Born in the charming countryside of Abruzzo, Northern Italy, and raised to know and appreciate good food and wonderful hospitality, it’s only fitting that Allegra Pomilio, who considers Greece her home away from home, becomes the hostess with the mostess on the Cycladic island of Andros- creating beautiful and authentic experiences for her guests.
With a passion for gastronomy and a strong background in design and photography, Allegra followed her heart, turning her family residence in Andros, into a beautiful B&B overlooking the Aegean Sea. Her ability to create sensory storytelling through food and styling and connecting it with the Mediterranean way of life, has been the core ingredient in attracting hundreds of international guests here each year.
Every aspect of Mèllises is well thought out – from breakfast being served from the chic open plan kitchen area, to the large saltwater swimming pool with the sea as a backdrop, and the architectural work that has a deep respect for the landscape. The entire property is a slice of heaven- bringing together endearing elements of Greece, Italy and France.
Each object you find here has been hand-picked by Allegra and her mother, who spent endless hours sourcing vintage pieces during their travels around Europe. Every room is filled with Mediterranean splendour and a simplicity that is both warm and inviting.
During your stay at Mèllises, you will also be spoiled for choice by the homegrown varieties of fruit plants, local herbs and spices that enrich the property, which now also houses a small farm- with plenty more organic produce for guests to feast their eyes on.
IN+SIGHTS GREECE recently spoke with Allegra about dividing her time between Italy and Greece, and creating a work-life that “somehow has melted into one career after a lot of time, and doubtful moments. But life is all about courage, good ideas and hard work,” she says.
Interview by Penny Zalalas
What was it like growing up on the beautiful countryside of Abruzzo?
I was the luckiest child in the world growing up in such a special place. Our house is nestled in the rural heart of our region, surrounded by medicinal plants and orange trees planted by my great grandfather Amedeo. He used the garden for all of his experiments, resulting in the creation of an orange liqueur called Aurum, still widely in use today and to me, one of the greatest reminders of my family when I’m far from home.
I remember spending so much time outside in the garden; climbing on trees, rescuing small animals and playing endless creative games. Sometimes I even imagined to be like my great grandfather Amedeo, creating some magic potions with whatever fruits and flowers I could gather around – I think that’s where my passion for cooking began.
What are your fondest memories of first visiting Greece?
I have endless memories from my early years in Italy but I have to admit that some of my most treasured moments were spent on my uncle’s sailing boat in Greece. My uncle Alberto is what we call a “lupo di mare” in Italian, or sea wolf. He’s a rather serious, introverted man, but with so much generosity and love for the water. He was and still is a great mentor to me.
Almost every summer, he would host me and my cousins on his boat and we would sail around Greece together. Life by the sea is not an easy one, there are many rules, but also so many incredible life experiences. Alberto taught us how to tie knots, sail, and how to cook in a 1×1 m kitchen. He also showed me how to fish, dive and simply enjoy life with the simplest things. I remember those days fondly- some of the greatest adventures of my life.
How did Andros become your second home?
We had been looking for a long time for a place in Greece, which has always been a second home to me and Andros was one of the luckiest encounters of my life. Everybody told us of how non-touristy, wild and secluded this island was, and we loved it immediately, especially because of those reasons. Mèlisses was true love at first sight, nothing else mattered. This place was the one!
Tell us more about Mèlisses- the concept and design.
Mèlisses is a home away from home, and that’s the real heart of our philosophy. Everything about the property is aimed at respecting and highlighting the surroundings of the island and the local flora/fauna. We wanted the house to almost disappear from human sight, yet create a small oasis by the sea. It was definitely a family project, we renovated and thought of every detail together. My mother and I are very passionate about antiques and flea markets, whereas my father is more conceptual and interested in the landscaping. It was a good combination of our visions.
Describe the layout of the property.
The whole house revolves around the kitchen living-room area, where we gather to have meals every morning and share thoughts/ideas but also beautiful discoveries of the day. The bedrooms are scattered around the property, some closer to the main house, others lower, closer to the sea. Everybody has their own private outdoor space and full access to all outdoor areas of the property, including access to the sea, or vegetable garden and henhouse.
What can guests expect from a stay at Mèlisses?
From extreme care in the interiors of the rooms to our supervision of activities or simply our local knowledge of restaurants, local makers and of course our breakfast, which is a really serious thing here at Mèlisses! Everything is homemade, from the bread to the granola, yoghurt or juices- freshness is the key. There’s no better way to start the day than having a good breakfast, followed by a swim in the sea below the property, one of the most pristine bays of the island.
Tell us about your popular workshops and retreats?
During our retreats, we try to highlight the island from a different perspective. Our retreats are small curated experiences that allow our guests to truly experience the authenticity of the island. Every day we arrange different activities, from cooking to hiking, or simply a lazy picnic by the beach, we love to surprise and spoil our visitors.
Do you combine Italian and Greek flavours for guests to try?
I definitely do. My food is a mixture of influences from Italian, Greek and French cuisines. I love to make fresh pastry stuffed with local Andros cheese, or simply play with lots of typical Italian and Greek recipes that are interpreted in a more modern and fresh way. My favourite recipes to cook are generally seasonal and rather fast to assemble. Lately, for breakfast I have been experimenting with tsoureki brioche, turning it into French toast or even tiramisu. I also make lots of savoury tarts using zucchini flowers and tomatoes from our garden. I also love a simple cold soup, like gazpacho, or corn with lots of crunchy herbs and spices.
What are a few of your favourite Italian and Greek herbs that you like using in your dishes?
I love basil, both Italian and Greek ones, but also wild thyme from Andros, and lemon geranium- it’s really delicious in granitas or blended in a juice. Bahari or Greek allspice was a revolution to me and I put it in all my stews now. I also love to make fried sage leaves, a classic Italian aperitivo dish that everybody loves here at Mèlisses.
What similarities do you find most striking between Greek and Italian food?
Simplicity is the key in both cuisines. A fresh salad, some grilled fish and a few fried zucchini slices. There are definitely many similarities between Italian and Greek foods and usually, the simplest recipes are the best ones.
What do you love most about your time on Andros island and what do you miss when you head back to Abruzzo?
I love the proximity to nature that I have here in Andros. Sometimes, in the city, I feel like it’s hard to breathe. Here I’m surrounded by water at all times, it is such a precious thing being able to jump into the sea any time I want. A swim can be incredibly therapeutic and it’s my favourite way to disconnect from work.
I also love the fact that even on the busiest days I can still find quiet space on the island all for myself. I know everybody here on Andros, it is all familiar and dear to me. I have friends that I miss very much when I leave.
How long do you spend in Andros each year?
I usually arrive in April and leave again around the end of October, the beginning of November. Approximately six to seven months.
And now you are also organising retreats in Abruzzo for 2021.
Yes, I will be organising four annual seasonal retreats in order for guests to discover Abruzzo in a different way. From wine tastings, truffle-hunting in the woods, or saffron harvest, to foraging and cooking classes, each experience will be one of a kind.