I have just spent a wonderful week with my family in Greece. My 8-year old daughter had said she wanted to see the acropolis and so we fitted in a stop to Athens on our European tour and made her wish come true.
Thanks to ATA’s longstanding partners and dear friends, Eleni and Themis Zachariou, we enjoyed the perfect week – balanced with a fascinating visit to the acropolis in Athens followed by some relaxing days on the island of Aegina close by. I have long known that Eleni is able to impart her knowledge of ancient Greek history with pride and enthusiasm but this time it was wonderful to watch my kids learning. Eleni teaches with grace and her information is conveyed in such a way that it appeals to all ages.
Despite the heat, and it was seriously hot, the children were enthusiastic throughout the tour of the acropolis – that lasted several hours. As we hopped from one patch of shade to another, Eleni interwove the facts about the building of the Parthenon with stories of Greek gods. It was fascinating. When we arrived in the Acropolis Museum for a late lunch my daughter announced ‘ why are we watching this film, Eleni already told us all this!”
From Athens we took a ferry to Aegina, where Eleni and Themis have created a delightful family home in the hills above the port – surrounded by olive groves and pistachio trees (the staple crop of the island). The island of Aegina is hardly frequented by tourists, it is more a retreat for Athenians and is somewhat stuck in time. The port is filled with fishing boats and farmers selling their produce along the quay and lined with tavernas and small shops and stalls, many selling pistachios. Its simplicity is a great attraction.
Apart from unwinding here for a couple of days, it became apparent how the Zachariou family continually strive to create an authentic experience, catering to the individual guests every time and adapting to the season you are visiting. We were taken to the best beaches and given a tour of the Temple of Aphaia; and a pleasure for my foodie family, we were served some delicious Greek food. There is nothing that beats a perfectly ripened tomato seasoned with oregano and olive oil and served with feta cheese. We were treated to many fruits and vegetables from their garden, but we were also taken to some local tavernas that are frequented by Greek friends. It would be hard to imagine a more quintessential Greek experience than sitting on the beach savoring octopus, fried fish and ouzo as the sun went down. We enjoyed every mouthful.
The Zachariou’s skill is not only in treating you to the sights and flavours of Greece but in making you feel a part of it, however brief your stay. Even with my relatively young children we slipped into the Greek way of life (taking a long siesta during the heat of the day and eating out late). On our last night we were fighting with the locals for a table for dinner at a very popular courtyard taverna at 10:30 pm. But it was worth the wait. The garlic sauce served with the fried eggplants was divine.
Eleni also made my children feel comfortable with Greek – teaching them the Greek alphabet and basic phrases. So much so that my children refused to have the volume turned down on the Princess and the Frog DVD they were watching, even if it was in Greek. Listening to the lyrical sounds of the Greek language was all part of the experience.
In one short week my family had been treated to a very authentic introduction to Greece and they could see why I enjoy programming tours to Greece, not least because of the warmth of the Greek friends I work with. Efharisto Eleni and Themis!
Senior Program Manager
Academic Travel Abroad