For many of us, whiling away the hours on a deserted beach, with crystal clear water at our feet, the sun’s rays heating our back, an ice-cold frappe in our hand and the sounds of music softly filling the air may just be a pipe dream.
Not so for Sydney construction magnate Peter Maneas, who lives and breathes Greece
So much so, he is on a mission to bring his travels around the Greek islands to a worldwide audience through his spectacular new show ‘My Greek Odyssey’. The show sees Maneas exploring the islands on his super yacht Mia Zoi, regaling viewers with an up close and personal account of his experiences of the different island traditions and cultures, the locals and their stories, food, archaeology, history and more.
He has been to 60 islands so far, with an aim to visit all 220 inhabited islands across his beloved Greece.
It’s impossible not to be swept away in the waves of enthusiasm Peter has for the motherland. His passion is infectious. “I’m a proud Greek because I think we have an amazing history,” he says. “I just love Greece, I love the classical times and the Hellenistic period. 500 BC to the birth of Christ – astronomy, maths, politics, democracy, philosophy, medicine, the Ancient Greeks created all this from nothing, it was a special time, producing special people – such as Socrates. Let’s not forget that following World War II Churchill himself said “Greeks don’t fight like heroes, heroes fight like Greeks.”
Born in Australia to Kytherian parents, Peter has been to Greece countless times. “My mum came in 1954,” he says. “She went back in 1974 for the first time and we stayed for nine months. That’s when I fell in love with Greece. When I went back as an 18 year old, I saw it differently. There’s a connection there. You go there and you feel connected.”
It is clear when talking to Peter that his mum has played a tremendous role in bestowing him with an ambitious streak. “My mum was the first in her group of family and friends to drive. She never took no for an answer,” says Maneas. “She came to Australia at the age of 20, my father was 40. In the face of being a ‘wog’ and all those social, political language barriers, she never took no for an answer. She always said ‘you can do what you want to do.’”
He channelled that ambition firstly in his career, studying construction and engineering at university, working at his first job for 17 years, then starting his own successful business and now in his passion for exploring and showcasing Greece to all the world. For Peter, making the decision to shine the spotlight on Greece’s islands was a no brainer. “It was always my dream to travel the Greek islands in my very own super yacht and 5 years ago that dream became reality when I bought my first boat,” says Maneas. “I wanted to be in Greece for as long as I could and I started travelling around the islands. I’ve been to 60 islands, a lot uninhabited, some inhabited. I was brought up in the culture, the weather is exceptional, the beaches are fantastic, the geography is awesome – there is no place like Greece, there is no place in the world that has 2,500 islands with so much history and beauty.”
Peter is a natural in front of the camera, possessing a flair for story telling, which makes it hard to believe he hasn’t been doing this work for years. “When I got married, my wife and I were filming everywhere we went and I was giving the commentary,” he says. “I was comfortable in front of the camera.” Making it an even easier task for Peter is the fact he has been spending the June and September school holidays in Greece for years, making him somewhat of a local. “My Greek Odyssey will be 14 episodes. It will be about the Greece we know and sharing it with others. It will highlight food, culture, archaeology, everything. It’s for a 21st century audience, and it’s what I’d call a lifestyle documentary, for young and old! And we’re not just targeting Greeks – it’s for Philhellenes as well.”
One of the things Peter wants to achieve is showing there are many destinations to discover, “There are so many places people don’t know about and don’t see – tourists tend to go to Mykonos and Santorini which is great, but there is so much more on offer,” he says. “I can show people in 2 ways – on camera, and bring some of these people who can afford the time and money to come along. I want them to see Greece like we see it. The access we have is unprecedented.”
No more apparent is this unprecedented access than in the promotional trailer or the show, which features footage of the Holy Flame arriving in Athens from Jerusalem at Easter time, and the Evzones raising the flag at the Acropolis. It’s easy to form the opinion that if anyone is going to succeed in this area, it’s Peter. Next in his sights is filming at Mount Athos next year, something for which he has not yet been granted consent, for the second season of the show- but something gives us the feeling, if Peter has anything to do with it, he will make it happen.
According to Peter, asking him to name his favourite places is akin to choosing a favourite child. After much pondering, he launches into a mini list. “Agathonissi is cool because it supplies a lot of the goat meat for the Dodecanese islands and has a filoxenia you will only find in the most remote towns,” he says. “Some of the beaches in Kythera in my opinion are the best. I love Lefkatha, especially the waterfall. Kefalonia is a pumping island. There are so many ruins in Greece that are exposed to the public, for example In Samos anyone can climb the mountain to see the ruins of Polycrates’ fortress and the magnificent aquaduct. In Nafplion, on top of the mountain looking down on Argos, I was impressed by the many orange groves. I got my chef, Kyriako, to make a Portokalopita because they’re the best oranges in Greece.”
Anyone who has seen the promotional trailers for the show, know they are in for a treat. You can almost taste the seafood on the plates, feel the leaves of the olive tree between your fingers, inhale the salty air of the Ionian Sea. Peter sets out to provide as much variety as possible for his viewers, including picturesque tours of ancient ruins and even visits a periptero. “The periptero is Greek. Our first episode starts in Athens, we’re actually interviewing the owner of a periptero, this guy has been at the same spot in Syntagma Square for 32 years” he says. “I’ve also interviewed one of the richest guys in the country – owner of the King George V and Bretagne hotels, he is also a part owner of Aegean Airlines and countless ships – Panos Laskaridis. He’s a giving man, very easy to talk to. He has the second biggest library in Athens, and also the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, which he and his brother established in memory of their mother. He believes in the diaspora and in Hellenism, in sharing with the world.”
Meticulous planning is involved in every step of Peter’s trips, a skill he has honed from working decades in construction. “There is a lot of planning involved in construction,” he says. “All my life I have travelled, but have done a lot of preparation before I go, planning but with flexibility. I do all my research here in Sydney before I get over there. Half the fun is looking forward to it.” This research is evident in the impressive stream of knowledge, facts and figures, which season all of Peter’s Greek adventures well, whether it be about the geographical features of an island, or tales of the mythical Xerxes.
“Against the sparkling backdrops of blue seas, green hills dotted with native flowers, white-washed houses, and idyllic moments, it is easy to forget the financial crisis that has been plaguing Greece for the past 8 years. Greece is not in a bad place, Greece is fine,” says Maneas. “I can name far worse times that Greece has been through. The government has some issues, but the people are happy, they live well. Greece is a well-managed place, to be able to cart that many people around the islands, is pretty good.”
‘My Greek Odyssey’ is still in the process of filming and is due to be televised worldwide in 2018. Peter wants audiences to bare in mind this is more than just a story about Greece. “It’s about my journey, and anybody can do what I’m doing. And it’s a story about life and doing things that you want to do,” says Maneas. “What do I want out of it? I’m doing that right now.”
Youtube – My Greek Odyssey channel-youtube.com/channel/UCGT_RJP3gySIKMfnh1mx2TA
Website – mygreekodyssey.com