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Stratis Batagias
Synchronizing with Arcadia’s Forest

01 MBO Manna

Words Steph WadeImages Ana Santl

For the Greek entrepreneur Stratis Batagias, the forested region of Arcadia in Greece’s central Peloponnese has always emitted a type of mythical presence.

Having spent many summers immersed in the fir forest of mount Mainalo as a child and teen, it comes as no surprise that he would be drawn to the area decades later as an adult. 

As a site of spiritual enquiry, Arcadia is known in Greek mythology for the character Arcas, the son of Zeus who spread his knowledge of agriculture across the region. In more recent eras, like the European Renaissance, Arcadia was celebrated as an unspoiled wilderness, and it remains so today: “It’s just so good for the soul; as soon as you arrive, your body begins to totally relax,” explains Batagias. With a keen interest in spirituality and staying healthy, alongside his love of travel and eating—particularly in restaurants—Batagias’s intersecting interests are strong components in his very long-awaited project: Manna, a luxury mountain sanctuary in the middle of an Arcadian forest.

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“I love the sea, but my mind and body rest better in the mountains. You’re closer to nature, it feels mystical.”

Stratis Batagias

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How would you describe yourself and the work that you do?

SB: I actually work in marketing and communications, not hospitality, despite owning a hotel. I consider my work a hobby, not a job—it is something I like and do for fun. Given that it’s a family business, I was more or less born into this environment. 

So, why the hotel?

SB: It was always a dream of mine. You know, in my private life, I like to invite friends for dinner, or to stay for a weekend. I love to pamper people and take care of them; it’s an ingrained part of Greek culture. I think if you don’t work in hospitality in your professional life, then it’s a natural part of your private life.

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You used to always visit the forested area of Arcadia as a child. Is this how the desire came about to start a hotel surrounded by trees?

SB: Every year, since I was five or six years old, I went to summer camps in the Arcadia region, and then I became a camp leader as a teenager. The camp was just one kilometer from the building that would become Manna, so we were always sneaking over there at night with torches, scaring each other and telling ghost stories about this notorious abandoned place. At that point it had been abandoned for 60 years. I was 12 years old, and even back then I wanted to buy the property someday. 

Impressive ambitions for a 12 year old.

SB: I had to wait 30 years for it. I guess my dreams were a little bigger than my age...

How did you acquire the building?

SB: Many investors wanted it but it was so hard to get because of bureaucracy. But then in 2013 during the economic crisis, the government was forced to give away public buildings that were abandoned, putting them up for auction. It took less than one minute to decide. But it took another nine years to get it up and running.

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What intrigued you most about the building, even as a child?

SB: You’re in the mountains, at 1,200 meters altitude, and you just don’t expect to see a building like that out there. Nature completely took over the place, trees and leaves covered it. Then it was about the way it was built, the “wow” factor was more interesting to me. It's built with local materials—you expect to see stone buildings, because the area has stone buildings, but not at this scale—it’s absolutely huge.

Manna is all about reconnecting to oneself and being present with your senses. In what ways do you incorporate this practice into your daily life?

SB: I am generally interested in wellness and a healthy lifestyle. I take care of my diet, I exercise, and I meditate every day. I work so many hours in the city, so when I come out to Arcadia, around once a week, I fall into harmony with the area. I need to have that balance between the urban city life and then the rural nature life. Coming to the forest is where I feel most relieved and relaxed. Things flow easier when you’re in the mountains. Of course I love the sea, but my mind and body rest better in the mountains. You’re closer to nature; it feels mystical. And you feel more of a connection to ancient cultures or to a time when the earth was totally different to how it is now. 

How do you mean?

SB: Well, the region itself has a highly energetic presence, you really feel it—this was an important thing for the Ancient Greeks, because according to them, the Arcadian ideal is that man never imposes on nature but lives in harmony with it. So a lot of mythology came from these times. And you can feel the atmosphere; it’s hard to describe. It’s spiritual for sure.

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“I need to have that balance between the urban city life and then the rural nature life, but coming to the forest is where I feel most relieved and relaxed.”

Stratis Batagias

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What is one of your favorite things about this place?

SB: I love the name. The romans called it the arc of God. It was always celebrated as an unspoiled, harmonious wilderness, like a utopia. But anyway, my favorite thing is the smell. The wood, the forest, the breeze.

How do you like to spend your time when you're not working?

SB: Two things: of course travelling—for a weekend or ideally longer if its possible. California is definitely of my favorite destinations. And of course there is South Africa with phenomenal and pure landscapes.

Secondly, I really enjoy good food. Dining out with friends is what I enjoy the most on a weekday.

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Where do you like to eat out?

SB: Downtown Athens, there are some really good places. Greek and Japanese food is what I love the most.

Can you talk a little about Manna's food concept?

SB: I’m very lucky with our chef, Athinagoras Kostakos—he's one of the top chefs in Greece, and he has some very big projects abroad, too. He cooks Greek, but with a twist. You know, he does Greek recipes, but elevated in such a way that it's refined and international.

So what have you discovered about yourself through travel?

SB: I could not imagine saying goodbye to my existence here if I haven't seen as much of the world as possible. You have to see the world! Otherwise you cannot find yourself. There’s so many different cultures and sceneries in the world; the diversity is amazing. It gives me something more; I complete my puzzle.

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“You have to see the world! Otherwise you cannot find yourself.”

Stratis Batagias

What does the name Manna signify?

SB: Mana in Greek, it means mother. But the hotel’s name derives from two words. There was a woman who was a nurse for the soldiers during the First World War. She was the one that raised the funds to create the building, where it was formerly used as a sanatorium for the soldiers that had tuberculosis. Her name was Anna, and she was nicknamed mother of the soldiers. So we combined Mana and Anna into Manna, in tribute to this incredible woman. 

It also relates back to this idea of the surrounding nature—Mother Nature.

SB: Exactly.

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