In today’s episode, we’ll be talking to Georgia Kontiza, a hotel owner who happens to own Koukoumi Hotel, a luxury vegan hotel on the Greek Island of Mykonos. I am sure by now, you know that Seb and I love a vegan hotel, and while we have not yet stayed there, it is very high on the list. What’s not to love about the Greek Islands with the sun, clear seas, and incredible history add an amazing vegan hotel that has the most amazing food. Seriously, just go and have a look at the food.
In this episode we discuss:
- Importance of Koukoumi hotel for Georgia
- Vegan hotel on Greek Island
- What to expect from this Hotel
Learn more about what we talk about
- Things to do in Mykonos
- History of Islands surrounding Mykonos
- Islands surrounding Mykonos
Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode
- Accidentally Vegan Dishes to order on your trip to Greece | Pelagia Komni / The Greek Appetite | Ep 76
- # 10 | Luxury Vegan Hotels in Italy | Josh Thomas
- LGBTQ+ and Vegan-Friendly Travel – Vegan Vacations | Jason McGregor | Ep 96
- Elephant Haven – A Sanctuary for Europe’s Circus and Zoo Elephants | Tony Verhulst and Sofie Goetghebeur | Ep 95
Connect with Georgia
Brighde: Hello Georgia. Thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.
Georgia: Thank you so much, Brighde for calling me.
Brighde: I am so excited to talk to you today about such a beautiful place that I’ve not really been to at all, and this is Mykonos, the Greek island of Mykonos. Before we talk about all of that, I’m really excited because you actually have a vegan hotel in Mykonos and it is absolutely beautiful. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about why you opened this hotel, because this is such a unique and special thing.
Georgia: Okay. First of all, I’m Mykonian. So my parents are both Mykonian and from the village of ANO MERA, where the hotel is. We built a hotel, near my grandma’s house, whose name is Marillo. Actually, we owned the property there. We had the idea of a hotel. I was living in Athens, I was born there, but I always wanted to go back to the place where I spent my childhood summers and where I really have the best memories. I was fed up with Athens and all the craziness. I was vegan already and I was thinking of a place that would be really, friendly according to my grandmother’s philosophy, she was actually a very strong woman, with eight children that lived through the Second World War. Lost both her husbands, but she was so strong. She was the first woman that voted on the island. She was a wise lady. People were coming to her for help, for advice and her spirit lives on. So I wanted to make a hotel. Its name is Koukoumi, which means protected from the wind, and it also means a snuggling place, a comfortable place to snuggle. That’s exactly what we wanted to do. A place where people would feel they can relax, and think about nothing because as a vegan, I had my difficulties. Whenever you travel, you have to be very organized. Keep always something to eat with you. You don’t know where you’re going, or what you’re going to find.
So I had the idea, why we don’t make a place where people would not need to think anything and somebody else would have done all the thinking before them, and they would just stop reading the small letters or getting stressed with the smells and what’s inside, what they’re eating or what the mattress is made of, or what the shop if it’s cruelty-free or all these things that really bothers most of us. People that come here, just relax and that was the original idea.
Brighde: Hmm. Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to stay in a few vegan hotels and resorts in Europe, but not in Greece yet. It’s really special to be able to stay in a vegan hotel, particularly when it’s like a resort kind of place because usually, you end up having most of your meals at the resort. It’s not like you’re in a big city where there are lots of different places to eat. You might be in a place where there are not so many choices. So staying in a vegan hotel is so awesome. How long has the hotel been open?
Georgia: We opened in, 2020 in the mid of craziness
Georgia: Actually they wrote an article about us in a Greek newspaper saying the bold of 2020. It was really messy to open a hotel during that period.
Brighde: So you’re still new, so I’m sure you’ve probably just finished your first full season where it’s been open pretty much as normal and how did that go?
Georgia: Yes, it was actually, quite normal this time. It was also because the Americans were not traveling and most of the flights were late. We depend on the flights because it’s an island. It’s very important for us to have normal scheduling and all that. It was very nice. We started at the beginning of May. We closed at the end of October. We welcomed our first American guests, that were very happy to be abroad. We now, try to understand the nationalities that, they’re interested in us and it’s very exciting to find out that, they are of course Europeans but also people from Israel a lot. So we realized that there are many Americans coming to Mykonos and most of our guests are vegans, but not only some of them are people that, they’re interested in eco-friendly hotels, sustainability, and people search for a different experience. Some of them, don’t even know what it means exactly to go to a vegan hotel, and they are excited to discover this experience. There are others that, who’re not vegans. They just happen to, book a room. Usually, in August, this happens.
Brighde: I see. Would you be able to describe the hotel for us because of course this is an audio podcast? Maybe people, as they’re listening to this, can go onto your website and check it out, but can you describe a little bit about your hotel? What’s the kind of vibe, where is it located? How many rooms do you have, just give a bit of a sense as to what staying in this hotel is like. What would the experience be?
Georgia: Mm-hmm. . Okay. It’s in the traditional village of Ano Mera. Ano Mera is a village in the center of the island. It is almost 15 minutes from the port, which is the city. Ano Mera is a very calm place. It has a monastery and a square with coffee shops and is close to the most beautiful beaches of the island. You can go walking there or by car, it’s five to 10 minutes and there are many around. As a building, it is built in a traditional way, which means that of course, it’s white. We used the stones, the rocks from the property, that we took by digging. It has very thick walls, which make it really cool during summer. It has small windows on the north side and big windows on the south side. So it’s very bright and very cozy because Mykonos is the island of the wind. So we have very strong wind, especially during August. It’s built in a way that as soon as you enter the door, you get into a very calm and relaxing yard, where the pool is. when you go to the beach and it’s too windy, it’s messy with all the waves and the sun hitting you sometimes. People, run back to the hotel cause they feel so relaxed and protected there. Of course, it’s not always windy.
It is a five-star hotel boutique with 14 rooms only. This makes it like a house full of friends. Our guests enjoy the company of people that work there that really understand what we are doing most of them are vegans or vegetarians and they really love to be there because they don’t have to serve other food.
Brighde: It’s really interesting the hotels that we stay at in Italy that are vegan. Most of the staff that also work there are vegetarian or vegan as well, and they’re just so passionate and so knowledgeable. I think something really magical happens when staff is working in an environment that aligns with their values and the quality of service and just the amount of heart that they put into it is more this is what I’ve noticed. I don’t know if it’s true, but this is what I’ve noticed.
Georgia: It’s true. We try so hard to find places to work that they can feel good in. This feeling really matters and people that come, guests, feel that they sense it.
Brighde: What can guests expect in terms of the food that you have available? Because I know you do have a restaurant connected with the hotel, despite it just being quite a small hotel. Can you talk a little bit about what people in it can expect at breakfast, and what people can expect at dinner? Is the restaurant open to the public? So even if, you were not staying there, is it possible to go and enjoy a meal there?
Georgia: Yes, of course. Our restaurant is a big thing. People come from very far away to try the food, especially the dinner that is very unique because it’s actually a gourmet dinner which is quite rare for plant-based restaurants. It’s not only that we are open during all day, which means that we have a very rich breakfast. It’s a buffet and it has an Ã la carte menu also. You can find practically anything that you can imagine and everything is homemade from our marmalades that our Chef prepares to the green pies with spinach and cheese or the bread. Different types of eggs with tofu, scrambled or even boiled. You can find a plant-based egg, that is really astonishing, from pumpkin and cashew. Sweets, pancakes, pizzas, anything, burgers it has a branch, a very rich branch, sushi by the pool.
Another day goes by it becomes fancier. We have a great vegan wine list that is so made just for Koukoumi and it has very important Greek Wines, not only Greek, some from Spain or, Italy. It’s really unique because I think it’s the only, vegan wine list in Europe as far as I know and people can try, for example, Greek vegan beers. Everything we have, first we try to find it, within the country. If we can’t find it in Greece, then we search somewhere else. But usually, we try to do that with Greek companies. So it is an experience. The food, people love it. People that are not vegan come to eat. Guests that were not vegan because in Mykonos you have many options. It’s not a small place. They were going out for dinner and then slowly, they were coming back saying, okay, we prefer to eat here because it’s lighter and we feel better afterward, then it’s so tasty.
This is something that we really enjoy, especially if it comes from non-vegan and we are very happy if we manage to make people think differently because most of them say, It is so tasty. I thought before they were thinking that vegan food is boring and it’s not tasty, and they come and they realize that I can do it. It’s not that hard. So when they leave the place, they start flirting with the idea, which is an accomplishment. I feel great if this happens. I have also examples of people that were working with us. They were not vegans and they became vegans. And even if they don’t work with us anymore, they are still vegans. So we change people and that’s the best part I think.
Brighde: I love it. I love it. And as you were talking, I was just on your website, listening to you describe the food and then seeing pictures of the food. Your menu is really quite extensive, with all sorts of things. Something that really caught my eye was the scallops, actually, the scallops that you have and like bowls with a vegan boiled egg, a half of a boiled egg in there. But really there is something for everyone on this menu. When people stay at the hotel, does it include breakfast or do you have a half-board option? Because I have stayed in some hotels, vegan hotels that are like that.
Georgia: Yes, you can have bed and breakfast only, or you can choose, half board or full board, or you can choose some packages that we have that include a spa and personal training because we have a very well-equipped gym for functional training as well as a personal trainer for yoga lessons.
Brighde: I will say that I will go quite far just to stay in a vegan hotel no matter, where it is. But I know that Mykonos has a lot of really interesting things about it. We all have this idea of what a Greek island is like. Maybe we might have a bit of an idea about what Mykonos is like based on some stereotypes that we’ve heard.
So why don’t you tell us a little bit about Mykonos as a destination, because maybe not everyone’s like me? Maybe other people go to a place, not just because there’s an incredible vegan hotel. Maybe they need some other things to convince them. So I would love to hear what is it about Mykonos that makes it such a wonderful destination for travelers.
Georgia: Actually Mykonos, used to be a very poor island, after the Second World War and nobody knew it. Everything started when they discovered the ancient temples in Milos. Milos is a very small island. You can go by boat there, as an excursion now. You can’t stay there. The archeologists and everybody that wanted to either work on Milos or visit it had to stay somewhere else and this somewhere else was Mykonos. So this is how it became known as a place near Milos but back in the sixties, and seventies, because all these people of art and fashion started coming. They started realizing how beautiful the island was. It has the most crystal clear beaches that I have ever been to, even though I’ve traveled around Greece or abroad. It’s so cold water and so refreshing. The architecture is absolutely beautiful and they kept it as it used to be. Small houses, white with blue doors and windows, not only blue. Now there are many colors, but usually, the archeologists are very strict to keep the architecture the way it was. So the laws that they imply are very strict. Actually, it kept the color, it used to have, and the simplicity, this is the beauty of it. It’s so simple and at the same time, it reflects the light that is so strong. It’s one of the brightest places, on the planet actually. They say Milos and Mykonos. What it does is reflect this very strong sun with all this whiteness around. There are no trees whatsoever because of the wind.
It doesn’t have so much water, the island. It doesn’t rain that often. So actually it’s quite dry during summer. But during springtime, it’s all green with beautiful flowers. It’s amazing, green grass. Trees, we don’t have. No shade. Less is more philosophy and that’s exactly what this island was all about. People were really friendly and very open-minded. So, even if you wanted to swim naked or you were gay, or you were dancing at six o’clock in the morning outside the church, they wouldn’t care because they wanted people to come and see their Island and this stayed like that. So actually Mykonos are very friendly people, very open-minded people and very free. This was something that people liked a lot. It became famous for the fact that you could do whatever you wanted on the island. Over time, became a little bit negative because of these wild parties and it became notorious for several things but actually, it stayed beautiful. Even though sometimes people say, oh, we have seen enough of Mykonos, even Greeks, they say, oh I’ve been so many times I don’t want to go anymore, so many people. And then they come back because it has this something that you can have everything.
You can go to the beach and be by yourself. You can go to another beach and dance until the next day. You can have the best food that you can imagine. You can just walk around the alleys and, enjoy the sunny days or you can have the best drink of your life.
I don’t know. You can do anything in Mykonos. I love it. I am a great fan, and sometimes when people say, ah, you’re from Mykonos, ah, you are having a party all day. I don’t. For me, it’s mostly about the sea and the wind and the saltiness of the wind and the smell of it. It really reminds me of my childhood, this place.
Brighde: Well, you’ve described that so beautifully. Thank you, Georgia. When I look through your Instagram, it just looks so peaceful and calm. I will say that something I’ve always assumed is that people come to the Greek Islands because of the pretty architecture and the beaches, but the fact that there are actually a lot of ancient ruins and history and culture is really interesting as well. So I think that makes it a little bit unique.
I’m sure everybody is listening to this and looking up Koukoumi hotel on Instagram and looking on the website and planning how on earth they might try and get there as soon as possible. But before I ask you to share all of the details, your social media handles, and all of that kind of thing. I’d love it if you could just like explain to me and our listeners just, what is a day in life like when you are enjoying a Greek island holiday, maybe staying in your hotel? What does a typical day look like, for one of your guests?
Georgia: Usually, they have their breakfast. We have a late breakfast also so they can sleep more on our beautiful mattresses. Some of them they will go run around, the hotel, and then they’re going to the gym or they’re going to do some yoga, and then they’re going to have their breakfast. After breakfast usually, they have organized, their days before they come. They have probably rented a car or a bike and they go around the island to discover the beautiful beaches and the places they can see, or they can take part in an excursion, to Milos or to nearby islands, by boat. There are so many ways to go catamaran or Speedboat or a yacht or whatever. You can do so many things from horseback riding, that our people don’t really like to scuba dive or kite surfing. It’s very windy. So it is a destination for kite surfers and surfers. You can go to the beach and just sunbathe.
There are many organized places. You can have lunch there or just drink or there are many, that are not organized and they’re really wild and very interesting to go to and discover the caves and sandbanks and all that. Then they come back usually, they have a nap or they had a shower. Again, they will either have their dinner in our hotel or after that they will go to Ornos or to other clubs and bars on the island or they’re going to hora to walk and have dinner there. Actually, a week is not enough for Mykonos, given that there are so many things to do.
There’s a beautiful lighthouse that you can go to and you can see a beautiful view of the sea and the nearby islands. They ask us for information at the reception we ask them what they want, if they want to be alone, or if they want to go somewhere that is really crowdy or something. We give them advice according.
Brighde: It sounds like a magical holiday for sure. Alright, so I really invite people who are listening to this to go and check out Koukoumi hotel and all of their socials. Can you remind us and maybe spell Koukoumi for us, cuz maybe it’s a little confusing to people. What’s the website URL and how can people connect with you and learn about special offers that you might have?
Georgia: Yes, it’s K O U K O U M i, koukoumihotel.com. Yes, there are offers on the site and they can also send an email to [email protected], or just a call. There are many ways to connect and they can also book directly from our site.
Brighde: Mm. Yeah. I really invite people listening to try to book directly with hotels if possible. Tell me if I’ve got this wrong, Georgia, but booking.com and all of these other types of sites, they can take quite a lot of money from the booking, and especially after the pandemic, it’s really nice to book directly with the hotel. Is that fair to say?
Georgia: Yes. They’re not the devil, but, they do their part. You can’t be without them. Of course, all hotels love direct bookings. Okay. But, some people feel safer if they don’t know where they’re going. Book with some of the engines like booking your Expedia, if they’re Americans, they use this a lot, they may do it once, but the next time they come to us because we have already repeaters, they book directly because they feel safe.
Brighde: Yeah. That’s really worth saying. I think a lot of people feel more confident putting their reservations in with a trusted and known platform. Hopefully, people listening to this know that Koukoumi Hotel is legit and Georgia is there behind the scenes looking after everything. I’m sure everything will just be fine. So again, I really invite people if they feel comfortable doing so to book directly with the Hotel. Georgia, I wanna thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast, and listeners I really hope you go and check this out if you do happen to book hotels with Koukoumi, say Hi to Georgia, from Brighde and thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today, Georgia. I really appreciate it.
Georgia: Thank you so much for having me and that you gave me the opportunity to talk about something that I really love and I’m passionate about I hope I see you in Koukoumi.
Brighde: You try and stop me. You try and stop.
Georgia: You’re welcome.
Brighde: Thank you so much, Georgia.