I live in the UK for more than 8 years now, and many new friends I made here have had their holidays in Greece, my birthplace.
It is however disappointing to see how many people go to Greece and see absolutely nothing of the country. It is typical, for a large group of holiday makers, to trust their money and precious time abroad to the tour operator. This trust is often misplaced and many British tourists come back without having seen anything of the beauties of Greece, or tried anything outside the hotel buffet.
Typical of the hotel food are the “british breakfasts”, the “fish and chips” and a series of other dishes like “hamburgers”!!! It is amazing to believe that people pay a good sum of money to go to a place like Greece (or any other Mediterranean destination for that matter) and come back without having visited a small village tavern, with some house wine, fresh olive oil made from the tavern owner’s own olive trees, and fresh fruits picked up from the trees a few hours ago.
My hometown, Patras, is not a small place, but there are many beautiful, idyllic taverns and restaurants, numerous cafes and open air bars to cater for every taste. Once I was with my friends in a nice small tavern called Stavrodromi (cross roads) and I saw on the menu an item labelled “Grandma’s Meatballs”. So I asked if they were made according to grandma’s recipe. The answered really came as a surprise. They were actually cooked by grandma, who would not let anyone else do the meatballs. Then I noticed that there was a rose-flavoured ice-cream. It sounded interesting, so I asked about it. The lady (owner/manager/cook/waitress) said that it was vanilla ice cream, covered with her own recipe home made rose syrup. I said I would certainly have that one for desert. Sometime during our feast, the lady came to me, almost ready to cry, to apologise, because they run out of the rose syrup. I assured her that there was no problem and that I would be happy with any other flavour (which I would).
When the desert came, to my surprise, I got my rose flavoured ice cream. I said I was nicely surprised, and the lady replied that she sent her son with his bike to go home and bring a rose syrup jar. Now, if that is not customer care … then I do not know how it is.
It is this personal service, the local touch and the overall experience that thousands of tourists miss out.
If you want to go to the islands instead, you have the obvious choices of Rhodes, Kos, Corfu and Crete. But why would you want to go to a place where there will be thousands and thousands of other british tourists? Have you ever considered that there are more than 2,000 islands in Greece? Have you thought of going to a place where you do not have to fight for half a square meter to put your towel, but you could actually get a boat, land on a beach with your friends, and keep the beach to yourselves for as long as you want? Because the next boat that will come by your beach, will skip it and get the next available one!
If you go to small islands of the Aegean like Folegandros, Amorgos, Astypalaia, you will get the chance to get amazing seas, cleaner than anywhere else, and the feeling that you own the place. If you go to a rented room, the owners will let you pick up your fruits from their trees, invite you home for dinner, and even have a party in your honour (if you behave !!!). In the morning you can go to the harbour and wait for the fishing boats to arrive. Then you can select the fishes you want to have for lunch. Take a few more, go to the nearest tavern, and ask the owner to cook them for you. Instead of paying him, he will accept some fishes for himself. He will through in a salad, bread and some wine, and everybody will be happy. Who said that barter is dead?
Imaging not having to wait to be seated. Imagine the tavern owner telling you stories about the place, asking you what do you want him to cook for you (not just what is on the menu). Imagine going to sleep at night and have jasmine and honeysuckle’s scent flooding your room, and the breeze coming through the trees cooling you down, instead of having to put the air condition on all night (with the fear of catching a cold) or listening to the endless karaoke night of your resort!
Another misconception of british tourists is that they need to go to the islands to swim and sunbathe. Greece has 16,000 kilometres of coastline. There is no place in Greece that is further than 100 Km from the sea. And there are beaches that can cater for even the more demanding visitors. The sands of Kilini expand further than the eyes can see, in a miles long beach with warm and shallow waters.
Or if you want something with less sand… more gravel or cobbles, then the ever clean and deep waters of Trapeza in Achaia are the place for you. Five minutes by car, you drive to the side of the mountain, and have your lunch or coffee at the edge of the cliff, admiring the majestic views of the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth.
If you want to stay in a small place, but with nightlife, a place with busy beaches and small quiet spots; a place where you can dine at night under a Venetian castle, overlooking a small bay and the island at its entrance, then Parga is your best choice.
If you search in Google Images for the words “Parga”, “trapeza beach”, “Kyllini”, “Astypalea”, “Amorgos” and “Folegandros” you will get a first taste of the Real Greek Experience.
There will be a series of articles following this one, that will try to introduce more and more Greek experiences, small but unique places and things to do that your resort will never tell you about!!!