After all: Soulaki-ed by eco-technolgies

Stereotypes get shattered at a technologically astute and eco-friendly Greek resort.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented already," H Duell, a former US Commissioner for Patents, infamously declared way back in 1899.

What he had in mind, of course, were most likely the great inventions of the past, among which those originating in ancient Greece had always stood out prominently. Just imagine our modern lives without Greek inventions such as coined money, maps, thermometers, central heating, pizzas and (less significantly) hula hoops.

That great innovative tradition, it has to be said, had somewhat slowed down by AD 400, which marked the last remarkable ancient Greek invention - the frame harp - and came to a complete stop several hundred years later. Indeed, excluding tzatsiki, souvlaki and, possibly, Sirtaki, no modern great Greek inventions of note leap to mind.

Popular perceptions of Greece and Greeks also suffered a substantial downturn: from "the cradle of democracy" (ancient Greece) to "a rigid, incompetent bureaucracy" (a recent claim by an EC official). To quote PJ O'Rourke, Greeks invented democracy and then forgot how to use it.

I have to confess that I had also been under the spell of these false stereotypes until my recent short holiday at the Sani resort on the Halkidiki peninsula, with its stunningly clean golden beaches and its impeccable service. For some reason, I didn't expect to find on my hotel bed the following printed note: "Of course, we will service your room every day, but your linen will be changed only when this card is placed on your bed in the morning, and your towels only when put in the bathtub".

Why had I not expected this? Simply because it was Greece, and, from what I knew, Greece had never excelled in eco-technologies and healthy living. After all, it was only a couple of weeks earlier that a London-based Greek friend of mine assured me that his compatriots kept snubbing organic foods (particularly, organic wines) and the companies that produced them were going bust faster than it took to utter the phrase "eco-friendly".

Yet it was while at Sani that I learned of a little-known, yet hugely important, modern Greek invention: eco hotel. The first ever eco-labelled hotel was the Sunwing Resort Kallithea on the island of Rhodes. It opened in 2003.

What is an eco hotel? Wikipedia defines it as "a hotel that has made important environmental improvements to its structure in order to minimise its impact on the environment". How mind-bogglingly boring!

However, at Sani Resort, which has inherited from Sunwing the snow-white and, no doubt, biodegradable mantle of the country's premier eco hotel, eco-friendliness is far from tedious. It has become the resort's modus operandi (not sure what the ancient Greek equivalent of this Latin phrase is). Its daily manifestations are routine, but they are also fun.

When I first visited Sani resort in 1993 with a group of London hacks, we couldn't help noticing a flock of busty girls, all clad in red bikinis, sitting at the bar and chatting loudly. "These are our animators," the then manager told us proudly. "We bring them from Austria and pay them salaries for entertaining our tourists." We four retsina-soaked scribblers pricked up our ears and studied the girls with renewed interest. "Don't get me wrong," the manager hastened to add. "By entertainment I mean ballroom dances, quizzes and beach games, nothing else…"

No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to spot any blonde "animators" anywhere in the grossly expanded (since 1993) Sani Resort. Yet, even without squinting too much, I could clearly discern the following:

  • all conventional lightbulbs have steadily been replaced with low-energy CFL and LED ones, starting with outdoor areas, which immediately added some coveted intimate semi-darkness;
  • solar energy has increasingly been used to heat the Resort's hot water - after all, who requires lots of hot water when the weather at the Resort is scorching almost all year round?
  • only recycled (and not necessarily hot) water is now used for watering the Resort's numerous lush gardens and the adjoining nature reserve, populated with hundreds of species of birds and frogs, the latter staging impressive choir performances of an evening - better (and louder) than any human animators;
  • only recycled FSC-certified paper is now used for menus, bills, invoices, registration forms and all those important notes to the guests like the one I found on my bed. (FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council). In the five-star Asterias Suites, the Resort's newest hotel, 100 per cent of paper was FSC-approved, chlorine-free, coming from sustainable forests and processed in factories powered by renewable energy sources. Not that all of the above have greatly improved the paper's quality (particularly, its whiteness), but it felt good to be making notes on the recycled note pads;
  • all cooking oil from the resort's several dozen restaurants is collected and recycled as biofuel;
  • the only internal means of public transport at the resort is electric - hence environmentally friendly - buggy trucks. Driven by helpful, mostly Russian or Ukrainian, members of staff, they criss-cross the resort in all directions, and guests who have ventured courageously on an unhurried walk are politely, yet firmly, offered a lift;
  • all plastic bags in the Resort's mini-markets have been replaced with non-plastic, biodegradable and yet equally strong and robust - ones.

During my visit, I felt like pinching myself: was I really in Greece? Old habits die hard. Old stereotypes die even harder and I was more than happy to bury a couple under the golden sand of the blue-flagged beaches of Sani resort. Or rather to have them 'souvlaki-ed' by some simple and impressive modern eco-technologies.


Vitali Vitaliev's 'After All' column was highly commended by the judges of the 2009 PPA UK Press Awards. His newest book, 'Life as a Literary Device', is published by Beautiful Books and is available to pre-order online. 

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