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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 February 2015
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2015 13 FEATURE meant the sisters could return to their home. "The British came to my father and they said they wanted to operate the house again as their consulate," says Ioanna. "They stayed for ten years and I hated this situation." It would be 1955 before the house was finally restored to its rightful owners. Ioanna went on to study in Rome's Academy of Fine Arts. Fluent in French and Italian, in the 1960s she began travelling - first hitch-hiking her way across Europe and then venturing to Asia. It was a road less-travelled for a young Greek woman of the time. She was married briefly - a life in the United States beckoned - but it wasn't to be. Rena wed a dentist. Hers was a long and happy marriage lasting 45 years. Then in the late 1960s, Ioanna, who by now was living in Athens and running a fabric design and dressmaking business in the fashionable suburb of Kolonaki, suggested they turn the old family home into a guesthouse. The idea sprang from her time in Italy when she had seen similar family homes open their doors to paying guests. The Doma Hotel opened in December 1971, and within months word had spread of its unique charm. Soon artists, celebrities, politicians and poets were staying, drawn to the building's story and its graceful hosts. Its reputation as one of the most elegant and distinguished hotels in Greece grew steadily. Some guests would return each year. Many still do. One of Ioanna and Irene's favourites was the celebrated Italian writer and poet Antonio Tabucchi, who became a lifelong friend. British military types with clipped English accents (who served in wartime Crete as secret agents) stayed too, along with their former adversaries. Once in the 1980s, a German war veteran - a Herr Voutkas (with only one hand, remembers Rena) who had lived in the house during the occupation, returned. It was only while checking-out that he summoned the courage to admit the circumstances of his previous residence. The Doma still carries the echoes of all its histories. This is a place where the presence of its former incarnations - and those who spent time here - is everywhere. Beyond its powerful history, perhaps it's the glorious dining room overlooking the bay that is the most memorable experience, its walls adorned with family portraits and fading framed documents; or precious time spent in the dappled light of the serene walled garden; perhaps it's the peaceful lounge, decked in antique rugs beside the exotic headdresses Ioanna created inspired by her travels, that stays with you. It's all these things and more. Until the late 1980s the Doma was open all year The Koutsoudakis family home in June 1941, requisitioned by the German military. PHOTO: KOUTSOUDAKIS COLLECTION. round. Today it reveals its delights only between April and November. On my last visit to Chania a sturdy lock and chain were wrapped tightly around the hotel's elegant wrought-iron gate. Ioanna and Rena were preparing to travel to Athens, as they have done for forty years, to spend winter in their Kolonaki apartment. Like the swifts that return to their nests nearby each year, they will be back when the buds of spring arrive. As the waves break on the pebbled shore below, the Doma will wait for its genteel owners to return, to bring back their gracious hospitality and the manners of a bygone era. * Michael Sweet travelled to Crete from Athens with the assistance of Aegean Airlines. Room with a view: The Doma Hotel’s famous dining room looking out towards Chania’s Venetian port.
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