Issue 15 — Partnership

PHĀEA and a
of travelling

Photos by Cretan Malia Park by Phāea Words by Linda Moers
Top View on a pool and a palm tree

Crete is the largest Greek island, and also home to the leading hotel company PHĀEA (pronounced ‘Fae-a’). Hospitality is an essential element of its DNA. The two sisters, Agapi & Costantza Sbokou, develop the individual resorts, founded by their father, with dedi­cationdriven by their vision to create an experience with the truer, timeless Greece. In doing so, they demonstrate a keen sense of changing attitudes among tourists and aspire to creating a new and very Cretan sustainability for people, their culture and their natural environment. How to successfully lead a hotel company into the future and turn travelling into a source of good for the locals? Let’s talk to Agapi Sbokou. 

small room in boho style
Close-up on a bag with sunscreen

Intelligent water management: at PHĀEA, the pools are equipped with an advanced electrolysis system that draws natural chlorine from salt. Sustainable refurbishment: all furniture is 100 per cent made by local craftsmen or from environmentally certified suppliers.

"the cute spa"

That’s Picasso behind you. Those are the first words of our interview, my screen framing the view of Agapi’s office and revealing the crowded shelf of photo frames behind her. I spy the black-and-white photo of the famous Spanish artist lurking among hosts of family photos. His work is really inspiring. No family connection, obviously. Laughter. But he was inspired by Crete and our culture throughout his life, especially by the ­Minotaurthe legendary monster from Greek mythology.


Here’s something for all our readers who are not on holiday at the moment. Imagine we’re rolling up to one of PHĀEA’s hotels, baggage in tow. As we climb out of the taxi, a balmy breeze scen­ted with olive trees cools our ­faces. Take us with you! How can we experience the very special hospitality on offer at PHĀEA? 


Agapi Sbokou

The feeling that guests get from coming to one of our places basically speaks of kindness. Another word we use is philoxenia, which means showing kindness to strangers, or foreigners, and making friends of them. This ancient Greek word is part of our soul, and we try to demonstrate it as much as possible. When our guests arrive, they come through beautiful gardens to reach the hotel building. We invite them to relax on one of the beautiful couches in our lounge and offer them refreshments depending on what is in season. If it’s the lemon season, say, we make fresh lemonade with fruits that are picked from our own gardens, adding a little fresh mint. I believe hospitality is not about the big things, but about the little details that make people feel special. And always a big smile, of course! It’s central for our employees to feel very much a part of the company. Greeks are known to be very proud of our land and our culture, and they show it in different ways. You can’t read that from a script. It is genuine, and hopefully it warms our guest’s hearts.



The more I find out about PHĀEA, the more I wonder whe­ther we are still talking about a hotel. If we draw a line bet­ween the definitions of home and hotel, where would you place PHĀEA?


Agapi Sbokou

The feeling were aiming for is a homenot a hotel. Even in our bigger hotels, we try hard to create this sense of being welcomed into somebodys home in Greece. We have great partnerships with local brands. At Blue Palace, for example, the breakfast is served on fantastic crockery exclusively designed by the Greek designer, Themis Z, who also created a collection for Maison Dior. The flowers we display are from our garden, and obviously they are very different from what is available at a flower shop. In the way we design the hotels, the way we operate them, the way we make people feel, we instil this feeling of home. 



You took the company over from your father. What’s changed in the management style of the hotels today? And how do you think those changes are viewed by the members of staff who once worked for your father, and now work for you? 


Agapi Sbokou

We see our work as being as much about preservation as it is about creating something new. Thankfully, our father has always been a man that has based the business on respectrespect for the environment, respect for people, respect for the local community. This is a very strong foundation. There are many people who have worked with him and who are still with us. It ­wea­ves a thread of continuity. And we hope that we introduce innovation into that continuity. A genuine desire to preserve the essence of our culture. A genuine love of design and nature. ­Also, as women, we naturally ­rely a lot on our intuition. For us, it’s about having a strong sense of what we want to bring to the travel industry. We grew up in Crete, and we ­carry our island within us in everything we doits history, its people, its architecture, its nature. We really want to share this with everyone, and at the same time we want to reframe travelling as a source of good for the local area.


The core of PHĀEA - 1: Vision, 2: Mission, 3: Values
a woman in nature doing yoga

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