One man and his blog
Well, what a difference a year makes! As we enter June, it’s almost inconceivable to think that this time last year a dark cloud hung over international travel and we were wondering if we might ever welcome Simpson clients back to our destinations again. And while we were dealing with the seemingly endless uncertainty, UK tourism was enjoying a bumper year and you couldn't book a decent stay in Cornwall for love nor money. It wasn’t until the end of July that our season began in earnest, when Greece opened its borders to the Brits and welcomed them back with outstretched arms.
Happily, this year couldn’t be more different; we’re off to a flying start and the appetite to travel is back with a vengeance. Our overseas teams are enjoying the familiarity of a near-normal season and so many of our clients have told us how delighted they are to get back to the Med with its enchanting light and blissful warm evenings.
Since I last wrote in January, Yianna and I have continued our search for a spot to put down roots in Crete – an adventure which has involved travelling the length of the southern coast. At roughly 200 kilometres, it’s no mean feat to navigate, even in this day and age. We visited old haunts we haven't seen for nigh on 50 years, still miles off the beaten track and very much 'on the road less travelled'. But at the end of this trip down memory lane, we knew exactly where we want to be.
We first discovered the unpretentious fishing port of Makryialos in southeast Crete when we stumbled upon it in 1972 and spent a moonlit night camping on its wonderful sandy beach. We had a popular Simply Travel programme there in the 1980’s and a couple of kilometres away we featured a converted warehouse by the water’s edge known as Diaskari. Overlooking the Libyan Sea, this remains our favourite part of the island and I’m delighted to say that nothing very much has changed; after all these years, the wide expanse of Diaskari Beach is still only marked by the old warehouse, a tiny hamlet of four or five cottages and a small taverna that opens just for the summer. It has etched a place in our hearts.
Why do we have such an affection for this part of Crete? I think it’s a combination of three things: beauty, simplicity and philoxenia – in no particular order. The beauty is as much about Diaskari as the surrounding hinterland, where agriculture, farming and fishing still play their part and the local tavernas take pride in offering some of the island’s best produce. Tucked away at the foot of the mountains are some real gems, where a delicious meal costs a fraction of what you would pay in the more sophisticated towns further west, with fish caught in the early morning appearing on your plate at lunch time alongside an abundance of freshly picked herbs.
But the people are the most important ingredient for putting down roots: without their philoxenia (a uniquely Greek philosophy of extending a warm welcome) it would be difficult to feel at home anywhere. And we have struck lucky! Not only have we discovered a pace of life that suits our disposition, but friendships have been rekindled and despite the influx of tourism, this part of Crete has kept its soul and tradition. History still plays a huge part in daily life and it has been uplifting to discover that even Simply Travel, introduced all those years ago, has not been forgotten - both the company and our clients are remembered with great affection.
Our utopia has many ingredients - not least the historic Minoan pathways, ancient monasteries, and spectacular gorges waiting to be explored. But one place in particular has become a favourite haunt: Pefki - a pretty whitewashed village clinging to the side of the mountains above Diaskari and Makryialos. It’s home to the marvellous Piperia taverna, run by a good friend from my Simply days, Fanis Eiskosipentakis. He’s a foodie fanatic, often found traipsing the mountains in search of snails, Horta (wild greens), artichokes and, when the season is right, pomegranates for use in his delicious salads. Those in the know come from Heraklion and even Athens to sample his fayre and a visit to this special spot is well worth the effort. Lunch here is a wonderful prequel to a walk along the Pefki Gorge - a two-hour hike down to the sea following a small river. Despite a wonky knee that can sometimes present challenges, I recently braved the gorge myself with the aid of a knee brace, a sturdy stick and under the watchful eye of my daughter Hannah. And I was so glad I did – it is a truly joyous experience.
So here we are, gradually settling in and living in Diaskari. We’ve negotiated a fair rent with the owners for the next 12 months and who knows what will happen after that. But we'll take each day as it comes and look forward to what lies ahead. Let’s see where we end up - it’s an adventure after all!
Watch this space…
George and Ellie
For those interested in the latest news from George and Ellie, the much-loved cats who graced us with their presence on Paxos for many years, I'm happy to inform you that they are moving to Crete this weekend to join us at Diaskari. In quite a major operation (a big thank you to Frances, Jenny and Anita for all their help) they have passed their medicals with flying colours, are newly chipped, and will have their passports stamped just in time to arrive for the jubilee celebrations. So, while we raise a glass to Her Majesty we hope our feline friends will be suitably appreciative of all our efforts to be reunited and raise a paw to their new life with Yianna and I in southeast Crete. I’ll keep you posted!
To be continued...