Once again, Skiathos has surprised me….
Just across the road (literally less than 50 yards) from Villa Nicara, is my local corner shop or ‘supermarket Yadim’:
It’s a small roadside convenience store, unremarkable in almost every way. It carries the odd essentials I too often run out of, such as water, coffee, sugar etc. along with the usual supplies; daily newspapers, shampoos, beach towels and plastic lilos. I pop in there most mornings for fresh bread, croissants (and, yes, I’ll admit it, the very occasional, deliciously sugary, freshly-baked, custard-filled donut!).
I’ve been doing this, as my father did, for more than thirty years and in that time not much about it has changed. It’s a family run business;
Urania, the mother can usually be found sitting behind the till working away on one of her endless exquisite beaded embroideries (while keeping one eye on her favourites ‘soap’ on the tv screen above her head). Panos, the younger son, always ready with a smile, is keen to serve and assist and I occasionally see the father, Dimitri – a long-time friend of my father’s – but only to wave and say ‘Kalimera!’ (Good Morning’!) to in passing.
Well, the other evening when I popped in, the family were gathered around a small table enjoying an ouzo or two and the accompanying ‘mezze’: ‘tzatziki’ (yoghurt dip with cucumbers picked fresh from their garden) and small fresh anchovies. They insisted I pull up a chair and join them and I was delighted to do so. In listening to Dimitri’s fascinating tales of the sea, his life as a young boy in the merchant Navy, sailing the seas of the world…stories set in places as faraway as Brazil and Japan, I understood why my father and he had become such good companions over the years. As I raised a glass to their health I commented on the glorious over-powering scent of jasmine in the night air. “You’ve never seen my garden, have you? asked Urania. ‘Come!’ and with that she led my down some stone steps, under a canopy of star-like jasmine flowers:
past the oversized orange flowers of Campsis Mdme Galen (or trumpet vine) to show me her pride and joy, her garden. Huge pots of lush foliage, tropical houseplants, hydrangeas, tumbling geraniums lined every wall:
I was blown away! In all theses years I had no idea such a haven of tranquility was to be found virtually on my doorstep! I’d known, of course, that they had a few studios for rent and a pool bar, from the sign board on the street that often announced the forthcoming big football games they would be showing on Sky. But I never thought I would see such an amazing and beautifully kept mature garden! It is truly a labour of love – a paradise!
Then, nestled in a quiet corner I came across another surprise: a small room totally dedicated to the old ‘traditional’ way of life on Skiathos:
A weaving loom with baskets of hand-spun, hand-dyed balls of yarn stands in one corner.
Locally made rag rugs are scattered about the terracotta floor.
Around the old stone fireplace and exposed brick walls are all manner of highly polished farming and fishing implements – long since out of use but clearly treasured as a lasting heritage to days gone by.
It may look like a small museum yet it is not dusty and forgotten, it is very much alive in fact the whole scene looks like the occupants have just downed tools and popped out for a moment.
Tucked high up in the timber eaves I spotted a couple of swifts nests, complete with tiny fledglings peeking over the top, eagerly waiting for their parents to sweep in with a tasty worm or two for their supper. It was an idyllic setting and given I had no idea such a tranquil little corner of Skiathos existed, it was quite surreal!
From there I continued on the grand tour.
Across a beautifully kept lush green lawn, past an immaculate pool area:
and into yet another big surprise; the pool bar. I instantly felt transported back to rural Sussex or Kent and an English country pub.
Amid the typical pub memorabilia; brasses, bottles and bunting, hanging from, or draped over, every available inch of space, I found Manoli, the older son and resident barman, with his father Dimitri seated under a wall of old, sepia-tinted family portraits,:
On the opposite wall, alongside bookshelves football shirts and all manner of pub paraphernalia:
one old photograph takes pride of place. It is of their late grandfather, taken in 1942 to commemorate his heroic service to the British War effort, while serving in the Greek Navy during World War 2.
It’s beautiful frame was hand-embroidered by the young Urania herself and it’s placed on the flag of Saint George with the family name carved into a piece of polished wood:
With such obvious pride in their British connection, as well in as their own Greek island heritage not to mention their boundless hospitality, attention to detail and obvious love for all they do, it’s clear to see why the Valmas family run such a successful establishment. Their guests, the same ones come year after year, are made to feel so welcome, and they clearly feel right at home!
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