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The Aegean Artisans: A look at modern Grecian culture

The Aegean Artisans: A look at modern Grecian culture

After traveling from Athens to Crete, to Santorini and then north to Thessaloniki, I discovered the real magic behind all of the passion and inspiration that Greece generates for creatives and travelers alike.

August 9th, 2023

Having only visited Athens once before, I wanted to see beyond the ancient city and visit the islands. Not just for a change in landscape, but also I was curious to hear the stories of the Greek artists/artisans who lived and worked there. After traveling from Athens to Crete, to Santorini and then north to Thessaloniki, I discovered the real magic behind all of the passion and inspiration that Greece generates for creatives and travelers alike.


It was only fitting that my first stop was to see 5th century art and architecture at its finest: The Acropolis. Built as a love letter to honor the city's patron goddess, Athena – the goddess of both wisdom and war, it was nice to see the progression of the restoration since my last visit in 2018. The timeless design has stood through the centuries and continues to inspire and inform the work of today.

The Acropolis Museum is one of my favorite museums in the world for two reasons. The number of artifacts is outstanding and the incorporation of, both ancient and modern designs are incredibly unique. On the last night, I visited the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone amphitheater built in the 1st century. I experienced what the amphitheater was built for, enjoying the modern and classical compositions of the German musician Nils Frahm.

Turning to fashion, I sat down with Nikolas Minoglou, one of the co-founders of Ancient Greek Sandals and his wife, Whitney in their flagship on Kolokotroni. Following the brand for over a decade, it was fascinating to learn their origin story and that all production still remains within 4 factories based in Greece. Their commitment to Greek style and quality remains at the forefront with new collaborations and a stylish homeware collection.

Down the street, I met clothing and accessory designer, Daphne Valente at her flagship. As she spoke candidly about her journey, my eyes were drawn to the pleated designs along the wall. She draws inspiration from the Ancient Greek pleating of Mariano Fortuny. Using only a dress form, Daphne drapes the Greek fabric to make size-inclusive designs. Her collections are sold in Greece, Cyprus and Lebanon in exclusive hotels, resorts and in museum art shops. 

The saying, ‘Food is love” when it pertains to Greek culture is clearly an understatement. And there is a lot of love to give.

A favorite of our House of Coco family, I had dinner at Dopios. A modern Greek mezze restaurant by chef Christoforos Peskias. Guests are served Greek favorites sourced from local products and small producers. My favorite was the Yellowtail tartare with tomato and caper sauce and of course, the Dolmadakia Stuffed Vine Leaves with rice and yogurt from cashews.

After receiving a tip from the Bar Manager at The Clumsies, I went to the city's latest culinary delight, PHARAOH. It only makes sense as the co-owner is a well-known Greek journalist/traveler/food aficionado, Fotis Vallatos. I was treated to an array of wood fire-cooked food, natural wines and to a DJ spinning vinyl at the bar. My new favorite leafy green (native to Mediterranean seashores) is now Monk’s Beard. PHARAOH’s Milk pie was outstanding and established a standard throughout the trip. Galaktoboureko, as it’s traditionally called, has layers of crispy phyllo, butter, creamy custard topped with scented syrup.

For a pre-dinner drink, I checked out number 19t on the World’s Best Bar (2022), The Clumsies. A collaboration between friends, Vassilis Kyritsis and Nikos Bakoulis met in 2012 and their friendship spurred a passion that has grown into an all-day cocktail/drink destination. The Lucky #3 (a sweet and sour concoction featuring pomegranate and cardamom) and Eden Garden (Negroni with Eden Flower) were my favorites.


My interest with Crete started with a Minotaur and ruins of a Labyrinth, and has since grown to include the diverse terrain and the multitude of farms and families that care for them.

I visited siblings, Maria and Stavros Kokkiadis at the Kokkiadis Honey Farm. Maria explained the entire process from hive to honey. Her family has produced Cretan honey, beeswax, bee pollen and propolis without being processed by sugar, antibiotics, pesticides and insecticides for the last 14 years. The bees feed on the flowers and herbs in the mountains of Lassithi region and the surroundings of Athanati village in the Heraklion region of Crete. Accolades include the most recent Dubai International Taste Awards 2022, where the honey was awarded Sliver and the Bergamot and Cherry Sweet spoon were awarded Platinum and Gold. Sweets spoons are sweet preserves, served in a spoon as a gesture of hospitality and a Cretan tradition.

Pulling up to Elli's Farm, I was greeted by the entire Kamnaki family. After a thorough team presentation by the youngest son, and oldest daughter of the family, we were treated with the most bountiful tasting Cretan dishes. As each dish came out, the oil only enhanced the flavors, the rusks with tomatoes and vine leaves were a favorite and who can resist chocolate ice cream with olive oil?

The family’s award winning Eliama Daily Value olive oil, is made with a strict process including grinding the olives within 8 hours of the harvest, very low melting temperature, stainless tanks and the storage temperature strictly from 12ºC to 15ºC all the while using zero chemical pesticides. While the Eliama Daily Value early harvest extra virgin olive oil has won numerous quality awards in international competitions, the Eliama Daily Value Gold has been used in clinical trials for patients with Multiple Sclerosis conducted by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and University of Cyprus. 


Aside from the white building surrounded by blue waters, Santorini is known for their volcanic terroir. Since the 17th century eruption, over 24 indigenous varieties of wine have made their home on Santorini. The vineyards in Santorini are self-rooted, never affected by phylloxera, and have a 3,500-year history.

At Domaine Sigalas, I was introduced to the Sigalas family’s boutique wines over a sizable food pairing. I learned that the hand-pruning technique of the vines or kouloura (meaning "coil", "basket", or "wreath") was a necessity for vineyards on Santorini. This pruning method protects the vines from the strong wind and intense sun. These are dry vineyards, meaning no water is added (unless they are starting young vines). Santorini’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) has low-yield production which creates unique, flavorful and concentrated fava, tomatoes and grapes. Assyrtiko is the most dominant white wine grape covering 90 percent of this area.

Santos Wines welcomes more than 600k yearly visitors from all over the world to the new winery completed in 1992 on the caldera. Santo Wines is a cooperative winery, producing single variety Assyrtiko, Aidani, Athiri and Mavrotragano wines. Santo’s facilities include the winery, a tomato processing factory (the only active one on the island) and the Wine Tourism Center. The 4,000-ton capacity winery utilizes gravity instead of pumps to transfer must and wine, upgrading the quality of the wines produced.


Travel north and find Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. Its nearby peninsulas form 3 prongs of Poseidon’s trident.

In the village of Nea Gonia, south of Thessaloniki, I met with brothers Sakis and Pangalos Kazakis, whose family businesses Marianna’s Vine Leaves and ABELON® are produced. Matriarch Marianna was a guest judge on The Amazing Race Season 33’ episode 8 teaching the teams how to roll their own dolmades (vine leaf wraps with rice and herbs) and we too learned the secrets to roll perfect dolmades after visiting the Sultana vineyard. After tasting a variety of the other vineyard products, such as pickled vine tops. Certified organic products since 1997, they have been awarded multiple Great Taste Awards. 

Pangalos Kazakis spearheaded ABELON® after learning the technique of distilling from his father, Demetrius. It is a 100% certified single variety organic Grape Spirit, aged in new French Oak Casks and distilled twice in copper stills. Each bottle is sealed with a pure Portuguese cork and crowned by an engraved golden ring and the Kazakis family’s crest.

Sakis introduced me to the owner of Handmade Pianos, Panos Ioannidis. Panos specializes in custom made pianos, laternas (barrel piano) construction and maintenance. Only a few workshops in the world remain producing handmade pianos and Panos’s deals with all aspects of piano designing, building and reconstruction. Gracious with his time, he treated me to a mini concert in his workshop.

In the city, (and again thanks to Sakis) I met with Designer, Vangelis Liakos of Beetroot Design. The firm has worked with clients such as Greenpeace, Monocle and Wired. Initially designed in 1926 as a hotel, the Beetroot Design building has a café-gallery space and an adjacent concept store for Yiayia and Friends (a Greek lifestyle brand featuring loveable characters). The offices of the firm are found on the second floor complete with refurbished original tile and a skylight.

The city is known for its rich gastronomy and the newest venture for Beetroot Design is Poster restaurant. The restaurant is in an adjacent building from the studio and the restaurant utilizes the cobble stone street as additional seating for patrons. Poster’s head chef, Vasilis Chamam was launching his new menu. A graduate from Central St. Martins, the Greek and Palestinian chef’s creation coffee sriracha is unique and flavourful.

At Poster, I met architect turned jewelry designer, Nikoletta Lekka. Using inspiration from a woman’s breast and designs, and pulling from two powerful civilizations of Ancient Greece, the Cycladic and the Minoan civilization Nikoletta’s jewelry collection uses mediums like brass, silver and pink gold to bring her vision of femininity and fertility to life. 

During the evening at Poster, Natural winemaker Jason Ligas of Voï Wines hosted his own tasting. Jason first started working alongside his father Thomas Ligas and sister Melia in their family vineyards, Domaine Ligas. Since then, he has worked all over Greece as a consultant and partner with other natural winemakers. Voï Wines is his latest project with the vineyards located in Rapsani by Mount Olympus. 

From north to south, whether it was a new venture between friends or a multi-generational family business, the driving force behind the passion and purpose lies in proud artists and artisans willing to, in small ways, honor centuries of work before them. Artists and artisans who are both genuine and generous, willing carry on traditions rooted in hospitality and an openness to share those gifts with the world.


Where to Stay:

Athens: The Modernist Athens

Found in the central Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, The Modernist Athens hotel occupies a former Canadian embassy building from the fifties. The chic black and white décor makes a stunning addition to the quiet, tree lined block.

After the long journey, I happily melted into the mattress of our room after showering with the local Greek-based brand, Physis Laboratory products. After the scrumptious Greek breakfast, I was ready to face the first full day. Located in the hotel lobby, the Modernist Café, had a diverse menu with a staple of (Greek) yogurt on hand with all the fixings, along with all the savory pies (spinach and mushroom). 

Although I missed the morning rooftop yoga class, I took in the evening cityscape at the end of the day. Complete with lounge chairs and small tables, the rooftop is open for drink service and is perfect for your next tête-à-tête. Other amenities available at The Modernist Athens include the 24/7 gym and the pillow menu.

Crete: The Royal Blue Resort and Spa and The Royal Senses Resort and Spa

Stay between the two largest cities of Crete – Chania and Heraklion in Rethymno, at either of the sister properties, The Royal Blue Resort and Spa and The Royal Senses Resort and Spa. The resorts are part of the Troulis Royal Collection portfolio, and operated by Kostas, Manolis and Zaharias – the sons of the late Georgios Troulis. Georgios had the foresight in the early 80’s to invest in and pave the way for Crete tourism today.

The newly renovated Royal Blue (opened in 2009) is located directly on the Sea of Crete, whereas The Royal Senses is slightly south, and still has ocean views. Guests of both properties can utilize the sixteen different food and beverage options at either of the resorts. I’m not usually partial to buffets, yet my favorite was Gea, the main restaurant in The Royal Senses. The menu is on the variety and quality of the food. MITATO serves traditional Antikristo Cretan lamb. This process lets the meat cook in its own fat and salt with the heat coming from the flames instead of coals.

Whether it’s the public or shared pool, or the well-equipped spas, there are plenty of areas at either resort for R&R with your friends and family.

Santorini: COCO-MAT Hotel Santorini

Located in the Cyclades, Santorini is one of the most popular islands in Greece. Travel to Akrotiri, the other side of the island’s crescent and you will find the COCO-MAT Hotel Santorini. Like the other five COCO-MAT properties, the rooms feature namesake all-natural pillows and mattresses (which can be purchased at the COCO-MAT concept store). Sustainability is part of the brand's ethos from the sleeping products to the iconic wooden COCO-MAT bicycles are available for guest use.

Take in the breathtaking caldera, volcano and sea view in complete solitude, as the hotel has a no children and no pet policy. It’s a boutique hotel at its best, with less than 20 rooms and suites for guests. The whole minimalist design of the hotel does not take away from the beautiful environment. Designed after the archetypal cave-houses of the island, my suite was built into the face of the volcanic rock overlooking the sea. It only made sense to take advantage of the beautiful hotel restaurant overlooking that same picturesque view for both breakfast and dinner.

Thessaloniki: Teight Hotel

The second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki has been a hub for food and fashion since the 80’s. My home base was the boutique Teight Hotel, located downtown, a block away from the Aegean Sea. Take advantage of the proximity of the best sites and scenes including walks along the waterfront to The White Tower and the notable Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.

Capturing sleek city vibes, my stylish hotel room incorporated interactive technology and modern décor with photography curated by Yannis Bournias.

A stay at the Teight Hotel would not be complete if you did not check out the all-day restaurant, Moldee. The restaurant serves a mix of fusion Greek and Mediterranean food from collaborating local chefs Vassilis Mouratidis and Sofoklis Maragoudakis. While I had the pleasure to dine for both breakfast and dinner, I took note that the food is complemented by the award winning modern interior design and décor.

Elena Murzello

Elena Murzello

The daughter of a Filipino-Chinese mother and an Italian-East Indian father, she comes by her exotic global influences naturally. After pursuing degrees at the University of Victoria (Nursing), and the University of British Columbia where she got her MBA, she packed her passport and headed out to the airport. Stops in Buenos Aires, London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Dubai and Tokyo gave this world traveler a true appreciation of the international lifestyle. Elena authored the book The Love List: A Guide To Getting Who You Want, which was published in 2013. Elena has appeared on the Tamron Hall Show, NBC News BETTER, The Today Show (Australia) and Good Morning Washington. She has also published countless pieces for both online and print: Thrive Global, Huffington Post Canada, Cosmopolitan UK, BELLA and RESIDENT Magazine. And now, House of Coco. Besides being a published author, the multi-talented Murzello also secured a reoccurring acting role on the Showtime series The L Word, (available on Netflix) and has appeared in television commercials for international brands such as AT&T.

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