Poseidonion Night ShotThe Poseidonion Grand Hotel/Photo courtesy of Poseidonion/credit: Christos Drazos

Midnight in ... Spetses: A Belle Époque Weekend in Tweed
A personal essay from the 4th Annual Tweed Run in Spetses
by Athina Vorilla

In Woody Allen’s 2012 Academy Award-winning film, Midnight in Paris, screenwriter Gil (played by Owen Wilson) goes back in time; magically transported — via antique car —  to 1920’s Paris where he hobnobs with the legendary literati of the time, Dali, the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway et al.

In one scene, Gil tries to explain this bizarre occurrence to his new friends from the past saying, “I’m from a different time, another era, the future. I come from the 2000th millennium to here. I get into a car and I slide through time.”

Such was the feeling elicited in me on my recent trip to the island of Spetses; an experience that can only be described as dreamlike: whimsical, winsome and wonderful.

Invited to attend the 4th Annual Tweed Run Spetses - 2017, it was — from the moment I stepped foot on the island — as if I had been cast in a movie set to take place during the belle époque.

It started with my accommodation at the Poseidonion Grand Hotel.  Just three hours away from my home base in Athens, I had never visited the historic landmark hotel on the island in the Argosaronic Gulf. 

Befitting host of the Greece Tweed Run event for a 4th consecutive year, the Poseidonion Grand Hotel could be a backdrop for a movie circa 1900s.

Poseidonion Grand Hotel Exterior

The Poseidonion Grand Hotel, Tweed Run Spetses 2017/Photo courtesy of Poseidonion/credit: Nikos Kokkas
Poseidonion Historic Vintage
Photo courtesy of Poseidonion Grand Hotel.

Originally built in 1914, the hotel -- an example of European eclectic architecture -- boasts many firsts: it was the first luxury hotel to be built outside of Athens; the first Greek hotel to offer spa services; and the site that inspired highly-respected Greek politician and Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, to establish a state office dedicated to Greek tourism at the hotel’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

Of course, having heard of its massive renovation (begun in 2004) and heralded reopening in 2009, I was thrilled at the chance to stay at this magnificent, over-a-century-old grand hotel and to take part in the Tweed Run Spetses.

Held in cooperation with the Hellenic Bike Museum and under the auspices of the Municipality of Spetses and the Spetses Trade Association, the stylish cycling event is just one of several stellar classic events hosted by the hotel annually. (Other events include the Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta, the Spetses Mini Marathon; the Spetsathlon, and the Spetses Classic Car Race).

The Tweed Run is a London-based event that was first established in 2009. Since then it has grown to include other cities and destinations such as Spetses, Tokyo and my native New York.

Off to Spetses!
Valise in tow, I arrive at Piraeus port, gate E8, just a few minutes shy of the 9:00 am sharp departure.

It is late April and weather is classic Athens spring: approximately 15° Celsius and what I like to call curiously cloudy, when the sun could — or could not — appear at any time.

Perfect weather for tweed, I think to myself as I board the high-speed catamaran Flying Cat 5; the largest of the three vessels scheduled to depart today for Spetses.

The trip is pleasant and the ride — with just 3 or 4 on the Beaufort wind scale — is smooth.

Today’s route includes stops at three ports before reaching the final destination of Spetses: the pine tree-studded island of Poros, home of Greece’s first naval academy; the amphitheatrically-built Hydra, a favorite haunt of artists, Brice Mardin and the late Leonard Cohen; and the little, but strategically key, since ancient times, port town of Ermioni in the Peloponnese.

Port of Dapia
Dapia, Spetses. Photo: Personal Archive

Arrival on Spetses
We arrive on Spetses on time. It is 12 noon. I opt to give my luggage to the bellhop waiting at Dapia, the island’s charming port. This allows me to enjoy the 5-minute walk to the hotel.

Stepping gingerly on the fish-motif cobblestone paths (the sprawling octopus is my favorite), I make my way across, exchanging Kalimeres (wishes of good morning) and warm smiles with the local merchants.

Octapus Designed Cobblestone Path
Dapia, Spetses. Photo: Personal Archive

On my right, and just below the elegant waterside cafes, are the distinct white and orange water taxis. Lined up side to side and perfectly docked upon the calm crystal clear blue waters, they rock to and fro in unison.

The water taxis await passengers wishing to jet across the Spetses channel to the port town of Kosta. In view and at arm’s length distance, Kosta, located on the southernmost leg of the Peloponnese in the Argolida region, it features parking and subsequent sea connections to people traveling by car to Spetses via the mainland. (Cars are not allowed on Spetses).

Water Taxis
The characteristic water taxis at the port, Dapia, Spetses./Photo: Personal Archive

I continue walking and, in just a few more steps, the mosaic-like path gives way to a massive white marble pier-like esplanade. Affixed on the square, commanding presence, is the formidable Poseidonion Grand Hotel.

Midnight in … Spetses
It is here that my “cinematic” tweed weekend in Spetses begins.

Feeling as if I had just embarked on a mansion of a long lost relative, I immediately feel at home.

Photo of Staircase
The hotel's magnificent marble staircase./Photo: Personal Archive

In childlike fancy, I run up the magnificent marble staircase to my room on the 2nd floor to get dressed.

Luckily, I had a few items that fit the required dress code etiquette for the Tweed Run: a black and white tweed vest, white ruffled blouse, black riding pants, 1920s laced-up granny boots, and a grey and black pinstripe newsboy cap.

Dressed and ready, I quickly register to take part and hurriedly make my way to the nearest bicycle shop (there are four on the island) to rent a bicycle.

There, I see an aptly dressed "tweeder" wearing a blush-pink pleated dress with a button-downed top and bow, grey tweed jacket (belted at the waist) and straw bonnet.

“The dress is vintage French and the jacket vintage English,” says Sophia Danaka, owner of a vintage shop in Athens that imports European clothing.

Tweed Run Bicycles
Photo: Personal Archive

Back at the hotel, I park my bicycle next to the multifarious collection of vintage bicycles that line the entrance. Among them is a black 1923 Peugeot luxe loop frame from France, a 1950 fire-engine red English Raleigh and an amazingly restored shiny black 1957 German Bismarck.

Some bikes have large shiny lamps, bells and fancy horns, while others have intricately carved leather seats and saddles. Bicycle baskets filled with picnic blankets and graced with flowers, fruits and a variety of accessories add to the cycling finesse.

In and out of the hotel lobby, participants dressed in classic Tweed Run garb, bustle to make the final adjustments to their look.

In the living area/main lobby barbers groom mustaches while shoe shiners polish shoes and hairdressers perfect coiffures. Donning just fours, argyle socks, tweed vests, bow ties, cycling skirts and capes, red lipstick for the ladies and pipes for the men, the scene is surreal. Gathered in the historic landmark hotel close to 200 people dressed in Gatsby-style attire.

“It’s like jumping out of a 20’s movie,” says Sophia. “The hotel, the people, the music, the bicycles, the island, everything,” she says.

The Tweed Run - Spetses
The bicycle tour begins. Approximately 2km in total distance, it will offer the dozens of tweed runners a sightseeing snapshot of Spetses.

Tweed Run Start

Photo courtesy of Poseidonion/credit: Nikos Kokkas

Exiting the Poseidonion, in the center of the square, we encounter one of the most recognized Greek island attractions: the brass statue of Laskarina Bouboulina. The monument, by sculptress Natalia Mela, depicts the fearless Spetses war heroine known for her instrumental role in the Greek Revolution of 1821.

Sculpture of Bouboulina
Sculpture of Laskarina Bouboulina at Poseidonion Square, Spetses./Photo: Personal Archive.

We continue, west, along the seaside road for a few hundred meters to stop for tea on the grounds of The Anargyreios and Korgialeneios School of Spetses. The school, originally modeled after Britain’s Eton College, and built in 1927, was funded mainly by Sotirios Anargyros, the island’s great benefactor who also built the Poseidonion. The school, a complex of five buildings covering an area of 120 acres, now serves as a conference and events venue. The school is where author John Fowles taught English. His time on Spetses inspired his novel, The Magus.

Tweed Run at Anargyreios and Korgialeneios School of Spetses
Photo courtesy of Poseidonion/credit: Nikos Kokkas

The weather is overcast, reminiscent of London and most suitable for tweed. Rain seems imminent, but we pedal on, reveling in the luxury of cycling in such beautiful surroundings with a rich heritage and historic past.

After tea, we turn around and head back east, for approximately 1km., to the Old Port and our second pit stop at Orloff, the island’s former customs office and now popular seaside dining spot.  A busy seafaring and shipping center, Spetses was one of the region’s most active naval centers. Today, we are toasting with a choice of aperitif — ouzo or tsipouro — and nibbling bite size shrimp, olives and tomatoes.

Orloff Snack
Photo: Personal archive.

Despite the drizzling rain, we continue towards the Lighthouse. Standing tall is on the hill is another distinct statue by Natalia Mela: that of a young captain Barbatsi, an additional key figure in the Spetses naval battle in the Greek War of Independence.

Taking in the breathtaking views of the blue waters and green of the Peloponnese mainland across the Spetses strait, we cover up with the handy disposable waterproof ponchos provided by the organizers as we relish the special picnic lunch prepared by the Poseidonion's chef, Stamatis Marmarinos.

After the light rain and light lunch, we make our way back to the charming courtyard of the Bouboulina Museum for the vintage bicycle awards ceremony.

Gathered here are vintage bicycling enthusiasts eager to be rewarded and recognized for their vintage bicycle restoration work in the categories: Classic Bike, Town Bike, Race Bike and Best Decorated Bike.

Tweed Run Bicycle Awards

Award ceremony in the Bouboulina Museum courtyard./Photo: Personal Archive

“We designed and created a special trailer to transport our bicycles just for this event,” say members of the group known as Klasikoi Podilates, or Classical Cyclists. The group of five friends have come to the Tweed Run Spetses for a second year in a row, making the 11-hour trip from Thessaloniki.

Best Decorated Bike
Recipient of Best Decorated Bike Award/Photo courtesy of Poseidonion/credit: Nikos Kokkas

Ioannis Tsoukalis, member of the group and winner of the Best Decorated Bike for his 1923 Peugeot adds: “We enjoy the Tweed Run Spetses because it brings together people who enjoy the same hobby. We have a chance to exchange ideas in a friendly and fun environment.”

“I wish all my weekends were spent like this,” says Dimitris Karagiorgas who won 2nd place in the Classic Bike category, for his restored 1957 Bismarck. “It was like we were living in another century.”

Almost midnight … in Spetses
It’s later in the evening and the the jazz-age theme continues at the hotel with an after-event party and beauty pageant. Here, men and women of all ages, showcase their vintage flair, competing in the categories of Best Dressed Male, Best Dressed Female, Best Group Entry, Best Mustache and Best Child Entry.

Best Mustache Pageant
Winners in the category Best Mustache/Photo courtesy of Poseidonion/credit: Nikos Kokkas

Photo with Best Mustache Winner

Yours truly with Petros Petrokopoulos, 1st-prize winner, Best Mustache./Photo credit: Antonis Gasparinatos

“I grew my mustache just for this event,” says Petros Petrokopoulos, architect and vice president of the Spetses Sailing Club, he won first prize for Best Mustache.

It’s almost midnight … in Spetses. Outside, on the veranda, the Aegean sea breeze soothes, as the jazz and swing beats continue to entertain the revelers inside.

I ask Sophia who, from that bygone era, would she have liked to have met at the party.

She thinks hard for a moment and replies, “Hemingway. Hemingway would be cool to meet. And Dali. Dali, would probably come with the best designed bicycle and would most probably win for best mustache.”

Athina Vorillas is a freelance journalist and communications consultant.


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