|A room with a view...|
As you might have gathered by now, I loved Lefkada and the quiet little village of Nikiana where I stayed. My first impressions, however (if I’m very honest) weren’t great. It’s an unassuming village, a strip of shops straddling either side of the main (but not terribly busy) road. It’s no architectural stunner – no winding streets, no great ‘Oh My GOD!’ photo opportunities.
Its delights are more subtle, less obtrusive, tucked away, shy. You have to look beyond the brash and the overt. It’s very Greek. Yes, it has tourists, by dint of its position, right by the sea – the beautiful, enigmatic, mood-shifting Ionian. But visitors tend to be Greek or Italian on the whole, so you’re unlikely to hear the imperious bray or the inebriated slur of the stereotypical Brit on holiday, nor stumble over his or her typical hang-out joints – the ‘Irish pub’, the karaoke bar, the restaurant serving English breakfast or fish and chips.
|The beach outside...|
The sea, of course, is a total delight – every day, every hour, every minute showing a different face; playing peekaboo with the mountains beyond. Some days the horizon was a watercolour in undulating lines of grey and blue; other days you could pick out every detail of the shoreline beyond – every striation of the rock rearing up towards the clouds. A small Olympus all of our own.
But the people were the other joy – warm, honest, humorous, with twinkling eyes and ready smiles. I love the fact that the Greeks are one of the few European peoples who actively love it if you try to speak their language. However much you mangle it, they won’t mock or frown in disdain but will be openly delighted and encouraging. How many times did I say 'Kali mera' or 'Yassous' on the short journey from my apartment to the high street? I'd lose count.
For sure, Nikiana has the odd oddball, so to speak. Like the man who walked into the café every day wearing a thick jacket and motorbike helmet and drank his coffee without removing his headgear. Why? Why?
But generally the people of Nikiana are plain delightful, embracing visitors with ease and grace. Are they concerned about the Euro crisis? Sure. But, as they pointed out, this isn’t Athens. They live very simple, very frugal lives here – there’s not a whole lot to lose. So no children will be given away and nobody will be jumping off buildings (really, how, how, how can these things happen? What are we thinking that this doesn’t shock us to our core??).
There will be far less Greek tourists this year of course, but the villagers will get by (or so they say with a wry shrug). How? The way they always have, by working hard (and yes, they do work hard actually, darn hard), expecting little and pulling together.
I have never, truly, been made quite so welcome in a place. I have always loved Greece (both the islands and the mainland) – and the Greek people – and this trip confirmed and amplified that love.
When Kim thought about setting up Serenity Retreat, her first idea was to build a tailor-made retreat centre. Then she looked around and changed her mind. ‘The people here were so open-hearted and generous and kind to me,’ she said. ‘How could I take away their business? Wasn’t it better to use the local amenities and give back to this wonderful community?’
|Nikiana Beach Hotel...|
And so Serenity doesn’t own anything – it rents apartments (from the very simple to the divinely smart); it suggests good local restaurants (my favourite was the Nikiana Beach Club taverna presided over by dear Tassos and his family where my supper usually cost a ridiculous 3.50 euros) and cafes (lovely Pepe le Pew where you could make a drink last all day and nobody would bat an eye). She points out the bakery (warm from the oven baguettes, croissants and local pastries), the ‘supermarket’ with ripe fresh fruit, huge rounds of cheese and vats of olive oil and olives. The trips are all run by local people. The only incomer is Jane, Kim’s second in command, who provides wondrous bodywork. And she isn’t taking work from anyone as there isn’t a local touting Amma fusion or Thai yoga massage. In fact the locals are eyeing up her menu with a mix of curiosity, relish and nervous anticipation.
|a calm day...with mountains|
Anyhow. The original purpose of this post was to persuade you all to go to Greece – and ideally to support lovely Lefkada. Greece needs tourists this year more than ever and, trust me, they won’t hold you responsible for their troubles. But then, last night I read that British holidaymakers are taking advantage of the crisis and snapping up crazy deals on holidays. Which I suppose is better than not going...but, oh…
All I can say is, for whatever reason you choose, do go… If you’re a solo traveler and fancy a bit of optional meditation or just hanging out with like-minded people, then for pity’s sake check out Serenity Retreat. If you’re a couple, or a family, then go to Nikiana under your own steam – just say hi to the locals for me, okay? If you’re a non-stop party animal or can't live without your Guinness or bacon sarnies then…hmm…nah, it’s not for you.