25th March Celebrations on Ithaca

Greeks love to celebrate, be it their birthday or name day (γιορτη), religious holidays, bank holidays or national days. Whatever the celebration – Greek people celebrate to the full, throwing themselves into the spirit of the day!

25th March in Greece is a national holiday – to celebrate the start of the Greek Uprising/the Greek Revolution/the Greek War of Independence in 1821. It also celebrates the Annunciation (Ευαγγελισμος): the day Archangel Gabriel paid a visit to Mary to inform her that she would be giving birth to the son of Christ on 25th December.

In fact 25th March is a day of three celebrations as it is also the “name day” of all those named Ευγγελος (boys) and Ευαγγελια (girls).

25th March parade in Vathy, Ithaca
25th March parade in Vathy, Ithaca

A day off work and school, church services in the morning to commemorate the occasion, followed by a parade through the streets of cities, towns and villages by the school children of all ages, either dressed in blue and white (national colours) or for the younger children the traditional costumes. A marching band often accompanies the parade and local characters will join in as well.

25th March parade in Vathy, Ithaca
25th March parade in Vathy, Ithaca

 

After the parade, people will make their way home to indulge in the traditional meal of Μπακαλιαπος (fried cod fish) and σκορδαλια (mashed potato and garlic). As this day also falls in the Lenten period where no meat or fish should be eaten the Orthodox church decreed an exception for the 25th March allowing the salted cod fish to be eaten.

Vathy, Ithaca
Thanasis, a Vathy (Ithaca) fisherman and avid Olympiakos fan

ΧΡΟΝΙΑ ΠΟΛΛΑ ΕΛΛΑΔΑ

Carnival Season

Carnival season in Greece (“Apokries”) starts 3 weeks before Easter.

Carnival time in Vathy, Ithaca

Fancy dress processions through the streets, dancing groups and music bands. Bystanders throw confetti, streamers and sometimes firecrackers.

Vathy Carnival Procession

Clean Monday (“Katheri Leftera”) marks the beginning of Lent when meat, dairy and eggs are avoided by those who observe it.

If the sun shines on Clean Monday, families picnic outside with “lagana” (an unleavened flat bread), taramosalata, shellfish and salads, followed by sticky deserts. The skies are filled with colourful kites – another part of tradition

Our Clean Monday feast on Palikastritsa beach

Fiscardo Before the Sun Umbrella Invasion

2016-04-28 07.20.15 (1824 x 1368)Fiscardo is undoubtedly one of the most colourful and prettiest ports in the Ionian.

In 1953 an earthquake destroyed all Kefalonia buildings except those in Fiscardo and a few outlying villages.

In my early Greek Islands Club days we took on a small programme of village houses for those visitors wanting to spend lazy days people and boat watching on Fiscardo waterfront.

In the early 1980’s a coffee on Fiscardo waterfront would have cost around 25 cents in today’s money.

Many of the Greek islands still hold on to a simple lifestyle and do not let the demands of blinkered tourism dictate their future. But whereas an older island generation may not want change, the younger generation will naturally be aspirational: the BMW versus the donkey.

Running a travel business often leads one to hypocrisy. I always tried to offer holiday opportunities to those wanting to escape the crowds and to get to know and be part of a simple Greek island community. In 1990 the BBC Holiday Programme asked me if we would host a film crew in Fiscardo. I said yes. Holiday bookings to Fiscardo soared the following year and Fiscardo started to take on a more chic appearance.

A coffee on Fiscardo waterfront can now cost 4 Euros.

The following photos were taken in 1990 when my mum (Buz), my wife (Vivienne) and I introduced Lorraine Chase (as the Presenter), a BBC researcher plus a cameraman and sound man to the beautiful landscapes of northern Kefalonia and Fiscardo.

You will see that there were only a very few café bar tables and chairs and wooden fishing boats outnumbered fibreglass cruisers. There were also no waterfront sun umbrellas. Today’s waterfront wall of sun umbrellas provide welcoming shade but I still prefer the openness that existed pre-invasion and also the look of traditional, rickety cafenion chairs and chipped metal tables.

But life goes on and Fiscardo will still dazzle and delight.

Lorraine Chase in Fiscardo
Selfie with Lorraine!

Fiscardo waterfront Lorraine Chase
Lorraine & my mum!

Fiscardo waterfront
Fiscardo waterfront 1990

Fiscardo waterfront
Vivienne and Alex at Villa Theodora – this is now a waterfront bar.

Paxos in the 1970’s

Photo – 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.

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

Photo – 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.

Traditional Greek 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.

Springtime in Paxos

Photo – East coast Paxos

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.

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

The Elgin Marbles Debate

Photo – The Elgin Marbles

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.”

Bicentenary of Edward Lear’s Birth to be Celebrated in Corfu!

Photo – Villa Aphrodite’s view over Mon Repos

Edward Lear is well known for his limericks and nonsense rhymes such as “The Owl and the Pussycat”. Lear however dedicated more of his time as a landscape painter. He travelled on foot and horseback through 19th Century Greece, Albania, Southern Italy and the Middle East making drawings, watercolours, lithographs and paintings of landscapes, which he sold to wealthy clients.

Lear returned to Corfu many times. He referred to the island as “No other spot on earth can be fuller of beauty and of variety of beauty.”

To celebrate the bicentenary of Lear’s birth, an exhibition of his works of art will be held (25 May to 31 August 2012) at the Corfu Museum of Asian Art, which is part of the elegant Palace of St Michael and St George close to the Liston and the heart of Corfu’s Old Town.

Just a few kilometres outside Corfu Town, just above Mon Repos (where Prince Philip was born) and set in large private grounds above the sea is Villa Aphrodite, which offers sumptuous accommodation for up to 10 guests.

© 2018 Ionian Villas Limited

Call us on: +44 (0) 1243 820928    ..or email enquiries@ionian-villas.co.uk

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