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An Inside Guide to Syros

An Inside Guide to Syros

Dimitra Kolotoura, fashion designer and host of Villa delle Grazie, takes a deep dive into the many treasures of her native island, Syros.

A world apart from its fellow Cycladic islands, Syros is captivating for its sophisticated mélange of neoclassical architecture and deliciously isolated beaches. In its main city, Ermoupolis, palatial residences dating from the island’s 19th-century heyday offer a more substantial take on typical island luxury, and Syros is also home to standout cultural institutions, from Italian architect Pietro Sampo’s Apollon Theater to the celebrated Gallery of the Cyclades. Head north and you’ll discover a Natura 2000 protected landscape with wild, limestone-backed beaches and hidden coves accessible only by boat.

To find out more about this lesser-known Cycladic island, we caught up with fashion and lifestyle designer Dimitra Kolotoura, co-founder of the Zeus+Dione brand and owner of the palatial waterfront Villa delle Grazie.

Photo: Toula Douka @touladouka

Photo: Toula Douka @touladouka

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Why travel to Syros instead of the better-known Cycladic islands like Mykonos, Naxos or Santorini?

Syros offers a unique visual feast. Its capital, Ermoupolis, is known as “The Queen of the Cyclades,” with colorful mansions, an impressive, marble-laden central square, and a majestic Town Hall—one of the largest and most luxurious in all of Greece. The island’s history as a former commercial hub has left an indelible mark in grand buildings and churches, like the Church of the Assumption, which houses a painting by the Greek master El Greco. Syros is also unique in the Cyclades for its convenience to highly reputed services, making it an ideal destination for families with young children and for retirees and international travelers. It offers visitors that remote, island getaway feeling, but Syros comes with all the advantages of a sophisticated metropolis.

What’s one thing you absolutely have to do on Syros?

You can’t miss a stroll in the Vaporia area. The quarter is an architectural splendor with its beautiful mansions, paved paths and gorgeous archways, making it Ermoupolis' most picturesque neighborhood. Just in front of the area, the church of Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas), with its distinguishing blue dome, is one of two churches visible from the ferry as you approach the island. Historically the city’s most affluent area, Vaporia is built right on the port and was once home to shipping magnates and commercial captains who lined their ornate mansions with magnificent frescoes.

"I grew up spending all my summers on the island, and my mother comes from Syros, so it’s deep in my heart."

Your gorgeous villa sits right on the water in the neighborhood of Poseidonia. Tell us about your part of town. What do you love about it and what’s not to be missed there?

Poseidonia, or delle Grazia, as the neighborhood used to be called, is also a historic area, a small village of stone buildings and residential palaces that were the summer homes of 20th-century aristocrats. The neighborhood reflects the glamour of a bygone era, and I love its personality. My everyday hangout is a small French bistro called Le Perroquet Tranquille, just 10 meters from my house. When I’m in the mood to party, to have cocktails or to sip champagne by the water, I walk to a nearby sandy beach called Ono that has beautiful lounge chairs and macrame umbrellas.

We hear the island is known for its great food. Where do you dine out with friends and family?

My number one restaurant is Iliovasilema in Galissas. Its name means “sunset,” and it indeed offers an amazing sunset view. The chef, Kostas Bouyouris, is a dear local friend of mine and a well-known name on the Greek culinary scene. I mentioned the tiny French bistro Le Perroquet Tranquille that’s very close to my house, but there is also the Ono Beach Club where I go with my teenaged daughter for their music-animated, summery vibe. Another favorite of mine that’s not very well known is Lygeros tavern in Chaladriani. It has the best views of the sea! I also enjoy Allou Yialou in Kini, Mazi in Hermoupolis, and Hygge in Ano Syros.

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

And what about your favorite shops and galleries for design inspiration?

The absolute best place to visit in Syros is the shop Prekas, a heaven of local products. The National Gallery offers great exhibitions and the Apollon, built as a replica of La Scala di Milano in 1864, shouldn’t be missed. My two favorite shops are Hydora, which carries my brand Zeus+Dione, and also Kois, for great sunglasses.

Speaking of your brand, Zeus+Dione—a selection of clothing, accessories, and housewares especially known for its artisanal silks—tell us about its origins on Syros.

The brand was inspired on the terrace of Villa delle Grazie 10 years ago when my friend Mareva and I had a burst of sentimentality and romance about our country and what we could offer our community during the financial crisis of 2012. Really, I get inspired by everything on Syros—from the stones and the rocks, to the light, the sun, and the reflections of the water, to the island’s people, from the fishermen to the local women.

For me, Syros is all about the serenity of the sea. The villa is almost like being on a boat with one-meter thick walls. I grew up spending all my summers on the island, and my mother comes from Syros, so it’s deep in my heart.

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

Photo: Dimitra Kolotoura

"We get to live to the rhythms of the music, air and sea, diving into the sea and sunbathing until the early evening."

When you’re in vacation mode, what’s your ideal day on Syros?

My perfect day starts on the beautiful terrace of the Villa delle Grazie overlooking the endless blue of the sea, eating an amazing breakfast prepared by my housekeeper Yezel: two organic, sunny-side-up eggs just collected from the hen house, freshly baked carob bread that is locally made at one of the best bakeries in all of Greece, homemade marmalade and loads of figs from the trees around the property, plus freshly-squeezed orange juice.

Then we go down 15 steps and settle on my waterfront deck, with our main concern deciding between lounging on the large sofa, seeking shade under the pergola or stretching out on the sunbeds scattered next to the water. We get to live to the rhythms of the music, air and sea, sipping champagne or freshly squeezed juices, nibbling on watermelon or grapes, diving into the sea and sunbathing until the early evening.

Around seven or so we enjoy a Greek dinner of oven-baked fish with lemon, stuffed tomatoes, fried zucchini and an assortment of Greek salads with feta cheese. The night ends with orange pie for dessert, served with the best, locally-produced ice cream.

What’s an ideal outing on the island when you do choose to leave the villa?

We’ll rent a day boat, the Wanda yacht, and visit the island’s north, the unspoiled, undeveloped beaches of the protected Natura 2000 region that are not reachable by road. It’s a treat to spend the day in the clear, blue waters and on isolated beaches. Another outdoor activity is to hike from the top of the area called Kampos down to the sandy beach at Aetos.

And if you ever island hop to another Cycladic island, where do you go?

An easy day trip is to hop on the ferry to Tinos, just across from Syros. Or, if I’m feeling slightly more adventurous, I take the day boat to Koufonisia, a heaven of sand and turquoise waters.

Best beach on Syros?

Varvarousa! Quiet, secluded, and magical.

Capture Syros in a scent, color, or a soundtrack for us.

The color blue is the color of all my summers on the island since childhood. The smell is evening primrose, the scent that filled the air as I returned home from late nights out with my summer friends as a teenager. And music-wise, I love jazz and play it a lot at the villa, but Marvin Gaye’s “Sunny” is definitely a great one to start the day at Villa delle Grazie.

STAY: Villa delle Grazie

EAT: Le Perroquet Tranquille, Iliovasilema, Ono Beach Club, Lygeros, Allou Yialou, Mazi, Hygge,

SHOP: Prekas, Hydora, Kois

VISIT: Town Hall, Apollo Theater, Varvarousa Beach

Photograph of Ermoupolis (top): Christina Terzidou @cristiterzidou

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