On the edge of the village of Zarka (Zarakes to non-locals) is a quiet valley set amongst the rolling and sometimes dramatic landscape of the southern region of the Greek island of Evia (Euboea in Greek). The Villas are a family owned & run resort. Zarka Villas are situated at the edge of the old village (Mahala) of Zarka, a valley of abandoned houses – all traditional style with stone walls and stone tiled roofs. This gentle rural setting, offering all modern amenities, is the ideal location from which to explore the wonders of Southern Evia.
Peter Snook is currently the general Manager of Zarka Villas, in Zarakes, Evia island. He is a polite, interesting and adventurous character originally from England but raised in Canada with many years of experience in the Hotel industry.
Interview Peter Snook – General Manager of Zarka Villas, Evia.
Peter, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in London, England. My parents made a decision to move to Canada when I was 2 years old. We lived in Edmonton, Calgary for a while but settled finally in Vancouver. It was a gorgeous area, and I was surrounded by lots of friends. My father was a Hotel Manager so he was transferred to Kamloops, where my family still lives and Dad ran that Hotel. When I was 15 I worked at that Hotel after school and on weekends.
What was your main profession in life before becoming the General Manager of Zarka Villas?
I guess I have been involved in Hotels and tourism most of my life. Before arriving at Zarakes, I was managing an 180 room Hotel with a conference centre that could seat up to 800 people in Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada. I was also Chairman of the Tourism board in the city. I was having a giant holiday travelling around UK…England, Scotland, Ireland mainly stayed in country area. It was an experience. I loved the country lifestyle, so somehow all of these past experiences fit perfectly with my current ideal lifestyle.
How did the idea of Zarka Villas come about?
My cousin from Scotland Jerry Smith, came to build a house for someone at one point. He fell in love with Greece and Evia in particular. He was very much into a Holistic way of life. He then bought the land and began to build and develop Zarka Villas around 2003. It is spread across 9.5 acres. Zarka Villas was forgotten for many years due to many reasons. Then, my brother and cousin asked me to come and manage Zarka Villas because of my Hotel background and I finally arrived in 2013. We completed the Villas and grounds in 2014. Then by end of 2015 we had all the paperwork done, website up and business licensing in place.
What are the most challenging issues you are facing on your current position?
Firstly the first obstacle is for the word to get out that we are actually open for business. It is a lengthy process and the internet is key for this. Secondly, the island of Evia needs to be promoted. I visited the world travel market in London last year with the government delegate for Evia. The booth of other islands like Santorini for example were lavishly presented and massive. There was no booth for the island of Evia, just one representing central Greece even though Evia is the second largest island in Greece. I worked the booth for 3 days and had many tour operators visit the booth but hardly any had heard about the island of Evia. I believe there should be more funds allocated for promotional activities in order to attract many more tourists to Evia and especially Southern Evia. People abroad need to discover the Southern Part of the island which is just as beautiful as the more popular Northern Part of Evia.
Zarka Villas is a huge, luxurious property which could very well be privately owned. Would you ever consider selling the property?
Yes, eventually we could consider it for the right buyer.
How many guests can Zarka Villas accommodate? What should a couple arriving for a weekend stay expect to pay?
28 visitors can be accommodated in the 4 villas on the property at a time. Our self contained Villas are rented as a whole, no matter how many friends, or family members and there are no extra charges or surprises added at the end of the stay. Prices are around 100 euros/villa per couple for a minimum of 2 nights during normal season and 160 euros/villa per couple for a minimum of 2 nights during peak Summer season. A group of 2 couples can stay at one Villa.
What amenities do you provide for your guests?
Guests can choose from table tennis, using the swimming pool or jacuzzi, surfing the internet and generally staying connected with free wifi, playing darts, hiking nearby trails and a myriad of activities that can be organized. Each Villa also provides, bathrobes, towels and fresh linen for its guests, washing machines-dryers, Connex satellite tv, a dishwasher, a blow dryer, an ironing board and iron. The Villas are each fully self contained with many amenities provided for to ensure a comfortable stay. One can also find a small library of reading materials.
Why should someone prefer Zarka Villas as a holiday destination?
We offer many facilities and amenities without any hidden costs. The peaceful natural environment caters for peace and relaxation. It is ideal for vacationers, artists and anyone who needs to focus without distractions. We do not have any obtrusive staff and we are as helpful and accommodating as we are needed to be.
Even reading a book becomes an exceptional experience here! The night sky, with its infinite bright stars is also sight to behold in itself.
Holistic groups would benefit immensely by utilizing the ideal natural environment, and we also provide a Hall for a number of activities as well as yoga mats as needed. Any extra requests are catered for and arranged for as well, be it a wish to order out locally or general dry cleaning. The village is one kilometer away for anyone wishing to exercise and pick up any items from the grocery, bakery or other stores.
The Main Hall and surrounding area can also be hired for events, parties and weddings as well.
During the cooler months, one can also exercise by hiking around the property or on the many hiking trails in the area just enjoying the natural environment. During these months the Villas are also ideal for weekend getaways, since each has its own individual fireplace for guests to enjoy warm and cozy evenings. We even provide the firewood.
We have found that our mature guests or vacationers from regional UK usually find Zarka Villas to be a Home away from home as there are many similarities between the two environments. There are also many ex-pats who chose Zarakes as their permanent residence.
Not being a local yourself, how are your relations with the villagers generally and have you had any difficulties in your endeavors in Zarakes?
Τhere were a lot of difficulties with the bureaucracy but I didn’t have any major issues with the local government. I think that there is next to nothing in funding for the promotion of Tourism for the island by government authorities. Generally, I have wonderful relations with the villagers and they welcome & offer any help they can to guests. I also support the local market any way I can.
Are there any current local projects that you are involved with in order to help in the promotion of the village Zarakes?
Currently, as a group with some locals, we are requesting EU funding for the roads around Zarakes Village. There are also activities currently being organized in the area that raise cultural awareness, such as bee keeping, herb picking, cooking Greek food etc.
Peter, what motivated you to go into the hotel industry?
Originally it was about money. I wanted a part-time job to earn money to buy a car, so when my Father offered me some work at the hotel he managed, it saved me the trouble of having to hunt for work. But I quickly learned how interesting and challenging this industry is. I need to be stimulated and challenged. Meeting and working with so many different people was stimulating and the challenges came from trying to assist and please everyone. I guess I did okay, as I was offered promotions to more senior positions on a reasonably consistent basis.
What do you do at work that you enjoy so much you actually lose track of time?
It has varied over the years, but now there are several things. One is just the day to day routine of maintaining, but also thinking about how to improve the landscaping here at the Villas. Social media updates can also quickly take up a lot of time. Sifting thru marketing concepts is fun, but it is easy to get lost in the time warp as well. I could provide a few more, but you haven’t space to list everything.
If you could relive one day of your life, which day would you choose?
Oh Wow! That’s a tough one and I presume you are asking about my “professional life”? I think the day I would choose is one where I made a decision to accept a Manager’s position with a hotel chain that I knew in my heart, had a different philosophy about guest relations than I did. Only lasted a few months and then I moved on. But who knows, if I hadn’t made that decision, maybe I wouldn’t be here now?
What are the things that you do not like to do?
I suppose there are quite a few things I don’t particularly enjoy doing. After over 40 years in the industry, I think i’ve done just about every nasty job you can imagine. But the one thing I absolutely despise doing is dealing with legitimate guest criticisms/complaints. Not because of the guest, but because a legitimate complaint means that we somehow overlooked or didn’t deliver something that we promised to. Perfection is difficult to achieve, but is something I’ve always strived for. When we make a mistake of any sort, it will bother me for days or weeks, even after I’ve found a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The name of the game is to make sure that guest expectations are met, and ideally – surpassed!
Peter, how do you view Greece as a country? Do you enjoy living here? What do you like the most? The least?
I think I’m going to be very diplomatic in how I answer this. First of all, I will say that I absolutely love living here in Zarakes on Evia. I have never been a big city boy and I really enjoy the relaxed, traditional and friendly lifestyle of this island. Never having been to any of the more well known & popular islands in Greece, I can only base my opinion on marketing, websites and hearsay when I state that I don’t feel I would enjoy living/working in those areas. What I dislike the most will not change anytime soon in my opinion. And that is the bureaucracy that makes starting and operating a business here a daily challenge. In many ways, it makes everyday life frustrating. I would like to clarify that I feel this is not due to the recent years of economic problems; but more so to the decades /centuries of political instabilities that Greece endured prior to finally establishing itself as an independent country.
How have you changed in the past five years?
Simple answer is that I’ve mellowed and relaxed. Still some stress in my life, but me as a part-time gardener? Never would have happened if I’d stayed in Canada.
Thank you for your time and the informative interview Peter.
Zarakes, 34017 Krieza, Evia, Greece
Tel.: +30 22230 54059, Mob.: +30 698 672 63069
Facebook: Zarka Villas
Interview: Kyriakos Tsikordanos
Photos: Amanda Laoumtzis