It’s the hill towns that offer glimpses into the real Greece
The irony is, there’s nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. Yet they come daily. To sit and pontificate. To sip minuscule cups of thick, sweet coffee. They watch the modern world come and go. They are the constant.
This is the Greece of old. It does still exist on the Ionian island of Ithaca.
Here you’ll find Odysseus and Penelope and – two glorious villas – named after the King of Ithaca and his wife. The area was also allegedly home to Homer, the Greek poet, whose reputed school – well, ruins – still sits just up the hillside.
To reach Kolieri, you wind your way up on empty roads through swathes of olive groves and pine clad hills, dotted with the occasional sleepy village. Your only company will be that of goats, their bells echoing out from within thick foliage across the valley.
The Penelope and Odysseus villas offer views from the pool
Nothing has been spared in their construction, which shows. They’ve clearly nailed their life-work balance. They spend half the year in Greece running the villas, and come winter, follow the sun to Johannesburg where they own a supermarket.
It wasn’t a tough choice for them to choose where they should build. Zoe’s grandparents came from Ithaca and her mother still lives in Athens. Both villas sit behind a high wall and gate – kept closed to exclude wandering goats after one decided the pool looked too tempting. It is framed by olive and citrus trees.
Giant terracotta urns, pebbled terraces and a hammock slung under the shade of an olive tree offer appealing places to chill out.
Beaches with large pebbles have clear waters
Best of all, there are wire screens at the windows, keeping out unwanted buzzing visitors. It is a great base if you want to experience rural life, as did Madonna who loved it so much she almost bought a house nearby.
Tom Hanks and Rowan Atkinson are regular visitors to Ithaca. Those in the know, really know. If you can drag yourself away from Penelope and Odysseus, the small yet superbly formed, large-pebbled beach of Afales Bay is a five-minute roll down the hill.
Afales Bay is a five-minute roll down the hill
More structured is lovely Polis beach below nearby Stavros. Switchback your way down to a long, wide beach with a handful of sun loungers, a tiny taverna which does melt-in-the-mouth calamari and a pretty bay where you can watch the comings and goings of the yachts.
Stavros itself is a gentle town with a main square dominated by an egg-yolk yellow church and model of Odysseus’s Palace, proving Homer’s hero did exist 3,000 years ago, which attracts tourists by the busload before they go off to see some of the artefacts found there in the nearby archeological museum.
For peace, seclusion and some of Greece’s most beautiful landscapes, you can’t beat it.