The first time I saw a 19th-century philhellenic plate honoring the battles of the Greek Revolution of 1821 was at Martinos, an antiques and art gallery at 50 Pandrossou Street in Monastiraki, Athens. So while reviewing the galley of the new book by photographer and author Miguel Flores-Vianna, a modern-day philhellene, I knew we would excerpt the chapter about the home and gardens of Eleni Martinou, whose family opened Martinos in 1895. Only someone who loves and understands Greece, then and now, as much as Miguel does could present the country the way he has in Haute Bohemians: Greece (Vendome, May 2023). There are beautiful homes of famed residents and collectors—some you may have seen before, some you never have—but there are also royal follies and sailboats and shepherds and tavernas. To see the style in a taverna is to see Greece. But first we have these glorious Greek gardens to wander. Then we eat. Stellene Volandes
The artist Konstantin Kakanias first told me about the garden in Pallini belonging to the well-known Athens antiques dealer Eleni Martinou. Konstantin never quite described it, but I have been friends with him for long enough to know that his suggestions are always worth investigating.
The month of July is not the time to visit gardens in Greece, as the summer heat has taken its toll and the plants, for the most part, are past their best. Yet because of my friend’s recommendation, one very sunny and hot July morning a few years ago found me driving east of Athens to make my first visit and to meet Eleni.
She is not your archetypal Greek. Though very warm and welcoming, Eleni is reserved and quiet, almost shy. Nevertheless, the moment we met I sensed in her a demure steeliness that must have provided her with the strength and focus needed to create her magnificent garden.
As my hostess showed me around, we moved slowly, partly because of the heat but mostly because moving at any speed would have meant missing out on some aspect of her enchanting endeavor.
When she first saw the land—cascading along a rocky slope looking south toward the Messoghia Plain and the Aegean Sea—it was scorched and scarred. In the past a pine forest had reigned supreme, but after countless wildfires it had become a rather desolatespace. With this landscape as her canvas and with her friend the architect Charles Shoup as her accomplice, Eleni set out to create a place where she could let her imagination and her love for plants and nature run wild.
Today the slope is covered by a vast array of Mediterranean flora growing—thriving, to be precise, thanks to the age-old method of trial and error–in a series of garden rooms devised by Shoup, anchored by follies and fountains to great dramatic effect.
On that first visit, as I surveyed the immensity and beauty of Eleni’s undertaking, it dawned on me that the grounds were something of a mirage: part botanical compendium, part pleasure garden of follies and water features—vast in its dimensions, but intimate and poetic in its every corner.
Excerpted from Haute Bohemians: Greece by Miguel Flores-Vianna, Vendome Press, 2023. Photography and text by Miguel Flores-Vianna.
ATHENS ITINERARY I 'm often asked to plan a perfect day in Athens. Here is where I always begin. After leaving my bags at the Grande Bretagne and having a few “sketo” frappés (no milk, no sugar), I walk straight to Ariston, a classic bakery that makes my favorite cheese and spinach pies, take one to go, and walk through the center, straight to Monastiraki, directly to Martinos. The moment I arrive in front of that white corner and see some Byzantine textile through the window, I know why I came. There is history here. Established in 1895 by the Martinos family, the gallery moved to its current address in 1926, and walking up its winding staircases and navigating its packed hallways is like a dig through Greek history, from ancient to Byzantine to modern. I’ve learned about heroes of the Greek Revolution through portraits I’ve seen here, found out about ancient weaving techniques while sorting through piles of fabric, and unearthed singular island ceramics. I go early in my trip to remind myself that, yes, Greece is blue and white, but it is also every color found in every corner of Martinos. S.V.
This story appears in the April 2023 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW2023-04-01T13:09:22Z dg43tfdfdgfd