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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 January 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 13 JANUARY 2018 15 FOOD FOR THOUGHT Theodore Kyrimis, the pioneering Mani entrepreneur. PHOTOS: KYRIMIS COLLECTION. The Kyrimai hotel sits proudly at the entrance to the tiny port of Gerolimenas. Kyrimai’s ethos is all about providing guests not only great food, luxurious comfort and high-quality customer service, but also deep insights into the history and culture of the Mani. Seaside bliss. The hotel features sublime sun-lounging spots beside crystal clear waters. a shining beacon of excellence and commercial success in the region. THE STORY OF KYRIMAI In the 1870s two traders - Michael Katsimantis from the island of Syros, and Theodore Kyrimis, the mayor of middle Mani, created at the tiny village of Gerolimenas a maritime trading business, importing and exporting goods throughout Greece and the Mediterranean. Katsimantis and Kyrimis established a triangle of trade between Syros, Pireaus and Gerolimenas, and as the business developed, it provided a vital sea route to import timber, medicines, fabrics and hundreds of other products to the then 50,000 residents of the Mani peninsular. Today the stone warehouses, once stacked with goods for import and export (at one point 70,000 live quail, were being exported annually to Marseilles), have been beautifully restored to make up the buildings which house the elegant Kyrimai hotel. It is still owned by the Kyrimis family. Derived from the Byzantine root of the Kyrimis name, Kyrie imon (our Lord), since it opened Kyrimai has been an ongoing experiment in cultural reconnection as much as a commercial venture. Honouring the legacy of Michael Katsimantis and Theodore Kyrimis, Kyrimai opened a new chapter in the story of the Deep Mani, written by brothers Alexandros and Aris Kyrimis - two greatgrandsons of founder Theodore. Speaking in Kyrimai's waterside dining room, Alexandros takes up the story. "It was a big adventure. We didn't have experience of operating a place like this, we weren't from a hospitality background but we knew what would make guests happy. "In the 1990s most Greeks couldn't point to Mani on the map, because of its infrastructure problems that kept it back in time. We weren't sure what to do with the building but we thought if we could do something nice it had potential, even though it was so remote." After spending 450 million drachma (€1.2 m) on renovations (with half the funds coming from the EU and government restoration programs), work began on creating the Kyrimai hotel in 2000. It opened in 2003. Promoted to the domestic market first when Greece was still enjoying a relatively stable economy and Greeks were travelling more than ever, Kyrimai's reputation grew, and despite its isolation, appealed to Athenians in search of new adventures. "For them it was something great in an area they didn't know much about," says Alexandros. The late 2000s saw more renovation and a focus on developing the restaurant, with new chefs tried to evolve Kyrimai's menus and to develop its distinctive food offerings. By 2009, with the economic crisis beginning to take its toll on the domestic tourism market, the Peloponnese began attracting international attention on a scale unheard of before, driven by the opening of two more high-end hotels - the Costa Navarino Resort south of Kalamata, and Kinsterna at Monemvasia. "There were a lot of media visiting the area," remembers Alexandros. "The Peloponnese was suddenly in the news abroad, Kalamata airport was getting more flights, and we got a piece of that pie." Since then, that slice of pie has grown, with Kyrimai's mix of rich ingredients making it one of the pre-eminent luxury hotels in the Peloponnese. Today international visitors provide the backbone of its guests, drawn to the hotel's sublime waterfront position, its unique heritage, and more recently, the creations of its inventive young chef. But beyond the gourmet delicacies and delicious creature comforts, beyond the beckoning crystal clear waters that lap at the hotel's edge, a visit to Kyrimai is an unforgettable journey - an act of time travel through its 140-year story, and the history of the Deep Mani. GETTING THERE While the outer Mani's isolation is legendary, it's a lot more accessible these days. A new bypass at Sparta cuts the journey time from Athens airport to Gerolimenas by road to around 3.5 hours. * Michael Sweet was a guest of Kyrimai and gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Aegean Airlines in his research for this article.
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