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GreekReporter.com Greek News Onassis' Island of Skorpios Turns into European Resort for Billionaires

Onassis’ Island of Skorpios Turns into European Resort for Billionaires

Onassis island
From Aristotle Onassis to Ekaterina Rybolovleva

Skorpios, Aristotle Onassis‘ private island in the Ionian Sea, is to turn into an ultra luxury VIP resort, after the Greek government signed the permits for that to take place.

The 55-page Joint Ministerial Decision, which was signed on the last day of 2020, describes in detail all the changes to come on Skorpios.

The once near-mythical paradise and playground of the world’s elite from the 1960s to the 1980s, is poised to enter a new, and perhaps more prosaic, era.

Even though the Ionian Sea island now belongs to Ekaterina Rybolovleva, daughter of Russian magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev, Greek people still call Skorpios “the island of Onassis.”

History of Skorpios

The irregularly-shaped island is next to Lefkada in the Ionian Sea. It spans 83.2 hectares (205 acres) and has two main axes of about 1,500 meters and 1,000 meters.

Skorpios, which was bought by the Greek shipping magnate in 1963, is believed to have cost him the equivalent of about $11,000 in today’s money.

It is heavily forested from south to north and features over 200 varieties of trees imported to the once nearly-barren island by Aristotle Onassis himself. It has sandy beaches, most notably East Beach, which was created by the magnate.

Onassis island
View of Skorpios. Credit: Shadster , CC BY-SA 3.0 /Wikipedia

In order to achieve that, sand was brought from Salamis Island for that express purpose. Onassis also built harbor facilities in the bay on the north side for his massive yacht.

All the fresh water on Skorpios comes from the side of a mountain on a nearby island.

Numerous high-profile guests stayed on the island during the time of Onassis. State leaders, politicians, actors, and artists enjoyed the host’s hospitality and the natural beauties of Skorpios.

Skorpios was also the place of his wedding to former United States First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, on October 20, 1968.

In 1971, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was famously photographed nude by a paparazzo while lying on a Skorpios beach.

Upon Onassis’s death, the island passed on to his daughter Christina, and then in turn to her daughter Athina Onassis Roussel, the only surviving heir.

Onassis, along with his son Alexander, and his daughter Christina, are all buried on Skorpios.

Onassis sanctuary and playground

For Onassis, Skorpios was his paradise, his sanctuary and his playground, a place to rest and relax — and throw wild VIP parties.

The tycoon was active himself in planting 200 species of trees, and flowers and making gardens and orchards where vegetables and fruit were cultivated.

Onassis island
Aristotle Onassis. Public Domain

He also built a taverna on the beach, where he used to cook fresh fish and seafood, sitting at a table and drinking ouzo, gazing at the blue-green waters and singing his favorite songs.

Skorpios was a labor of love for the Greek tycoon. It was also the love nest of the two great loves of his life: Maria Callas and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Onassis shared the planting of the island’s vegetation with Callas. Skorpios was their private refuge, an idyllic environment to serve as a setting for their love story.

At the same time Skorpios was famous for the legendary, lavish lavish parties with the world’s VIPs and jet-setters, from Hollywood stars to political figures.

Most of them took place on Onassis’ luxury yacht “Christina,” named after his daughter. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, Prince Rainier of Monaco and Winston Churchill were just a few of these luminaries.

Onassis island
Winston Churchill disembarking from Onassis’ yacht, the Christina

The fun usually lasted until daylight, with one famous moment being Maria Callas singing duets with Frank Sinatra.

When Jackie Kennedy replaced Callas in the heart of Onassis, she became the hostess of Skorpios.

Aristotle and Jackie  exchanged wedding vows on the mythical island on October 20, 1968. While it was drizzling all day, it did not hamper the VIP guests celebrating and enjoying the glamorous wedding party.

Onassis island
Jackie and Aristotle Onassis

Jackie changed the overall look of the island, starting with the house, which she decorated with her personal friend and famous interior decorator Billy Baldwin.

Jackie loved the seclusion of Scorpios and liked to swim and sunbathe on its most secluded southern beach.

Not that even there could she escape from the paparazzi who spied on the island by sea to record the private moments of the couple.

This is how the nude photos of the famous woman appeared in international media. To which she reacted nonchalantly with the phrase, “Each one of us is naked until we put on our swimsuit.”

Onassis children and tragedies

Onassis’s children – Alexandros and Christina – from his first marriage with Tina Livanos, shared their father’s love for the island and the social life they enjoyed there.

Onassis island
Alexandros Onassis. Credit: Onassis Foundation USA

They threw their own beach parties, inviting the children of the most famous families in Greece and abroad.

The island also became a favorite destination for Jackie’s son, John John, whom Onassis had taken under his wing.

However, the golden age of Skorpios came to an abrupt end on January 20, 1973. It was on that day — ironically on Aristotle Onassis birthday — that his beloved son was killed in a plane crash.

Alexandros’ death was a blow which Onassis could not overcome. The island was deserted, the music stopped. “I have no reason to live any more,” Onassis had said at the time.

Indeed, just two years later, the man who had built a shipping empire and a prestigious airline — one of the richest men in the entire world — passed away.

However, his daughter Christina revived Skorpios in the 1980s. Jackie stopped going to the island and Christina, happy to get rid of the stepmother she never liked, erased every trace of her on the island.

She brought architect Costas Voutsas and painter Yiannis Tsarouchis to change the decoration of the pink villa, which once had been called “Jackie’s villa.”

Along with the new decor, she built swimming pools and renovated the guest houses so that they could once again host the finest members of the international jet set for glamorous parties that lasted until dawn.

Onassis island
Christina Onassis in 1978. Credit:  Dutch National Archives , CC0/ Wikipedia

Christina married Thierry Roussel in 1984, and the couple revived Skorpios’ social life. It was different this time, though. Parties on the island became more and more frantic, with rumors of orgies circulating in Greece.

On Skorpios, the new owners hosted the biggest stars of the time. Roussel’s friend, hard-partying actor Mickey Rourke, was one of them, making tabloid headlines.

On January 29, 1985 Athina Onassis was born and was later baptized on Skorpios. Nightlife on the island calmed down after that point, as Christina and Roussel started divorce procedures eight months later.

The lights went out on Skorpios when Christina Onassis was found dead on November 19, 1988 in the bathtub of a friend’s house in Buenos Aires.

At Christmastime in 1988, a third tomb was opened next to those of Aristotle and Alexandros Onassis on Skorpios. Athina, the heiress of the Onassis fortune, returned to the island ten years later to lay flowers on her mother’s grave.

Athina visited the island a few times in the following years to visit the graves of her legendary family. Since that time, no Onassis ever celebrated anything again in the little island paradise.

Skorpios in the Rybolovlev era

In April 2013, the trust of Ekaterina Rybolovleva, daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, bought Skorpios and adjacent islet Sparti, along with other assets, from Athina Onassis for $153 million.

The aim of the Rybolovlev family is to turn the tiny island in the Ionian into a luxury resort, catering to the international elite.

The family has already made changes on the island for private use. However, Skorpios will now be transformed to Europe’s first private island resort.

The Greek government signed the permit for the change on December 31, 2020, ushering Skorpios into a new era.

The ministerial decision reads “Approval of the location of the investment plan called ‘Construction and operation of a luxury tourist unit VIP Exclusive Club on the island of Skorpios’.”

The project is estimated to cost 165 million euros and all the necessary construction works are expected to be completed in 3.5 years. It has been called one of the first strategic investments in Greece.

According to the ministerial decision, the project is divided into nine construction units in an area of ​​430,947.10 square meters (463,675.98 square feet).

New buildings will be constructed along with the preservation of existing ones such as Christina Onassis’ “Pink Villa.”

The Pink Villa will be renovated completely and will be used as an accommodation unit. In addition, a 9,420 square meter (291,129,921 square foot) main hotel building complex will be built.

The complex will include the main residence, or Master Suite; two large villas, called VIP1 and VIP2; and medium-sized villas, referred to as VIP3 and VIP4, and Guest Pavilions 1 and 2.

The main complex also includes areas that serve functions of the guest facilities, such as a conference center, restaurant, wellness center, screening room and entertainment area.

The second building complex will include four independent villas, called VIP5, VIP6, VIP7 and VIP8, with all the necessary auxiliary features.

The third multipurpose complex will house sports facilities; in the fourth there will be facilities for swimmers and sunbathers, such as locker rooms, a swimming pool and an auxiliary pier.

Other facilities and buildings include a helipad, a lounge in the fifth building complex, and a sixth building complex to accommodate the staff.

There is a seventh unit that is designed to accommodate horses and a special area for hosting small pets. The existing equestrian arena can also serve visitors with horse-riding training facilities.

Building unit 8 includes the “Hill House”, a new building with an outdoor pool of 75 square meters (18,455 square feet) and in building section 9 there is the “Amphitheater”, a natural, outdoor theater-like space for visitors to enjoy.

Finally, Skorpios’ harbor will be expanded significantly and modernized to accommodate more vessels.

The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2024, giving a new and much different life to the once-private sanctuary of Aristotle Onassis.

Private islands owned by billionaires

Aristotle Onassis was a pioneer in the shipping industry. In a way, he was also a pioneer in buying a whole island and turning it to a personal luxury resort.

Today, there are a number of of billionaires and stars in the entertainment business who own a small island somewhere in the world.

The first, after Onassis, to buy an island and make it his home back in 1979 was Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson.

Sir Richard bought Necker Island in the Caribbean for a mere $120,000, constructing a 11-bedroom Balinese-style home there. It was destroyed in 2011 by Storm Irene, rebuilt, then destroyed again in 2017 by Hurricane Irma.

The property was rebuilt again, but Sir Richard bought neighboring Moskito Island in 2017. This time he paid $12.6 million, and turned it into an eco-resort, including the Branson Estate for his family.

Dietrich Mateschitz, the co-owner of Red Bull, bought from the Forbes family the spectacular Laucala Island in Fiji in 2003 for $10 million.

The Austrian businessman turned the 3,500-acre island with an untouched tropical rainforest interior and white-sand beaches into a luxurious eco-resort with all the amenities one could wish for.

Brecqhou is different than the tropical private islands most billionaires own, however. Twin brothers Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay have owned this Channel island since 1993.

Located off the coast of Sark in the Channel Islands, Brecqhou looks like a typical British island, complete with a village, a pub, a chapel, orchards and vineyards.

The Barclay brothers built a Gothic-like castle on the island, adding to the atmosphere, while they did extensive work on its landscape, creating lakes and chiseling picturesque cliffs.

However, setting this place off from some of the other billionaire’s islands, guests can visit Brecqhou but there are no facilities to stay overnight.

Velaa is a 19.4-acre atoll in the Maldives owned by Czech billionaire Jiri Smejc who spent $200 million in 2014 to transform it into an ultra-luxurious resort that consists of 42 palatial villas.

Designed by architect Petr Kolar, Velaa offers visitors a mix of privacy and isolation along with topnotch entertainment and sports facilities.

French entrepreneur Georges Cohen bought Calivigny Island in the Caribbean in 2000 and imported thousands of plants and trees to turn it to a private natural paradise.

The 80-acre island is now available for up to 40 guests who will enjoy the island’s beauties and luxurious amenities in absolute privacy, while the staff caters to their every desire and whim.

Sampson Cay in the Bahamas is the family retreat of Liberty Media’s John Malone. He bought it in 2013, when it was a resort and marina for yacht owners.

Malone turned it into his family’s private paradise, as the 31-acre island boasts some of the best beaches in the Bahamas.

Celebrities who own their own private island

You don’t have to be a billionaire to own an island, of course. Even with a few extra million in the bank, you can be a landlord in the middle of the ocean if you so desire.

After Richard Branson started the trend in 1979, before he was knighted, many followed. Some as an investment, others in search of a sanctuary away from the world.

Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio, for instance, purchased Blackadore Caye off the coast of Belize for a mere $1.75 million and is now turning it into a luxury resort.

Johnny Depp paid $3.6 million for Little Halls Pond Cay in the Bahamas in 2004, and made it his second home. In 2015, he held his wedding with Amber Heard on his favorite retreat.

In 2006 Nicolas Cage also bought an island in the Exumas Island chain in the Bahamas for $3 million. It has plenty of sandy beaches and private coves to keep him away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi.

In the Bahamas, again, Eddie Murphy purchased Rooster Cay for $12 million in 2007 and uses it as his private retreat.

Mel Gibson bought Mago Island in Fiji in 2005 for $9 million. Mago is a volcanic island spanning 5,000 acres. The actor runs a cattle farm on the island and has no intention of turning it into a resort.

Multiple Oscar winner Steven Spielberg purchased an island in Madeira Archipelago, off the coast of Portugal. The director reportedly bought the island as a vacation home for his family.

George Clooney, Ricky Martin, Gene Hackman, Francis Ford Coppola and several others in the entertainment business also own private islands around the globe — and the list is growing.

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