New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
As if in harmony with the Greek News’ “Let’s Go To Greece This Summer!” campaign, now in its fifth year, Yanna Darilis, who has shot 70 travel segments for her show, Hellenic Weekly in Greece, writes in a recent blog titled “The Magic of Greece!” in Huffpost’s Travel section: “This summer I want to suggest spending your vacation in Greece. Greece offers a full type of vacation destination for everyone, whether seeking a glamorous or hippy vibe, cultural sights, museums, theatre, religious destinations, gourmet and wine tasting, sun & beaches, mountain climbing, trekking, water sports, relaxation or partying all night long! Greece is a timeless destination that offers it all.”
Philippine-born author Lily Gamboa O’Boyle, (“Tropical Gardens of the Philippines”, Simon & Schuster, is one of her beautiful books), fresh from a 3-week “too short!” trip to Greece with her son and daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and a friend, spoke with the GN about “falling in love with Greece and already looking forward to going again”.
The “magnificent trip” to Athens, Santorini, and Folégandros, was her first time back to Greece since the 1970‘s, when she was eighteen. Mrs. O’Boyle recalled with amusement that she had attracted the curious attention of schoolchildren on the Acropolis. “I think they had never seen an Asian woman before!” The teacher accompanying the children apologized for this attention, said O’Boyle, “the people were so nice”, and added that the hospitality her party received on this trip was even greater than what she remembered.
On the way to and back from Folégandros, an island of the Southern Cyclades along with Santorini, Amorgos, Ios, Anafi, and Sikinos (a spectacular choice for island-hopping), O’Boyle flew to Santorini, staying first at the luxurious Sun Rocks Santorini, then at Casa Marina both with spectacular views of the caldera.
The author took a 3-hour ferry ride while the rest of the party took the hydrofoil, zapping to the island of Folégandros in 45 minutes. The party settled in at the Provalma Studios at Ano Meria, a traditional Greek island village at the center of Folégandros. In admiration of the Greek esthetic, Mrs. O’Boyle said, “Greek accommodations are done in such good taste. They’re simple yet very elegant.”
As Colleen McGuire, co-founder of Aegea Adventures and CycleGreece pointed out two weeks ago in this column, active tourism is trending in Greece and O’Boyle’s party was an example of this, taking full advantage of one of the best-known charms of tall-cliffed Folégandros, its wonderful hiking, walks along the island’s network of stone-paved mule paths. The author, who took only her chic resort sandals, chose to sit out the long walks, preferring to enjoy the charming shops and cafés, the “kastro” section, Agios Nikolaos beach, which is within walking distance, and the small but interesting Ecological and Folklore Museum in Ano Meria. Had there been more time, she said, they would have gone by boat to Katergo, said to be the most beautiful beach on the island. “Folégandros was a particularly good place for the children, because there are virtually no cars in Chora so there was nothing to worry about,” O’Boyle declared, “It was wonderful and relaxing. I’d go back in a heartbeat.”
Indeed, in his excellent, pocket-sized 2010 island travel series, “McGilchrist’s Greek Islands” a wonderful combination of scholarship and passion, Nigel M. McGilchrist, writing about the island in Volume 20. Southern Cyclades, Amorgos, Ios, Sikinos, Folégandros says that Folégandros has “a faithful and discerning tourism”.
Of the Chora of Folégandros, which is divided into two areas, the older, semi-fortified, mediaeval Kastro, and the settlement of the 17th and later centuries, McGilchrist writes, “few islands can boast a more dramatically sited, yet attractive Chora than Folégandros. It possesses a compact medieval center and a chain of beautiful, shaded squares. What surprises is that it feels so gracious and reassuring when one is inside it, unaware of its dramatic position on the edge of a two hundred metre drop to the sea.”
Folégandros has three small villages, Chora, Karavostasis, and Ano Meria, a total of 765 inhabitants, and covers about 12 square miles. The first evidence of human settlement on the island dates from the Early Cycladic II period (mid-3rd millennium BC) with continuity during the Middle and Late Bronze Age, indicated by surface finds. Just a few facts chosen from McGilchrist’s historical breakdown: Colonized by Dorians, the island later received much Ionian influence. It was conquered in 1207 by Marco Sanudo into the Duchy of Naxos in 1207, then passed on to the Bolognese overlords of Kythnos in 1336. Although Cristoforo Buondelmonti (1386 – c. 1430) an Italian monk and traveler, and a pioneer in promoting first-hand knowledge of Greece and its antiquities throughout the Western world, noted ca 1417 that the island seemed to be uninhabited, it appears that it was re-settled from Crete in the 16th century. The Ottoman Empire took complete possession in 1617, but after a punitive raid left it once again unpopulated. It came under Russian rule along with the other Cyclades during the Russo-Turkish War, but in 1828 it joined the newly independent Greek State.
Anxious to see the Acropolis Museum, it was back to Athens for O’Boyle, who was drawn by the allure of the 5-star Hotel Grande Bretagne just as she had been in the 1970‘s. Built as a house in 1842–only 12 years after Greece independence from Ottoman rule–for Antonis Dimitriou, a businessman from the island of Limnos, and later bought, restored, and named the Grande Bretagne, the hotel, renovated in 2003, is one of the most luxurious in southern Europe. Mrs. O’Boyle chose a suite with butler service, as she did on her arrival in Greece, and loved the gorgeous rooftop bar and restaurant with a staggering view of the Acropolis–which is only just one kilometer away–and high tea in the Winter Garden.
Ms. Darilis’ prediction, “Once you visit Greece I guarantee you will be back for more!” echoes Mrs. O’Boyle’s desire to go back to Greece after her totally positive experiences there. “You see,” Darilis writes, “besides all I mentioned, Greece ignites something in all of us, a sort of awakening, we all find something familiar in Greece… it inspires and overwhelms you with passion for nature and life. Greece’s history, people, culture, mythology and breathtaking landscape have attracted visitors throughout the ages.”
Let’s join them! Let’s Go To Greece This Summer!