With the latest crisis averted and the Greek people now looking forward to another grim decade or two of debt servitude, there’s only one thing to do–head to the beach for a few weeks of sun, sand, and relaxation. One might think that the prospect of higher taxes, greater unemployment, and even more household belt-tightening would cause the Greeks to forego the traditional summer vacation this year and pass the time glumly baking in their Athens apartments, saving their meager stock of Euros for the hard times ahead. But no, that does not seem to be the case. If our experience in recent days on a visit to the island of Serifos is any indication, the Greeks are heading to the beaches in droves. Not only was the Piraeus pier complex mobbed with Athenians heading off to the islands yesterday, but everyone we know here is going somewhere for the month of August, whether to a family home in the Peloponnese or to an island.
Whether this summer’s mass exodus is a sort of flight response from the constant stress of the events over the last several months or simply a routine following of tradition just like any other year, I don’t know. But either way, you have to give the Greek people for high marks for stoicism in the face of the constant crises these days. I suspect that most Greeks, like a boxer who has been pummeled for seven rounds and no longer feels the punches, have become numb to bad news.
We spent a week on the Cycladic island of Serifos, one of the least developed of the islands close to Athens and relatively unknown to non-Greek tourists. We did encounter a smattering of Italian and French visitors there, but the vast majority of the island’s tourism is Greek. Serifos’s strong suit is its pristine beaches on wide, protected bays that offer great swimming in turquoise waters. Its other major attraction is the main town Hora, which improbably tumbles down the side of the steep hillside overlooking the lovely Livadi Bay. Driving the roads that ring the small island provides spectacular views of a series of bays, many of which have fine beaches with a taverna or little beach bar. The island’s many tavernas offer the standard fare, but the fresh fish, especially the barbounia, are to die for.
If you are a wine lover, you may be tempted to sample the local Serifos wine. I am here to tell you–don’t do it, you will regret it. While many other Greek islands–Santorini, Crete, and Samos, among others–produce outstanding wine, Serifos produces a liquid that comes from wine grapes, but bears little resemblance to fine wine. Our first clue that the island might not be a wine-lover’s paradise came from our conversation with the owner of the pension where we stayed. He informed us that he made his own wine, from the island’s Roditis and Vilana grapes. “So, it’s a white wine,” I say, showing off my familiarity with Greek grape varietals. “No, it’s a red, actually,” he replies. This is confusing, since I have heard of the miracle of producing wine from water, but not of producing red wine from white grapes.
“If you drink it in the months that have no ‘R’ in them and you add water and ice, it’s really good,” he went on to explain. This was not encouraging, but who were we to turn down the small bottle he offered us?
It wasn’t actually a “red” wine, but nor was it white–more of a gold shading into an ominous brown. Upon opening the screw top, we were treated to an odor somewhere between turpentine and sweaty sock. The taste, not surprisingly, was no better.
We later found in restaurants that this local wine was referred to as a “rosé,” a creative use of this wine term to describe something that was neither a white nor a red. But I guess it’s hard to sell a wine that is called a “Brown.”
So don’t say you never learned anything useful from this blog–go to Serifos, enjoy the beaches and the fabulous fresh fish, but stay away from the local wine.