Peter Maneas Talks to TNH about My Greek Odyssey

The raising of the Greek flag by the Presidential Guard (Evzones) at the Acropolis of Athens that takes place every Sunday is one of the things not many know about, from Episode 1, Series 1. Photo: Nick Bourdaniotis / Bourdo Photography

NEW YORK – My Greek Odyssey, the first documentary series to travel to all inhabited Greek islands, invites us to find out what is unique in each of them. From the history and culture to its people, nothing in this Odyssey remains unexplored. Hosted by Greek-Australian construction magnate Peter Maneas whose parents immigrated to Australia from Kythera, the program offers a personal tour of Greece through his eyes, sharing his love of the country and culture. Maneas is the co-founder, majority shareholder and CEO of Ganellen, a design and construction firm founded in 1998 which serves Australia and New Zealand.

His travels to Greece from childhood to the present day and his love for Greek culture created a dream, to show the hidden beauties of the Greek islands and to promote travel to Greece all around the world. With his yacht, “Mia Zoi” which translates to “One Life,” and the philosophy of “we only live once,” Maneas takes us to the perhaps less well-known places in this journey of discovery and begins unravelling the story of the spectacular and historic nation. Along the way we not only see amazing sites, but we also meet remarkable characters. Maneas introduces us to the local cuisine, gives us a bit of a history lesson, and most importantly, inspires us to immerse ourselves in a centuries old culture that’s unlike anywhere else on the planet.

Maneas spoke with The National Herald about the series which airs on Seven Network and 7Plus in Australia, Amazon Prime in the U.S., Canada, and the UK, and on Cosmote History in Greece and Cyprus, among many other outlets throughout the world.

At Athens, Greece, Peter Maneas with Captain Leonidas Tsiantoulas on the history of the Hellenic Navy from Episode 1, Series 1 of My Greek Odyssey. Photo: Nick Bourdaniotis / Bourdo Photography

TNH: What inspired you to do My Greek Odyssey?

Peter Maneas: I have been travelling to the Greek islands regularly since I was 10 years old and in more recent times on my boat Mia Zoi, to date I have been blessed to visit over 100 islands. This has given me an insight to places, people and history that very few have seen. Of the 32 million tourists that visited Greece last year, well over half travelled to only six specific popular islands; Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, Mykonos, Santorini, and Kos. And yet Greece has 227 inhabited islands that have solid infrastructure and great transport services. Karpathos is like Santorini 40 years ago, Thassos is like Mykonos 50 years ago and yet few people know these islands exist; there are countless examples like this.

My inspiration to step foot on all 227 inhabited islands has multiple goals:

  1. Spread the tourism to support some of the smaller islands.
  2. Show people that don’t have the opportunity to see Greece, through the lens of my journey on Mia Zoi, the people, culture, geography, the rich ancient and modern history; something I think that has not been done before.
  3. There is a significant population of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Greeks around the world, I hope that we can turn on that light of Hellenism engrained within their DNA; thereby preserving and promoting a culture that has survived dozens of wars and economic crises.
  4. Greece’s economy has suffered significantly over the last decade, and anything we can do as part of the Diaspora to assist the recovery is a bonus.
  5. I have seen well over a hundred islands and it never ceases to amaze me that each island has its own personality and something different to offer, I could travel through the Greek Islands for another 20 years and still not scratch the surface of its diversity. There is no place like it in the world, and I feel obligated to share it with others.
Peter Maneas exploring the Greek islands with his boat MIA ZOI (translates to One Life). Photo: Maria Michael

TNH: What are the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of doing the show?

PM: There is a significant amount of preparation involved before we start rolling the cameras. Dr. Maria Zarimis is an Academic at the Greek faculty within the University of New South Wales. She spends well over six months researching the following year’s journey, our Executive Manager in Athens Ioanna Kontogeorgou also visits each island conducting field research well before we travel. I also read as much as I can whenever I can. Between the three of us and regular meetings with the Director Alexander Begetis, we come up with countless possible stories and interviews. We then plan the Journey down to what we will be doing every morning, midday, and afternoon for 12 weeks travel, allowing for the contingency of weather and other unplanned hurdles; it’s a well-planned journey that is constantly moments away from chaos. I regularly thank God for having such a Dynamic team (specifically Captain Yiannis, Alex and Ioanna) around me that guide us through the constant challenges of Bureaucracy, local politics and the diverse personalities we deal with. Filming quite often is a 12 hour day and I’m in bed asleep by 9:30 pm, not exactly what most people consider a holiday on their superyacht (but I love it!). After a season of filming, we spend five months in post-production, editing, doing voice overs, auditing and re-editing; I try to fit this in between running my Construction Company, but I am blessed to have some extremely talented hardworking people in both my Construction Business and the My Greek Odyssey team.

I never expected any reward from doing this, commercial or otherwise, but the response we have received in the streets, by email and on Facebook has been eye-opening. Young children inspired to take up Archaeology, cancer patients booking their tickets to follow our journey, octogenarians reliving their past watching the show, entire families gathering around on a Sunday for a BBQ to watch the show, changing the travel plans of non-Greeks. This makes it all the more worth it, and spurs the team on to do it better next time.

TNH: What have you learned about Greece that surprised you the most in the process of doing the show?

PM: So much that I need to write a book. Let me try and summarize, even the smallest island has history that can be made interesting to people of all ages. Last decade saw a large brain drain in Greece, and those that have remained are resilient and hard working through these difficult times; unlike the opinion most Europeans have of Greeks. The smaller the island, the cheaper the accommodation and food and the deeper the philotimia. Even the islands that are not known for good beaches, have them because they just haven’t been discovered by the masses.

TNH: How has your Greek heritage shaped your outlook on life and your work?

PM: I love Australia, the country I was born in, but 16 recorded generations of my family come from the Island of Kythera in Greece. I have spent most of my life reading about and living the rich culture of my heritage, it’s rewarded me with the pride and endless curiosity to explore the cradle of civilization, a place like no other in the world.

  • Free men were oarsmen in the Greek triremes, unlike Xerxes boat crews made up of slaves
  • The birthplace of Democracy
  • The ability to question or ask questions of your leader
  • The ability to question the way things are and accepted science

I live and breathe this thought process in my work every day, ancient Greeks were about the power of people and our ability to learn by asking questions of one’s self and those around you.

Peter Maneas interviews volcanologist Dr. Giorgos Vougioukalakis on the active volcano on the island of Nisyros, behind the scenes from the upcoming Series 3. Photo: Maria Michael

TNH: How has your family responded to the travel series?

PM: My 13 year old son Irinaios has learnt so much, in the majority by association. His constant contact with Captain Yiannis and Chef Kyriako has assisted in his development of the language and culture, along the way he has picked up so much clarity on his heritage. We interviewed a famous Bouzouki player from Samos who has been making his own instruments for well over 40 years. Irinaios was mesmerized by the music and immediately took up the instrument, and has been in lessons over Skype to Samos once a week ever since.

TNH: What can we look forward to in the next season?

PM: In season 3, we visited the Dodecanese islands, translated meaning the 12 island Group, but there are in fact 38 islands in the Dodecanese – 26 inhabited and 12 islets with tourism activity that anyone can visit on an day trip – and we visited all of them. This island group is the closest to Asia Minor and as such has a mix of flavors and cultural adaptations from the exotic east that you see nowhere else in Greece. The Dodecanese is also the location of my wife Helen’s favorite island.

More information about My Greek Odyssey is available online: www.mygreekodyssey.com.