Newsletter for 2015

Ionian Villas is 3 years old. We have so far booked Ionian island properties for just over 1,500 people and we are now arranging villa holidays for their friends and friends of friends.

We wish you a Healthy & Happy New Year and hope to see you again sometime.

We have added some new properties for 2015:

Villa Jupiter, Paxos

Villa Jupiter, Paxos

 

On Paxos: Cressida, Georgina, Jupiter, Serifos Apartments, Thalassa Beach Apartments.

On Corfu: Aleka, Alexandra, Helios, Varvara, Country House.

On Kefalonia: Adrianna, Kiriaki Apartments.

On Ithaca: Kitrino.

A more comfortable arrival at Corfu

BA’s new flight to Corfu from Heathrow departs 4 times per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) from 2nd May to 20th September.

Whenever we fly to Corfu (and then on to Paxos and the other islands) we spend the first night in Corfu Town and quite often on the way back as well. Apart from being a beautiful town there are now many excellent restaurants and bars so a first night at one of our featured hotels (Cavalieri or Corfu Palace), dinner under grapevines at one of the nearby restaurants and catching the hydrofoil to Paxos the following morning all adds to the holiday tonic to unwind.

Many of the Paxos villa owners ask for a Monday changeover day. Monday is the busiest day for flights to Corfu and as a consequence the prices of Monday flights tend to be higher than on other days of the week. There can therefore be a price incentive to fly to Corfu on a Sunday, overnight at a Corfu hotel and then on to Paxos the following day.

Meet our Island Managers

Alex on Paxos

Alex on Paxos

Alex is our Paxos manager. Alex has been going to Paxos since he was 6 months old.

Karron is our Kefalonia manager. Karron lives with her family on Kefalonia.

Karron on Kefalonia

Karron on Kefalonia

Susan White is our Ithaca manager. You can find out more about Sue at Ithaca Concierge

Patricia Taylor is our Lefkas and Meganissi manager. Patricia has spent many years on Lefkas and can introduce you to the island’s hidden parts.

Sue on Ithaca

Sue on Ithaca

Patricia on Lefkas

Patricia on Lefkas

One of our managers once told me that when she was a Rep for a package holiday company on the island, she was told that their new policy was to employ the same Rep for a maximum of 2 years. It would seem that in their determination to have a fresh face they would lose the valuable local knowledge of a more experienced person.

Our managers are there to offer you all the help and advice you may need at any time but not to intrude on your holiday. The life of the island is more important to each of them than commissions earned on selling you a coach trip to an unforgettable ouzo-fuelled sunset.

The Seasons of Greece

Those of you with children at school will be restricted by school holiday dates. Good old supply and demand means that holiday prices in the peak summer season are considerably higher than in other months.

Package holiday companies will also apply a high mark-up on their holidays falling within Half Term and Bank Holidays – most of our villa owners have higher peak season prices but their end of May prices (May Bank Holiday) do not always carry this supplement.

For those of you who have more flexible dates, why not visit the Greek islands during the different seasons to vary your experience.

Spring in Greece usually arrives one month before ours. At our house on Paxos we have a 40 foot Mimosa tree and it is ablaze with sherbert-yellow blossom in early March. April normally has clear sunny days with temperatures in the late 50’s but no point in choosing a villa with a pool as the water needs longer to warm up. Greek Orthodox Easter is 12th April – a colourful event which should be experienced once in your life.

Grazing above Assos

Grazing above Assos

 

In May one can feel the days getting warmer (mid 60’s). The islands are still lush with Spring wildflowers – great for exploring on goat paths through olive groves and valleys of bracken. If you haven’t seen a Greek island valley lit up by the tiny flashing lights of fireflies on a warm May evening – shame on you!

In June the sea has a warmer, more sensuous welcome. There is a greater excuse to escape the midday sun and enjoy an afternoon siesta. Temperatures are mid 70’s. Walkers can still enjoy island exploration – as a legacy of the Venetian occupation of the Ionian islands, olive groves provide shade for many of the island goat paths.

July and August temperatures climb into the 80’s so stay close to water! You have to work a bit harder to find a deserted beach – hire a boat; pack a simple lunch of fresh bread, olive oil & garlic, feta cheese, salami, chilled retsina and baseball-sized peaches; buy more sun umbrellas than are needed – find a small deserted cove and erect all sun umbrellas to give the impression of a crowd to deter any sea invaders.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In September the sea is at its warmest and temperatures start to fall to more comfortable mid 70’s. You notice more local islanders returning to their favourite waterfront cafénions now that the busier months of tourism are over and village lifestyles become less frenetic. On Paxos a Classical Music Festival in early September is another experience not to be missed.

October has temperatures in the mid 60’s so ideal for walkers and for those looking for an escape from the crowds and a burst of sunshine and beautiful natural surroundings before the onslaught of a dank, dark British winter.

Paxos olive groves

Paxos olive groves

 

Do you like garlic? Have you tried olive oil infused with garlic? Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a small, empty water bottle and add crushed garlic. Leave for as long as possible and take with you on beach picnics to be poured over hunks of fresh bread.

Pa amb oli” means “bread with olive oil” in Mallorquin, and it is as commonly eaten in the Balearic Islands as pa amb tomàquet is in Catalonia.

Pa ambo li Ingredients:

6 (3/4-inch thick) slices of bread (dark rye is probably best)

1 clove garlic

3 tomatoes, halved crosswise

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Salt

Preparation: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and immediately rub 1 side of each slice with a cut side of the garlic. Then rub the same side of each slice with the cut side of a tomato half, pressing a little to squeeze some of the pulp and seeds onto the bread. Drizzle olive oil over the tomato and sprinkle with salt. Serve while the bread is still warm and crisp. Yum.

Fireflies

A friend on Paxos once told me that as a young boy he caught fireflies in a jam jar to use as a lantern when walking back home through the olive groves.

Tinkerbell Fireflies

Tinkerbell Fireflies

 

There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies, or lightning bugs, and they are actually winged beetles. Typically only seen in the summertime because they thrive in warm and tropical environments, a firefly’s glowing mechanism serves several purposes.

However, the blinking patterns of the firefly’s abdomen remain a mystery, as scientists are unsure of whether the patterns are controlled by the insect’s nerve cells or oxygen supply.

Adult fireflies shine different intermittent signals to grab the attention of possible future mates. Flash patterns vary from short burst to a long continuous flashing sequence, and different firefly species have their own unique successions of light, making it easier for compatible mates to find each other.

Both male and female fireflies turn on their green lights when choosing a mate, and use their blinking lights as a means to communicate during courtship.

Fireflies appear to light up for a variety of reasons. The larvae produce short glows and are primarily active at night, even though many species are subterranean or semi-aquatic. Fireflies produce defensive steroids in their bodies that make them unpalatable to predators. Larvae use their glow as warning displays to communicate their distastefulness. As adults, many fireflies have flash patterns unique to their species and use them to identify other members of their species as well as to discriminate between members of the opposite sex. Several studies have shown that female fireflies choose mates depending upon specific male flash pattern characteristics. Higher male flash rates, as well as increased flash intensity, have been shown to be more attractive to females in two different firefly species.

Paxos Big Brother

The Genesis Taverna on Gaios waterfront have set up a live webcam – have a look to check out the weather: Paxoswebcam

Return of the Ionian Seaplane?

The hydrofoil between Corfu and Paxos takes 1 hour. I can remember when the only connection between the islands was by caique and it took up to 5 hours.

Eight years ago a Canadian company set up a seaplane service connecting Corfu, Paxos and Ithaca – the flight time between Corfu and Paxos was just 10 minutes (plus around 20 minutes to get out of the port to reach the “strip”).

It is reported that the Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis (try saying that after a few drinks) and Deputy Infrastructure and Transport Minister Michalis Papadopoulos recently signed a decision “paving the way for the country’s first official hydroplane on the Corfu coastline”.

The strip, which is to be operated by the island’s port authority, will be able to serve Greece’s first fleet of hydroplanes and improve connections between the islands and mainland Greece. Watch This Space.

 

 

The New Loggos Bakery

Loggos in the 1970's

This photo of Paxos was taken in the mid 1970’s (I think) – you will notice:

Loukas’ new bakery shop being completed. The bread oven is still behind the village church. Next door is the Dipli Akti cafenion – now the Roxy Bar. In those days all the waterfront tables and chairs wobbled on uneven surfaces and there was a refreshing lack of gingham tablecloths and bespoke sun umbrellas.

The mayor of Loggos kept his scooters for hire next door to the Dipli Akti and this became the Taxidi Bar.

A lack of plastic/fibreglass boats in the harbour. When my family owned Greek Islands Club we commissioned the one and only boat builder on Paxos (Mimis Mastoras) to build 14 boats. It took him around 6 months to build one boat. The blue & white boat “SPIANTZI” in the foreground is one of the boats Mimis built. Each of these boats had a Seagull engine and all boats were regularly rented out to Greek Islands Club clients. The journey from Gaios to Loggos would take around 45 minutes on a good sea but in those days everything went more slowly.

To the left of the wooden boat are two children: Panagiotis Mastoras and his sister – their father is Yannis, pictured in a previous blog with his prized lobster.

Nowadays in Loggos harbour plastic boats outnumber wooden boats; more of the waterfront is taken up by cushioned café bar chairs and the espresso has overtaken the Greek coffee but Loggos is still a beautiful, friendly, laid-back, unique and special place.

Paxos in the 1970’s

 

Tzekos Supermarket 1970's

My father first came to the little island of Paxos in the early 1960’s – sailing around the Ionian islands with my mother and two friends. They only spent a few days on the island but my father was taken with the friendliness of the islanders, the simple lifestyle (no electricity and no cars in those days) and the island’s unspoilt, natural beauty.

Soon after this he left the BBC and started a package holiday company called Greek Islands Club, intended as a means to spend time on Paxos.

In the 1960’s visitors to Paxos could stay at the few simple rooms of the San Giorgio Hotel in Gaios, three rooms in the Gaios house of beautiful Eleni and the Paxos Beach Hotel, which had only just stopped being a Club Med cluster of straw huts.

With the help of Panagiotis Protogeros, my father persuaded the owners of five very old and very unlived-in houses, close to the Gaios waterfront, to lease them to Greek Islands Club for five years. Panagiotis was the only plumber on the island – he installed bathrooms inside the houses (a revolutionary move for Paxos). My father, mother and I brought out furniture and fabrics from England (many Land Rover journeys) to prepare the houses for holidaymakers wanting an out of the ordinary escape from Med resorts.

By the early 1970’s our Greek Islands Club Paxos programme had grown to 20 houses. No pools, no pretentious trappings and a lot of hard work, not made easy by the dictating military junta.

Aged 18, I looked after our Paxos programme while my father and mother ran the London office above a Wimpy Bar on The Strand. I have many fond memories of Paxos in the 1970’s – some of these memories I captured on film but sadly a suitcase containing all my Paxos photographs disappeared on a flight back to England.

A friend, Laurie Collard, was a frequent visitor to Paxos in the 1970’s and he took many photos of the island and the islanders. Some of his photos have been made into prints and were exhibited at the Loggos gallery (the old customs house next door to Taxithi Bar) a few years ago. I hold the originals and will put them up on our Facebook page over the next few months, for those who are interested in a glimpse into a 1970’s Paxos.

The photo reproduced in this blog shows Nicos Kangas (Tzekos) outside his Loggos shop. Nicos was our Loggos “agent” and worked tirelessly to make sure that every visitor to his island was treated and looked after as a friend. In the doorway is Spiros Mastoras, who ran a hardware store which is now the kitchen for Stelios’ Aste Doue tavern. They are both very much alive and in good spirits.

Olive pruning

Paxos olive grove

Have you ever wondered why some olive trees are regularly pruned whilst others are not. There appears to be a different culture of olive cultivation from island to island, region to region and country to country.

Does the pruning affect the quality of oil?

Stanley Stewart wrote in Times Live the following piece about Paxos olives:

“I walked between tiny hamlets in the interior, through olive groves, steeped in sun-flecked shadow, threaded by dry stone walls, and silent but for the rising drone of cicadas. Olives are the key to the Paxiot character. Olives have meant that, for centuries, no one had to do very much.

It was all down to the Venetians who ruled the island for 400 years until the Napoleonic wars. The Venetians had created an inflated market for olive oil by persuading the women of North Africa that nothing would make them so beautiful as bathing in the stuff. To take advantage of this market, they tried to persuade the Paxiots to plant olive trees. When persuasion didn’t work they offered them one drachma, the equivalent of about £75 in today’s money, for each tree. The islanders promptly planted a quarter of a million.

They have been living off this burst of industry ever since.

“In the old days, if you had 300 trees,” a man told me over coffee one morning in Gaios, “you didn’t need to work. Now the price of olive oil has fallen, people need jobs. They call it progress.”

If olive trees were cathedrals, the Paxos trees would be Notre Dame – elaborate, vast, gnarled, very ancient, and heavily buttressed. They sprawl fantastically. Apparently their owners only bother with pruning every other decade at most.

Paxos’s approach to the whole olive business is not so much laid back as completely horizontal. In most parts of the world, olive harvests usually take six to eight weeks. In Paxos, they can take seven months. The islanders don’t pick olives. They spread nets and wait for them to drop, venturing out now and again to collect the windfall and send them off to press. It is an admirable approach.”

Not sure about the drachma for each tree planted – I think it was a Venetian ducato (ducat).

The Paxos olive trees, up till about 20 years ago, used to yield a crop of olives every other year. This was abruptly changed when it was decided (against the wishes of the Paxiots) to spray the entire island to eradicate an olive blight. The Paxiots say that the present annual harvest is not as good as in the years when it was every two years.

I’m not an olive oil connoisseur but the Paxos olive oil looks good, tastes good & by golly ….

Catch Your Own Whitebait!

1. Book a holiday with Ionian Villas to stay on an uncrowded Ionian island.

2. Buy a medium-sized round Tupperware bowl (lid not needed) & a piece of cloth/muslin and some string.

3. Order chicken for dinner at one of the waterfront tavernas. Take the chicken bones home with you.

4. Put chicken bones in Tupperware bowl. Stretch cloth over the open bowl and tie it securely around the sides with string. Make a hole in the centre of the cloth the size of a 5p piece.

5. Pack swimmers, lashings of feta cheese, oil, bread, chilled retsina and the bowl of bones and head for the beach.

6. Submerge bowl in the shallow water and leave resting on the bottom.

7. Check to see how many fish have entered the bowl & empty fish into a plastic bag and start again.

Simples.

A taste of the Ionian islands

I was once managing director of Greek Islands Club. When we had offices in Old Isleworth it meant a 2 hour drive from home in West Sussex and then a 2 hour drive back home. The M25 was my companion and pacemaker. I now look after Ionian Villas from our home in a little Dorset village and occasionally tune in to radio traffic reports to see how my companion of old is faring. Not too well by all accounts.

My wife and I travel round the Ionian islands for 3 weeks in April/May and 3 weeks in September/October. Refreshing perks of the job but also very important to give knowledgeable advice to prospective clients and to retain good personal links with all our property owners. A plate of grilled octopus by the sea beats the M25 snarl-up any day.

This May we spent Greek Easter on Paxos and then took the hydrofoil to Corfu and then a SkyExpress prop plane to Kefalonia – the ubiquitous grilled octopus at Sami port and then a 30-minute ferry to Ithaca, where we stayed at Dexa Beach House just a few steps away from the beach.

Dexa Beach - early morning

Ithaca hasn’t been tamed or compromised by tourism – it has a beautiful wild side, hidden hamlets, inquisitive locals – many with a lingering Australian or South African twang (many fled Ithaca during the civil war after the 2nd World War), a welcoming lack of coastal development and stunning views from mountain top monasteries.

Back to Kefalonia where we stayed at the superb Avra Suites – above sandy Makris Yalos beach. 5 Star accommodation with only the sound of the sea and the occasional sea bird. Memorable breakfasts procured from the owner’s garden of fruit trees, strawberry patch, vegetable garden and the magic touch of Eleni the creative chef.

Avra Suite breakfast

Then another Sky Express plane hop of 15 minutes to Lefkas (via Preveza airport) where we stayed at Villa Yasmina – above the west coast with our own theatre of an orchestra pit of silver olives, a stage of Ionian sea and a backdrop of oooo – arrrrr sunsets.

Villa Yasmina

On Lefkas’ east coast port of Nidri a ferry takes 25 minutes, passing Skorpios and other small islands, to reach the tiny island of Meganissi. We stayed at Villa Arenaria – a few paces away from a secluded beach. Vasco, the ever-smiling owner, is half Greek and half Florentine.

Sky Express then took us to Corfu where we met up with Jan Manessi, who owns The Manor House– possibly the most beautiful house in the Ionian.

View from our favourite cafenion just outside Corfu Town

Life’s a Greek Beach

Villa Arenia on Meganissi

Most people’s prerequisites for a relaxing Greek island holiday will include being close to a beach.

Fortunately there are ancient laws within Greece to restrict building close to the sea and “private” beaches do not exist. It is not easy therefore to find an island retreat above the sea, which is close enough to hear lapping waves from a private terrace.

There are however, a few in the Ionian Sea which will appeal to those wanting to dip a toe from their Greek holiday home:

On Paxos, Villa Skipper’s terraces extend to sea and look out to the mountains of the Greek mainland.

On Ithaca, Dexa Beach House nestles amongst olive trees just a few steps away from a beach where possibly the Phoenicians left Odysseus at the end of his journey.

On Corfu, flamboyant Villa Azzuro has a small cove just below its colourful gardens.

On Kefalonia, the The Avra Suites look down through tall pine trees to the soft sands of Makris Yalos beach.

On Meganissi, Villa Arenia sits just above a sheltered beach on an untouched coastline in a wilderness of olive groves.

If you are looking for a special holiday escape close to the Ionian sea – try Ionian Villas.

Easter celebrations in the Ionian

Spring has sprung in the Ionian – temperatures are nudging 20 degrees. Greek Easter is late this year, May 5th – Easyjet and Ryanair April and May flights provide the perfect opportunity to see how the Ionian islanders celebrate it. Easter in Greece or “Paska” is THE most important (and loudest) celebration of the year.

For Greek Orthodox Lent, those who so wish will abstain from eating meat and dairy products for seven weeks. On Palm Sunday churchgoers are given a cross made of palm leaves and the strrets leading to village churches are strewn with palm fronds and flowers. Holy Thursday is egg dyeing day. Good Friday is a holiday and most shops and businesses are closed and restaurants do not serve meat dishes. The procession of the bier of Christ is held on Good Friday evening. Led by a band or choir the bier is normally draped in a gold cloth and decorated with fresh flowers. The procession passes the local village churches.

On the Saturday night the festivities start in each village square – an occasion for all the family. It starts with the Resurrection mass where the Priest and the Church Elders form a procession and the ceremonial candles are lit. At midnight the intoning priest is drowned out by firecrackers and fireworks. Friends, family and strangers are embraced and greeted with the words “Christos Anesti” – “Christ has risen”. After this, everybody goes home for a meal of “margueritsa” (traditionally a lamb’s innards broth) – the fast is over. If their candles are still burning, a cross is made above the doorway with the soot from the wick, to protect the house for the coming year.

Easter Sunday is the official end of Lent and the fasting turns to serious feasting. Goats and lambs are turned on garden spits from early in the morning; the family wine is brought out and the dyed, hard-boiled eggs are cracked – a similar principle to conkers, where you hit the other person’s egg and the one that breaks is the loser.

Easter by candlelight

Paxos Springtime

The winter rainstorms in the Ionian are over and there is now an explosion of colour as the Spring sunshine turns warmer and warmer.

Olive grove terraces are filled with fresh bracken, wild gladioli, asparagus and freesias. Roadsides are lined with white convonvulus. Flowering myrtle bushes crowd ancient donkey paths. Inland walks unlock heady aromas of wild herbs crushed underfoot. The sea takes on a more inviting translucency.

Taverna and cafenion tables and chairs are slowly brought outside. Walls of peeling plaster are given a lick of whitewash. The first crop of oranges appear on the grocery shelves.

East coast Paxos

The photo was taken by Alex Watrous just a few days ago on a Paxos walk along the coast.

The Elgin Marbles Debate

Browsing in a second hand bookshop in Sherborne I came across a book: “Through Greece and Dalmatia” – published in 1912 to show “a diary of impressions recorded by pen & picture by Mrs Russell Barrington.”

When Mrs Barrington was in Athens she wrote: “The most glorious jewel in the crown of Athens – the Parthenon – in the dazzling fair light of the morning sun – the finest edifice on the finest site in the world, hallowed by the noblest recollections that can stimulate the human heart.”

She then goes on to say “A feeling of shame creeps over one with the thought that in the dingy, foggy precincts of Bloomsbury, the gloomy prison of the British Museum, the English have incarcerated so many of its glories. Ah! that those matchless sculptures had been left blooming in their beauty under these cloudless skies, warmed, as if to life, under the rays of this sunshine – the smile, it would seem, of their own especial gods. We are told we should console ourselves with the thought that the actual work by Pheidias and his pupils is better preserved in our Bloomsbury dungeon than had it been left in its birthplace. Still, standing here, face to face with the wreck of their original dwelling-place, and thinking of the dark, depressing, foggy atmosphere of their present habitation, we feel as we do when a lark is encaged, and, protesting, we are told it would probably have been killed by a hawk, or ensnared by the poulterer, if it had been left its liberty.

That Lord Elgin did well to seize them, and preserve them from utter destruction, no one can doubt; but now that their right preservation would be as much secured on the Parthenon as in England, surely England should rise to a generous magnanimity, and return the originals to their right home, and substitute casts for them in our Museum.”

The Elgin Marbles