juice. A Nigorni with gin, compari and sweet vermouth has a rich color and a great bitter/sweet balance. Sparkling Tarragon Lemonade is a summer cooler with the unique touch of a star anise garnish. Naturally they can stir a classic “Prohibition Era” Martini.
The 29 individually decorated rooms of the Flegra Beach Hotel, at the quiet end of Pefkoahori beach, each come with kitchenettes. The sleek, modern understated silver gray color scheme, accented in teal and black, is mirrored in the public spaces but with splashes of red and window walls looking onto the pine tree shaded beach and Aegean Sea.
Flagra Beach’s Yalla Restaurant and Beach Bar also benefits from Chef Voulgaris’ imagination and passion for fresh seafood. A salad of bitter rocket and sweet cherry tomatoes with balsamic continues his fascination with bitter/sweet contrasts. A medley of seafood with pasta and saffron scented sauce was photo perfect. Both food and drinks can be served under the extensive number of shade umbrellas on the beach.
The Apanemia Apartment Hotel is the newest addition to the Flegra Hotels collection. Although not on the beach, it’s convenient to the center of Pefkoahori and has its own parking – very desirable in old Greek villages. Each apartment is equipped with a well-designed compact kitchen. The balconies over look Pefkoahori or interior gardens. The wifi reception is excellent; laundry service is available and most of all it’s nestled just far enough from beach activities to be very quiet.
The Halkidiki peninsulas are not as well known to North Americans as the more famous Greek islands, but that is changing through imaginative marketing by the Halkidiki Tourism Organization and forward thinking young entrepreneurs such as Yannis and Lena. Based on the relaxed, comfortable, affordable and delicious hospitality offered by the Flegra Hotels, 2018 ought to be your year to explore timeless antiquity, tranquil beaches, lively night life and imaginative cuisine from the pan-Hellenic world in this less discovered corner of one of Earth’s most fabled destinations – Greece.
When you go:
The Flegra Hotels 2018 season runs from May through mid-October. Pefkoahori is an easy and picturesque 50-mile drive on modern highways from Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia.” The gateway city of Thessaloniki is served by direct flights from a number of European cities. Numerous flights from Athens are available and affordable for the short 35-minute journey.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Flegra Hotels.
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