Like many of us during this time of year, I love taking the time to reflect on how well my plans compared to reality, and, more importantly, how grateful I am for the little surprises that came along the way in 2011. One such surprise was during our family trip to the small Aegean island of Alonissos, Greece.
My original intent for visiting the island was to find out more about its ecotourism history and goals and spotlight the monk seal conservation efforts occurring throughout the largest National Marine Park in Europe.
However, what was unexpected was the authenticity of what vacationing on a Greek island was like decades ago with its slow lifestyle, clean beaches, friendly locals, family-oriented activities, delicious food, quality accommodations and sense of community.
It was as though I was four years old again, boarding a ferry and heading to an island for a summer break. Back then, I remember lots of swimming, sand, food, sun and rest. And this summer, I felt so lucky to be able to share that relaxed experience with my son.
Our family was there just one week, but we managed to make friends throughout the main port of the island including with our favorite restaurateur, who let us know what the freshest catch was each morning so we could have the fish to our exact liking for dinner. When is the last time that happened to you?
And the biggest surprise of all was our hosts. Originally, we had rented the beautiful two-bedroom Villa Agnantema facing the sea. The villa, built with local materials including stone from Alonissos and boasting solar-powered hot water heaters, is part of an enclave of four villas that are approximately a quarter of a mile away from the beach. They are owned by the sister-in-law team of Ioanna and Christina, who also manage a coffee / ice cream/ bakery as well as the Pension Yula in town, near the main port. They are year-round residents, who genuinely care for Alonissos and its residents.
Villa Agnantema was extremely clean, spacious and well-priced, however since we were unaware that you absolutely needed a car to stay there (the bus only runs once a day to the main port and town located approximately five miles away), the villa wasn’t going to work for our family. While I won’t bore you with the details, I will say that the notion of things not going according to plan didn’t go over very well with the family. However, to our shock, our hosts feeling quite bad about the miscommunication offered use of their car during our stay so we could experience what the island had to offer. Again, when is the last time that happened to you?
We declined since I don’t like to drive in Greece and instead Ioanna and Christina offered us space in their alternative pension accommodation located near the main port.
Pension Yula worked very well for our motley group of five. Although we weren’t all together, our simply furnished but large and sunny rooms each had a small kitchenette and balcony/patio area. Every morning, Christina would warmly greet us with a smiling face and ask us about our plans for the day.
We were extremely close to the beach and the main street with its bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, day-tripper tourist agencies, grocery store and playground, and just loved how everything shut down between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 pm for a relaxing siesta. And, since there wasn’t a singles scene to speak of, the island pretty much settled in for the evenings around midnight.
We appreciated the suggestion to go on the informative day-long tour around the Marine Park. We not only got to know the captain better, we bumped into him along the main street a couple of days later and invited him to join us for an afternoon drink a la Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. He even agreed to be in the video documentary I was producing.
It was just that kind of an experience being on Alonissos, and even though the original plan of staying in a villa and cooking our own food didn’t work out, this alternative surprise was perfect for us!
So, what’s the lesson for 2012? First, if you are thinking about a trip to Greece in 2012, you would do well to check out Alonissos and second, celebrate life’s little twists and turns. Things may turn out even better!