Receiving a personal invitation to the Greek Islands is the stuff of dreams for most of us. So I dismissed mine as being unrealistic and unachievable, my mind preferring to stick to the path that had already been laid out. Luckily my subconscious must have known better for a few nights later I found myself booking flights on a whim. A week later, here I am in paradise on the small island of Antiparos. This is my third time to Greece so I am certainly counting my blessings. Thinking back to my first meeting with this amazing country has me recalling a vivid, unexplainable sense of homecoming, joy and of being just where I am supposed to be. And so it has been every successive visit since.
Perhaps this sense of belonging can be partly attributed to the people. The Greeks really are outstanding. Like the Cubans, the heat of their country seeping into their bones, I haven’t come across such warmth in all my travels. And many friends have said the same. During my last trip I distinctly remember timidly approaching someone for directions only to receive absolute welcoming in response. Undeniably warm and passionate, its the intensity and immediacy of their interactions with each other that both impresses and scares me at the same time. Whilst I can’t understand a word, it appears that heightened emotions are resolved with a few quick words and a raised voice then its like nothing ever happened. The heat of the moment left as it was so life can continue on.
It seems the Greeks are also incredibly good hosts. My one man Greek travel agency had detailed bus and ferry times, prices and locations to me before I could even think to look for myself. Personally collected from the ferry, I was provided with a push bike to make my way around then served fruit, wine and water. And that was only the beginning…
One of the things about knowing a local is getting a real taste of the culture. That first afternoon I found myself at a name day celebration in a taverna by the sea. In Greece everyone has a day dedicated to them according to their name, something like a second birthday. And so, on this 30th of August I was blessed to be celebrating the day of Alexander and all variations of it. After a quick dip in the glorious blue ocean at Soros beach I was seated with a Greek family, three of whom were enjoying their special day. The table (and my stomach) was quickly filled with mezzes including tempura-like sliced zucchini, greek salad with creamy, garlic feta, tzatziki and miniature whole fried squids. Sitting back to let it all digest, there is no doubt the expression on my face gave away my surprise at discovering the meal was not yet over. Flavourful red mullets and an impressive sea bass made their way to the table, soon to be drizzled with fresh lemon juice. To round of the celebrations, two cakes. One layered with mousses, sponge and mascarpone all drizzled in a rich, coffee sauce. The other an ice-cream cake embellished with an eclectic mix of curled chocolates and crushed, caramelised nuts.
Over the following days I caught up on much needed sleep and explored the land. One afternoon tackling the island by motorbike uncovered many deserted beaches. On this day a strong wind whipped across the ocean making its cobalt colour even more brilliant than usual. Discovering and bathing in a sheltered inlet, perfectly reminiscent of an Olympic pool and with sand like diamond dust, was one of the highlights. Cooler than the Caribbean, the temperature of the ocean here was a shock at first. But after splashing around for a couple of minutes you quickly come realise it is the perfect antidote to the concentrated sun warming the air above. After some exhilarating off-track descents down crumbly shale hillsides and powering back up again, a beer by the seaside rounded the afternoon off perfectly.
A small, alternative sort of island, Antiparos attracts a mix of hippies and the richest alike. Amongst these well-to-dos are helipads and even a property owned by Tom Hanks. Amongst the hippies are buskers and the type who enjoy a small puff on the green stuff. Having only reached these shores during the last days of August, peak season had already wound down considerably and the vibe was super chilled. Wandering the one main street took me past cafe, after restaurant, after bar. Ice-cream and coffee. Italian food and French food. Cocktails and souvlaki. Pale chairs spill onto the main thoroughfare, the pavers beneath woven with thick strands of white paint and bougainvillea hanging above. At the end of the main street a small port hums quietly and restaurants make their way on views over the rocking boats to the island of Paros in the distance.
By night regular visitors flock to “The Doors”, the longest running nightspot in town. The legendary landlord, likened to the original Greek lover, is a grungy man of some 60 years. Wearing worn rock t-shirts and sports socks reaching unevenly from his tennis shoes, he has a penchant for wooing young woman with kisses blown in a nonchalant manner. Blasting the same classic rock songs, in the same order, night in night out, this seemingly outrageous combination really wins. Through the wooden door frame, revellers thrust their bodies back and forth, heads up and down to the heavy music and energy of the night, many coming from all around the world to let loose in this specific abode.
Days spent drinking in the scenery around Antiparos confirmed there really is no place quite like the Greek Islands. Growing upon arid rock, the grasses of the islands burn golden bronze under the Mediterranean sun. Dry stone walls border fields of cows and goats sheltering under a lone tree. Above, the sky is a seemingly endless expanse of tapered azure blue. Oceans of indigo stretch into infinity, giving way to the palest, glittering turquoise where the shallower waters hug their sides. In the populated areas typical Cycladic houses ice the land with the white wash that keeps them cool under the intense sun, their curved edges negating any whistling created by the strong winds. On the beaches, sand the size of apple seeds remains soft to the touch but with the convenience of brushing off easily as it dries on your skin.
These views burnt into my memory forever and with four days of utterly indulgent relaxation under my belt, it was time to leave Antiparos for other shores…