If you’re looking for flashy hotels, busy bars, pizza joints, and shops full of trinkets, do not come to the Greek island of Agathonisi. There’s none of that here: it has a swimmable, tranquil, accessible bay the minute you get off the ferry. Walk a few feet and you come to George’s Taverna, which is what we did on the advice of our friends Gilles and Marie from France, whom we met in Lipsi.
George, his wife Sabina, and their teenaged son, Antonius, run this go-to restaurant. Sabina, who wears only jeans and a monogrammed George’s Taverna t-shirt, has a helper in the kitchen and a willing busboy in her son. The Taverna has the freshest fish, and some mighty fine home-cooked delicacies, which include the Octopus Salad, not chewy like the grilled kind, best eaten with Ouzo, but marinated and without any other greens or vegetables. There is also crispy fried and battered zucchini and eggplant, perfect with tzatziki and boiled wild greens called Horta, good with lemon. Highly recommended by Irwin is the goat baked in a lemon or tomato sauce. Walking around the bay, you get a view of the happy goats freely foraging for food on the steep rocky slopes that line the bay on two sides.
Lucky for us, George happened to have an available room, reasonably priced at 25€ a night with AC, fridge and a patio big enough for a Montreal-style stand up party.
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Once we checked in, we got into our bathing suits and scurried down to the beach right in front of our room, and oh…so magical! So peaceful! So calm! You don’t need to towel off once you finish your swim; the temperature is so perfectly hot and dry. The pebble-and-sand beach is sprinkled with mainly Greek tourists, including returnees from Australia, renewing neurotic affiliations with the homeland, and various yacht people, mostly from Greece and Italy. The children, including our young friends George, Athena, and the ever-popular Panayiotis, amuse themselves with a ball or flippers in the still water.
One of the few things to do here is visit the nearby hamlets of Meglio and Micro Horio, tiny villages on hills behind the bay. We needed to get to Meglio to access the one ATM on Agathonisi. They don’t take VISA anywhere on the island. Unfortunately, it cost Barbara a whopping commission of $17 to take out 300€, which lasted until we had to board the ferry for Patmos after four days.
George drove us up the steep incline in his truck and we decided to explore and walk down ourselves. We found a restaurant by asking someone if there was one in this hamlet devoid of English signs and a man answered that he owned one. He unlocked the door and opened a few windows and his wife made us Greek coffee as we examined the array of religious icons that adorned the walls.
Since there wasn’t much to see in the bigger hamlet, we passed on the smaller one, but we did walk the half-kilometer around the bay to yet another bay called Cave Bay. We swam in front of a cave, not in it, but because it was so much like our original bay, with fewer swimmers, we decided there was no reason to return.
On Saturday before the religious festival that was to occur in Meglio Horio, we noticed an awful lot of people suddenly arriving on a boat and soon disappearing. We discovered they were refugees seeking asylum from Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. Greek police told us that they came on boats from Turkey, destroyed the boats, and floated in the water until their arrest. Their boats were destroyed so they couldn’t be sent back to Turkey. They spent the night in a holding center above the bay and were not there the next morning. This is a huge problem for Greece, as it is for Spain and Italy, considering the European Community does nothing to help. According to a friend, it costs economically challenged Greece 30€ a day to care for each refugee. And as things get worse in home countries, the numbers of refugees increase.
Since there is little to do here except eat, swim, enjoy the silence and sunshine, and converse with other tourists, why do we love it? It is an idyllic setting and perfect for reading. We brought along a stack of good books, dumped the few we rejected, and really enjoyed the rest. Barbara read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (she didn’t understand most of the physics but was nevertheless enthralled by Hawking’s writing and descriptions of how time and space work in our universe) and The White Tiger, an indictment of corruption and the caste and dowry systems in post-colonial India. Irwin read Taras Bulba by Gogol, the classic Russian novel about the Cossack Ethos, and a facile Ken Follett thriller called Code to Zero.
We’re definitely returning next year for more easy living.
Irwin Block contributed to this column.