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Chosen by the gods. All-time classic. Live your myth. Greece’s tourism campaigns have barely strayed beyond cliché. But it’s hard to find anything original to say about a country that has been the muse of epic poets and wild romantics for thousands of years. Perhaps it’s the combination of sublime art and easy-going charm, the ancient myths at once so familiar and strange, the deep-rooted traditions and deep-blue horizons.
And then of course there are the Greek islands – each one a perfect little world, where the intense light and heat slow life down to a hypnotic tempo. And there’s nothing to do but bump down dusty tracks on the back of a moped until you reach a deserted beach, bask like a cat in the sun, breathe in and out like the sea.
While the Greek islands have been closed to non-residents since mid-March, restrictions on movement have been easing since 4 May and Greece hopes to welcome back visitors from abroad by July. Thanks to a prompt and strict lockdown, Greece has been spared the worst of the pandemic, so it should be one of the safest places to travel as soon as borders reopen — a blessing for Greece’s tourism industry, so vital to an economy battered by a decade of austerity. Whether you dream of returning to your favourite Greek island or embarking on an aimless odyssey around the archipelago, these books, films, songs, and recipes will get you in a carefree, sun-kissed mood.
HERE’S WHAT TO READ
Polly Samson’s latest novel, A Theatre for Dreamers (summarised by one reviewer as ‘sun, sex and Leonard Cohen’), is a beguiling throwback to Hydra in the 1960s. Blurring the real and the fictional, it chronicles the entangled lives of a bohemian circle of poets and painters who are not so different to the demi-gods of the art and fashion world who congregate on Hydra every summer.
‘Aesthetically it is perfect’, Henry Miller wrote of Hydra in The Colossus of Maroussi, a rapturous account of his nine-month adventure around the Greek isles in the 1930s. Miller also visited Crete – where he dreamt of stripping naked to ‘take a running leap and vault into the blue’ – and Corfu, where his pal Lawrence Durrell penned equally glowing prose about his adopted homeland in Prospero’s Cell.
But the ultimate philhellene is Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose escapades around a Greece totally untouched by tourism are captured in Mani and Roumeli. They were written at the magnificent house in the Peloponnese which ‘Paddy’ designed with his wife Joan. Brimming with books and antique treasures, their home is now available to rent through Aria Hotels. Overlooking a private cove, it’s the perfect place to retreat to when flights resume from the UK.
WHAT TO WATCH
Greece has plenty of photogenic filming locations that have been immortalised in the movies. Chase away isolation blues by singing along with Meryl Streep as she belts out Abba tunes against a backdrop of bright-blue seas in Mamma Mia (available on Netflix), shot on dozy Skopelos and the dramatic Pelion peninsula. Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (available on iTunes), based on the true story of free diver Jacques Mayol, turned actor Jean-Marc Barr into an Eighties pin-up; but the stark Cycladic island of Amorgos is the real star of the show. Anthony Quinn does a convincing impersonation of the irrepressible Zorba the Greek, a life-affirming immersion in 1960s Crete. Quinn’s final syrtaki dance on a deserted beach sums up the exuberating liberation of a holiday on the Greek islands. For a whistle-stop tour of modern-day Greece, with a running commentary of bickering and banter from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, binge watch The Trip to Greece (available on Sky and Now TV).
Read more about movies that were filmed on Greek islands
WHAT TO LISTEN TO
To conjure up bouzouki jams in jasmine-scented tavernas, listen to Never on Sunday, Manos Hadjidakis’ Oscar-winning soundtrack to Jules Dassin’s 1960 movie. The film made an overnight star of Melina Mercouri, as a plucky prostitute who charms a fusty American classicist. Rembetika, better known as the ‘Greek blues’, offers a more mournful riff on late-night singalongs fuelled by carafes of retsina. Try Markos Vamvakaris, Master of Rembetika on for size and start plotting your next trip to Vamvakaris’ homeland, Syros. Crank up the volume and dance around your living room to Greek-Sudanese singer Marina Satti’s hit ‘Mantissa’. The infectious video, shot in a single take, follows the sassy Satti and friends dancing through the streets of downtown Athens as bemused café patrons look on.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK
The joy of Greek food is as much about the setting as the simplest of ingredients: barbecued octopus and bitter greens served at a lopsided table wedged into the sand, fish soup rustled up on the back of a sailboat, sun-ripened tomatoes picked from the back yard. You might not be able to recreate the sunset glow or salty breeze, but you can taste Greece in London-based chef Despina Siahuli’s foolproof recipes. Despina’s briam (a medley of roast vegetables in tomato sauce) can be rustled up with pretty much any seasonal veg lurking in the bottom drawer of your fridge. For more Greek cooking inspiration, including stuffed tomatoes and very-slow-roast lamb, head over to her website Pan London.
We’d never dream of drinking ouzo anywhere except right beside the Aegean, alongside a few glistening olives, cured anchovies and crunchy calamari tentacles (yep, those little legs are the tastiest part). Greek wines travel much better and will deliver a burst of summery brio to your table. Nothing brings back visions of whitewashed terraces and seaside lunches like a cool glass of Assyrtiko, the signature grape of Santorini. The islands of Crete, Tinos and Cephalonia are also gaining traction among wine connoisseurs. Raise a toast to these sun-filled wines from specialist Greek food and wine importer Maltby & Greek.*
Domaine Sigalas, Santorini PDO Assyrtiko, £30
A perfect expression of Santorini’s terroir. This wine has the characteristic mineral taste, with a subtle nose of citrus fruit.
San Gerasimo Robola of Cephalonia, £17.50
Subtle and elegant, with a complex flavour, full of grapefruit, floral and honeyed aromas.
Douloufakis Winery, Dafnios White, Vidiano, £15
Grown at 350m altitude in the Cretan mountains. Unique apricot aroma, rich body and transfixing buttery taste.
*Maltby & Greek has created a special 15 per cent discount code for our readers. Just use the code GREECEISYELLOW on checkout for 15 per cent off your entire order.
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