Following a 20-plus year dynamic journalistic career during which in 2010 she became CNN International’s only on-camera, chiefly live reporter from Athens, covering some of Greece’s darkest moments, Elinda Labropoulou discovered a new talent: being a successful hotelier. Her journalistic work is certainly not behind her, but despite the Greek financial crisis - of which she has globally covered every imaginable aspect over the years - in 2013 she and her partner Sergios Tsitakis bravely began to slowly but surely build a dream in Parga in Epirus.
Over the last six years, the couple has ceaselessly dedicated themselves to re-imagining and materialising the vast potential of a beautiful family home from 1903, in one of Greece’s most charming holiday locations. Six years later, Villa Rossa (named so because of its deep red colour, characteristic of the Venetian architecture of the area) has expanded into a stunning hotel and restaurant that’s booked out from early May to the end of October. Villa Rossa, which is the only hotel standing on the long sandy stretch of scenic Kryoneri beach, offers uninterrupted views of the sea and is enshrouded by tall pines and other greenery that reflect an emerald green hue onto the surrounding crystalline waters, giving an exotic aesthetic reminiscent of Thailand.
History As Inspiration
“The Villa Rossa has been in my family for generations,” Labropoulou tells Greek City Times. “It was the home of my great aunt Aphrodite, a very dynamic, inspiring woman for her time. She was among the first females in Greece to be elected in local governance. In the post-WWII years, she also used her home as a makeshift clinic, offering medical services free of charge to locals, based on what she’d learned from her second husband, an army doctor. Aphrodite was a pioneer and a definite inspiration for us from the moment we started our ‘Big Renovation Project of The Villa Rossa.”
Both Labropoulou and Tsitakis have lived in various countries throughout their childhoods and youth living, travelling and working abroad. This has offered them both a sophisticated, culturally open-minded and aesthetically enriched perspective that they’ve applied to their creation of the hotel.
Importantly, Labropoulou’s work as CNN’s Athens-based journalist taught her a great deal that unexpectedly, has helped her better form her priorities as a hotelier: “As a reporter I was fully aware that I was witnessing history in the making and was entrusted with the responsibility of conveying what was happening in Greece to audiences of millions of people worldwide,” she says.
“To do that as well and as responsibly, as I could, I focused on understanding the inner workings of Greece. In doing this I discovered a whole host of misperceptions that the world held about Greece, which evoked in me the need to reverse those misconceptions; this is one of the key driving forces behind my commitment to The Villa Rossa Area project.”
A Dream With a Cause
The seafront hotel annually welcomes guests from around the world, by now offering not only great accommodations and a stylish, refined restaurant serving modern Greek-Mediterranean gastronomy with a gourmet twist, but also having created facilities such as a museum that exhibits Parga’s and the hotel’s history, an art gallery, a shop selling creations by trendy Greek designers and a skilled team that helps guests plan exciting local tours.
“Our hotel project was born as an antidote -a positive energy shot - to the negativity around us,” Labropoulou says. “We wanted the immaculate restoration of our 19th Century villa to symbolise a new beginning based on a powerful mix of some of the best things Greece has to offer: stunning geography with fantastic and endless unexplored opportunities, millennia’s-worth of rich history and customs and excellent local food and wines.”
The Nature of Things
The couple’s love for nature and respect for the environment also came into play and remains a primary goal. “We wanted Villa Rossa to represent our eco-conscious beliefs by using recycled materials, new green technologies and a farm where we grow our own food produce that we use at the restaurant,” Labropoulou says.
“More than anything else we wanted to turn around the really negative image of Greece abroad at the time. We felt the way to do this was through inspiring innovation. Idealistic as it may sound, we wanted to be a bright reminder of the Greece that people from all parts of the wold so love and respect. And beyond idealism we wanted to create a sustainable future for us, the dozens of people we employ at the hotel and restaurant and the local community.”
The New Greek Tourism Model
I ask Labropoulou what she has learned about the nation’s tourism mechanism along the way, whilst creating a home away from home for international guests in beautiful Parga. “For tourism in Greece to have a future it needs to evolve beyond the mass model of the ‘80s and ‘90s that was based on quantity instead of quality,” she says.
“Greek entrepreneurs must first respect themselves and their country and use long-term planning instead of having a quick profit in mind. It can be tempting, especially in a country that’s still coming out of a huge crisis, to be thinking short-term but for me, creating a solid base is the only way to pave a solid future.”
Looking Into the Future
Finally, I ask Labropoulou what their plans are for the future. As daunting as creating and constantly working on perfecting a hotel of this kind can be, certainly the better standards one reaches the more important it becomes to uphold and raise such standards? “The future looks very promising. We are now renovating an 18th-century house with a stunning view right on the main promenade in Parga,” she tells me. “It is being converted to luxury apartments, leaving intact the original stone walls and architectural features or the original facade. It’s a very high-end product that we feel will really offer a blend of a step back in time with the best that modern design can provide, so we are very excited about it.”
And there’s more... “Also The Villa Rossa Area Boutique Beach Resort will be rebranded into a Boutique Beach Foodie Resort - which is essentially what it already is because gastronomy plays such a key role in our own and Greece’s identity. We plan on eventually operating as a food hotel destination throughout the year. At the same time we’re planning a residency programme for artists and, yes, even surfers! Wintertime Parga has excellent waves and we’re keenly supporting the increasing number of surfing events being organised in the area.”