Peter Maneas, the larger-than-life host of the much anticipated show My Greek Odyssey has always wanted to show the real face of Greece to the world.
In his 13-part TV series set to air tomorrow Sunday at 1:30pm on Channel 7, the Sydney-born businessman invites viewers to several different destinations around his Mediterranean motherland, where he travels on his super-yacht Mia Zoi (One life).
The first episode is an ode to Athens and Greek Easter, showing the capital’s true colours painted with thousands of years of history, to audiences from 42 countries that have acquired licensing to the show.
True to his life motto Mia Zoi Tin Ehoume (we only get one life), Peter takes it upon himself to explore islands that are not as popular, and present their rich cultural and historical heritage, as well as their delicious cuisine to the world.
Maneas has had a boat docked in Greece for eight years, although he’s been travelling there since he was a boy. He still remembers that first time his mother – who worked several jobs to offer to her three children what they needed to succeed in life – spent all her savings to take them to Greece.
“I would spend six months in Greece, since when I was 10 years old, and each year, I would spend more time researching where I’d want to go,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“In those last eight years I have seen things that people don’t normally see. And this show was just about sharing it with other people and showing them what the Greek islands are about.
“But,” he interrupts, “I wanted to take people to some of the places they don’t know about and it’s never been done this way before!”
Maneas says that Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu, Crete and Rhodes end up getting 40 per cent of the 30 million tourists that go to Greece per year, something he finds unfair for Greece’s remaining 222 inhabited islands, but also those very popular islands that are almost sinking with visitors.
“Those islands can’t take any more people! Plus, everyone goes high season, at the peak of summer when they could be going in May or September,” he stresses explaining that congestion takes away from the overall experience.
“I’ve heard many people go ‘Oh, my God! Is that what Greek islands are like? I don’t want to come again!’, whereas, if you show them that there are more islands, and so much diversity, people could divide their time between different destinations,” he says.
“The transportation, the ferries, the planes, everything – it’s a pretty good service for a nation of only 11 million people. The travel infrastructure is excellent!”
Islands you didn’t even know existed
Maneas takes pride in the fact that no one has shown as many places as he will show over the next five years. In the first season alone, 20 stunning islands will be featured, while Season 2, is already in editing.
Currently, the bubbly Greek Australian is in the process of shooting the third season, where My Greek Odyssey delves into the beauties of the Northern Aegean and Mount Athos and onto Samothraki and Thasos. In the same season Mia Zoi stops at breathtaking locations through the country’s north and all the way down to Syros island and Western Cyclades, stopping at Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Sifnos, Serifos, “and some other islands that no one can get to, like Polyaigos”, he notes, adding that “even many Greeks ignore the existence of such islands”.
For Maneas, the least popular islands are the most enticing, more thrifty and economical to visit, offering a more real and genuine experience of the Greek way of life. Perhaps they don’t have five star hotels, but as he very passionately proclaims, those tiny gems have other things that are wonderful, like untamed scenery and quiet getaway spots, not to mention the most authentic and warm people.
“It’s a five year adventure for me,” Maneas enthuses, “and I’ve got to tell you that since I’ve been doing it, I’m even more excited!” he says confessing that his passion is to step foot on every single inhabited island in Greece. He has crossed 84 off his list.
“There’s a number of reasons I’m doing it,” he explains.
“One is to show people places they’ve never seen, and it’s wonderful, and the other is that even though Greece is suffering at the moment – and it has been suffering for a number of years – the people haven’t changed; the weather hasn’t changed, the beaches haven’t changed, the architecture, the geography, the food hasn’t changed – perhaps it’s become even better!”
One of those destinations, not easily accessible by people, that will make an appearance on My Greek Odyssey, is the famous island of Scorpios. The adventure is part of the Lefkada episode, set to air in the first week of June.
“It’s the first time since before Onassis’ death – it was 1968 I think, that someone is filming there,” Maneas says. “Dmitry Rybolovlev granted us access and it was fantastic!”
Some of his other favourite hidden locations are revealed in the second episode through Maneas’ travels from Epidaurus to Moni and Spetses.
“You know, in Palia Epidavros, there is a section of the beach that you can snorkel and land on a 2000-year-old villa! Nobody knows about that!,” he says.
“You can swim out from the beach and see the footings and floor or the ancient Greek villa. The best thing is that anyone can do that! No one is gonna stop you!,” he stresses, explaining that the local authorities actually encourage that.
“They want you to see it and for people to know the heritage of the site. They promote it as part of the learning about the history of the place. It is magnificent!”
Maneas, the man behind the Odyssey
A son of Kytherian Greek immigrants, Maneas pays tribute to his place of origin with three episodes in the first season. His journey begins in Episode 6, sailing from Monemvasia, to the turquoise waters of Elafonisos and from there to Kythera. Episode 7 is dedicated to his island, where he goes back and checks the birth records, finding out that his family tree goes back 11 generations.
The Kytherian trip continues in Episode 8, crossing over to Antikythera, where he explores the Antikythera mechanism, the fascinating ancient Greek analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes decades in advance. From Antikythera, Maneas sails back to Elafonisos and Kythera again while praising his migrant parents and especially her mother for teaching them that if he worked hard enough he could achieve anything.
“I’m blessed to have two cultures,” he says.
“I was born in Australia, an amazing country where passion and hard work can see you achieve anything you put your mind to. Yet, my roots, my DNA, they are in Greece.”
Maneas now enjoys two summers a year, and the ability to swap between to completely different mentalities: the Australian and the Greek way of life, which, he says, are complimentary to each other.
“In Australia we live a fast life and it’s good; it’s fantastic to succeed in business whereas Greeks are a bit more laid back,” he believes.
“I would not necessarily say slower, as Greek people can work really really hard -especially at the moment- but they can definitely separate personal life and pleasure, from work; it is good for your mental health and for bonding.”
Something that is prevalent in his Odyssey is the focus on the massive depth of cultural enlightenment when one visits those islands. Also the people; the relationships between the people and the bonds even a foreigner can forge with the locals are “something you can’t find anywhere else in the world”.
“Every single island has its own personality. From the scenery, to the people, to the idioms, to the cuisine… it’s all a completely different experience,” he muses.
“Many of those islands carry thousands of years of legacy that dates back all the way to antiquity and the Byzantine era and the Ottoman occupation. You could be sunbathing on a beach that was invaded 2000 years ago by one culture and 500 years ago by another. There are 6000 Greek islands – 227 of those inhabited. All mesmerising.”
Besides the scenery indulgence the show promises to offer travel aficionados, foodies are also up for a surprise.
“At every island I go to, I have a chef on my boat and we cook one of the traditional dishes together,” Maneas says.
Secrets of the Greek Tselementes
“This year I was lucky enough to have met the grandson of Nikolaos Tselementes, who followed his legendary grandfather’s footsteps and is a chef as well.”
They cooked modern day moussaka together on the show, talking about his grandfather’s legacy, the family story on Sifnos island, and the cultural importance of the Tselementes cookbook.
“The Tselementes is more than a cookbook, it tells the household how to set up the kitchen, how to set up a table, how to serve a guest. Tselementes brought the béchamel to Greece! He is the father of moussaka and pastitsio. Not many people know that,” he insists!
“This show for me, was a lifelong dream and I’ve earned the ability to explore every part of my heritage, every part of Greece. This show is about giving back.”
A man of humble beginnings himself, he worked tirelessly for decades to get to where he is today.
“A show like this not only takes time and constant effort, it also costs a lot of money,” he goes on, explaining that acquiring permits from the ministry of tourism and local councils can push back filming up to six months.
“Exposing the hidden treasures that are the Greek islands and parts of the mainland like Mount Athos, is a life-changing experience. One I am more than happy to share.
“The people I’ve met, the things I’ve done… but above all, offering people who will never get a chance to see these amazing places up close the knowledge; I would not trade it for anything!”
*My Greek Odyssey’ launches this Sunday 24 March at 1:30pm on Channel 7! See Greece like never before!
*1:30pm Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Hobart, 5:00pm Darwin.