jump to navigation

This week in History July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Olympic Games.
comments closed

Nazis hold First Olympic Torch Relay > On 20 July 1936, the Olympic Flame was first kindled at Olympia, Greece. The High Priestess Koula Pratsika lit the torch of the first bearer Kostas Kondylis. The flame reached Berlin 11 days later after passing through the hand of 3,840 torch-bearers.

first_olympic_torch_relay.jpg  It was not the first time that fire was used to “illuminate” the modern Olympics. In fact, in the 1928 Olympics Dutch architect Jan Wils had included a tower in designing the Stadium and decided to have a fire burn throughout the Games. Therefore, on 28 July 1928 an employee of the Amsterdam Electricity Board lit the first Olympic flame in the “Marathontower”. For the residents of Amsterdam the tower became known as the “KLM Ashtray”.

But the first torch relay was the inspiration of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. The Olympics had been awarded to Germany before Hitler came to power, but the Games were cut to measure for the Nazi propaganda machine.

A year before the Olympics, in August 1935, the Greek conservative newspaper “Estia” carried a full-page article entitled “Olympic Flame: An Excellent Idea by Dr Goebbels”. History has fudged this. Due to a reluctance to remember Goebbels as the father of the flame, the authorship of the inspiration was sought in the person of Carl Diem, a senior officer of the German Olympic Movement.

The website of the Greek Olympic Committee states: The lighting of the Olympic Flame and the torch relay were originally held in 1936 on the occasion of the Berlin Olympic Games. Conceived by German academic and National Olympic Committee member Dr Carl Diem, these ceremonial events were submitted by the same man to the Organising Committee for the XI Olympic Games for approval and subsequently adopted. The IOC’s site is even more Spartan in its description.

At the Olympic Museum at Olympia, a special place is afforded for the memorabilia of those Games and special honour is paid to Diem as the inspirer of the torch relay, naming him an “Olympian” professor.

But it comes as a surprise that the flame and the torch-bearing ceremony are no longer seen as part of Nazi propaganda. At the time, the French newspaper “Paris Soir” characterised the Berlin Olympics as a “religious ceremony”. As Greek historian Ioannis Loukas notes: “This whole relay… of the ‘holy flame’ had tremendous significance for German propaganda that had presented the Olympics as a ‘war confrontation’ … The Olympic Flame swept through Germany in national-socialist popular frenzy, suitably organised by Goebbel’s Reichsportsfuhrer Tschammer und Osten, youth organisations, sports clubs and the SS.”

It was Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl, the Third Reich’s official filmmaker, who undertook to realise the ideas of Goebbels and Diem, under close supervision of the Propaganda Ministry at that time. Riefenstahl guided the ‘priestesses’ through their paces on 20 July 1936. Another small detail: the torch seen carried in the above photo, was a gift from munitions and armaments manufacturer Krupp, while the reflector was made by the Zeiss optics firm.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, had said on the occasion of the closing ceremonies of the 1936 Olympics: “Keep the holy flame alight… The memories of courage will remain unextinguished, since courage was necessary to face the difficulties that the Fuhrer had countered with the slogan Wir Wollen Baueun (We want to build)… Let the German people and its leader be blessed, for the things that were just realised.”


MCM opens its second European flagship store in Athens July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Shopping.
comments closed

After a head-to-toe revamp, German baggage brand MCM opens its second European flagship store in Athens

Is there a seat at the top table for one more miraculously resuscitated luxury leather goods brand? MCM’s new owners have embarked upon a multimillion euro makeover of a company that had been floundering since the 80s in the belief that the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Greek shoppers are the litmus strips with which MCM’s head honchos will gauge the international appeal of the brand’s sleek and sporty new image, as Athens recently became home to the only European flagship shop to open outside the brand’s native Germany.

The MCM, Mode Creation Munich, store opened in Kolonaki in mid-May, a striking black-and-white temple to the fashionista’s current object of worship: the status handbag. The old lacklustre tan bags splattered with look-at-me MCM logos that had become synonymous with the brand’s rapid descent into the uncool have been replaced in the stark, back-mirrored display cases by vibrant red patent leather shoppers, capacious sports bags emblazoned with bold stripes and rampant lions, and arrestingly bright white clasped doctor’s bags decorated with embroidered flowers.

“The old customers were a bit surprised at first, but they’re starting to like the new look of the brand,” smiles Pepy Sileli, MCM’s Greek Commercial Manager. More importantly, “we’re seeing a lot of new customers who previously wouldn’t think of buying MCM. They are attracted by the bright colours and the new fabrics, patent leather, visetos, vinyl, canvas and croco.”

But with fashion editors giving the revamped MCM a cautious thumbs up, and summer’s bright bags luring a whole new generation of customers into the Berlin and Athens flagship stores, the future for a brand many in Europe had consigned to the discount mall a decade ago is looking a lot rosier.

MCM is at the corner of Anagnostopoulou and Xanthou Streets, Kolonaki, Athens, tel 210 7225910. Prices start from 350 euros and rise to just over 1,000 euros.

Greece is the word that ought to be on investors’ lips July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
comments closed

If you look at a satellite photograph of Europe at night, you’ll clearly be able to pick out most of the major conurbations, with roads and urban centres outlined as a buzzing network of lights. However, as you look towards Greece, these lights dim, with only Athens and a few major roads visible.

Greece has some of the most impressive coastline which is ripe for development, yet the country still lags behind in terms of both coastal developments and major infrastructure. This is a real anomaly in Europe that is set to change rapidly over the next few years and we are already seeing Greece come out of the dark in several respects.

Greece is a relatively recent entrant to the eurozone. It qualified as a member in 2000 and was admitted on January 1, 2001. Its economy has traditionally had more in common with its Eastern European neighbours than with Western Europe. Since joining the EU in 1981, the economy has benefited from EU grants and assistance packages to finance major development projects. Current EU infrastructure grants will see the country receiving more than €20 billion.

Greece is now one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. The economy grew by around 4.4% in the last quarter of 2006, one of the highest rates in Europe, where average rates were around 2.7% over the same period. Projections put expectations for economic growth for this year and next at around 4%.

As we see the Greek economy emerge as a tour de force, we have dubbed it the “Ionian Tiger”. Economic conditions in Greece look very similar to those in Ireland, the “Celtic Tiger”, in the 1990s, when over several years the economy transformed from one of the weakest in Europe to one of the strongest.

So which sectors will be the main beneficiaries of this growth? The Greek construction industry is a crucial market and infrastructure projects will drive the construction industry forward after a lull following the 2004 Olympics. Historically a cyclical and low-margin industry, many companies in this sector are well positioned for future growth, providing long-term opportunities for investors.

Construction in Greece is expected to centre around three areas > national infrastructure, residential property and commercial property development. Of these, perhaps the most crucial area of growth is in national infrastructure, from major roads and bridges to public buildings such as hospitals and schools. This is an area that has been systematically underinvested in over the past 20 years.

One company that is already profiting from this trend is Michaniki, which develops real estate and offers construction services. The company builds infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and ports as well as housing. As the largest cement company in Greece, Titan Cement is also a key beneficiary of growth in infrastructure, as well as the development of residential and commercial property, areas where we see room for huge expansion.

The residential property market is picking up following years of stagnation. The trend towards home ownership in Greece is accelerating, which is in turn driving the construction of residential buildings. Legislation is changing to attract more house-buyers, both nationals and foreigners.

The commercial property market is being driven by demand in the office sector. After a peak in demand in 2000, commercial property construction saw a five-year downturn from which a recovery has only just started. SWIP expects to see strong demand for office property over the next five years. Property companies such as Babis Vovos are well positioned to be at the forefront of this development.

The rise of the Ionian Tiger isn’t solely a construction story. Two further strengths of Greek companies are the high levels of quality management and Greece’s strong position to expand into the growing Balkan and southeastern European markets. We have identified some impressive companies with strong forward-looking management teams. Toy retailer Jumbo is a case in point, a real gem of a company, it is well run and plans to expand across Greece and into the Balkans.

For investors looking for opportunities in Europe, Greece should certainly be on the radar.

Agrotourism in Cyprus > Tochni steps you back in times July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus.
comments closed

Agrotourism in Cyprus can become a more important area of the economy. But what do the hills have to offer?

‘Discover the heart and soul of Cyprus’. I’m handed a colourful brochure with an enticing motto splashed across the front and told that what we have so far known about the beauty of the island is only half the story. So what’s the other half? A far cry from the sea and sun that are often praised as the true gems of the island, one word is about to change my perception of the place I’ve been discovering during my many trips to this magnificent island > agrotourism.

Allright, so the concept may be nothing new. After all, tourists have been encouraged to visit Lefkara, Troodos, Platres and Kakopetria for relaxation and tranquillity for more than a while. But the island has over 500 villages and only a handful of them are known to holidaymakers.

For this reason, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, CTO, has recently implemented an agrotourism programme, which aims to revive and preserve local traditions as special-interest tourism is developed in historically less popular areas. Agrotourism programmes are designed to give visitors the chance to become part of the rural community by living and working with its people, while still having the chance to enjoy the beauty and serenity the island has to offer. It’s a new and alternative holiday ideal that lets anyone slip into the true rhythm of country life.

Last March, during one of my short trips to Cyprus, I was lucky enough to be invited to stay the night in the village of Tochni, situated in the depths of the countryside between Limassol and Larnaca to see what the whole experience is all about. I was, however, unlucky enough to drive up to the village on one of the few days of the year that the skies decided to open. But what started off as bad luck actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In a land where blue skies and warm weather are the norm, I approach a village covered in a blanket of mist where the sky couldn’t have been a deeper shade of grey and the whole feel couldn’t have been more ominous. The magic of it was that this is a part of Cypriot life that often goes unnoticed but can be just as enticing as all the hot weather and various activities associated with it.

Then came the second best thing, the accommodation. As we run through the rain, we’re shown to our studio room that is part of a renovated village house decorated with Cypriot antiques and artefacts. Even more impressive is that standing on the balcony gives a view over the whole village and surrounding mountains as they meet the sea. Strolling through the complex, we’re soon greeted by Sofronis Potamites who has taken the whole project under his belt, establishing Cyprus Villages in 1987 in an effort to revive rural communities and preserve the traditional houses from bygone days. The lodgings he has renovated are dispersed through different villages across the island, from those in the countryside just outside Limassol, to others in the Troodos, Paphos and Akamas regions.

As we walk through the picturesque village of Tochni, set on the slopes of two hills, we set our sights on stone-built houses that line the narrow streets winding their way up to the Church of Saint Constantinos and Eleni. We then reach the village square and have a drink in the ‘kafenion’, coffee shop, where old men playing tavli, backgammon, seem more than happy to accommodate us in the place that they’ve made their second home.

What strikes me most about the kafenion is that it looks like the kind of place that has just stepped out of a 1920s movie set, where every detail looks like it hasn’t changed for decades. The walls are thick and whitewashed, the wooden shutters are old but still retain their bright blue hue, and the paintings that hang proudly on the wall depict heroes from the 1950s EOKA struggle for independence. Even the men that chat and joke seem to have spent their whole lives here and are intent on sticking to their old ways. What worries me is that this generation will soon disappear and some of the island’s oldest rituals and pastimes will no doubt vanish. Who will go to a traditional kafenion when they can go to a trendy new cafe?

This is where the purpose of agrotourism comes in, as it’s all about making the most of traditional cuisine, taking part in various village activities and going on outdoor adventures in the depths of nature, like hiking and cycling. As the sun sets over the village, we prepare for a dinner that consists of local delicacies and traditional food cooked the way it has been for years. A band plays bouzouki, the wine flows, and it feels like we are a world away from city life.

“This kind of tourism, especially in more remote rural areas, is very important for both domestic and foreign visitors,” says the Cyprus Tourism Organisation’s Koulitsa Demetriou. “It provides a great alternative from the typical sun and sea holiday to show what the countryside has to offer, from the cute local tavern to the small museum tucked away in the village.”

When it comes to statistics and the numbers of tourists coming into the country, the attention now placed on alternative holidays is also crucial as new types of individuals are targeted. Those who come to Cyprus to follow their hobby, whether its hiking and trekking, or visiting quaint vineries and olive farms. “These people usually opt to come to the island off peak, from late autumn to spring, and that means they inevitably expand the tourist season. So it’s not just about having more numbers arriving to stay here, it’s about giving small hoteliers and enterprises that extra bit of income when times are slack,” says Demetriou.

The next day is probably the best part of the experience, a visit to ‘Mrs. Loula’s Halloumi Farm’. As we drive through winding countryside roads, our bus pulls up to a house that’s hidden in the middle of a striking valley. “This is Mrs. Loula’s place,” shouts our guide and out comes the halloumi lady herself to greet us with open arms. All this comes as a bit of shock for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I had never imagined people still engage in large-scale halloumi making in their own homes, always having known that the halloumi cheese I eat is mass-produced in some dairy factory. But this wasn’t your usual halloumi, it’s true village halloumi and people from nearby areas take the time to travel to Mrs. Loula’s house to pick it up. It all happens on such a personal level that sometimes goods are exchanged instead of money. If Mrs Loula wants meat and a passerby wants halloumi, it’s a sealed deal.

Then comes the second shock, the halloumi was made in a small storeroom that connected to the kitchen, that connected to the bedrooms, that connected to the outdoor living room, with couches gracing the length of the construction, made of aluminium. Do people still live this way? The answer was yes and yes again, as we’re then greeted by Mrs Loula’s ten children who love to help her with the cheese making. Outside in the yard, long tables are decorated with flowery tablecloths and what seemed like any random ornaments that could be found in the house, Mrs Loula is delighted to see us and some ornaments hold signs that read ‘welcome’.

As we huddle around to watch the cheese being made we’re soon handed thick, hot pieces of cheese that melt in our mouths. Any packet of halloumi you pick up in the supermarket cannot possibly compare. Everyone is in a hurry to buy bags of the stuff and Loula explains that tourists who visit the countryside flock to her place in the morning just to eat some fresh halloumi with tomatoes and cucumbers for breakfast. Now that’s really what I call living it up traditional Cypriot style! Certainly you have to be part of this experience!

Related Links >



The best way yet to mix it in Greece > part II July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Mainland.
comments closed

The following are among my favourites >

Kastellorizo > one of Greece’s remotest hideaways. Kastellorizo, a rocky speck 80 miles from its nearest island neighbour, Rhodes. The island is favoured by arty celebs such as rock and roll recluse Dave Gilmour, it inspired his latest solo album, ‘From an Island’, and was the setting for the 1991 movie Mediterraneo, a pre-‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ treatment of Italian soldiery during World War II.

The only village looks like an Aegean version of Balamory, with blue, green, pink and saffron houses, cafés and tavernas around a deep blue fjord of a harbour. Even the coast guard office, with its distressed purple and ochre paint job, looks like something out of the interior design pages, and the whitewashed dome and minaret of a disused mosque, relic of the Ottoman era, lend an air of eastern promise to the waterfront.

This is the prettiest, most unspoilt island village in Greece. Some great walks in the deserted hinterland, but take lots of drinking water, it gets hot up there. It would not be great for families, there are no beaches although you can sunbathe and swim from the bathing deck of the Hotel Megisti, even if you’re not a resident. It hosts lots of overly happy and attractive Italians from mid June to the end of August.

To get there, take a scheduled or charter flight to Rhodes, then the Olympic Airways puddle-jumper (25 minutes) Dodecanese Seaways catamaran (two-and-a-half hours) or ANES Symi Lines or LANE ferry (four-and-a-half hours). Alternatively fly directly from Athens. Hotel Megisti, tel 22460 49219, www.megistihotel.gr, doubles from €35-50, has no pool but super harbour views and a swimming deck with bar, loungers and bathing ladder. Mediterraneo Hotel, tel 22460 49007, www.mediterraneo-megisti.com, doubles from around €80, is a dazzlingly colourful boutique hotel on the harbour.

Fourni > “Welcome to Fourni, Island of the Corsairs” reads the sign as you sail into one of the Aegean’s most perfect hidden harbours. Way off in the north-east Aegean, Fourni was a pirate’s lair for more than 2,000 years, the last of its sea-wolves were finally cleared out by the Royal Navy in the 1820s. With its deeply indented bays, sandy beaches and barren hills, Fourni offers the best of both worlds, it feels remote but is easy to get to, and if you start to get bored you can hop over to bigger, livelier Samos or Ikaria easily enough. Plenty of waterfront tavernas in its only village, which has an adequate beach, and even a makeshift summer disco, tucked away out of earshot from the village so as not to disturb the locals.

And then there is probably the best seafood in the Aegean, Fourni’s huge fleet of tiny fishing boats supplies all the best Athens restaurants, but you can eat the same thing, fresh off the boat and for a quarter of the price, right on the harbour. Peace and quiet to read all those worthy tomes you’ve been meaning to get around top. Minimal traffic. Why not? No luxury accommodation, no activities, no sightseeing.

The best way to get there is a charter flight to Samos then connecting ferry (two hours, 30 mins) or hydrofoil (one hour) from Samos, or fly to Athens and take a ferry from Piraeus, at least one per day in summer, journey time less than eight hours. Fourni has no full-service hotels, but there’s a decent choice of clean, bright pensions, studios and apartments with en-suite facilities and plentiful solar-heated hot water. Owners or younger members of their extended family, meet every arriving ferry.

Samothraki > Not all hideway islands are tiny. Hulking great Samothraki, original home of the Winged Victory, is the joker in the pack, with miles of rugged coastline and pebble beaches surrounding a central massif that rises to the summit of Mount Fengari, the peak from which Poseidon brooded over the changing fortunes of the Trojan War. It’s a fantastic island for walking, with thick woodland natural hot springs and cold cascades that gush even in high summer. The enigmatic Sanctuary of the Great Gods is one of the strangest and least visited of Hellenic ancient places, and Chora, the only town of any size, is happily devoid of tourism.

Go to feel the faint presence of ancient gods, swim in clear water from deserted pebbly beaches and paddle in mountain streams. The only other visitors are likely to be French archaeologists, elderly Athenians taking the waters in the outdoor hot springs at Therma, and a dwindling tribe of almost equally elderly German hippies. This is not an island for foodies or fans of luxury hotels. Long, empty, pebbly beaches are good for swimming and beachcombing, but there’s no sand. Getting there takes time and patience.

To get there, start with charter flights to Kavala or Thessaloniki on the mainland, then ferry. The Hotel Kastro, tel 25510 89400, www.kastrohotel.gr, is the only full-service hotel on the island, on the bland side but with a big pool, it’s in Palaiopiolis, the original island capital and now effectively the old quarter of Chora. Otherwise, an old-fashioned array of pensions and village rooms with less facilities.

Kyparissi > Not all hideaways are islands. Kyparissi is one of a string of tiny villages along the east coast of the Peloponnese mainland, between Nafplio and Monemvasia. It’s intimidatingly difficult to get to by road, the mountains behind its twin pebbly beaches rise almost vertically out of the Aegean, and even harder, spiritually, to leave. Once you’re there there is absolutely nothing to do except unwind, bring twice as many books as you normally would. It also offers swimming and snorkeling, energetic hiking among empty hillsides. Unless you are happy falling back on your own inner resources, you’ll go stir crazy. It’s a very long way from anywhere, though the village has a few shops and basic tavernas.

To get there take the hydrofoil from Piraeus, the port near Athens, two-three times a week in summer, or rent a car and brave the mountain roads, it’s a seven to eight-hour drive from Athens airport. Hotel Kyfanta, tel 27320 55356, is pretty much the only place to stay, and very nice too, with five self-catering studios sleeping up to three. Book well ahead, or risk dosing among the olive groves.

The best way yet to mix it in Greece > part I July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Islands Ionian, Greece Mainland.
comments closed

Which island > Pick your spot carefully for the ideal holiday, Greek island villages and mainland resorts may look much the same in the brochures, but on the ground there is a lot of variety.

For family peace and quiet, Skiathos in the Sporades offers some of Greece’s best soft sandy beaches, short transfer times from the airport, and a good choice of villa and self-catering accommodation as well as hotels. It also has lots of watersports and, for day trips, is within easy reach of other nearby islands such as Skopelos and Alonissos and the Pelion peninsula. Lesvos, in the north-east Aegean, has warm, shallow waters and sandy beaches at Kalloni Bay on its south coast, one of the Aegean’s most picturesque villages at Methoni in the north, and a hinterland that is good for exploring on foot or by car.

Cephalonia in the Ionian islands, with quiet, pretty villages, has some excellent villas and hotels and some dazzling beaches, also has good watersports, there are speedboats for hire at most resorts. Scheduled flights make Corfu more attractive this year, but steer clear of the main resorts and head for a villa with a pool in the Nissaki area, in northern Corfu, if you want upscale tranquillity. Corfu’s tiny neighbour, Paxos, is even quiter and more peaceful, but it also offers good water sports, including windsurfing and water-skiing, for active families.

Mainland Greece > For those with itchy feet, the mainland is a better bet than the islands, because you can be spontaneous and rent a car or hop on a bus to explore the tantalizing hinterland. On the islands, you’re at the mercy of ferry schedules. The Western Peloponnese, reached also by charter flights to Kalamata, is a great area for exploring, with Medieval castles and Venetaian fortresses, ancient temples at Olympia, wild mountain scenery and some stunning beaches around Navarino. Still on the Peloponnese, the Stoupa and Kardamyli are good bases for exploring the craggy scenery of the Mani and its tiny castles, or the rugged mountains of the Taigetos range. Visitors to the Halkikidiki peninsula in northern Greece get much further than the sandy beaches of Kassandra and Sithonia, or a day cruise round the isolate Monasteries of Mt Athos. But beyond the resorts lies the hinterland of eastern Macedonia and Thrace. This is a great region for eco-travellers, with pelican-haunted coastal wetlands and the thick woodland of the Rhodope mountains sheltering Greece’s only wild bears.

Island hopping > If you’re planning an island-hopping trip, forget battling your way across Athens to its main port, Piraeus, thanks to the new Athens public transport system. Instead, hop in a taxi to Rafina, the smaller and much pleasanter harbour only 20 minutes from the Athens’ airport, for ferries and hydrofoils to most of the Cyclades and the north-east Aegean. You may skip Athens and fly straight to the islands such as Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Rhodes, Kos and Samos are all good places to start an island-hopping journey. 

Sightseeing > Hedonists who need to assuage the vaguely guilt feeling of going to Greece just for sea and sand can have the best of both worlds by choosing a resort within shouting distance of some of the wonders of ancient Greece. On Crete, the luxury resort of Elounda is less than an hour away from ancient Knossos, with Crete’s other Minoan and Hellenistic relics not much faurther away. Rhodes has the largest surviving Medieval city in Europe, a World Heritage Site in its own right, and a parcel of even more ancient ruins.

Sacred Delos, with its avenues of columns, is a day -trip from the fleshpots of Mykonos. For the best of Athenian sightseeing from an island base, you could choose a holiday on Andros, Kea, Poros, Spetses or Hydra, each within day-trip distance of the capital. On the mainland, Nafplio, the first capital of the Greek state, is one of Greece’s prettiest towns in its own right, though it is short on beaches, so pick a hotel with a pool, and has ancient Mycenae, Argos, Tiryns and Epidavros more or less on its doorstep, with ancient Corinth only a little further away. The sandy beaches of the Halkidiki region make a good base for exploring the ruins of Macedonia, from Roman Philippi to Pella, Vergina, Dion at the foot of Olympus, and the not-to-be-missed Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki.

Food and drink > Dining in Greece has moved on in recent years. You can find and there are restaurants that are, as they say, worth the detour, though they are still outnumbered by cheap and cheerful tavernas. Starting with the islands, devout foodies will find a handful of really good restaurants in Chania and Rethymnon in Crete and in the Old Town in Rhodes, but the most target-rich environment is Mykonos Town, where the options range from sushi and Mediterranean fusion to classic French and Italian. For the best restaurants, though, you need to head for the cities, Athens for the newest trends in modern Greek, Thessaloniki for a distinctive kitchen influenced by the climate and terrain of the north and the culinary traditions of Byzantine eras’ Constantinople.

If you can read a bit of Greek, or get a Greek acquaintance to translate for you, the annual Alpha Guide (Desmi Editions, €10) is the Greek foodie’s bible, listing great places to eat all over the country.

Ultimate boltholes > Sometimes, like Huck Finn, you just need to light out for the territory, and find somewhere that doesn’t show up on the main holiday map. Greece still has places that have escaped the holiday empire-builders. Getting to them can be a challenge, and may involve an overnight stay on a larger island with an airport open to  charters, but www.gtp.gr is an open-sesame for ferry, fast catamaran and hydrofoil connections. 

Up and high in Rhodes > discover the real part of the island July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
comments closed

Head for the hills to discover what this laid-back Greek island is really all about

Halfway up the mountain, my breathing shallow, back wet with sweat and calves at breaking point, I had but one thought to give me comfort, at least I hadn’t done it on my hands and knees. Becase that’s exactly what thousands of childless women of Rhodes had to do if they wanted to reach the Monastery on the top of Tsambika Mountain.

According to legend, this painful pilgrimage to pray to the Virgin Mary inside the tiny white-washed Byzantine Church would help them conceive a child. Should a pregnancy then result, the happy parents would often name their daughter Tsambika or son Tsambikos in a show of respect and thanks. There must be something to this because a vast number of Rhodians have this name, including the beach towel guy at our hotel and the ice-cream man.

The view when we finally reached the top was simply breathtaking. Arguably the walk provides the finest vista on the island, stretching down to the nearby coast and turquoise-blue sea that is Tsambika Bay. This was the real Rhodes we were looking for. Inland from our perch we could see mile upon mile of rocky hilltops dotted with olive trees, and beyond that lush green pine forests and fertile valleys where orange and lemon trees hung heavy with fruit.

After our trek we climbed back down and sipped iced water on the beach below and dug our toes into the gentle white sands of Tsambika beach. Forget any lingering negatives you may have once heard that this is one big party island. It’s not… although that is not to say you can’t still “large-it” 18-30s style in places like Faliraki. But even that resort, which has one of the best beaches on the island, has cleaned up its act and is now much more family-friendly.

Part of the Dodecanese islands, and the largest at that, Rhodes lies just 10 miles off the coast of Turkey. The north has the more lively resorts while those looking for something quieter head south. The Rhodes we discovered has lots of beautiful scenery, intriguing places to visit and unspoilt beaches. There are significant remains of the Romans, the Knights of St John, the Ottoman Empire and, of course, Ancient Greece itself.

The people are friendly and amazingly generous hosts. The pace of life is slow here, slower still if you indulge in the local pastime of passing the afternoon sipping ouzo or suma, a strong clear grape spirit unique to Rhodes. This is exactly what my friend and I did in the tiny village of Siana. As part of a day-long jeep safari trip we were taken to a tiny taverna to sample the stuff, and boy is it strong. The owner makes it himself and gleefully got us to down it in one. Then, to soften the blow, we were also given some locally-produced honey.

Bee-keeping is a proud tradition on the island. Locals have it for breakfast with yogurt and bread. Clear, syrupy and heady with nectar, it tasted a world apart from any supermarket stuff and we could not resist getting some honey to take back for family and friends.

A jeep safari is a great way of seeing the island. For one thing, hire cars are forbidden to go off-road. Sure, it makes for a bumpy ride and initially I had my fears about our seemingly gung-ho driver Mark. For part of the journey I was clinging on for dear life as we traversed roads that were clearly not roads at all but more rock-strewn ditches and pelted down mountains. But he was in full control and we needn’t have feared for our safety.

Mark took us to Prasonisi or Green Island, an inlet at the peninsula on the most southern point of the island where the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas meet. And while the east side of the sea is calm, the west side’s winds are ideal for windsurfers. It’s a real beauty spot, only marred by the flotsam and jetsam of debris polluting part of the beach. Then it was on to another small village, Embona, for some wine-tasting, much needed after a long day. We found ourselves in a converted garage, tasting young wine made from grapes picked only weeks before from the vineyards in the fields behind. The countryside is full of these small cottage-industry endeavours.

We wanted to explore on our own so another day we hired a car and drove to Petaloudes, the Valley of the Butterflies. Located in the centre of the island, and surrounded by forested mountains, this is a place of fertile lushness and quiet stillness. The only pity was the butterflies had yet to make an appearance, as we were a few weeks early. Still, it was nice meandering our way along a suspended wooden walkway, sunlight dappling through from the canopy above and only the sound of small springs falling over rocks breaking the silence.

Tourists generally congregate in the north of the island, especially around Rhodes Town, but south of Lindos and Pefkos it is still possible to escape crowds and find solitude.

This is exactly what we found at Lindian Village Hotel. Located on an idyllic beach on the south-eastern tip of the island, the Lindian Village is a deluxe resort designed to look like a small Greek village. The hotel has 170 rooms and suites, three outdoor swimming pools, five restaurants, a bar, disco bar, beach bar, windsurfing from the beach, tennis, table tennis and children’s play area.

We were taken to our apartment, really one half of a small whitewashed villa, in a golf buggy. It was beautiful. From our small balcony, we could look out to the blue sea beyond and the mountain casting a gentle shadow on the resort. There were a few families, but on the whole our fellow guests were couples enjoying rest and relaxation among sumptuous surrounds. That’s not to say it was pretentious or overbearing. There wasn’t the pressure to “take part” that some all-inclusive resorts have. A lake snaking through the complex gives it further serenity. No wonder this is a popular place to get married. We saw three brides in our one week there alone!

No doubt, like us, they had also taken advantage of the hotel’s thalassotherapy spa centre. After that trek up the mountain, the hot stone massage was more than a blissful respite for our aching limbs.

There may be sandier beaches, but there was really nothing to complain about as we walked the 30 seconds from our room to the crystal clear water of the private shingle beach of our hotel and sat lazing on our sunloungers. Days of sunning ourselves left us with a certain guilt and before we left we were determined to visit historic Rhodes Town and picturesque Lindos Town.

Rhodes Town itself was founded in 418BC, though much of the ancient city, including the famed Colossus of Rhodes, a 98ft-high bronze statue and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was destroyed by a series of earthquakes. Personally, I preferred the winding, cobbled streets of Lindos, just 10 minutes from our hotel. The town has masses of character and charm. Not only that, but at its centre is a marvellous acropolis, not such an arduous climb this time and again rewarded with a stunning views at the top.

We had a great meal in a local taverna before heading to a fantastic wine bar and restaurant called Byzantino. We could think of no place we’d rather be as we sipped wine and feasted on juicy fat olives in the gentle heat of the evening.

Related Links > 

The Lindian Village Hotel Resort > http://www.lindianvillage.gr/site/index.htm

For Jeep safaris > www.rhodes-safari.com