Set the scene
Gleaming marbles and pastel-hued mansions rise along the natural amphitheater of hills that tower above Hermoupolis, the city of the trade god Hermes. There is a large deep-water port and two iconic churches; the Roman Catholic Church of St George and the Orthodox Church of the Resurrection crowning each peak. The coexistence of two religions and traditions in the capital of the Cyclades contributes to the liberal and cosmopolitan flavor of Syros’ thriving arts and culture scene. For the sensible traveler, the Hotel Aristide is a find; a rose-tinted architectural gem, a former shipowner’s mansion at the heart of what was once the most important crossroads and trade route in the eastern Mediterranean. Aristide is a big-hearted and optimistic passion project; a showcase for a bold private art collection and a platform to experience the best the island has to offer; hikes, cooking classes, visits to local producers, boat trips and evening museums. The dynamic comes from the art; neon-colored sculptures and large garish canvases by contemporary artists such as Igor Skaletshy, Christy Lee Rogers, Riccardo Vecchio who subvert the classical aesthetic.
The story of the creation of this hotel reads like a novel. Becoming a hotelier on a remote Greek island was never part of the master plan of young London economist Oana Aristide or her sister Jasmin, a doctor who practices in Sweden, where they grew up. They were simply enthusiastic vacationers in Syros; an island to which they returned and to which they responded. Historically, as Oana says, it was a magnet for refugees and strangers, for dreamers and doers, thinkers and escapees. A place where, as immigrants themselves, they felt at home. They were looking for a suitable little bolthole to house their growing collection of contemporary art when they stumbled across the abandoned old tax office. They fell in love with the grand vision of the original plaster and stone shipowner; the five meter high ceilings and bay windows, the original tiled floors and the elegant cornices and views. That they purchased and raised funds during a financial crisis, restored the hotel during a pandemic, and opened between closings is testament to Oana’s indomitable spirit and innate sense of optimism, a sense of the resolve and determination inherited, she says, from her Romanian, Greek and Yemeni ancestors. That she managed to write and publish a dystopian novel in English, under the bluealong with the launch of the hotel is frankly mind boggling.