Reef Encounter

Lizard Island Resort on the Great Barrier Reef offers holistic escape among nature’s wonders

Publisher: South China Morning Post

From 2000 metres above, the aquamarine lagoons and coral cays of the Great Barrier Reef, fringed by ribbons of silky white surf, stretch out as far as the eye can see. With its divine beauty, flying over the reef is an almost spiritual experience.

I’m en route to Lizard Island Resort, one of Australia’s most isolated and luxurious holiday destinations. The journey from the mainland takes an hour, before the single-engine Cessna arcs gracefully to land on the island’s tiny airstrip.

Twenty-seven kilometres from the coast of Queensland and 250 kilometres northeast of Cairns, Lizard Island sits in a pristine marine environment, and the resort’s close relationship with the reef is the core of its profound appeal. Delivering fine luxury with breathtaking reef encounters has consistently placed the resort in the Top 10 Hotels of the World list.

But along with the chic design of its 40 suites and villas, its fine dining and exquisite creature comforts, Lizard Island Resort is not about matching its uber-luxury peers, it’s more a life-changing experience – with exploring the unique natural environment in which it sits, at the heart of the experience.

“There’s a lot of ‘bling’ out there for people who want six-star treatment,” says assistant general manager, Shaun Grant, as we stroll through the resort’s tropical bush gardens. “We match that, but without the bling. For us it’s about balancing the in-room and out-room experience. We bring those together so you get that holistic escape.

“There are very few places in the world where you can remember who you are, and disconnect from the world. That’s what we focus on.”

With no cellphone reception, the resort has restricted wi-fi internet access to one lounge, a limitation I found liberating. Due to popular demand however, Wi-Fi will be rolled out to its rooms this year. I stayed in one of the 18 Anchor Bay Suites; 936 spacious and elegant square feet of timber floors and unfussy finishes. With captivating sea views through a curtain of coconut palms, each suite has a path that leads to the beach 20 metres from your verandah.

If you want total privacy, book the most isolated villa. Beloved of British royals, the Pavilion, where Bollinger is provided on arrival and canapés at sunset, is for regal pampering. Perched on a rocky promontory, with private pool and expansive deck, the Pavilion affords a spectacular panorama of the Coral Sea. This is seriously comfortable solitude.

You’re not going to go hungry on Lizard. At Ospreys Restaurant, executive chef Anthony Healy brings an inventive light touch to new Australian cuisine, serving the freshest seafood in the southern hemisphere. Friendly, obliging wait staff add an informal touch to meal times.

Over at the Beach Club, the resort’s marine activity centre, guides suggest the best outlying beaches for coral reef snorkeling, and provide a water-taxi service for your commute. The island’s northerly location means the club offers dive trips to parts of the reef most mainland operators can’t reach.

Exploring the island on foot reveals a rich narrative of the discovery and settlement of Australia. A derelict cottage where sea cucumbers were processed in 1880 by English settler Mary Watson and two Chinese assistants – Ah Sam and Ah Leung – still stands beside the beach that bears her name.

Set upon by aboriginal tribes for trespassing on their sites, Ah Sam was speared and killed but Watson and Ah Leung escaped, using a tin bath they cooked sea cucumbers in as their boat. They died after running out of drinking water.

Head up to Cook’s Look and follow in the footsteps of 18th-century explorer James Cook, who discovered Lizard Island in 1770, when his vessel Endeavour ran aground on coral. Cook named the island after encountering one of its many reptile species. Nature makes this resort so special. Surrounded by lush tropical jungle, guests share living space with geckos, skinks, green tree frogs, and a vocal community of bush birds.

A scientific research station on the western side of Lizard hosts around 60 research projects a year – surely the world’s most inviting laboratory.
I spoke with marine biologist and station director Anne Hoggett, who in 22 years on the Island, has seen environmental threats to the reef increase. Monitoring the effect is a key part of the station’s work. “The reef is deteriorating at a small rate every year, but that rate is increasing,” says Hoggett.

“The best we can do is look after our carbon emissions; clean up our act globally. That’s not likely to happen in the near future is it?” But it’s not all doom and gloom.
“Locally there’s a lot we can do,” she says. “Keep the water quality in good condition and look after our fisheries. There is hope.”

Coincidentally, Trevor Yang, chairman of the World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong, was also a recent visitor to the station. Yang, who spent six days on the island with his wife and teenage sons, was “blown away” by the island’s management.

“It’s a great example of how commercial activity and environmental protection can work side by side. But it takes understanding on both sides, and a discerning clientele who respect the island for what it is,” says Yang. “In Hong Kong we claim to have more coral species than the Caribbean, but we don’t have fish in those corals because of over-fishing.”
What did Yang and his family enjoy? “We loved the snorkeling and the boys were ecstatic about the diving.” He plans to return.

One experience I’ll treasure above all is the resort’s “signature” activity, heading off on a sun-kissed morning in a dinghy (what’s the hurry?), to an idyllic tropical beach, all to ourselves. The sumptuous picnic hamper can wait. Mask, snorkel and fins attached, I swim to the shimmering coral; above giant clams, electric-blue starfish and alongside scuttling green turtles. Lizard Island Resort is total immersion in natural beauty, a rare, priceless gift.

Cathay Pacific flies direct to Cairns from Hong Kong three times a week.


Cretan Journeys: Dispatches from the Amari


The Amari Valley in central Crete has a proud history and unique natural environment. Here a new generation of Amariots are intent on protecting this enchanting place and their precious heritage.

With the mighty Psiloritis mountain to the east and the Kedros range to the west, the Amari lies cradled 500 metres above sea level: a labyrinth of country lanes which connect tiny hamlets largely untouched by tourism. Between the villages – shaded by cypresses, plane trees, oaks and pines – lies a patchwork of fields of corn and cabbages, figs and apples, grapes and quinces, all nestling up to some of the oldest olive groves in Europe.

Set against the everchanging colours of the mountains, this shangri-la, just 45 minutes south-east of Rethymno, is Crete off the beaten track. I took the road to the Amari in November. Summer had long passed but it had left its mark: soil baked orange by the sun, oleanders in the hedgerows, splashing pink as the road snakes south.

Walnuts are in season, and the black-red cherries that arrived in summer’s blaze were now preserved for cooler days. Amid this glorious nature are some of Crete’s most precious Minoan and Byzantine churches, places of worship that convey the ancient spirituality of this place. Beside them, Amariots today eke out livelihoods in much the same way as their ancestors, with a reliance on agriculture – largely immune from the impact and economic benefits of tourism.

Like many isolated rural areas, depopulation and lack of infrastructure has seen the 30 or so villages that make up the Amari, struggle to maintain themselves and offer livelihoods to its younger generation. The valley’s population has been in decline for decades. Reversing the trend is the challenge for newly installed Amari mayor Adam Paradisanos.

“The valley’s population is about 6,000 today,” says Paradisanos in his office at the dimarxio in Agia Fotini, who has seen his own village Agios Ioannis shrink from 200 residents to just 50.

“Forty years ago it was very different. It was three or four times this number. The young have left and the people who stayed are old,” laments the former teacher.

But with the municipality’s resources limited, the valley’s future growth ultimately lies in the hands of Amariots with the imagination and courage to invest in their homeland.One such pioneer is Manolis Papadakis. Manolis opened Amari Villas four years ago – a loving restoration of his grandparents’ former home in the village of Amari, perched on the slopes of Samitos mountain.

Manolis Papadakis

At Amari Villas, the 50-year-old entrepreneur has created the valley’s most stunning accommodation to date: two large and luxurious interconnecting villas with elegant traditional furnishings and views to die for. The villas may have a swimming pool with one of the most glorious vistas in Crete, but this is no soulless five-star experience. Rather, Papadakis’ project is something truly authentic: a reflection of the historic culture it sits within. Papadakis says that changing the Amari’s economic fortunes is about improving its most basic infrastructure.

“This is a poor area, and what we need is, for instance, help to clean and mark the paths between the churches, gorges, and historical sites,” says the electrical engineer, who accessed EU funds to help convert his property.

“We need government at all levels to get together, to improve things like refuse collection, sewerage, and water supply.”

The creation of the Amari Network, a long-awaited project that will see collaborations between the sectors that make up the Amari’s economy (farming, accommodation, restaurants, and handicrafts), says Papadakis, is key to moving forward.

“We don’t need huge projects that would distort Amari’s unique character. We must remain humble and at the same time, proud of our heritage, paying respect to the glorious environment and our history, that has been delivered to us, intact, by our ancestors”. Papadakis’ vision is not only about developing tourism in the valley, but encouraging its diaspora to return.

“We want people to come back to their homeland, to live and work here. We want Amari to flourish again and tourism could be the best way to move things forward”.

The Amari, with its stunning natural environment and historical sites, is an extraordinary place to visit – one of Crete’s most inspiring and enchanting landscapes and cultures. Just as the plough churns its rich soil in winter for next year’s crop, the valley prepares itself for a new season and regeneration. That’s the Amari way. For a glimpse of Crete at its richest, full of natural wonders and history, take the road to the Amari, a place that beckons like no other.

Heroism and sacrifice – WWII and the Amari

The Amari played a key role in resistance activity during the Nazi German occupation of Crete between 1941 and 1945.It was used by Allied secret agents like Tom Dunbabin, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding throughout the occupation (as a place to meet in relative safety, and as a route through which escaped Allied soldiers were taken to evacuation beaches on the south coast.

The Kedros villages on the Amari Valley’s western edge have been rebuilt virtually from scratch after their destruction in WWII. On 22 August 1944, German forces destroyed the villages that line the eastern slopes of the Kedros mountain after murdering 164 civilians, ostensibly as an act of reprisal for the abduction (by British secret agents) of the island’s garrison commander, General Heinrich Kreipe.

Most historians today concur that the massacre (carried out three months after the abduction and just weeks before the Germans withdrew their forces to Chania), was ordered to deter local partisans from attacking the occupation forces as they retreated, and to punish the communities who from the start of the occupation had consistently supported the resistance.


Today a line of memorials, one in each village along the road that runs south-east from Gerakari, tells the tale of that terrible day. Those killed included 49 people from Gerakari – nine from the Kokkonas family alone, more than 40 from the tiny hamlets of Vryses and Kardaki, and 40 from Ano Meros. The Ano Meros monument is the most remarkable: a larger than life sculpture of a Cretan woman, stout and strong in traditional costume, wielding a hammer and chisel, carving the names of the dead into the stone monolith she faces: Mother Crete forever marking her childrens’ sacrifice.

The Last Supper: 14th century frescoe at the abandoned Church of Panagia, Smiles

Another memorial has fewer visitors. Tucked into the fields in the valley below is the abandoned village of Smiles (pronounced smee-les). Set ablaze by the Nazis that August day, it was never rebuilt, and what remains of its wrecked, overgrown dwellings stand in silent testament to that awful terror.Smiles is not to be found on any commercially available map, but ask the locals. They know.

Places to stay and eat in the Amari


Amari Villas
The valley’s most luxurious accommodation on the eastern slopes of Samitos mountain comprises two interconnecting villas (with pool) that can sleep up to 16. Open all year round, the villas make the perfect summer or winter retreat.   Click here for bookings Tel. (+30) 283 1051003 and 697 3557081

Meronas Eco House
Manolis Moschonas has transformed his old family home in the village of Meronas into a cosy interpretation of a traditional Amari residence, and one with a jacuzzi. Click here for bookings  Tel. (+30) 6985 120285

Moschovolies Traditional Taverna, Meronas
One of the valley’s best kept secrets, this delightful taverna run by the Moschonas family offers the freshest local produce and some of the best food in the Amari. Moshovolies on Facebook  Tel. (+30) 283 3022526 and 6956 657882


Cretan Journeys: The Doma


The remarkable story of the Doma Hotel in Chania

There aren’t many hotels in the world like the Doma, the century-old establishment perched on the waterfront just east of Chania town centre. To ascend its curved steps and pass across its threshold is to enter a portal to the past, and if you are looking for a spot to reflect on Crete’s rich, turbulent history – or just a perfect place to unwind – look no further.

Decorated with exquisite antique furnishings – the walls adorned with fading framed photographs, documents and objets d’art – this former diplomatic consulate is the family home of its present owners – sisters Irini ‘Rena’ Valyraki and Ioanna Koutsoudaki, and their story is inextricably linked to this special place.

Built in the late 19th century as the consulate of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it was like all consulates in Chania, located in the affluent seaside suburb of Halepa. As WWI redrew the map of Europe and the old dynasties fell, by 1918 Crete had been unified with Greece, and the building went into private hands. In 1933 the consulate and its extensive grounds was purchased by Ioanna and Rena’s grandmother. Irini was born there the same year, but as war approached, the sisters’ time in their childhood home was to be shortlived.

In 1940, with Hitler’s armies on the march across Europe, the British Consul in Chania persuaded their father Kyriakos Koutsoudakis (a former employee of the company that operated the telegraph line from Crete to Alexandria connecting England with India) to lease the house to the British government.

For a year the family lived with the consul and his staff, before – on the eve of the invasion of Crete in May 1941 – they moved out, leaving their furniture and most of their precious heirlooms behind. Ioanna still remembers vividly the day the soldiers came from the sky.

Fate decided that she and her family would be at the centre of the storm. “My father had arranged for us to be taken to a village near Maleme,” says Ioanna, as we sit in the Doma’s fourth-floor dining room, with its sweeping panorama looking out over the bay.

“I remember the first night of the invasion. I was very afraid, my father took me in his arms, and the next day he took us in his car to the village of Elos, south of Kissamos, in the mountains.”

When Chania fell on 27 May the victorious German paratroops took over the British Consulate to use as their command centre. Ioanna and Rena’s home would host the uninvited guests for four long years. “We came back soon after the invasion,” says Ioanna. “I remember saying ‘who are all these strange people?’ and my mother telling me ‘it’s not our house anymore’.”

For most of the occupation the Koutsoudakis family lived not far from their requisitioned home. Like so many displaced in a town that was decimated by war, they made the best of it. “There were ten of us in my aunt’s house. Once a German soldier gave me some chocolate, and my father told me ‘you must not take anything from those people because they are not our friends’.”

Athens saw the Germans leave in October 1944, but ‘Fortress Chania’ would remain under Nazi control until 9 May 1945. The German surrender of the town would be the final act of World War II in Europe, but not even Chania’s liberation 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 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 traveled to Crete with the assistance of Aegean Airlines.

Into the blue

It’s the colours that hit you first. From 9000ft the iridescent aquamarine atolls and coral cays, fringed by ribbons of silky white surf, stretch out as far as the eye can see. It’s a vast, jaw-droppingly beautiful grand design, which makes flying over the Great Barrier Reef an experience almost spiritual.

I’m en-route to Lizard Island, 240km north of Cairns, to visit its iconic resort and find out more about an underwater survey soon to be undertaken there: one that promises to reveal the Great Barrier Reef’s beauty and fragility to millions – without them even having to get their toes wet.

The survey, sponsored by international insurance group Catlin, will visit Lizard Island and 19 other sites the length and breadth of the reef in the coming months. With Google as a partner, the expedition is not just another scientific survey. Data gathered will strengthen scientific understanding of how climate change continues to affect the reef and marine ecosystems like it, but at the project’s heart is the hope to engage people globally with the issues like never before.

Virtually challenged

It’s the application of new technologies developed with Google that is the game-changer for the survey. The expedition will use a specially developed camera to capture thousands of 360-degree underwater panoramas, which when stitched together and uploaded to Google’s servers allow users to choose a location, dip underwater and go for a virtual dive.

It’s Google’s Street View submerged, where with a swipe of your trackpad you’ll navigate through the world’s greatest aquarium: a virtual immersion in the earth’s most beautiful marine environment.

Richard Severs, founder of the not-for-profit Underwater Earth which conceived the survey, says that time is running out.

“Over the last 50 years our oceans have been in an unprecedented state of decline – half the world’s coral reefs have been lost and numbers of large fish have plummeted by 90 per cent.

“The oceans remain as they have always done, out of sight and out of mind,” says Severs. Set to bring the Great Barrier Reef and the global issues it raises to the attention of millions, the survey’s results are expected to surface on Google in late 2013.

Above water

The 1000-hectare national park that is Lizard Island happens to be the site of one of the world’s most exclusive and iconic luxury holiday destinations.

Consistently making the Top 10 Hotels of the World list and recent winner of the Travel+ Leisure USA 2012 World’s Best Awards, Lizard Island Resort delivers an understated luxury experience, serenely combining exploration of the reef with a finely crafted out-of-water experience.

Creature comforts

The chic design of its 40 suites and villas overlooking their own powdery white sand beach, provides a level of comfort that is equal to the world’s finest hotels, but it’s not about ‘bling’ – rather something much more organic and nourishing.

If you want the resort’s ultimate experience book the most isolated villa: the Pavilion. Beloved of British royals, it is for those who want the highest level of isolation and exclusive pampering.

In the resort’s Osprey restaurant, executive chef Anthony Healy combines French classical with Mediterranean and Asia-Pacific influences to bring a deft inventive touch to new Australian cuisine.

Because of Lizard Island’s isolated northerly location, the resort offers dive trips to parts of the reef that most operators on the mainland can’t reach. Other draw cards include canoeing, sailing, some of the best fishing in the world, a spa and gym, and nature walks, to follow in the footsteps of explorer James Cook who scaled the island’s highest peak in 1770.

More modest adventurers can take a motorised dingy for the day, with a sumptuous picnic hamper, to find their very own perfect tropical beach. Before lunch, with mask, snorkel and fins attached, a few gentle strokes will take you to the dazzling coral; above ancient giant clams and electric blue starfish, to swim with lifeforms so colourful and miraculous, it makes your heart sing. Google viewers are going to have a rare treat when street view goes under water.

Je suis un fan

Photography: George Apostolidis.


Mandarin Oriental, Paris has just celebrated its first birthday. An oasis of contemporary luxury in the bustling heart of the fashionable Saint-Honoré district, to stay at this hotel is to savour modern Parisian style with a refined infusion of the Orient.

Paris Fashion Week was in full swing when our taxi plied its way slowly up the bustling narrow Rue Saint-Honoré to deposit us at the coolly understated entrance of Mandarin Oriental, Paris. Tucked between two grand old town houses, the approach to the lobby beneath a canopy of tiny glass lights – each sculpted as a butterfly – gives a first clue as to what’s in store. Inside the main lobby with its soaring grey marble columns and floor-to-ceiling windows, there’s a second; a sculpture of a human form in two circles suspended in space.

We’ve arrived at a place of air and light – a location to free the body and soul.

The hotel’s design style takes its inspiration from the richness and modernity of the 1930s and Art Deco. The original building dates from 1928, and its 138 rooms and suites on eight floors are amongst the most spacious hotel rooms in Paris.

The welcome, like that experienced at all the group’s hotels was distinctive; warm and efficient. With all the fabulous creature comforts, it’s so often the staff, brought up in the unique Mandarin Oriental tradition, that makes staying at any of the group’s hotels a deeply satisfying and memorable experience.

We were graciously guided to room 514, a Suite Deluxe consisting of bedroom, bathroom, lounge and balcony overlooking the Rue Saint Honoré. With sliding doors separating its three areas and floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s a large fluid space impeccably stylish and exquisitely furnished. Chic oriental touches and bold contemporary art, exude a feeling of understated contemporary glamour and luxurious exclusivity. “Look dad, it comes with its own iPad!” squealed my eight-year-old son son in glee.

The cutting-edge technology to hand, is of course bespoke – Bang & Olufsen as well as Apple, and three discretely-positioned widescreen TVs – including one seamlessly part of the wall in the stunning bathroom – offer state-of-the-art entertainment technology. My only concern was how would I ever get my son to leave this cocoon of luxurious technically advanced comfort. The indoor pool was the answer, part of the deeply tranquil retreat that is the hotel’s spa where subtle animated projections of butterflies in flight create a dreamlike world. Extending over two floors, the 900 square metre spa is one of the city’s largest.

Within this subterranean sanctuary, therapies developed by specialists in traditional Chinese medicine promote complete mind-body harmony. Evocatively titled treatments include Hu-Tieh Quan (the Butterfly Spring): a bath of warming ginger, uplifting mandarin and sacred frankincense followed by a soothing body mask and massage.

If all that holistic pampering makes you hungry, the hotel has two restaurants under the watchful eye of one of France’s most celebrated chefs – Thierry Marx, MO Paris’ Executive Chef; the gourmet Michelin-starred Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, and Camélia, an all-day restaurant offering French cuisine influenced by Marx’s love and knowledge of Japan.

Spilling into an elegant courtyard garden, Camélia is also the venue for the sumptuous buffet breakfast: just what’s needed if you have designs on some serious retail fashion therapy.

The Rue Saint-Honoré is the heart of Paris haute couture and home to the world’s most famous fashion brands – Versace, Hermes, Chanel and Yves Saint Lauren, as well as newer kids on the block like the edgy Colette ‘concept’ store. They are all on your doorstep at Mandarin Oriental, Paris.

Whether you’re buying or just indulging in ‘lèche-vitrines’ (window shopping in French – literally ‘window-licking’), a stroll on the Rue Saint-Honoré is an experience not to be missed. But then if you simply want to pamper yourself chez Mandarin Oriental, the hotel has a fabulous optional extra that adds a new dimension to Parisian retail therapy. Not only will the concierge find any item you’ve set your heart on, but will arrange free pick-up and delivery to your room.

An up, close and personal encounter with Parisian history in all its magnificence is something that can’t be delivered – but it’s wonderfully close. Sitting in the capital’s premier arrondissement, you’re a five-minute stroll from two landmark Parisian squares – Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome. My son was less-enamoured with high-fashion and history but rather with simpler local delights. We headed to the Tuileries – the seventeenth century gardens that make up the central-most park in Paris; they have a funfair that he adored almost as much as our beloved suite.

Eurostar had whisked us in to Paris from London. We were there 48 hours, just enough time to scale the Eiffel Tower [tip: avoid long queues by getting there by 9.30am and walk the first two stages], take a boat trip along the Seine and of course, indulge in a touch of that retail therapy unique to the French capital.

Mandarin Oriental, Paris exemplifies modern, rather than classic, luxury, and it does so breathtakingly. The butterfly, that delicate emblem of rebirth and fleeting freedom runs discreetly throughout this sublime hotel; it’s a symbol that could not be more fitting for this oasis of chic refinement.

While only the fortunate few might be able to make a Suite Deluxe at the Mandarin Oriental their regular pied de terre in the French capital, for any discerning traveller every space here is an oasis to savour – a place to rest for exquisite nourishment before spreading your wings again.

Sensuous luxury – that doesn’t cost the earth

At Mandarin Oriental, Paris, providing luxury and fastidious customer service with environmentally sustainable practices is a seamless process

The hotel has committed itself to obtaining La Haute Qualité Environnementale or HQE (High Quality Environmental certification) – the highest standard for green buildings in France. As the first hotel in France to recognised for such a commitment to the environment, its eco-responsible policy approach saves between 20 and 30 per cent of its energy usage in comparison with a non-HQE building.

Child’s play

For families, Mandarin Oriental, Paris has created an experience to showcase the best of what Paris has to offer younger visitors.

Ideal for parents wanting to introduce their children to the city’s beauty and culture, J’aime Paris en famille allows families to improve their understanding of France and the French language in one fun-filled day.

Comprising an enchanting tour of the city’s most famous and child-friendly delights, the tour is guided by an expert not just in Parisian culture and history, but how to make it come alive for children new to the city.

After the day’s explorations, families can enjoy un goûter, a snack that French children traditionally enjoy at 4pm, which at Mandarin Oriental, Paris, is best enjoyed at the Cake Shop. Pastries and macarons will tempt the young, while a well-deserved glass of Bollinger awaits for parents at play.

Deep designs

The Australian Institute of Architects this month bestowed one of its highest accolades on Nonda Katsalidis. Not that the Melbourne architect is any stranger to awards, but as designer of the extraordinary Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, Katsalidis shows why he is one of Australia’s most daring and successful engineers of the built environment.

Last week in Perth the Australian Institute of Architects gave its highest national award for public architecture to Fender Katsalidis Architects, the celebrated practice that has been responsible for some of the most iconic high-rise residential buildings in Australia. But this time Nonda Katsalidis was heading in a different direction. MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art – the largest privately funded museum in Australia – was designed in collaboration with its founder, the eccentric art collector David Walsh.

MONA’s very existence is based upon presenting antiquities and contemporary art from Walsh’s collection. As a self-made millionaire, Walsh set out with MONA to subvert the very notion of what an art museum is.

The multi-million dollar gallery opened its doors in January 2011 and two of its exhibits give a taste of its distinctive content. One of its key works, Cloaca Professional, by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye is a machine based upon the human digestive system, which relieves itself at regular intervals and produces excrement. Another work exhibited last year was by Greek-born artist Jannis Kounellis; Untitled comprised a steel frame from which joints of beef hung that slowly decayed. It required a change of flesh every three days.

While such art might be considered on the nose for some, MONA drew 600,000 visitors in its first 18 months and recently won the 2012 Australian Tourism Award for best new development. David Walsh, who made his fortune by developing gambling systems, has described the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland

Carved out of a vast sandstone escarpment along the Derwent River, MONA’s giant subterranean sandstone walls provide the backdrop for its provocative exhibits. Its 6500 square-metre underground gallery space has no windows and extends over three levels.

Arriving by ferry from Hobart, the museum’s jetty transforms into a flight of steps cut into the escarpment. According to Walsh, the inspiration for the steps was the path to the temple on the summit of the Greek island of Naxos.

Australian Institute of Architects’ jury chairman Brian Zulaikha praised MONA’s temple-like, largely underground structure. “This beautiful, poetic and still very functional museum is imposing but it’s not unfriendly. You feel like you’re entering a new world of art.”

Nonda Katsalidis told reporters that whilst he had been initially daunted by the personality of David Walsh “who has got very strong ideas” the collaboration had been a pleasure.

“This museum has actually struck a chord and we’ve won lots of awards for all the participants – the lighting, engineering, and the graphics. It is very satisfying when the whole team gets this sort of pat on the back,” said Katsalidis.

Known for their distinctive sculptural qualities, Katsalidis’ buildings often feature diverse materials and textures such as exposed steel left to weather or rough-hewn timber.

Katsalidis was born in Athens and in 1951 migrated to Australia as a five-year-old. A graduate of Melbourne University and RMIT, his cutting edge high-rise tower designs – including Melbourne’s Eureka Tower – have won a plethora of awards in Australia and overseas.

Reinventing Greece

Global branding strategist Peter Economides is in Sydney and Melbourne this week, brimful of ideas on how to change the world’s perception of Greece.

It’s all in the DNA, says the man who helped Steve Jobs rebrand Apple in the 1990s.

Think Different was the campaign slogan, not ‘Think Differently’. There’s a subtle but vital difference. It was 1997. In California, Steve Jobs had recently returned as CEO to the company that he co-founded 20 years before.  Peter Economides was in Manhattan – Head of Global Clients at TBWA – one of the world’s top-ten most influential global advertising agencies.
Jobs had ordered the creation of an advertising campaign that reflected his philosophy for Apple: the Think Different campaign was the result.
While the first iMac was months away and long before iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad were even a glimmer in his eye, Jobs wanted to reinforce, both to his staff and the world, what Apple meant – what its DNA was made of. And behind that simple, deceptively clever advertising slogan, was a poetic call to arms.

The narration to the accompanying TV commercial – spoken over images of John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and other visionaries – struck a chord so profound, that it resonates to this day:

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently…
Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world… are the ones who do.

The Think Different campaign reinvented Apple. It laid the foundations for the company that in 2012, is the largest publicly-traded corporation in the world, with an estimated value of US$ 626 billion. To ensure the campaign would run seamlessly around the world – spreading its message of rebellious non-conformity with absolute integrity – Steve Jobs gave the task to TBWA and Economides.

Speaking from his home in Athens – on the eve of his much-anticipated presentations in Australia – Economides says the experience of working with Steve Jobs taught him one crucial lesson: how any brand has to be true to itself. “I had the job of checking to see the campaign and the applicability of the line ‘Think Different’ around the world, making sure it was relevant globally,” says Economides.

“When I spoke to the Brits about it, they said ‘over our dead bodies, it’s grammatically incorrect.’

“In Japan they said that they didn’t want to be seen as different, and that’s because Japan is a very homogenous society, but Steve Jobs’ response was, ‘well, that’s the way we speak in California’.

“And that’s a very insightful response, because any brand has to be true to its DNA,” says Economides emphatically.

The parallels with Greece’s current need for reinvention – a subject close to Economides‘ heart and one he is regularly invited to speak about around the world – jump out, for this highly articulate and much-travelled Greek South-African. “Taking that through to Greece today, we feel under pressure to become ‘northern European’ because that’s the defining dialogue in Europe today”, says Economides, who has lived in Athens for more than a decade.

“Well, we’ll never be good Germans, we have to become exceptional Greeks. We have to be true to who we are.

“The experience of working with Steve Jobs taught me, is that if you have a strong belief in who you are – if you don’t get the brand right –  there’s no direction, there’s no guideline on what the product should be like.

“This was the big lesson for me of the Apple experience. The only thing we did was reignite the DNA of Apple, we became true to ourselves.”

Economides’ traces his own DNA back to Asia Minor. His grandparents migrated from Imbros.  Brought up in the family home in Johannesburg, he studied Business Science at university in Cape Town.

Founder of the Felix BNI global branding agency in Athens, Economides is a former Executive Vice President and Worldwide Director of Client Services at McCann Erickson. His journey through the world of advertising has taken him across four continents via Hong Kong, Greece and Mexico to New York, and just as the 20th century closed, back to Athens. It’s no overstatement to say that that his work has impacted consumers almost everywhere.

Economides’ last visit down-under was in 1995, when he was responsible for marketing Coca Cola worldwide. Nearly 20 years later, he arrives on Australia’s shores to share amongst other things, his vision on a more complex, less effervescent global brand: Greece.

“A brand is nothing more than a set of impressions that people have in their minds, but what I’m talking about is a nation’s reputation, what the nation thinks about itself and what the world thinks about it,” says Economides.

“In terms of Greece, when I talk about it as a brand, it’s the social psychology of the nation that I’m really concerned about.

“This is not about creating an ad campaign. It’s all about how a nation behaves, in the collective sense”.

Global brand strategising is what Economides will talk about in his Australian presentations.

As he has done in the United States and Canada, he will also talk about why Greece has to change how it is perceived – not just externally to the world, but to Greeks themselves – and how it should go about it.

“A brand is the result of everything you say and do, and everything you don’t say and don’t do, by the way,” he says.

Economides believes at the root of Greek society today is a lack of a sense of the collective – a sense of the whole.

“We tend to be fierce individualists, which is a wonderful quality. It’s exactly what let us succeed around the world. But in Greece itself we’ve allowed politicians and the corrupt few to determine what this nation is all about,” he says.

“Rather than deal with politicians responsibly we’ve tended to say ‘ach, let them go about doing what they do, and I’ll go about doing what I do.’ ”

Despite having to cope with the current day-to-day challenges produced by painful economic reforms, Economides believes the Greek body politic is ready to embrace and endorse a new vision for the country, – a process he says must happen for change to occur.

For someone whose life’s work has been to motivate consumers and transform people’s behaviour through images and texts, Economides says that it’s important to look at how the mass media has instilled an image of Greece historically. And it’s an image that he say needs retuning.

In the US when speaking at a conference last year, he famously remarked that it was “time to park Zorba and be more Apolllonian”.

“If you think about Greece’s image around the world, it got frozen in time with the image portrayed of Greece in the 1960s: this very glamorous black and white world of islands and Mykonos, Onassis and Maria Callas, and this character called Zorba,” says Economides.

“I’m not talking about Kazantzakis’ book, I’m talking about the image of Anthony Quinn on the sand when Alan Bates says to him ‘will you teach me to dance?’ And Quinn’s response is ‘did you say dance?”  Economides impersonates Quinn’s Zorba as he theatrically delivers the punch line.

“I think we need to park that a bit,” he says quietly, back in his own voice.

“This is something I’ll be talking about in Australia”. Going back to the Apple experience, it’s all about DNA, he says.

“I feel that this Greek love of life is actually where our know-how resides, but the issue is how to create a value-driven proposition based on this know-how of life. We need to be able to monetize it more effectively.

“This is where nation branding begins. It’s about how we feel about ourselves, how we define ourselves, what our narrative is.”

The role of the diaspora and how to make the global Greek network more effective says Economides, is key to changing perceptions of Greece internally and externally.

“The nation has become so disconnected with so many things. It needs to realise it’s a global community, not just the Greeks in Greece.

“Greece is 11 million people, or 20 million people globally, that’s what it’s all about”.