This summer, we spent 4 weeks in Greece. We covered most of the Ionian Islands off Greece’s west coast. Stimulated by the telling of the Odyssey, the greatest travel tale ever, we packed a copy of Herodotus’s Histories and picked up a boat in Athens and headed off. Our first stop was near Corinth in the Peloponnese where we discovered the first of many vineyards growing Greek varietals of wine in small quantities. Blown away with a delicious rosé from a small lot producer, we resolved to bring it to GEORGE next summer. Unwisely, as we drank it, we miscounted the bottles in the case we bought and failed to reserve one bottle for home delivery. This was required to get our Sommelier on board with this this idea. We are now trying to figure out another delivery method.
Greece, although it has been hit hard economically is populated by can-do people who successfully have adapted to terrible economic conditions to make the most of their tourist industry. Everywhere we went, we were met with patient smiling faces. With the hot sun shining every day, people somehow overlooked how draining the hot weather was and radiated positive energy. Contrary to the Germanic view of Greece, we found the people were extremely hard working in a climate which is energy sapping. Somehow however, the alleged corruption in the political system impinges on the quality of life for everyone
Sunset in Zachynthos
The Peloponnese and the Ionian islands turned out to be beautiful and green, producing all manner of food, olive oil and wines locally. All this locally produced meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit and fish combined with olive oil combined to deliver the finest and healthiest ingredients. Much of the produce was marked organic. Fish are classified often not as to the day when they were caught but what time of day so that you can be sure on any night that you are eating fish caught that morning. Greece is like Japan in that it seems like such a healthy place to go. But unlike Japan, there are many radically overweight people. Go figure!
There are rather few people (11 million) who live in Greece and the Ionian part is the sort of place in the Med which one used to read about. No crowds, no overbuilding, no environmental scars. The mountainous islands are carpeted with lush forests. History is constantly on view in these islands which have evidence of Greek and Roman times right through to buildings and fortifications left by conquerers/colonizers from Venice, the Ottoman Empire, France, England, Italy and Germany.
The Old Fort, Corfu Town from our hotel window
We saw the six major islands, Corfu, Paxos, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefolonia and Zachynthos. Highlights were Corfu Town with its historical buildings, Paxos which resembled St Barths except everything cost about one quarter of the price, Ithaca where you rent a car and drive through huge beautiful mountains where it is easy to think that the gods are watching you from high perches, Kefalonia which has the most beautiful port in the Ionian, Fiskardo, and the most beautiful beach, Myrtos Beach, and Zachynthos where we dined in an abandoned 16C monastery situated on a large cliff overlooking the sea. The sun as it set, turned red to resemble, the locals said, the wine grown on the island. They call it the red sun.
On Paxos we met a wine merchant in Loggos, Andreas, who Jancis Robinson wrote about recently in the Financial Times. He has a vast knowledge of locally produced Greek varietal wines from the islands as well as the mainland. He told us that when he talked to Jancis Robinson, he was astonished at how much she knew about obscure Greek wines – more than him he said humbly. We bought a mixed case from him and asked him whether the wines had to be maintained at a cool temperature. He said that the wines were used to heat and could be described as durable. They did not last long enough to test that contention.
We concluded that Greece is the ideal summering place on the Med. Friendly, inexpensive, healthy, few people and not overrun with property development – with the most gorgeous blue water you ever saw.
Corinth Canal en route to the Ionian