2020 is very special anniversary year for Sunvil as the company turns 50. We spoke to company chairman Noel Josephides about his top tips for those visiting northern Greece - and Sunvil's big plans for a special anniversary year.
What are your top tips for travelling to northern Greece?
Go by train. You can reach Preveza by train via Milan and Bari and then across the sea. From there you have the opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful regions of Greece: Zagoria. High mountains, spectacular gorges, beautiful villages, regional food and wine - and it's completely unknown. Of course, if you don’t have the time, you can still fly.
Aritisi village in Zagoria © yiannisscheidt, Shutterstock
I love Northern Greece. Thessaloniki, old and new, is a thriving city with wide promenades, excellent shopping and good restaurants and tavernas. It’s a city for the young as well, with thousands of university students giving it life and spirit.
Of course, this is Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great at Pella. Visit the museum there; it’s only a 40-minute drive from Thessaloniki. A little further on is Edessa, a city of streams and waterfalls. Then, a little further, is Vergina, with its excellent museum and the tomb of Phillip II, father of Alexander. To the east of Thessaloniki is Serres and Lake Kerkini, a must for bird watchers. Nearby Amphipolis is the site of an enormous tomb, which is soon to be opened and which some believe is that of Alexander The Great.
Our lovely little seaside village of Olymbiada in Halkidiki is next to the site of ancient Stagira, birthplace of Aristotle, who was tutor to Alexander The Great. There is so much to see and do for those interested in sites of antiquity.
Lake Kerkini, created in 1932, is a must for bird watchers © Vladimir Soltys, Shutterstock
How does Sunvil choose its properties and destinations?
We choose by instinct! It may sound strange but we ‘get a feeling’ for a particular property. We visit the area and meet the owner and explain what our clients expect. We work together as a partnership; a relationship that evolves into a friendship over the years.
We do not feature all-inclusive hotels; ours are chosen for the warm welcome our guests receive, plus their charm and location. We know that our customers appreciate our approach to holidays as so many choose to return year after year, not solely for a resort’s attractions, but to meet with the friends that they have made.
For example, we have featured the Romvi Hotel in Tolon since 1976. It represents the epitome of what we look for in accommodation: it is owner managed by a local family; we know that our money stays in the community and our guests benefit from the cultural insights and local tips shared by the owners. Adonis, the manager, is a true star and many of our guests choose to return year-after-year to visit him and his team - becoming friends for life.
How does being a multi-generational company best help your customers?
Sunvil is proud family company. We are a multi-generational company throughout, not only at the ownership level.
I am 72; Dudley, my co-shareholder, 61; Chris Wright, our managing director, 45; and many others are as young as 22. What we all have in common is passion! I understand my age group, the others understand theirs, and so together as a team we keep bringing fresh products to life and adapt them for all ages.
The fact is, that as people get older, their tastes change and they like to have the little extra services: it's not only about advice before they travel, or knowing that the company has vetted the accommodation and resort area and that our descriptions are accurate.
It's also about security, knowing that we have local representatives and contacts all over Greece, and that help is easily available (if needed) which give them comfort.
What are you doing with regards to carbon emissions?
If there is anything that preoccupies me day and night, it’s this question After all, we fly aircraft - how much more polluting can you get? I am not a fan of carbon offsetting because I feel it is tinkering at the edges, although we will be offering it via the World Land Trust. This company, backed by David Attenborough, buys tracts of land of mature trees to prevent these areas being cut down.
We can’t afford to offset our whole operation but we will offset our staff travel and contribute towards our employees’ leisure travel. We are introducing food waste recycling in our office and have also reverted to glass milk bottles as our milk consumption - by 60 staff in the UK (plus 30 overseas representatives) - is considerable.
We have been recycling plastic waste in some of our larger properties in Corfu for quite some time and we will be extending this. We also now send all of our outgoing post from the office in recyclable and biodegradable envelopes to help conserve the environment. These are small changes but steps in the right direction.
We have introduced ‘Greece by Train’ and over this coming year, most of our European destinations will become available by train. We have also increased our offering of holidays using public transport within the country.
2020 is a huge anniverary for Sunvil. How have holidays changed in the last 50 years?
There are few of us left who started in the early 1970s - what a shame. In those days we were trailblazers, offering holidays which even now the mass market and the online players cannot match. Our clients were more relaxed then - more understanding of how different Greeks, Italians or Portuguese were, and were prepared to adapt to the local conditions.
An aerial view of Corfu © Venomer, Shutterstock
Have a look at our Athens – Meteora – Thessaloniki itinerary by train for an example of the holidays we can arrange. These trips are growing in popularity with our clients and allow our travellers to immerse themselves in local life, albeit for a short time.
It's not so easy now: expectations of the perfect dream holiday are much higher and the choice greater. With online agencies and reservation systems, I feel that we have lost the personal side of travel. It's a real shame as one of the most rewarding aspects of travel is the people you meet along the way.
At Sunvil, we pride ourselves on the personal service that we provide; we love nothing more than talking to our clients and working with them to design their perfect break. In my opinion it is this approach that sets us apart and has safe-guarded our business for half a century. It is a shame it is not an approach that is adopted by the many.
This post is sponsored by Sunvil
Sunvil includes a UK-based 60-strong expert team of passionate travellers, enthusiastic advocates of truly sustainable tourism, based in Old Isleworth, SW London, plus 30 loyal, knowledgeable Sunvil representatives in much-loved areas of Greece and Cyprus, who always go the extra mile.
It’s about numerous agents, ground handlers and expert guides around the world who understand our ethos, who value their customers and who appreciate the benefits that tourism delivers to their destinations. Plus the longstanding airline/car hire partners and airport teams – not forgetting brochure and web designers, photographers and printers. Read more on the Sunvil website.