KANDILA, GREECE - This may look and feel like the majority of the villages found in Greece, but it possesses an emblematic history that defines its existence. Kandila’s homes are half built and its roads aren’t paved or even defined. The villagers are sheltered and modest and farming is the main livelihood.
Welcome to the real Greece, which can only be found when one wonders past the beach bars, aqua blue waters and promiscuous ambiance most tourists seek out when they venture to this ancient land.
I am not a stranger in Kandila. Both my parents were born and raised in this small village of 800 inhabitants, nestled in the province of Arkadia, south of Athens.
Left: Idyllic fishing villages await visitors. Right: Ancient treasures.
I’ve returned to my ancestral village for another notorious summer escapade. This time around, though, I’ve decided that, although island hopping is vital and necessary to master a perfect tan, short-term dating and geographic awareness, a village-cation is just as purposeful.
I didn’t always echo these sentiments. As a child, our family would spend 10 painstaking days here in what back then seemed to be eternal isolation from the real world.
As I’ve matured, though, so has my appreciation for simplicity and authenticity. And Kandila is just that — an oasis of seclusion and relaxation.
However, life is tough for the proud people of Kandila and they take nothing for granted.
To fully appreciate and identify with Kandila, you have to understand its history, which dates as far back as the 6th century BC.
Above: Rural Greece has changed little over the centuries.
Kandila’s geographical location was very strategic during ancient times. A junction point to southern Greece, it’s amazing to think people masterminded a lifestyle that still exists, pioneering cultivation, masonry and architecture that still survives here today.
Crucial to the Spartans, Kings of the Mycenaean Era, the Ottoman Empire, the Olympic races, the military and the Orthodox religion, Kandila is a victorious refuge for its people.
The village’s Panagia Monastery (Mother of God), built in the mid 1600s along the side of the mountain, became known as the hidden, high-ranking military hospital run by a monk in the crusade against the Turks. Today, it serves as a Christian sanctuary for nuns. Hundreds of people make the ascent by foot to the top of the mountain where the view is remarkable.
Above: You don't have to go to Athens to see Greek and Roman ruins.
As you can imagine, activity is limited in Kandila and its people drive to the main city Tripoli to get whatever they may need. There is no waste and there is no excessive consumerism. People do not live beyond their means here. That’s probably because their means only stretch so far. The people who live here work hard by doing physically demanding and labour-intensive farming.
You want organic? You get organic in Kandila. In fact, that’s your only option. For lunch I enjoy farm-to-table fries, tomato salad, a hunk of feta drizzled with olive oil, sun dried oregano and keftedakia (mini lamb burgers). Yes Virginia, the Greeks conceptualized mini sliders long before Gordon Ramsay.
There is no definitive start or finish to the work day here. No one calls in sick or complains about their working conditions. In Greek we say “to sweat blood,” which means that when you work, you work until you can’t work any more. Somehow, the villagers keep going and do it with incredible passion and drive. Maybe that’s because Kandila’s farmers are pivotal to the food supply for the entire region.
Each morning during my stay, I’m awoken by intense heat, blinding sunlight, rooster calls and church bells. Sleeping in is not an option in here, it appears. But that’s okay. Regardless, I’ll take a nap after lunch for a couple of hours.
In between naps though, we eat — a lot! We also drink and visit neighbours, who live in unlocked homes, and gossip and philosophize for hours. Hey, we’re Greek.
My extended family allows me to think critically and to challenge my own intellectual capacity. I hear their stories and learn that by removing myself from all my modern social influences and obligations, I can be inspired and recognize what life means outside of my bubble.
I’m amazed and humbled when I talk to the locals — they are fascinated with my modern existence, but I am more impressed with their strong will and simple life.
In the afternoon, we congregate at Klimataria taverna and café bar (one of only a few in the village), which is surrounded by grapevines, as indicated by its Greek name. Again, we eat the food grown by my grandmother’s sister’s son, who lives down the street. We are one big happy family again. That’s love. That’s the village.
My grandfather’s stone house was built in the early 1900s and is emblematic of his military and spiritual relations to his country, despite its frail composition. Embraced by fig trees and grapevines, the house includes a wine cellar and a wood-burning oven; the house is very simple, raw and minimally functional.
Above: The deeper you go inside Greece, the more beautiful it gets.
What this humble home represents, however, is a rich family unity. As such, Kandila is an escape and many people who left once upon a time (such as my parents) for a better life, find themselves returning for what the heart longs — simplicity.
Living in Athens, or even Toronto for that matter, you can’t help but want and need to detach yourself from the stresses of modern life. Consequently, our house in Kandila doesn’t have a TV, it doesn’t have Internet, there is but one bathroom, a small kitchen table and limited hot water. Yet, we make it work.
Here we spend quality time — family time done right.
For six days this time around, I wasn’t bored senseless or itching to check Facebook. I was serene, calm and relaxed. I reflected on life and watched my niece and nephews play in the front yard as I picked a few figs from the tree. My father intends on passing his home to my sisters and I. We plan to make it stronger physically with new brick and mortar and stronger emotionally with more family vacations.