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Folegandros Hora, Greek Cycladic Islands
What a fabulous island Folegandros is and completely safe in my top five list of personal favourites.
We first visited in 2007 and the village squares were colourful, vibrant and bursting with an eclectic energy that spilled into the streets from the balconies and terraces of the bars and restaurants. It was an enchanting place with picturesque settings plucked straight from the pages of a travel book, pretty squares with restaurants under trees where visitors were struggling to make menu selections next to local people just sitting and talking and passing the evening away.
The streets were alive with friendly people and there was an unspoilt ambience that drew us down twisting side streets and through narrow alleys that led always to even more clusters of inviting tavernas that made choosing a dining venue very difficult indeed. Eventually we selected a table at the side of the main square and we enjoyed excellent food and amused ourselves people watching as there was a constant stream of local people and holiday makers moving continuously through the pretty square.
Koufonisia – Greek Islands
Of all the islands that we have visited it reminded me of somewhere bypassed by the modern world. Laid back, almost to the horizontal, this was clearly a place that was good for getting away from it all and for walking and swimming and laying on the beach and although we are not especially passionate about any of these activities we knew that we would be doing all of these over the next couple of days.
This was a place to relax, tranquil and slow, perfect for recovering from a nervous breakdown or contemplating the meaning of life and other serious matters; why women are hopeless at supermarket check-outs, how did the Trojans fall for that Wooden Horse trick and just how did Nick Clegg become Deputy Prime Minister? Here, I thought, I might find the answer to something that has always troubled me – how can I be sure that the little light in the fridge has gone off when I shut the door? There was certainly time to give it full consideration without a great deal of distraction.
“Other countries may offer you discoveries in manners or lore or landscape; Greece offers you something more – the discovery of yourself” – Lawrence Durrell – ‘Prospero’s Cell’
We had chosen to stay at the village of Kalami, north of Corfu Town where the English author Lawrence Durrell once lived so I thought it appropriate preparation for the holiday to read some of his work and also that of his brother Gerald ( ‘My Family and Other Animals’) and also Henry Miller who wrote about his stay on the island in 1939 in ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’.
They had nothing but good things to say about this place and at this moment as I stepped out of the room if someone had tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to pay a bit extra for this view I would gladly have done so. Laid out in front of me was the silvery blush of olive trees, a cornflower blue sea, the smoky lifeless hills of Albania set against a chorus of cicadas chattering in the twisted branches of the black olive trees and the cracking of seed pods in the early morning heat of the sun, red and ochre tiled roofs like the colour of the soil, soaring ragged cypress trees, stony white pebbled beaches.
If I were an artist I would have immediately got out my easel and palette, if I was a poet I would have reached for my pencil and notebook. It was breathtaking, it was wonderful, I was glad to be here again. It gets my vote in a poll of best holiday views ever!
Would the Durrell’s recognise this even after eighty years or so? Yes I think they would, even though it is a holiday resort it is nicely understated, no commercialism, no silly beach attractions, good traditional tavernas and views of ravishing unspoilt beauty. Lawrence himself might even recognise the White House although it has been restored of course because during the Second-World-War the Germans saw fit to bomb it for some totally pointless reason.
The children didn’t notice any of this as they made their way to the sea past grand villas with rusting iron balconies, peeling stucco and creaking fading plaster once certainly crimson but now bleached and faded to pastel pink by the relentless and unforgiving summer weather. It reminded of an observation from Durrell – ‘Corfu is All Venetian Blue and Gold – and utterly spoiled by the Sun’.
Through the narrow alleyways dainty butterflies were dancing, swallows were swooping in and out and nervous crickets were jumping as we alarmed them with our noisy approach until we walked through a taverna with green check tablecloths and onto a white pebble beach with a gentian blue sea and a daffodil yellow sun scattering diamond dust on the dazzling surface of the water.
On the beach our feet crunched through fine shingle and clattered over polished pebbles as we walked past people sunbathing and whose length of stay could be assessed by the extent of their suntan. We walked past people displaying various shades of bronze depending on how long they had been here lounging in the sun. From deathly white (arrived yesterday) and then like walking through a Dulux paint chart through the full colour spectrum to tango orange (been here for quite some while).
Now, I’m not much of a beach person I have to confess but with three small children to amuse I had reconciled myself to the prospect of long days of hard work but here was a place to be by the seashore listening to the sound of the sea frolicking at the water’s edge, teasing the shingle and constantly rearranging the pebbles and although I wasn’t absolutely looking forward to spending more time on a beach in a single day than I would normally do in a fortnight as I looked out over the picturesque bay I thought that it really might not be that bad after all.
Boats were gently swaying in the whispering breeze and resting on a multi coloured sea which was butter milk cream over the wave polished stones, vivid blue over the butterscotch sand and imperial purple over the swaying weed and all I needed was a Mythos to make this moment perfect so when everyone was settled I made my way to a nearby beach bar and made the essential purchase that would make the moment absolutely wonderful!
As I suspected it was a long stay at the beach as the children made friends and played in the water and at the shoreline but that provided an opportunity for a late lunch of Greek specialities consisting of deep fried courgettes, spinach pie and taramasalata and a another Mythos as the sunbeams danced on the water and the rasping shrill song of the agitated cicadas reached a mid afternoon crescendo.
After everyone had tired of the beach we collected our belongings and took the short walk back to the apartments stopping for a while on the way to do more swimming but this time in the hotel complex pool and after an hour or so we returned to the room.
From the balcony the view was, if possible, even more magnificent, the green sweeping hills, the sea in its multi coloured splendour and the bleached beach, a crescent of sparkling shingle, decorated with white umbrellas like scallop shells each sheltering a pale creature who had come here in search of the sun but now retreating from its remorseless intensity. I surveyed the screensaver view over and over again and even after only a few hours of being here I was happy to declare it to be one of the best places that I have ever chosen to stay.
There were to be no sunset pictures here though because our view was to the east and eventually the sun began to slide away behind Mount Pantokrator to the west which at over nine-hundred metres is the highest mountain on the island and gradually the day slipped through twilight and dusk. The day visitors packed their belongings and left as darkness descended, the raucous chant of the cicadas was replaced by the spooky whistles of the Scops Owls and the twinkling lights of the sea front tavernas began to illuminate the edge of the beach inviting diners to drop by like candles attracting moths.
As I looked across to the White House I imagined Lawrence Durrell sitting on his balcony and enjoying exactly the same view while searching for literary inspiration and discovering himself.
My end of day assessment was that everything had gone very well indeed and then as I prepared for bed I saw the sunburn for the first time – I had spent far longer than normal on the beach and in the sea and despite the factor fifty sun protection parts of my body were turning a shade of crimson only normally associated with a nuclear accident – I was in for an uncomfortable night!
In one room there was a pot-pourri of treasures that really deserved to be in a proper museum where they could be looked after properly. She dragged them out of boxes and held them in her frail hands and in a rhapsodical way accompanied by extravagant arm gestures as though she were conducting an orchestra kept imploring us to “look at this, look at this!”
At one point she opened an illuminated manuscript and declared it to be five hundred years old but she turned the pages over as though it was a copy of last week’s Radio Times.
I visited the Dodecanese island of Rhodes in 1998 for an end of season bargain holiday. It was a holiday when accommodation was allocated on arrival and we did rather well because we were given a room at the Rodos Palace Hotel at Ixia on the coast just outside of the town of Rhodes.
I am moving on now from the Canary Islands and back to the Mediterranean and specifically to the Balearic Islands off the eastern coast of the Spanish mainland.
These days the only one that I would really like to visit is Majorca and its capital Palma but although this is probably the most interesting of the island group I have never been there so will have to tell you about Menorca and Ibiza instead.
I first went to Menorca in 1987 and stayed in the whitewashed holiday village of Binibeca in the far south east close to the capital of Mahon. It was a nice enough place with some coastal walks, a charming village centre with some nice bars and restaurants but not a really great deal of interest. These were the days of holidays with small children so there were early starts, endless days around the swimming pool or on the beach, an early evening meal and then a night on the balcony drinking cold San Miguel waiting for the whole thing to be repeated again the next day.
The trivial little thing that I remember most was that there was a noisy family of Scots in a nearby apartment who insisted on sitting around listening to an oversized ‘boom box’ with music belting out all day. I hated that, but not as much as my dad (we were there with my parents) and one early morning before the irritating neighbours were up he stealthily approached their apartment and turned around the sprinkler valves so that they pointed towards the balcony instead of the gardens.
And then we waited. We waited until mid afternoon and then the water came on and his water joke worked perfectly as the boozed up Caledonians were hit with an unexpected eruption of water and I have no idea how we all managed to keep a straight face. Unfortunately the water didn’t damage the ‘boom box’ and it was returned to full volume soon after!
We did visit Mahon which was interesting but the previous capital of Ciudadela on the opposite western side of the island was even better and we hired a car and circumnavigated the island and visited the several excellent beaches set out around the perimeter at regular intervals.
We returned to Menorca a couple of years later to the resort of Santo Thomas on the south coast and there was absolutely nothing memorable about this holiday except that one day I was walking around the pool and someone shouted out to me – “hello Andrew”, which isn’t especially surprising of course because that is my name, but what was a shock was that it was my next door neighbour! Neither of us was aware that we were even going on holiday and certainly not to the same place!
This is not the only time that this has happened to me because in 1989 we met some people from our street in Disney World Florida but the best chance encounter of all was on the Greek island of Folegandros in 2009.
One September evening we were in the Chora at an outside table at our favourite restaurant when I glanced across to the party sitting next to us and instantly recognised someone I knew from work.
This was a real shock because Folegandos is a tiny lump of rock in an inaccessible place in the western Cyclades and pretty much the last place that you would expect to bump into someone you know.
It was the Chief Executive of the Lincolnshire County Council and he was with a small group of people. He knew me, we had attended meetings together but although I flashed him a smile of recognition he looked blankly back because although I recognised him he didn’t recognise me disguised as I was in my holiday clothes and with my annual attempt to grow a beard.
I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation which was almost entirely work related and he punctuated this with mobile telephone calls to the Leader of the Council. I found this intriguing because who talks continuously about work when on holiday? Even though Kim and I worked at the same place we had a strict rule that work talk was off the list of things to talk about.
After an hour or we finished our meal, settled our bill and prepared to leave but I was not going to go without saying hello. I wandered across to his table and said something like ‘Hello there, fancy seeing you here’. It took him only a couple of seconds for the penny to drop and I sensed his discomfort immediately. After the initial shock of being interrupted in a way that he couldn’t possibly imagine he regained his composure, said hello and introduced me to his press secretary!
There was no way that he was going to be able to explain what he was doing in Folegandros with his press secretary and although with the benefit of the consumption of several Mythos I was prepared to continue to chat Kim sensed that it was embarrassing for Tony and she led me away, back to the bus stop and to our hotel in the port.
Next time I am off to Ibiza.
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