Greece is in turmoil and politicians say they are the only ones who can save it. But, as every Greek knows in his heart, it's the gods that count. And Zeus, the most powerful god of all, is also the god of hospitality. He can't afford to let his people down.
Earlier this month, I was in Greece during the elections and subsequent confusion. The hospitality, as always, was genuine. Taverna owners, who remembered us from previous visits, shook my hand and asked after the family. When I asked how things were with them, they smiled and shrugged. 'What can we do? We are far from Athens. There is no rioting here. We just want to get on.'
I was on the west coast of the Mani, the middle finger of the Peloponnese, casting an eye on two villages, Stoupa and Kardamyli, less than five miles apart and both in the lee of the majestic Taygetos mountains.
Stoupa is perfection, set serenely in a south-facing bay with a safe, sandy beach, where the only high rise is the Taygetos range. Strolling along the quiet, taverna-lined seafront is a joy. A young couple, relaxing with their 14-month-old son on Stoupa's Kalogria beach, were delighted with their first visit. 'They're so good with the baby when we eat out,' they said. 'We'll certainly come back.'
Kardamyli, whose literary pedigree stretches from Homer to Patrick Leigh Fermor, the noted British writer who lived here until his death last year, has fine 19th Century houses, an 'old town' and beguiling shops. A centre for eco-tourism, it attracts climbers, scuba-divers and anyone in search of tranquillity.
Over the past decade, the two villages have become increasingly tourist-oriented and now offer guided walks, Greek lessons, yoga classes and summer concerts - from classical to jazz - in an amphitheatre in the hills. Telegraph poles, the local equivalent of notice boards, list what's happening.
There are waymarked paths through the mountains - a group of Norwegian walkers comes every year to repaint the signs - while the fine coastal walk from Stoupa to the fishing village of Agios Nikolaos, once a twisty track, is now paved and suitable even for pushchairs.
I reached Agios Nikolaos as the fishing boats came into harbour. As each catch was unloaded, it was scooped up by taverna-owners and enthusiastic self-caterers. The four Britons watching, retired academics driving round in a hired van, were in good spirits. 'As long as petrol's available, we'll be fine,' they said. 'The Greeks are so welcoming. We walked part of the Viros Gorge when we were in Kardamyli. You should try it. Marvellous.'
So I did, but with a guide. Vangelis, who runs the 2407 sports shop in Kardamyli, takes groups of three to 20 on treks of various difficulties through the Taygetos mountains. My modest walk from the village of Exochori up the ancient goat tracks took us to 500ft above sea level. The air was cool, the vegetation lush, the views spectacular and the silence intense.
Later, I tried my hand as a chef's assistant. Guests at Liakoto - fine seafront apartments in Kardamyli - can spend a couple of hours with Petrus, the owner/chef of the nearby Kastro restaurant. I'd no idea how much time went into preparing Greek food, such as lamb kleftiko or stuffed aubergines.
And then there are the ancient sites, including Olympia, Sparta and beautiful Byzantine Mystras. Messinia, the 4th Century BC capital of the Messinians, which is still being excavated, is one of Greece's most exciting sites.
Because it was never destroyed by enemies, it is rich in temples, towers, theatres, shrines, tombs and more. There were few people there the day we wandered round. It was almost possible, as we sat in deep silence on the stone seats of one of the theatres gazing at the sea far below, to catch the faintest whisper of the spirit of ancient Greece.
The gods have looked favourably on this part of Greece. It only remains for Irene, the goddess of peace, to sort out the politicians.
article source: DailyMail.co.uk