Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens
- 40 Apollonos Street, Vouliagmeni, Athens, 16671, Greece
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 1992
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Director Restaurant and Bars, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
- Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Maryah Island; Four Seasons Hotel Baku, Azerbaijan; Four Seasons Hotel New York; Four Seasons Hotel Boston; Four Seasons Hotel Houston; Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach; Four Seasons Resort Nevis, West Indies; Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
- Frankfurt, Germany
- BA in Hospitality and Tourism Management, Ryerson University, Toronto
- English, Greek
It took nearly two decades for Four Seasons to take Sam Ioannidis home again – and that was right where he wanted to be. “As a proud Greek, coming back to the birthplace of my people and working to embed the Greek culture into the Hotel will really be special,” he says of his role as opening General Manager of Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens. “We’re rejuvenating the history of a landmark and breathing new life into it by bringing our iconic Four Seasons brand to Greece for the first time.”
The history of the resort is deep rooted, Ioannidis continues, noting The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Aristotle Onassis among so many boldface personalities that have soaked up sunshine along its shores since the property opened in 1967.
The 50-year growth of Astir Palace mirrored that of Greece as a global tourist destination, he says. There is much for Ioannidis to mind across the resort’s 30 hectare (75-acre) private peninsula surrounded by the crystal clear Mediterranean. Existing enticements, all newly renovated and upgraded, include 303 guest rooms, suites and bungalows; a state-of-the-art spa and fitness facilities; infinity pool; a private beach; a gleaming promenade with upscale retail and signature restaurants; and catering spaces for business and social events. There is also a deep-water slip marina and helipad, which Ioannidis sees as “added amenities and features for our guests.”
New additions include 13 high-end residences, a peninsula park, and of course the legendary service for which Four Seasons is so widely renowned. Greece is particularly well suited for a Four Seasons-style experience, says Ioannidis, noting that Greeks “really pride themselves on their culture of hospitality. They’re open-spirited. They love to laugh. They open their doors and embrace people from the get go, ready for a toast and to talk about everything from religion to politics to sports and fashion.” Then again, he adds with a laugh, “Being Greek, I might be a little bit biased.”
Athens is the third Four Seasons assignment for Ioannidis outside of North America. The first was Four Seasons Hotel Baku where, during a year-and-a-half as General Manager, he focused on infusing the property with the culture of the Azerbaijani capital, the better to build strong connections and draw young and vibrant locals. Then came Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Maryah Island, which he opened as General Manager in May 2016, taking it “from concrete to the art-inspired hotel that is the pride of the capital today.”
Along the way, Ioannidis lent out his expertise teaching the finer points of luxury hospitality locally at the university level, something he first did as an adjunct professor of business management at New York University while serving as Hotel Manager of Four Seasons Hotel New York. Following success at Baku State University and NYU Abu Dhabi, he plans to continue to support at hospitality schools in Athens, which lies just 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Astir Palace.
Born in Frankfurt to Greek parents, Ioannidis grew up in Germany and Greece and saw a lot of Europe. His father owned a commercial painting company and his mother owned a restaurant. Both inspired him: by 14, Ioannidis could prepare lamb for the spit and cook a traditional moussaka, and if he puts his mind and time to it he can still design and build a house from scratch. Result? “I’ve always been able to approach the hotel industry with an appreciation for architecture and design as well as for the way hospitality brings people together.”
Ioannidis eventually made his way to Toronto, where he worked at a renowned classic fine dining restaurant, applied to hotel school, and was accepted based on experience. The dean of the school later encouraged him to work “only in places of the highest nature.” It was good advice that he took to heart: “During my thesis year, a friend introduced me to the General Manager of the what was then Four Seasons Inn on the Park. I was hired and my mind and soul became sponges for everything I could see and learn from food, wine and travel.”
All went well, yet Ioannidis resigned after just six months to open his own restaurant. The restaurant went well, too. Then one evening he bumped into the General Manager of Inn on the Park. “He told me he could use my talents again.” Ioannidis has been with Four Seasons ever since.
Nothing if not passionate about travel, what Ioannidis really loves is culture and the lands that breed it – none more so than what he is surrounded by today. “I just love walking around the Mediterranean coast here on property, smelling the scents of pine, citrus trees, all the different herbs and the sea.” The resort incorporates those aromatics into its food and spa experiences, he says. “Those are the sort of touches that make Greeks proud of what we are creating here and create a strong sense of place for the world traveler.”
While there is more than enough to keep Ioannidis busy at Astir Palace, he is sure to set aside enough downtime to stay, well, busy. “I’m one of those people who can’t sit still,” he says, reminiscing about tomatoes he has canned, figs he has candied, wine and flavoured vodkas he has created, and renovations he always makes to whatever his home happens to be. “There is so much to choose from in Greece, the heritage of food, beverage, art and architecture is so rich,” he adds of his new assignment. “I can walk down to the Mediterranean with a knife and eat sea urchins right from the beach.” Kalí óreksi!